Tuesday 31 March 2015

One day at a time

Day 4 of ski holiday. Day 30 alcohol free.

I've been thinking a lot about the AA mantra of 'one day at a time.' I've always thought that it sounded horribly defeatist, and rather depressing. Surely if you only think ahead by one day you're putting your whole life on hold? How can you possibly plan your future one day at a time? Haven't I got more drive and determination than that? But, 30 days in and I'm starting to get it.

Back in the early days (it feels like a lifetime ago), not drinking, despite being hard, was a real novelty. An adventure. It felt like another circuit on the wild roller coaster of life. But now that things are evening out a bit it's easier, but all feels rather....flat.

I've read a lot about the initial 'honeymoon period' of sobriety - some people call it the 'pink cloud'. Like all honeymoons it does - apparently - come to an end. Then you realise that the wild excitement is all over and this is it for the rest of your life.

This holiday I've managed pretty well, all things considered, with the stressful journey without wine at the end of it, the romantic meal without wine, the après ski without wine etc. But when I think about never having another dinner with the husband whilst sharing a bottle of red, never having another holiday cocktail or a celebratory glass of champagne, it scares the pants off me.

So that's why 'one day at a time' is finally making sense. I know I can manage today. I know I can manage tomorrow. I'm not going to let myself even think about ten years down the line. I'm hoping that one day - after all the day-at-a-times have added up to a good long stretch - I can think about 'forever' without breaking out in a cold sweat.

This  evening I'm sitting by the fire clutching an alcohol free beer, watching the snow falling outside and thinking about Nicola who posted a comment yesterday and is on Day 1. The evenings are hard initially, Nicola, but the mornings make it all worthwhile.

And the evenings do get better. Last night we took #1, #2 and #3 out for a steak fondue. The husband had a carafe of red wine. I poured my diet coke into a wine glass and sipped it delicately (first time I've sipped delicately from a wine glass!). And we had a blast. At no point did I have to sit on my hands to stop myself wrestling the vino from the husband. At no point did I want to kill anyone. I didn't make excuses to try and wrap the evening up as fast as possible. I was calm, good company and I enjoyed myself. Who knew?

So good luck, Nicola, and everyone else reading this. And remember these lines from Invictus - the poem that inspired Nelson Mandela: I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.

I am. Not the wine witch.

Love SM x

Monday 30 March 2015

Day 29 - Sober in Switzerland!

I've really missed being able to post every day - this blog, and all of you - have been like my own personal AA sessions.  I'm writing this with one finger on an iPhone, so it'll probably by short and riddled with spelling errors - apologies!

So, here's the update: after a gruelling 16 hour drive with #1, #2 and #3 only pausing from the sibling bickering to consume unhealthy snacks thrown at them in desperation by their parents, we finally arrived in stunning Switzerland.

Needless to say, by this stage I would have given my right arm for a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. In order to stop myself drinking I went into a mad frenzy of cleaning. I was like a whirling dervish with OCD, running around the apartment with a wet cloth and spray detergent. The husband and children thought I'd completely lost it. Has anyone else found that their house has become infinitely cleaner since quitting drinking?

Since the night of the crazy cleaning there have been a number of other white knuckle moments. They are generally linked to 'firsts'. The first lunch up the mountain without a cold beer, the first cheese fondue without red wine to go with it, the first hair raising icy off piste mogul run (mainly done on my arse) without a congratulatory restorative drink at the end. All the outdoors and exercise have - as I'd hoped - stopped me constantly obsessing, but it means that when the cravings do hit I'm not as prepared for them. I'm blindsided.

In Jason Vale's book (kick the drink - easily), he constantly reminds us that children don't need alcohol to have fun and a huge lust for life. I never found that analogy terribly helpful - I'm far too removed in too many ways from my child self. What has been really helpful, though, is remembering one of my best ever holidays....

When I was nineteen I took off for 3 months around South East Asia armed with a rucksack, a copy of South East Asia on a Shoestring and some scrawled notes from my friend Philippa who'd just returned from a similar adventure. I fell in love - with the landscapes, the culture and a rugged, blonde Texan called Buck.

Buck had a tattoo on the sole of his foot reading 'the Buck stops here' in Thai. At least, that's what he asked the tattoo artist to write. It probably translated as 'gullible American asshole'.  I was at the age where you feel everything so intensely - love, anticipation, fear, joy - it was a magical time.

But you know the weird thing? I have hundreds of vivid technicolor memories of that trip and in NONE of them am I clutching a glass of alcohol. Usually I'm holding an old fashioned curvy glass bottle of Coca-Cola. My backpacker budget didn't stretch to imported wine. From time to time I'd drink a Singha beer, but I wasn't bothered about it.

I drank virtually nothing for 3 months and it was one of the best times of my life. And perhaps part of the reason it was so vivid and intense wasn't just my age. Perhaps it was because I hadn't blunted all the edges with booze.

So every time a craving hits I picture my nineteen year old self - skinny, gorgeous (although I didn't know it then, obviously) and sober, looking over the Padi fields listening to Frankie Goes to Holllywood on my Sony Walkman, filled with wonder at the world, and I think "that's how I was before you invaded my space, wily wine witch, and that's how I can be again."

I hope you're all doing okay!

Much love from the land of melted cheese, cuckoo clocks and 'discreet' bankers,

SM xx

Thursday 26 March 2015

Day 25 - Packing Up

Today is Packing Day. At 4am tomorrow Family SoberMummy depart for our annual ski holiday in the Swiss Alps. It sounds flashy, but since I gave up the lucrative career after #3's arrival we have done ski-ing 'on the cheap'.

Our ski holiday involves driving for 16 hours - through the channel tunnel, across the breadth of France and over a mountain range into Switzerland. It is always nerve wracking as we can never guarantee that the old banger is going to make it.

One year we broke down in France at lunch time (which the French take very seriously). We had to wait for hours until one of the local mechanics had finished his dejeuner before we could be towed away and repaired. Another year our licence plate fell off. We only realised when we tried to cross the border and were yelled at by the border police. Luckily, I have spent years doing arts and crafts with children and was able to make a temporary one out of cardboard and sticky backed plastic (thank you Blue Peter!). Plus, at least twice we've been caught in blizzards while crossing the mountains.

We stop at the last Hypermarche in France to buy all our food and drink as it's way cheaper than in the ski resorts, but after ten hours or so driving, the last thing you want to do is to drag 3 children round a supermarket! The final leg of the journey involves trying to fit snow chains on all the tyres in the dark (and often in a white out), to get up the final mountain to our (self-catering) apartment.

But then we wake up on Saturday morning and there will be icicles hanging from all the windows, and we'll look out onto the snowy alps and breathe in the cold, crisp air - and it'll all be worth it. Well, for the husband and #1, #2 and #3 it will. They will throw themselves down sheer rock faces shrieking with glee. Then they all wait at the bottom pointing up and laughing at me while I slowly edge down thinking "I have not got time for a broken leg" and "God, I need a drink".

Needless to day, this trip is usually fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol. There's the 'helping with the packing' bottle (the result of which is that, whilst all the children's stuff is remembered and neatly packed, I invariably forget something crucial of my own - like knickers), the 'thank god we've arrived' bottle, the 'we're on holiday and it's lunch time' bottle, the 'I made it down alive' bottle, etc etc. This time I'm going to have to have the bottle to do it all without the bottle.

On the upside, I will be away from all the usual triggers: my fridge, the wine rack in the hall, the wine shop, my drinking buddies and so on. Plus, I've found that the most effective way to beat cravings is being outdoors and exercise, and there's going to be loads of outdoors and exercise. And the beautiful Swiss Alps have to be the very best place to practice Mindfulness.

I notice that I have loads of readers in the UK and US, plus lots in places like Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Spain, France and the Netherlands. But only 2 page views from Switzerland - and I bet those were in error. I reckon the Swiss are just too sensible (and live in a place too beautiful) to end up as alcohol addicts. After all, Switzerland is where all the mad English aristocracy were sent to 'take the cure' in Victorian times - they got bored of all the fresh air and clinics so they tied planks to their feet and invented downhill skiing - I kid you not.

Given that we are doing budget holiday, our apartment has no wifi. I will try to post from a café or something while I'm away, as writing this blog and reading your comments has become rather an addiction in itself, but I'm not sure how easy it will be so do not worry if I go quiet for ten days. I may have fallen off a mountain, but I will not fall off the wagon. (repeat endlessly to self).

If you're new to this blog then "HELLO AND WELCOME!" and please do check out some of my previous posts while I'm away. Here are some ideas:

If you're looking for some good reasons for not drinking then have a look at: The wine belly, livers and mojos, sleep glorious sleep and why ex-drinkers rock.

If you want to know about the downsides of quitting look at: alcohol withdrawal symptoms, will I lose all my friends and fed up Friday.

If you're interested in my journey so far check out: Mummy was a secret drinker, the Maintenance drinker, secret drinker hits the high bottom, discovering mindfulness and Sundays - hair of the dog.

Love, and Happy Easter, to you all! SM x

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Sleep, glorious sleep!

Day 24 today - yay! I was thinking about what's changed in the last few weeks, and one of the biggies is sleep.

Putting this in context: I have had terrible insomnia on and off over the last decade. I've gone through weeks at a time averaging no more than 3 hours a night. Things got better when I quit full time work, but I still had terrible broken nights. I used to look at my children, spread out over their tangled covers like comatose starfish, dead to the world for at least ten hours at a time, and wonder where it all went wrong.

My classic night's sleep would go like this: After supper and children's bedtimes, longsuffering husband and I would retire to sofas to watch TV. Within 30 minutes (at around 9.30pm) I'd usually be fast asleep (due to lack of sleep the previous night, and the wine I'd drunk before, during and after dinner). At about 11pm husband would wake me up and I'd stagger upstairs, brush teeth and fall into bed. By 3am I'd wake up, dying for a wee and a bottle of water, then I'd toss and turn and fret and worry and hate myself until about 6am when I'd fall asleep and have weird dreams. The alarm would go off at 6.30am and I'd drag myself out of bed, exhausted.

Not only is constant, low level exhaustion a bummer, but it's also really bad for our health. It exacerbates depression and weight issues, is really bad for your skin and your heart, and increases your risk of colon and breast cancer. Ironically, all these issues are also caused by alcohol addiction, so for us it's a double whammy.

I tried all sorts of insomnia cures: herbal remedies, prescription drugs, hot milk, aromatherapy baths, notebook by the bed, meditation, exercise - you name it. The one thing I didn't try, obviously, was giving up alcohol.

I've done a bit of research, and it transpires that the link between alcohol and insomnia is a well proven one. Drinking alcohol makes you fall straight into a deep sleep cycle initially, but Doctor John Shneerson, head of the Papworth Sleep Centre in Cambridge, explains that "as the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That's why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep after drinking."

To feel refreshed you should, ideally, have 6 or 7 cycles of REM sleep. After drinking you typically have only 1 or 2, which is why you feel exhausted the next day. You're also likely to wake up several times to wee, due to alcohol's diuretic effect. All the weeing, plus sweating, dehydrates you and makes you thirsty. Plus, alcohol can make you snore, or even cause sleep apnoea. All of this adds up to just a few hours of poor quality, fitful sleep. Sound familiar?

Now, this blog comes with a bit of a health warning: many alcohol addicts find that, at least initially, when they stop drinking their sleep gets worse. It can be difficult getting off to sleep when you're used to using alcohol as an anaesthetic. If this is the case for you, don't panic - give it a while to settle down and, hopefully, hours and hours of uninterrupted slumber will soon be yours.

I found that - despite years of drinking at least a bottle of wine a day - from day 1 my sleep was totally transformed.  I still find it odd trying to go to sleep without being fairly drunk. I lie in bed with the lights off, wide awake thinking "I am never going to get to sleep", and then - somehow - it's morning! A miracle!

These days I'm wide awake until around 11pm. I actually get to watch the end of TV episodes and discuss them with the husband, rather than him having to fill me in the next day. I sleep for 7 hours solid. No waking up in the middle of the night, no weird dreams or angst. I wake up feeling muggy and heavy (just like the children when they're in that floppy, not quite awake phase), but 15 minutes later I'm bouncing around like the Duracell bunny!

God, I love sleep! It's the next best thing to chocolate. It's transformed my energy levels, my mood, my life.

So, this morning I bounced out of the car with #3 outside her school and one of the Mum's calls me over. "Hey, SM," she says, "you look amazing! Have you been on a diet? I didn't recognise you from behind!"

My arse (is that 'ass' for you Americans?) is officially unrecognisable. I guess I've gone from 'bottoms up!' to 'bottom's shrunk!'

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Livers and Mojos

It's just struck me, looking at that headline, that it sounds like the sort of healthy eating meal plan that Gwyneth Paltrow would post on Goop: Pan fried organic liver of guinea fowl with Peruvian mojo berries. But no. As you will be aware by now, I am no Gwynnie.

Talking of menus, this is a quick one as my mother - The Matriarch - known in the family as 'She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed' -  is coming for lunch, which I have to do without a couple of glasses of vino 'to take the edge off'. The edge will most definitely remain on.

So, livers. I thought that having totally ignored mine for decades, I should do a bit of research and get to know it a bit better. Here's the basic scoop: livers are big and important, and alcohol screws them up.

A bit more detail: The liver is the largest and most complex organ in the body. It does all sorts of really important stuff like fighting disease, aiding digestion, getting rid of toxins and regulating sugar and cholesterol. Drinking 'heavily' (over government guidelines) can lead to liver disease.

There are 3 stages of 'alcoholic' liver disease: (1) Alcoholic fatty liver disease, (2) alcoholic hepatitis and (3) alcoholic cirrhosis. The bad news is that it's estimated that over 90% of heavy drinkers will have fatty liver disease. This disease does what it says on the tin: your liver gets fatty (and yellow - yuk), which is not good. The good news is that it is totally reversible. It turns out that the liver is pretty damn efficient at healing itself, and within 2 weeks of not drinking any alcohol it can get totally back to normal. Woo hoo!

Now, stage 1 is virtually symptomless, so most people are not diagnosed with liver disease until they get to stages 2 and 3 which are much more dangerous and difficult to treat. Cirrhosis is irreversible, and 50% of people diagnosed with it die within 5 years (if they don't stop drinking). Also, bear in mind that women are far more prone to alcoholic liver disease than men, especially if they're overweight.

In case you're worried, the symptoms of stage 2 liver disease are: weight loss, feeling sick, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin/eyes and pain in the top right of your abdomen. Here's a link to the NHS website.

Given that I have none of the above symptoms, I'm hoping that I've dodged the bullet and only reached stage 1. This means that after 22 days of not drinking I - hopefully - have a gorgeous, pink, healthy liver. Yay!

I was thinking about this yesterday (I am SO fed up with not being able to think about anything other than not drinking. How long is it going to take my head to shut up about it???) as I walked to school to pick up #2.

A car drove past slowly with two cool looking black guys in the front. They were young (and by that I mean under 35), and one was hanging out of the passenger side window. He whistled. I looked round to spot the hot blonde following me (bear in mind that I have walked past building sites untroubled for at least a decade). No-one there. He whistled again. I'm presuming he's lost his dog, but no dog in sight.

Eventually it hits me. Sod the healthy liver! Mama has her mojo back! Oh yeah, baby.

Monday 23 March 2015

The Wine Belly

One of the worst side effects of a regular Chablis habit has to be the dreaded 'wine belly'.

Now, I'm not horribly fat. I'm a UK size 12 (14 on a bad day). For my American friends, that's a size 8. Doesn't sound too bad, does it? BUT I have a horrible, muffin topped wine belly.

As I sit here in my size 12 skinny jeans, a little roll of flab - like a child's rubber ring in the swimming pool - is hanging over my belt. Lovely.

If I lie down in the bath (spoiler alert, do not read this if you are eating lunch), and grab my belly fat with both hands it is - ironically - about the size of a bottle of vino.

The problem with being relatively slim except for the wine belly is that it makes you look 5 months pregnant. And there is nothing worse than some poor woman asking you when it's due, or a curious child asking talking about 'the baby in your tummy'. Plus, if you're at a party quaffing back the vino while looking up the duff you get a lot of hostile looks from the Pregnancy Police.

Not only is a wine belly not the best look aesthetically, it's also very bad for your health.

A wine belly gives you what's called 'the apple shape' where fat is stored around the abdomen and vital organs, rather than the bum and thighs. This is, according to the National Health Service website, the very worst place to store fat as it makes you far more prone to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

According to the NHS, a woman's waist should ideally measure less than 32". 32"-35" is high, and over 35" is very high. They also suggest measuring your waist to hip ratio i.e. inches around waist divided by inches around hips. For women it should be less than 0.85.

Now my BMI is (just) in the normal range, but my waist (when I started this journey) was 36" and my waist to hip ratio was 0.87 - both of these measurements put me well into the danger zone. No surprise there!

So what causes the wine belly?

Well, wine, obviously! Booze has 7 calories per gram, making it the second most calorie rich micronutrient after fat. A bottle of vino usually contains at least 500 calories - that means that if you drink a bottle of wine a day you are drinking 2 extra day's worth of calories a week! A small glass of white wine (125ml - that's really small, right ladies?) contains the same number of calories as 6 teaspoons of sugar.

And that's not all - Dr Pamela M Peake (author of 'The Hunger Fix') claims that the body can't store calories from alcohol for later like it does calories from food, so it has to 'press pause' on your metabolism in order to deal with the alcohol and, while it does so, any calories you've eaten get stored as fat. Peeke adds that 'research has uncovered that alcohol especially decreases fat burn in the belly...that's why you never hear about beer hips - you hear about a beer belly.'

There are 2 other reasons why drinking alcohol leads to piling on pounds which I'm sure you'll be familiar with.

One is that drinking makes you lose your inhibitions, which means that you're far more likely to pile into the 'death by chocolate' at the end of a meal. The second is the dreaded hangover. Because your body needs energy to recover from your previous night's marathon, it makes you crave fat and carbohydrate rich foods (like the classic British fry up), and dehydration makes you even hungrier.

Confusingly, red wine contains something called 'resveratrol' which can help you burn fat, BUT (and it's a big but, or is that a big butt?) only if you drink no more than one glass a day. Excuse me for a minute while I grab my belly fat and roll on floor laughing.

So, after 3 whole weeks (yes! Count 'em! 1..2...3...yay!) of not drinking any alcohol at all, what has happened to my wine belly?

Bear in mind that I have tried many diets to shift it in the past. I've given up fat, I've given up carbs, I've ditched gluten and dairy. I've tried everything except giving up alcohol. This time I've given up nothing except alcohol. In fact, I've even added in a fair bit of chocolate and cake which I've never eaten much of before.

For the first week I didn't lose any weight (I think my body was busy re-hydrating), but now I'm steadily losing about 1.5 pounds per week. I've lost 3 pounds over all. I've also lost 1.5 inches off the belly.

It doesn't sound like a huge amount, but I swear that the 'jeans that don't lie' now fit really easily. I've also lost an inch off the bum.

Again, sounds insignificant, but child #1 said this morning "Mummy, I think your butt has got less saggy." Talk about damning with faint praise. She then continued "Your boobs are still saggy, though."

I bit back the urge to reply, for the hundredth time, that the saggy boobs are almost entirely the fault of #1, #2 and #3. Particularly #3 who refused a bottle for nearly a year (she doesn't take after her mother, does she?!).

I'm going to stop now and caress the old wine belly in a fond way because its days are numbered. Bye, bye belly, bye bye......

UPDATE: One year after writing this post I'd lost two stone, that's twenty-eight pounds, or 13 kilos, if you prefer. And the wine belly? What wine belly! Now when I look down I have a totally uninterupted view of my feet, and I can spend the money I used to spend on expensive vino on SHOES.

If you'd like to read the whole story of my first year after quitting booze, you can find my book - The Sober Diaries on Amazon by clicking here.

For more inspiration and information, visit the SoberMummy Facebook page here, and 'like' to stay updated.

Love to you all,

SoberMummy (Clare Pooley)

Sunday 22 March 2015

Sundays - Hair of the Dog

Happy Sunday Morning Everyone!

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a parallel universe where everything has ended up back to front. I remember when I was a child I used to think that if I dug a hole deep enough I'd end up in Australia where everything would be kind of similar but we'd all be standing upside down. (Did any of my Australian readers imagine ending up in London?). Well, giving up a chronic alcohol habit is a bit like that. For example, in the BS (Before Sober) days, Friday nights and Saturday nights were the best, and Sunday mornings were the pits. Now, AF (Alcohol Free), Friday and Saturday nights are the hardest BUT Sunday Mornings are our reward!

One of the best things about glorious, empty but filled with promise and expectation, Sunday Mornings AF is remembering the horror of Sunday Mornings BS. So here's a trip down memory lane:

4am Sunday morning: wake up, head pounding, dry mouth, dying for a wee. Gradually try to piece together exactly what led to feeling like this. Wish I hadn't. Lots of self hatred and self flagellation and empty promises to self to change. Endless trips to the loo and the fridge to get more water. Toss and turn until about 6.30am. Go back to sleep until woken up by kids and dog at 7ish. Try really hard not to be grumpy and horrible. Fail. Spend all morning wishing time away until midday when I can 'reasonably' open a bottle of wine 'while I'm getting lunch ready'. Watch minute hand on kitchen clock obsessively because I cannot drink in the morning. Only alcoholics do that, and I am not an alcoholic. Open bottle at 11.50am so glass is ready for midday. Drink first glass wine fast. Feel much better.

It strikes me now that one of the core differences between 'normal' drinkers and 'overly enthusiastic' drinkers is their attitude to hangovers. I was always amazed at people who would refuse a drink at Sunday lunch because they'd drunk too much the night before and 'couldn't face it'. Surely they knew that the only way to 'face it' was to drink more? I was an enthusiastic proponent of  'hair of the dog'.

The phrase 'hair of the dog' comes from a time when - bizarrely - it was believed that the cure for rabies was to put the 'hair of the dog that bit you' onto the rabid dog bite. There is also a great Swahili phrase for drinking off a hangover: kuzimua which means being assisted to wake up after a coma.

A recent scientific study Proof: the science of booze by Adam Rogers claims that 'hair of the dog' really is the only effective cure for a hangover. This is because alcoholic drinks contain methanol, which is poisonous, and doctors treat methanol poisoning with ethanol i.e. alcohol.

There is another, more worrying, reason why 'hair of the dog' works according to alcoholrehab.com and it's this: 'A common reason why heavy drinkers experience hangovers is that they have actually entered the early stages of withdrawal. By drinking alcohol the next morning they are preventing these withdrawal symptoms from taking hold.' Seems obvious, but I'd honestly never thought of it like that!

I checked out the good old National Health Service website for their advice on hangover cures, and found this classic line: 'The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink.' Well no shit Sherlock (as they say, but not in front of the kids, obviously, or it's another pound in the swear box). But, acutally, that is what I am doing! And it's Sunday morning. Beautiful, glorious, Sunday morning, and I feel amazing!

So, here's my plan for the day. I will not be grumpy and clock watchy all morning followed by drunk and asleep most of the afternoon. Oh no. I am taking #1 and dog to park this morning for good walk and girlie chat. Come back and cook roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch (oh yes, my French readers, it is not for nothing that you call us 'les rosbifs') Have judging of the great cheesecake bake off (yesterday husband and #1, inspired by the Great British Bake Off on TV, had an argument about who could make the best cheesecake. Their efforts, plus one from Waitrose, are in the fridge awaiting the family blind taste test). Collapse with Sunday papers. Take #2 and #3 to pet shop to buy birthday presents for the dog. Have birthday tea (with dog food cake and candles) for said dog. Play massive game of Monopoly or similar. Put kids in bed and watch 3 episodes back-to-back of latest box set with husband. Collapse into bed sober and happy.

So, Sundays are still about 'the dog'. But this one's six years old today, smelly, furry and totally loveable.

Enjoy your Sober Sunday my sober friends! And if you're reading this with a chronic hangover, pondering giving it all up then please join us!

Love SM x

Saturday 21 March 2015

Fed up Friday - Angst and Wobbles

I suppose it was bound to happen. The last 19 days have been tough, but I've been generally positive about what I'm doing. I've been determined, upbeat, sometimes verging on euphoric (see my post from last Sunday on Mindfulness). Then last night I hit a wall.

It was Friday. The end of the week. I've done really well this week. And last week. And the week before. I just felt that I really deserved to be able to treat myself, let my hair down, go wild. Yet we have NO PLANS this weekend. None at all (except the usual kid based activities). I deliberately didn't organise any social events and we've had no invitations. Nada. Does everyone hate me because I'm a drunk? Does everyone hate me because I'm not a drunk? Aaarrrgghhh.

So, I pick #2 up from school. #1 and #3 have playdates (alright for some). I feel an overwhelming need to indulge. The boy and I go to a café and I order a piece of carrot cake. It must be at least half vegetable, right? When it arrives it's almost as big as my head, and doesn't look in the slightest vegetably. How can they serve portions that big? How could I have finished it? I feel physically sick, but no happier.

In the fridge I have 6 Becks Blue beers (alcohol free). I've never tried one of these, but I'd bought them especially for the weekend, thinking that I'd have one at the old 'wine o'clock'. I make it as far as 4.45pm (plus ca change!) and then crack open the (alcohol free) beer. Spookily, it looks just the same (not quite as much 'head'), tastes just the same and even makes me feel light headed. I double check the bottle. It is alcohol free. Either they're playing a sick joke or my head is so finely tuned to expect to feel drunk that it's slipped into that mode automatically!

Once I've drunk the beer and the light headedness has worn off I feel even worse. I'm fed up with being 'boring'. I'm fed up with the constant dialogue in my head about alcohol, with spending hours each day reading about it and writing about it and not getting anything else done. I'm not sure I want to live my life on an even keel rather than a roller coaster.

6.30pm and I have to pick up #1 and #3. I remind myself that in the 'old days' this would have caused me endless angst. Either I would have had to delay drinking on a Friday night until 7.30pm when I got the girls back home OR I would have spent ages working out how much I could drink without being over the limit or looking worse for wear to the girls' hostesses. As it was, I jumped in the car totally sober.

Husband came home, opened fridge and brightened up visibly when he saw the beer. "Just what I need after cycling home from the City!" You should have seen his face when he spotted the 'alcohol free' flash. Oh God, I'm ruining his life too! He sneaks a glass of wine from the kitchen cupboard surreptitiously, so as not to rub it in my face. I think about how much I'd love to rub a glass of wine in my face. Then neck it in one. I reminisce fondly about our decades of evenings sharing a bottle of wine (conveniently forgetting the fact that I'd usually have 'pre-loaded' with at least another half bottle first).

We watch a family movie. #2 and #3 have a god almighty barney about who gets which end of the sofa and spend ages 'accidentally' kicking each other. I wish (again) that I could self-medicate with the bottle of St Emilion that the husband's hid behind his chair. I look back at some of my early posts and I think "OMG I sound so smug."

The wine witch starts whispering in my ear. I try desperately to beat her off. She says: "It's Friday night! You need to be able to celebrate the weekend!" I think back "But it's not just Friday night, is it? It's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and every other night." She says "Just have one! That can't do any harm." I remind myself "It wouldn't be just one, would it? It would be the whole bottle." She says "You've done nearly three weeks! You'll have re-defined your relationship with alcohol. Now you can moderate!" Well, now she's bought out the big guns. The classic moderation argument. I've been here before - again and again. I know that even if I can 'moderate' for a while it won't be long before I'm back where I started, doing DAY 1 all over again.

So, I remind myself again and again about how bad it got. I re-read Secret Drinker hits the High Bottom. Then I think about all of you guys - about Kags, Justine, Wendy, Laura, Jen, Emily, Bethany and everyone else who's been kind enough to post comments. I think about my lovely friend, Philippa (now 9 years sober and an addiction counsellor) who is the only person I know who has my blog url. And the main reason I don't physically wrestle the Saint Emilion from the husband and drink it from the bottle is that I don't want to let you all down.

So thank you all, because today I feel much better. Apart from the fact that I seem to have gained a pound in the last 24 hours - damned carrot cake.

Onwards and upwards, soberly.....

Friday 20 March 2015

Am I an alcoholic?

I hate the word alcoholic. This is the first time I've used it in this blog. I'm sure that my loathing of the term is partly why I didn't stop drinking years ago. By defining people as 'alcoholic' there's an implication that it's all very black and white: you're either a normal person or you're an alcoholic. Yet what I see all around me is - to coin a phrase - fifty shades of grey.

Several times over the years (usually after a big night out, with a crashing hangover) I've typed 'am I an alcoholic' into Google. Generally you get one of those quizzes (I've always loved quizzes!). The questions can vary quite a bit, so there's obviously no agreement on which are the best ones. Here's an example from one I Googled this morning:

1. Do you lose time from work due to drinking? No
2. Is drinking making your home life unhappy? Not really
3. Do you drink because you are shy with other people? God, no
4. Is drinking affection your reputation? No, I was very secret about it
5. Have you ever felt remorse after drinking? Is the Pope Catholic?
6. Have you had financial difficulties because of drinking? No
7. Do you turn to inferior companions and environments when drinking? Goodness no, only the very nicest wine bars with lovely friends!
8. Does drinking make you careless of your family's welfare? I very much hope not!
9. Has your ambition decreased since drinking? Yes, probably, but I only realised that once I stopped!
10. Do you crave a drink at the same time daily? Yes, absolutely.

There are ten more questions. I answered 'yes' to sleeping badly and drinking alone, but no to all the questions about being hospitalised, blacking out, seeing my doctor and so on. And after all that, what was the result? You may have a problem with alcohol or be an alcoholic. 

Well I knew that I 'may have a problem with alcohol.' That's why I'm doing your stupid questionnaire! I want to know if I do have a problem with alcohol. And since I answered 'no' to 70% of the questions I'm thinking 'Well, that's all right then! Carry on! Crack open the Pouilly Fume.' But, quite obviously, drinking 1 or 2 bottles of wine a day for a decade is not okay, even if many of your friends are doing it too.

The amazing Jason Vale (read his 'Kick the drink, easily' if you haven't already) says, bravely, 'there is no such thing as an alcoholic'. He believes, and it makes sense, that alcohol is an addictive drug just like any other. Anyone who drinks regularly is an alcohol addict, it's just a question of how far down the slippery slide you've slid. And it's a very good idea to get of the slide before you hit 'rock bottom' or, what society defines as 'alcoholism', but Jason would call chronic alcohol addiction.

The problem is that we are terrified of getting off the slippery slide and quitting alcohol because then we will be admitting to ourselves and others that we are an alcoholic, and that word has a really bad rap. It comes loaded with terrible imagery of tramps quaffing methylated spirits and mothers passing out on the floor in a pool of vomit in front of their children. It means admitting to an incurable illness, and resigning ourselves to be miserable for the rest of our lives! Jason Vale points out that 'alcohol is the only drug in the world where, when you stop taking it, you are seen as having a problem.'

I was a terrible nicotine addict, but I gave up 13 years ago and I do not define myself now as a nicotin-aholic. I am a non smoker. I am nicotine free! I am an ex-addict who saw the light.

Likewise, I do not want to spend the rest of my life standing up in a church hall in front of strangers saying "My name's SoberMummy and I am an alcoholic." I do not want to define myself by a negative. I want to shout "I am a non-drinker! I am alcohol free! I used to be an addict - like millions of people worldwide - but I was brave enough and wise enough to quit. Hurrah!"

I honestly believe that when we manage to rebrand the ex drinker as wise, strong, clever and alcohol free, rather than an ill, sad, struggling 'alcoholic' far more people will jump onto the wagon. So, I'm starting a movement - one blog at a time. Anonymously. And isn't that ironic!

If you're reading this thinking 'am I an alcoholic?', then please forget the terminology, it's a red herring. You, like all regular drinkers, are probably addicted to alcohol. It's a horribly additive substance, so there's no shame in that. The sooner you quit, the easier it is, and - believe me, and millions of others - you'll never regret it.

Good luck this weekend, everyone! Let me know how you get on....

Related Posts: Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom, Why so many well educated, middle aged women drink, Why ex-drinkers rock! Am I an alcoholic? Part 2

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Why Ex-Drinkers Rock!

We ex-drinkers get a really bad rap. Which is why so many of us stay in the closet for weeks, if not months or years, after quitting drinking. If you give up smoking you tell the world and everyone pats you on the back. Give up drinking and you mumble apologetically about 'being on antibiotics.' Why?

It's not at all surprising when you look at the image of the ex-drinker. We're seen as weak willed, lacking in self control, abnormal, ill, addicted. Which makes absolutely no sense at all. How can you - Mrs drinker - accuse me of being weak willed, lacking in self control, abnormal, ill and addicted when I haven't had a drink for 16 days (woo hoo!), while you're still downing the best part of a bottle every evening? Who's really the weak willed one? I'm the healthy, normal person - not the lady who is still obsessed by 'wine o'clock' and doing terrible damage to her liver every day.

We are not lacking in self control. We're the ones who've looked hard at our lives and decided to do something about it, despite swimming against the tide of the rest of society. We are bl***y strong, and we should be wearing t-shirts celebrating the fact, not hiding behind 'an important meeting in the morning' or 'got to drive home'.

Okay, maybe in the past we had an eeensy little issue with moderation, but is that such an awful thing? I bet we're not moderate in anything, and on the whole that's laudable.

I may have been hopeless at moderating nicotine (I smoked 30 a day before giving up 13 years ago) and alcohol, but I don't moderate the good stuff either. Anything I do, I do with gusto - the career, friendship, motherhood, marriage - and my drinking buddies were the same.

I met some of the most interesting and wonderful people smoking behind the bike sheds and staying late at the party with an additional bottle. We were the rebels - the ones who loved pushing the boundaries and riling against the rules. And I'm still a rebel at heart, and proud of it. Personally, I would much rather chat to the ex-drinker at a party than the person who's never coloured outside the lines.

We are not bad people, we're people with a massive lust for life who have just realised that we've got to the stage where we need to re-focus our enthusiasm onto something a bit less self-destructive. And whatever we re-focus on we'll do brilliantly.

Now, I'm not ready to come out yet and deal with everyone else's negative perceptions, but I'm sure as hell not going to beat myself up when I'm doing the bravest and best thing I've done in my life to date.

I rock! And so do you! So they can stick that in their oversized wine glass and drink it.

Apologies to my regular readers, but I'm going to have to stop posting every day and post every two or three days instead. I've got to do something about the finished novel languishing in my desk drawer, plus I'm worried about running out of stuff to say. I don't want to start boring you! I will reply to comments daily, though, so please stay in touch. And if you have any topics you'd like me to post on then please let me know.

Have a great, immoderate, day. SM x

Related post: Why Ex-Drinkers Rock! Part 2

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Alcohol Induced Rage

My UK readers will be aware that Jeremy Clarkson has been all over the news this week. For the benefit of the non-Brits (by the way, welcome to my reader(s) in Antigua!), Jeremy Clarkson is a very well known, well loved TV presenter over here. Jeremy presents Top Gear - one of our most popular TV programmes, and one of our most lucrative exports.

Last week Jeremy got into a brawl with his producer in a hotel in Yorkshire because, allegedly, his producer had the nerve to produce a plate of cold meat and cheese for his dinner instead of the steak he'd asked for. As a result the BBC have suspended all showings of Top Gear and Jeremy is under investigation and will, despite huge popular support, probably lose his job.

I took one look at Jeremy's florid complexion, puffy jowls, confused and depressed expression and thought "ladies - he's one of us." Some commentators claim that he'd spent 'several hours in the pub' prior to the brawl, some that he didn't drink at all. His boss has muttered (on the record) about re-hab. It looks to me (and this is purely speculation, and not in any way an accusation) like a classic case of alcohol induced rage. Either rage due to too much alcohol or too little...

We've all been there, haven't we? Many times I've picked a fight with the poor, longsuffering husband when he's got back from work and I've been (secretly) 2/3 of a bottle down. I've slammed cupboard doors passive aggressively and considered hurling a wooden spoon across the kitchen as a result of some (imagined) slight. Jeremy, allegedly, called his producer a 'lazy, Irish ****' and punched him in the face - splitting his lip. I never went that far. Apart from anything else, my husband isn't Irish.

Professor McMurran - a psychologist at Nottingham University - says that alcohol "narrows our focus of attention and gives us tunnel vision....If someone provokes us while we're drunk, we don't take other factors into account, such as the consequences of rising to the bait. This can lead to violent reactions from people who would usually shrug things off." Also, because alcohol lowers inhibitions our warning systems don't go off and "this can put us in dangerous or confrontational situations."

The Prof goes on to say that alcohol affects the way we process information so we are more likely to misinterpret information - to see insults where there are none. That's why so many fights start "because he looked at me the wrong way."

When I was in the high powered job (with the bar in the office), I remember having two large glasses of wine with a colleague at lunch. When I got back to my desk I found an e-mail from a very important, global client asking for a number of changes to the edit of the new TV commercial we'd just shot. I fired off a reply in (drunken) high umbrage, calling him a Neanderthal nincompoop who was obviously unable to appreciate a work of true artistic genius. This e-mail became famous and made me a heroine in the creative department, but it got me fired off the business and could easily have lost me my job.

Funnily enough, since giving up the booze I've not picked one fight. I've been - relatively - Zen. I am a thing of wondrous calm and serenity.

So I look at lovely, raddled, remorseful Jeremy and think: log on to www.mummywasasecretdrinker.blogspot.com Jezza, and we'll give you a big virtual hug and persuade you of the magical restorative powers of hot chocolate.

Love, peace and calm to you all X

Related post: Alcohol Induced Rage Part 2

Monday 16 March 2015

14 days - Discovering Mindfulness

We got through the weekend, ladies! (are there any blokes reading this? If so, do shout and I'll stop being so sexist). Congratulations to Kags who did her first big night out sober - woo hoo! Love and hugs to Whimsical (great username!) who was out drinking until 3am Sunday morning and felt terrible yesterday. We've all been there, and we're with you.

14 days in, and here's what I've noticed:

Bright eyes and clear, sort of dewy fresh, skin. And I've lost 2 pounds and about an inch off the muffin top. I'm not yet at the 'hot mama, careful as you walk past building sites' stage, but definitely not looking as raddled as I did. Yay!

Cravings not as bad as they were. I've realised that my danger periods are the old 'wine o'clocks' i.e. around 1pm and 6pm. The way I get through these tough times is to indulge myself. I lie down on the sofa with a good magazine or book, or I have a bath with bubbles, candles and some chilled music - just for 30 minutes until the craving passes. And it does.

I'm not as distracted as I was (see previous post - withdrawal symptoms), so I am managing to (more or less) get through my 'to do' list for the day. And - thank goodness - the digestion seems to be back to normal.

But the big change is that I have suddenly discovered the ability to live in the moment. For the first time in as long as I can remember I can do 'mindfulness'. It strikes me that mindfulness is impossible for an alcohol dependant. We are either wishing time away so we can get rid of the hangover, or wishing it away because we're longing for the next drink or - most likely - both simultaneously. The last thing we want to do is linger in the moment. Maybe we're in the moment when we take the first sip of the first glass, but we're very quickly looking forward to pouring the next one.

The other issue with alcohol and mindfulness is that we use our drinking to take the edges off life - to make it all a bit fuzzy. This is the antithesis to mindfulness, which is about noticing everything clearly and sharply - colours, smells, sounds, our own breathing.

Mindfulness has been in the news a lot recently. Wikipedia define it as "the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment." (Try doing that drunk). The effects of mindfulness include alleviation of anxiety, depression, stress, handling emotions and treating substance abuse disorders. Hey, what's not to like?

So, Sunday morning I take my youngest (aged 5) for a walk with the dog round the local cemetery (sounds ghoulish, but it's beautiful). Half way round and I realise that I am absolutely in the moment. Not wishing away a hangover, not checking the time constantly to see when I can pour the first glass. I'm seeing all the daffodils appearing around the gravestones, the glorious spring light and the terribly poignant inscriptions on the monuments. The little one and I play 'who can find the most angels' (not celestial ones, sadly - stone ones). She turns to me and asks " How old are you again, Mummy?" "As old as the hills", I reply. She pauses, thinking, then asks "how old are the hills, Mummy?" I laugh till I cry.

Here's my mindfulness quote for the day: "You must live life in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look towards another land; there is no other life but this." Henry David Thoreau.

Best of luck to you all. Stay in touch. X

Sunday 15 March 2015

Sober Saturdays

I think Saturday is the hardest day of all. I've noticed that my page views drop by 50% from Friday to Saturday. Hopefully that's because we're all busy with family time rather than out getting trollied ;-) I was thinking about Kags last night - one of my readers - and hoping that she got through her first big night out sober. Please let us know, Kags!

I thought I'd compare and contrast my day yesterday with how it would have gone 'in the old days' (i.e. 2 weeks ago) in the company of - approximately - 2 bottles of wine.

Yesterday: Woke up at 6.30 full of beans after 7 hours deep sleep. Went downstairs to drink coffee and write blog, then back to bed for big group hugs as the rest of the family woke up - husband, 3 kids and dog all under duvet (dog pretending not to be there as 'officially' he's banned). Bounced down to kitchen followed by the merry band at about 8.30am to make breakfast.

Drinking days: Would have been awake since about 4am drinking pints of water and stressing about anything and everything. By about 7am would drop back off to sleep. At around 7.30am when kids and dog start piling in would hide head under pillow and hope that it all went away. Would give up eventually (about 8.30am) and get up grumpy and knackered.

Yesterday: Husband and son went off to football club. My eldest (11) was playing her oboe in a big music competition in the afternoon and hadn't done any practice all week. She played her competition piece and it was pretty awful.  I quickly realised that she was nervous about the afternoon, told her that it didn't matter at all, it was only practice for playing in public and, if she really didn't want to do it, we could pull out. She thought about it for a bit and then said that she really didn't want to let her teacher down. She played the piece a few more times and it was sounding way better. We then decided we should have a break, put Spotify on loud in the kitchen and danced.

Drinking days: Eldest would have played her competition piece badly. I would have yelled at her for not having practiced all week, and told her that she was letting her teacher down. She would have stomped upstairs to her room and refused to play any more. The bad atmosphere would have prevailed until it was time to leave for the competition.

Yesterday: We had a jolly family lunch. I drank water. Husband had a beer (I've become obsessed by watching what he's drinking!). Eldest and I hopped into car in a good mood and headed off.

Drinking days: I would have been having an endless internal monologue about whether/how much to drink at lunch time. I would persuade myself that I absolutely had to have a glass of wine to 'take the edge off' the competition nerves. Having had one I'd want another. I'd try to work out how much I could drink and still be under driving limit. I'd consider sending husband to competition. Daughter would complain vociferously on basis that her father is tone deaf (true). Another argument would take place. I'd decide that two glasses was bound to be under limit. We'd leave with me grumpy because I hadn't drunk enough, and guilty because I'd drunk too much. Daughter would still be cross with me for yelling at her over lack of practice, plus worried that - due to her big sulk - she hadn't done any practice at all!

Yesterday: Daughter played beautifully and came out with top prize for under 12s - medal and a cup. We were both totally gobsmacked. As I was sober I was sufficiently socially aware to spot the rictus grins of the assembled tiger mums and realise that we had to scarper quick before we were lynched. We got to the car and whooped all the way home.

Drinking days: I would have hated arriving at competition as I'd have to 'air kiss/hug' all the Mums I knew while trying not to breathe alcohol on them. Daughter would have done fine, but not won anything due to lack of practice, and we would have left grateful to have got it all over and done with, vowing not to go again the next year.

Yesterday: Got home and celebrated with a cup of tea (actually felt v cross at not being able to crack open champagne, but craving only lasted ten minutes and I got through it!), managed not to post unbearably smug photo of daughter holding cup on Facebook. We all went out to local bistro for steak frites. I drank water. Husband drank 2 glasses red wine, one glass sauternes (see, I'm doing it again!). Watched 2 episodes of new box set on sofa without falling asleep, then slept like a log for 7 hours.

Please let m know how you got on, and - for all my UK readers - HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Saturday 14 March 2015

Will I lose all my friends?

Day 13 and it's a Saturday. In the old days I would wake up feeling ropey and trying desperately to go back to sleep while the dog and the children all take turns piling in under the duvet, excited about a new day - their enthusiasm equally matched by my despair. I would then try and get through the morning of chores, ferrying children to activities and so on, counting the hours and minutes until 12pm when I could reasonably open a bottle of wine 'to go with lunch'.

Today my eyes snapped open at 6.30am and I had that fabulous slow realisation that 'something is different. What is it? Oh yes, I'm not drinking. Yay - no hangover. I feel fabulous!' I greet the onslaught of dog and children with open arms and equally matched enthusiasm. I have a whole, glorious day ahead of me to fill. I feel like a child.

I'm doing a lot of reading right now, as well as writing, and I came across a beautifully written and really funny piece by John Cheese on Cracked.com entitled 'Seven things you don't know about addiction until you quit.' I was nodding along happily until I got to #6: You Will Lose Most of Your Friends. Wait John Cheese - STOP RIGHT THERE. I want to get off. I have spent thirty years building up my circle of fabulous friends and if this journey means losing most of them I'm going straight back to the Chablis. Is this really true?

John's argument is that most of your friends are bound to be 'drinking buddies' and that - without the alcohol - either they won't want to hang out with you or you won't want to hang out with them. Or both. Now I like to think that I chose my friends for far more profound reasons than that they drank. I thought I chose them (and, I hope, they me) for their kindness, wit, intelligence - not their fondness of a sauvignon blanc. However, it is possible that the friends I've seen more than others (and therefore grew closer to) were the ones happy to spend hours over a few bottles setting the world to rights.

I haven't told any of my friends yet that I'm intending not to drink again, ever. Or my family. Instead I've said that I'm 'giving up for Lent, and to give the liver a break.' This is seen as entirely appropriate and laudable (if a little boring) in my circles. I'm hoping that by the time I 'come out' they will have seen that I'm actually a better person when sober, and quite happy for them to carry on imbibing around me so I won't be dropped like a hot potato.

But a niggling voice tells me that John may be right - at least to an extent. I bumped into a Mum friend outside the school yesterday and she said "Why we go out for a bottle of champagne next week since I missed your birthday party?" (The birthday party was the last time I drank alcohol). I said "Great, but I'm not drinking - giving up for Lent. Give the liver a break, you know how it is?!" She looked crestfallen and said "When's Lent finish? Give me a call then!" I shouted after her "I can go out anyway!" But she'd gone.

Is it true that in our messed up society if you're not getting messed up on a regular basis you're deemed boring? Perhaps in going alcohol free we make others question their own habits and feel uncomfortable. Will I have any friends left? Please advise!

Friday 13 March 2015

Why so many well educated, middle aged women drink too much

One of the reasons why I was able to fool myself for so long that my drinking wasn't an issue was because everyone I knew was doing it too! Amongst my band of top university educated, high achieving mummies, most of us were drinking more days of the week than not, and at least half a bottle of wine in a session - usually more. We all joked about 'wine o'clock', and you were as likely to be offered a large glass of vino when collecting from a play date than a cup of tea. School socials all revolved around wine bars, and playground drop off chat often included a comparison of hangovers.

A study in 2010 concluded that women with degrees are twice as likely to drink daily than those without. The report concludes "The more educated women are, the more likely they are to drink alcohol on most days and to report having problems due to their drinking patterns." And this habit is killing us. Between 1991 and 2006 the incidence of alcohol related mortality in women aged 35-54 doubled.

Here's a quote from a doctor interviewed by The Guardian in 2008 about his female cirrhosis patients: "These are the steady drinkers. Typically they have a half-bottle of wine with their meal every night, or at lunchtime, and another drink at dinner. They are never drunk but they drink in a sustained manner. They don't realise they've got a problem because they think alcoholics are down-and-outs, or pub regulars. They have wine with  meal and because of that they somehow think that takes away the harm, or they say "but I don't drink spirits." These misconceptions are very common. I suspect there are thousands and thousands of women who are drinking at risky levels, all over the country."

Too right, doc - and I was one of them. He describes me to a T. So why? Here's my theory:

Firstly, we were the first generation to grow up with parents who regularly drank wine with their meals - we saw it as the norm. We also hit puberty during the 1980s when 'ladette' culture was born. We didn't want to be sitting quietly in a corner sipping a Babycham. Oh no. We were at the bar necking them back with the lads. Anything they could do, we could do better!

We went to the top universities (where work hard, play hard was the culture, and 'play' revolved around drinking copiously), and - like the good feminists we were - got the top jobs that were traditionally the reserves of the male. These jobs were well paid, but stressful, at it was normal to retire to a wine bar straight from work to let off steam. In fact, in my creative industry, we had a bar IN THE OFFICE where most of the important networking took place. I also had a huge expense budget which I was expected to use to wine and dine clients and my team at lunch and at dinner.

The 1980s and 1990s also saw the rise of the chi chi wine bar. Anyone from London will remember the inexorable rise of 'The Pitcher and Piano.' These wine bars, and many more like them, were deliberately designed to make us 'educated and sophisticated' women feel comfortable. And they served our favourite wines (Chardonnay in those days, right?) in 250ml glasses - that's one third of a bottle! They also, unlike the pubs of that era) served food, so we could stay there all evening. And we did.  And we didn't feel like sad alkies with their strong cider. Oh no - we were cultured. We discussed different grapes, vintages and provenances.

Cut to a decade later, and we all started having kids. Now, we were raised to believe that we could, and indeed had to, have it all! Great careers and perfect families. And most, if not all, of us quickly realised that this was a swift route to insanity. Many of us were trying to manage top jobs and babies without a wife at home to keep the ship from sinking. Only copious drinking provided a release from the inevitable stress, and knowledge that - for the first time - we were failing at everything.

Others (and I've been in both camps) quit the rat race and became full time (or at least part time) Mums. Now, being able to stop work to bring up your gorgeous babies is, obviously, a great honour and a privilege, but anyone who's done this knows that it's not a walk in the park. Or rather, it is endless walks in the park - with wet wipes and breast pads and emergency rice cakes. For us wine often provided a release from the boredom and the tedium, plus the stress of toddler tantrums etc. After a day of wiping orifices we'd ask ourselves whether this was what we slaved over our Oxford degree for. Naturally the answer was at the bottom of a goblet of wine. Also, if you're at home all the time there are no colleagues, meetings, deadlines etc. to keep you away from the bottle....

So, that's how I think I got to where I am today. How about you?

Related post: Women and Alcohol - a Deadly Realtionship

Thursday 12 March 2015

Secret drinker hits the high bottom

'Hitting the high bottom' sounds a bit like a Miley Cyrus dance move, but that's not what I'm talking about.

It seems to be generally understood that alcoholics need to 'hit rock bottom' before they can shake off the denial and change their lives. We're used to hearing stories of people doing terrible things like sleeping with their best friend's husband, or putting themselves at huge risk - waking up in a gutter with no idea where they are or how they got there. For some, a medical diagnosis is the wake up call, or an 'intervention' by family and friends. The problem with never getting to 'rock bottom' is that it's much easier to convince yourself that you're absolutely not an alcoholic and, therefore, are perfectly able to start drinking again 'in moderation.'

I know that I'm going to constantly question whether going back to drinking is possible for me, so in order to remind myself why I stopped I thought I should document my 'high bottom'. Not a 'rock bottom', admittedly, but a 'bottom' in any case.

There were three events in short succession that gave me the necessary wake up call. My drinking had gradually increased, from sharing a bottle of wine with my fabulous long-suffering husband over dinner every night, to also (secretly) drinking half a bottle at lunch time and (secretly) drinking another half bottle while getting the children's supper ready and supervising homework. When I say 'secretly', I mean that I never confessed to drinking 1.5 bottles of wine a day, but my children were totally used to seeing me with a glass of wine constantly to hand.

Event number 1 was in my youngest child's classroom. She's five. Her teacher pulled me aside one morning and said "Lucy said the funniest thing yesterday! We were reading a book called 'a cup of tea' and I asked if Mummy liked a cup of tea, and she replied 'no, Mummy likes wine!' Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Ha! Ha!" I replied, "Aren't children funny?" but inside I felt terrible. The truth is that my children think it's perfectly normal for Mummies to drink constantly. What kind of a role model am I?

Event number 2 was a few weeks ago when, for the first time I hid a bottle of wine. I'd always thought that alcoholics stashed bottles of vodka in laundry baskets, and because I only drank expensive wine, and never hid what I was drinking, I was ok. Well that evening I'd cracked open a bottle at about 5.30pm (as near as dammit to wine o'clock) while I was cooking the children's supper. By 7pm it was only a third full and I knew that the husband would - quite rightly - raise an eyebrow when he got home, so I hid it in the back of the cupboard and texted him asking him to bring a bottle home with him for supper (which I then drank half of, obviously). I did the same thing a couple more times, and realised that I'd crossed over one of my invisible lines.

Event number 3 was another line crossing. Alcoholics drink in the morning. If you don't drink in the morning, therefore, you're not an alcoholic - right? Well, a couple of weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday with a rotten hangover. I had lots to get done and knew that I wasn't going to feel better until I was able to have another drink. But it was only 10.30am. There was an inch of red wine left in a bottle from the night before. I poured it into a mug (a mug! ), so that the children wouldn't notice, and I drank it. And - wow! - I felt better. For about 5 minutes. Until I realised that I'd broken the big taboo. I stared at the empty mug and - with horrible irony - it had 'World's Best Mum' printed on the side. And that was it. I knew it was all over.

So when the wine witch starts whispering that it's really ok to drink on special occasions I'm going to read this again and remember the shame.

By the way, I went out for dinner with the husband and another couple last night and drank water. Yay!

Wednesday 11 March 2015

From muffin-topped, puffy faced alcohol addict to Goddess!

Day 9 today, and I am fully anticipating that this sober life is going to lead to a total transformation looks wise. After all, if I estimate that I was drinking, on average, a bottle of wine per day (just one? who am I kidding!?!?), then quitting the vino should reduce my calorie intake by a massive 600 calories per day. That's 4,200 calories per week. Cutting out 4,200 calories is like NOT EATING AT ALL for two days of the week. Hell, I'll look like Kate Moss in no time (or Cindy Crawford for my American friends ;-)). As well as cutting out the booze calories I'll also be cutting out the hangover fuelled carb-fests. And who has any willpower when facing a pudding menu after drinking a bottle of wine? Not me, certainly.

I have to confess, that so far there's not much sign of the weight falling off, but I reckon it's like turning round a super-tanker (which is, actually, how my children describe my arse), so it's going to take a while to get going.

So, in the interests of making this as scientific as possible, I'm going to give you my vital stats as a 'baseline'. Apologies for not posting a photograph - to start with I'm not ready to 'come out' yet to the Yummy Mummy community and my stiff upper lipped family, plus I've avoided being caught in any photos for years.

Here you go: Height - 5 foot 7 inches. Weight 11 stone 10 (164 pounds), BMI 25.6 - that's at the bottom end of the 'overweight' category, just above 'normal'. Dress size UK 12/14 or US 8/10.

Doesn't look too horrendous, does it? But that's because you can't see the wine belly. I have been accused of being pregnant many times over the years, especially by children (whose mothers are squirming with embarrassment). I haven't had the dire 'when's it due?' question for a while, not because the wine belly's gone, but because at 46 I'm starting to look too old for it to be probable. So now I'm fat and old with only the menopause to look forward to. Oh joy. So the wine belly HAS TO GO! Right now, if I lie in the bath and scrunch up all my belly fat with both hands (nice image there, huh? I hope you're not eating your breakfast!) it's about the size of a bottle of wine.

Having just stripped off in the kitchen and played around with pieces of sting and a metal tape measure I confess that the stomach/butt stats are as follows: waist 36 inches, belly 41 inches (!), hips 43 inches. This is why the children's favourite song to play in the car on the school run has a chorus "Watchya gonna do with that big fat butt? Viggle, viggle, viggle." This leads to hysterical laughter from everyone except me. Kids, why do we have 'em? To put this in perspective, in my early twenties my vital statistics were 36, 26, 36. Sob.

Things, as they say, can only get better! I'll check the stats again in a month and let you know how close to Cindy Crawford we're getting.

Love SM x

Related Post: Turning into a Goddess - Update

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Secret Drinking & 'The Maintenance Drinker'

I was lying in bed last night reading the excellent book by Lucy Rocca: 'The Sober Revolution'.

Quick aside: how about that? Reading in bed rather than passing out on the sofa half way through a movie, leaving the long suffering husband to finish it on his own! Result.

Anyhow, I had a Eureka moment when I found a description of myself: The Maintenance Drinker.

Check this out: This is another form of very hazardous drinking defined by constant, and often secret, style of alcohol consumption (Tick! Me, me, me). Never totally sober but always topped up, these women often appear to drink little when out socially. Many pre-load (oh, yeah baby, half a bottle of Chablis as a quick 'sharpener') before leaving the house and become adept at managing their moods and outward signs of intoxication, as the thought of being ousted as an 'alkie' is, to the maintenance drinker, abhorrent (alkie? Moi?)....

.....Openness frequently does not come easily to the maintenance drinker and thus for many, it can be difficult to even acknowledge that a problem exists. Problem? What problem?

So, there you have it - me in a nutshell. And I wonder how many other perfectly turned out mothers on the school run at my oh-so-chi-chi private Chelsea prep school are in exactly the same boat. Was I the only one? Anyone else out there recognise themselves?

Apparently this blog has had more than 100 page views as of today, which I realise is a tiny little molecule in the giant ocean that is the world wide web, but it makes me happy to feel that I am not just talking to myself which is, after all, the first sign of madness.

To all you 'Maintenance Drinkers' out there - I raise a fresh lime and soda to you. Onwards and Upwards!

Monday 9 March 2015

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Before I started on this path (exactly one week ago - yay!) I Googled 'alcohol withdrawal symptoms' and I got loads of scary stuff about DTs and seizures. Now, in my many attempts to 'moderate' I've given up drinking for days at a time and never had 'the shakes', despite drinking an average of one and a half bottles of wine a day, so those information sites didn't really help me. What I wanted to know is what myriad of more minor symptoms a heavy drinker like me could expect in the first week or so. So, if any of you are wondering the same thing, here's my answer:

1. Exhaustion. Getting to sleep can be a bit of a challenge as I'm kind of used to an anaesthetic to help me drift off, but once asleep I'm out for the count - just like my children. No more endless waking up in the middle of the night to drink water and wee. No more tossing and turning while wrestling the demons. Seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. You'd think, then, that I'd be filled with boundless energy. Not so! I feel like I've been run over by a truck! I have to have catch up naps in the afternoon like a toddler. I imagine it's a result of my body using up all its energy repairing the damage I've done over a long period of time, so I'm just indulging it.

2. Irritability. A bit like PMT. Particularly when I'm exhausted (see above!), or wrestling with a craving, I can snap. It struck me yesterday, however, that I used to be exactly the same (if not worse) after a couple of glasses of vino, it's just that now I'm aware that I'm doing it and I feel awful about it. When I was drunk I'd feel justified (for whatever warped reason I'd invented) in being cross. Now I say sorry.

3. Mucus. Weird. Constantly running nose. I see it as a tap draining off the toxins. Nice, huh?

4. Constipation. Sorry, but it has to be said. Apparently it's a result of your poor, endlessly dehydrated body desperately trying to catch up on water.

5. Weight gain. Where is the logic (or fairness) in that? By my reckoning, I was drinking about 900 calories a day. Plus, whenever I drank all my willpower disappeared, so I 'd polish off a bar of chocolate. And everyone knows that the best way to cure a hangover (apart from more alcohol!) is binging on carbohydrates. But, one week in and I weigh more! My assumption is that it's down to the dehydration/rehydration thing again. Despite the weight gain I am able to do the belt up an extra notch, so I do reckon (hope!) that it's water not fat. I'll keep you posted on this one, because I am totally expecting to be size zero by the end of the year ;-).

6. Concentration. This is the biggie! No concentration. None. Nada. Zip. All I can think about it not drinking. It goes round and round in my head. And it strikes me that part of the reason I drank so frequently and so much is to shut the voice in my head up. I suspect that we 'alcohol dependants' (I still struggle with the word alcoholic) are often people with over active thoughts who are just looking for a little peace. But now all those thoughts are back. And they have only one thing to chat about - MORE BOOZE.

So, this blog is really helping me, just in terms of getting the thoughts out of my head and onto paper (screen) instead.

I'd love to hear about your alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and to any of you who have taken the time to read this: thank you. x

Saturday 7 March 2015

First night out - I did it!

Yay! I did it! I sat at a table overlooking the city with four of the family for three hours and drank heavily - water! I told them that I'd 'given up for Lent' and they didn't bat an eyelid.  And the spooky thing was how little they drank. They all turned up sober and ordered two bottles of wine between the four of them.

Had I been drinking we would have ordered three bottles and I would have drunk one of them. On top of the 2/3 bottle I'd have drunk at lunch time, the half bottle I'd have drunk at home while getting ready and the large cocktail I'd have drunk in the bar before dinner. That's the equivalent of nearly 3 bottles of wine that I DIDN'T DRINK!

As a brief aside, the toilets in this fancy - and horribly pricey - restaurant were extraordinary! Once you sit down you realise that the door in front of you is mirrored, as are all the walls. What this means is that while you're doing your thing you get an extremely clear view of  - in my case - a woman who is well past her best on the lavatory with her tights and pants (that's underwear to you Americans) round her ankles. And when you stand up you get (just like when the hairdresser positions a mirror to let you see the back of your head) an equally scary view of your arse. It's enough to drive anyone to drink, frankly, and obviously designed by a bloke. Probably a pervert.

Anyhow, after that amazing victory, did the evil wine witch slink off defeated, tail between her legs?

Oh no! She whispered in my ear "you see, you don't have a problem! Give it a week or two and you can start drinking again! In moderation, obviously...."

Damn your lying eyes you foul hussy! I banish you to sit in a toilet cubicle with mirrored walls for all eternity!

Friday 6 March 2015

First big night out sober!

So, day 6. I'm still feeling positive, but am exhausted! The initial rush of euphoria and energy (see ex-lush goes spinning) has been replaced with a bone deep tiredness. I'm sleeping like a small child - no more waking up endlessly to drink water and go to the loo, tossing and turning while wrestling with demons - but I still wake up feeling like I've been hit by a bus. I guess it's my body healing, which has to be a good thing.

So, tonight is the first night I have to cope with going out, rather than just watching TV on the sofa with a hot chocolate. It's a long planned family celebration at an extremely well known restaurant and nobody - except the long suffering and wonderful husband - is going to understand why I am not drinking. Given that I was the sort of drunk who drank large amounts over long periods of time, rather than binge drinking, they have never seen me fall over, black out, slur, do anything embarrassing. They (and I until recently) thought I was totally in control. I always had an 'off button'. That's why I never classed myself as 'an alcoholic'. It's just that my off button would click in after I had managed to drink two bottles of wine over the course of a day.

So, tonight, I imagine, will be lots of entreaties to "have just the one". From the evil wine witch as well as from my lovely family. What the family don't know (but the wine witch does) is that if I have just the one tonight I'll have just the two bottles tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Ex-lush goes spinning!

So, day four of sobriety, and I wake up thinking "Helloooo Morning!" (Mornings are so much better than evenings now, whereas the reverse is true when you are drinking, obviously).

The children think I'm crazy as I spend the whole of the school run telling them what a beautiful, sunny day it is. Then, in order not to dwell too much on the constant inner alcohol-obsessed dialogue, I decide to go to a spinning class! To put this in context, I am 46 years old and, thanks to thirty years of drinking too much, pretty out of shape.

So, there I am in a spinning class and, I kid you not, it's just like my old clubbing days! Same music, same lights, same hot DJ (fitness instructor) on a podium. The only difference is the stationery bikes. I'm surrounded by a bevvy of skinny, gorgeous twenty-somethings but I am not intimidated! I am thinking "You know nothing! I did the Summer of Love! I did the early nineties and ten thousand people standing in a field, dancing for 24 hours non stop. I did the Fridge, the Hacienda and Pasha back in the early days. I can do forty-five minutes of spinning!

And I did. And, you know, the endorphins were as good (well almost) as any of the mind altering substances back in the day. What's more, I didn't have to come out blinking into a bleak, grey dawn searching for a dodgy minicab to take me home.

Here's to an alcohol free life. Onwards and upwards!

Thursday 5 March 2015

Mummy Was a Secret Drinker....

....until 3 days ago.

Nobody knew how much I was drinking. Not even I knew how much I was drinking.

On the surface my life looked totally under control. I was never embarrassingly drunk. I never threw up. I never had black outs. My children were always at school on time - in the right kit, homework done. I made my family healthy, home cooked meals. My house was always tidy.

But underneath it all I was drowning in a sea of wine. Mainly Chablis (doesn't seem tawdry, does it?). And here's the truth *whisper it*: I was drinking between one and two bottles of the stuff a day. In fact, if I went out to a party at the weekend I could probably make it to three.

Arrghhh! Doesn't that look awful written down?

I never saw myself as an alcoholic. Oh no! I didn't drink in the morning. I never snogged strangers or got into trouble. I never even had to apologise for my behaviour. I must have been horribly boring and self obsessed, and often touchy and tetchy - but I had none of those disaster stories that you associate with AA. I guess I was - am - a high functioning alcohol dependant. That sounds much better. High Functioning. I've always liked to achieve at whatever I set my mind to....

Gradually I've begun to see the impact that the constant drip feed of terribly expensive premier cru vino has had on me and my family. I've been killing myself and wasting my life. I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Damn you, you silky tongued back stabbing friend of a wine witch. Get out of my life and never come back with your false promises and subtle traps.

If you come across this blog please wish me luck, and check in to see how I'm doing. Thank you!