Sunday 31 May 2015

The Wine Witch

Day 91, and I've been thinking about the Wine Witch.

For me, the single most telling sign that you are no longer in control of alcohol, but it is in control of you is when you instinctively understand the concept of the 'wine witch.'

I only met her about 3 years ago. Until then, if you'd mentioned her name I would have had no idea what you were talking about.

Some people call her the 'inner addict' or the 'devil on the shoulder.' But, for many of us - particularly women - the 'Wine Witch' describes her perfectly.

At some point (for some, as soon as they start drinking in their teens, but for many of us not until our forties) she starts whispering in our ear, and from that moment on she becomes an increasingly intrusive presence.

The WW starts rather innocuously. She begins whispering "are you sure that's going to be enough? Perhaps best to buy another bottle just in case you run out." Then she gets a bit more competitive. Like "didn't he pour himself a much bigger glass than he poured you?"

She moves on to deviousness "Have a glass or two before you go out, then you won't need to drink so much when you're there." And ends up just plain weird "You bought wine from that shop yesterday. The cashier might remember. Go somewhere else."

The only way to shut up the wine witch is to drown her out - to give her as much alcohol as she wants. The reason why it's always a good idea to try moderating before quitting for good isn't just to prove to yourself that you can't do it, it's also because moderating is when the Wine Witch gets really loud and insistent. "ONE GLASS? THAT'S NOT ENOUGH! BARELY TOUCHED THE SIDES! WHAT ARE YOU? A WOMAN OR A MOUSE?" That's when you start to get the measure of your enemy. You know what you're up against.

I've been thinking about the WW since I went to stay at the parent's house (see Muscle Memory), because she started to become increasingly obvious when I was there. Which reminded me of another time when I couldn't ignore her any longer: Long Haul Flights.

Now I loved flying on Business. You were plied with free drinks, from the moment you got on the plane "complimentary champagne, madam?" to the moment you dropped off to sleep. "Digestif? Nightcap?"

But economy flights with the family were an altogether different proposition.

I became convinced that British Airways had changed their alcohol policy, that they'd become more parsimonious with the vino. Because whereas I used to be perfectly happy on long haul flights, they now made me really stressed. Surely they used to give you more than one drink pre dinner and wine with dinner? Now I suspect that the only thing that changed was me.

By the time we'd been through security etc. and boarded the plane I'd be desperate for a drink (despite the fact that I usually managed to have one in the airport). I'd have to wait until we were in the air and the trolley finally came out. I'd be riveted to the slow progress of the trolley down the aisle. For God's sake get a move on!!! Then, after dinner, and after the two smallish drinks I'd been given, I'd wrestle endlessly with the dilemma of whether I could call the stewardess over to ask for another wine.

I knew that if I did they'd give me one. I saw other people doing it (only a few, and mainly young men!). But I couldn't bear the idea of them judging me. Especially a mother travelling with three small children.

At moments like these the Wine Witch would go loopy. "CALL THE DAMN STEWARDESS! WHO CARES WHAT SHE THINKS!"

So when I first came across her name a few months ago on the Soberistas website it was like a light bulb switching on. Not only had someone named my demon, but I was obviously not the only one who'd met her.

I like to think that every day you go not drinking you drain more of the wine witch's power. Mine is now pretty much in a coma. She's still there, but she's weak, and she's not talking any more.

But the reason why you can't have one drink is that the wine witch never completely goes away once she's made herself at home. And one drink is all she needs to leap back into action. One drink and she starts saying "Look, that wasn't so bad, was it? Just one glass, like a normal drinker!"

Then, the next weekend she pops up again "You did so well last time! Have another. Just the one, mind." And that second glass gives her even more strength. Before you know it she's back, big time. Even more powerful than before.

If you're reading this thinking "Wine witch? What's she on about?" then pat yourself on the back. Feel grateful. Carry on drinking in moderation. But watch out, because once she starts whispering in your ear she's there forever.

Love SM x

Saturday 30 May 2015

Moving on....

One of the best things about writing this blog is being able to look back over the last 90 days to see how far I've come.

Yesterday, I was driving back from the country with the kids and the dog when the same song came on the radio that we'd been listening to while travelling back from my sober ski holiday on day 37.

I wrote a post about that song 'I wish that I could wake up with amnesia', because every line reminded me of my relationship with Chablis.

I wrote: struck me that ditching alcohol - at the grand old age of 46, is much like breaking up with the unsuitable first love at the age of nineteen.

Do you remember all those horribly raw emotions? You weep buckets. You think you're never going to be happy again. You sob on the shoulder of any friend who'll put up with you, truly believing that no-one has ever felt heartache like you do.

He is constantly on your mind, and everything seems to remind you of him: places you went to together, mutual friends, shared interests. Evenings are spent playing songs that you listened to together, poring over old photos and replaying the relationship in your head endlessly.

Was he really so bad? Perhaps, after this break, with time to reflect, you can 're-invent' the relationship - make it perfect. There was so much that was good, wasn't there?

But now I listen to the same song and I think #teenageangst! How ridiculously maudlin. Get a life! Move on!

In short, it doesn't feel like me at all.

I have, it seems, reached the stage of the relationship breakup where I no longer romanticise the memories. I don't look back and see all the good bits. I look back and see a total pillock (1980s English slang) who screwed up my life.

In fact, I have reached the classic 'I Will Survive' stage.

When I was about 25 I was madly in love with a boy called Liam who was part of my University crowd.  He turned out to be a cad and a bounder who stole money from my bank account and pawned my clarinet.

After a few weeks of weeping I went out with some girlfriends to a trendy American style diner in the West End, drank lots (obvs), climbed onto the table and sang along loudly to Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. I got a standing ovation (before I was thrown out).

It's Saturday morning. Please humour me. Join in. Click this link to glorious Gaynor (with amazing teeth! Check 'em out), gawp and the fabulous 1970s threads, and sing along while dancing. If it's too embarrassing to dance on your own then use a vacuum cleaner or broom (that's what I do).

And if's that's just far too cheesy for you, or you have an attack of the glums and can't face it yet, then look at the ironic one-eyed alien version instead. It'll cheer you up.

As you can see, the PAWS has lifted (see post on Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms), and life is good.

Hurrah! And love to you all.

SM x

Friday 29 May 2015

Muscle Memory

Day 89.

As it's half term I've escaped to my parent's house in the country with #1, #2, #3 and the dog.

By now I'm feeling relatively comfortable with evenings at home sober. I've realised that it's a bit like retraining muscle memory - like learning to drive instinctively on the right hand side of the road when you've always driven on the left. You just need to do it enough times for your new associations to be plentiful enough to battle with the old ones.

That's, at least in part, why they say that you can't rush recovery.

I've done a minimum of 60 evenings at home sober. 60 sober memories to fight with all the drinking ones. But this is only my third stay with the parents since I quit, and I'm noticeably more uncomfortable.

'Firsts' are the worst. Your first sober dinner party. First sober drinks party. First girl's night out. But you have to persevere and dive in, because every subsequent time gets easier, and if you hibernate too much you don't start to build those new sober associations.

I remember when I quit smoking. I thought that I would never feel completely comfortable at a party without smoking. And I'd always had a cigarette after sex. Yet now, not only is the idea of the post coital smoke not at all appealing, but I can't even picture it.

If I force myself to imagine lighting up in bed it looks like a terrible 1970s porn movie. My non smoking associations have completely obliterated the smoking ones to the point that they feel like they belong to somebody else.

One day, I trust, the same will be true of drinking. But for now I'm slightly itchy about the third stay at the parents.

Then I force myself to remember the old days.

I'd always thought that booze was rather plentiful at the parents house. My folks, particularly my Dad, are enthusiastic drinkers. I'd never thought twice about it.

Then, about two or three years ago, that changed. Suddenly it felt like there wasn't quite enough to go round.

It's fairly easy to ignore the wine witch when you can, literally, drown her out whenever she pipes up. But she gets really tough to ignore when you're forced to cut down her regular supply. It was, in part, my visits down here that made me begin to acknowledge that I had 'a problem'.

From about 5pm onwards I'd start looking at my watch surreptitiously, waiting for the hands to reach the magic time of 6pm. I'd then wait impatiently for my Dad to utter those precious words "anyone for a drink?" I'd conciously attempt to reply nonchalantly. To not sound overly enthusiastic.

If the clock ticked much beyond 6pm I'd get increasingly tetchy. I'd wrestle with myself over whether I should wait, or if I should suggest a drink myself. If it got as late as 7pm I'd have to intervene. "Mind if I pour a drink?" I'd ask in strangulated tones.

Then dinner. One bottle of wine sitting on the table between my mother, my father and myself. Small and insignificant you might think, but, in my head, it was a giant elephant, squatting there between us.

My father and I would both look askance at the bottle wondering how we could ensure that we got more than our third share. My mother was also terribly aware of it. Checking that neither of us were drinking too fast (she's been concerned for years about my father's drinking, and for a while about mine).

"Please can you pass the salt?" we'd ask, or "anyone seen the weather forecast for tomorrow?" Totally ignoring the giant mammal belching and farting in front of us.

I remember the empathy I felt with Caroline a Knapp when I read in her memoir (Drinking. A love Story) that she had started packing a bottle of whisky in her bag when she went to stay with her parents so that she could surreptitiously top up. Thank God I never let myself go there.

So even though I'm a bit scratchy, things are way better than they used to be. Someone's tranquilised the elephant and transported him, safely and humanely, back to the wild. No more wild animals on the dinner table.

And that, fellow travellers, is more progress.

Have a great weekend!

Love SM x

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Dear Friend....

Day 88. Two fat ladies!

I was thinking yesterday about what advice I would give for friends and family of the newly sober. Here it is. Let me know if you agree/disagree, or what you would add...

Dear Friend,

If I tell you that I'm not drinking, please accept it. Don't quiz me too hard on the whys and wherefores. I may not be ready to tell you yet. And don't keep offering me drinks. Saying 'no' once is hard enough!

If I say I'm 'on antibiotics' or 'driving home', don't question it, for the time being at least. Above all, do not use the A word (alcoholic) unless I do first, and even then - with caution.

If I do eventually pluck up the courage to tell you that I have a problem with alcohol and have stopped forever, please don't query that decision. Don't tell me I'm 'perfectly ok' or that 'it's fine to have just one.'

Please, please don't try to persuade me that moderation is the best way forward. I already have a voice telling me that constantly (I call her the wine witch), I don't need yours as well.

If I do manage to confess the details of my drinking past, try not to look too shocked. Don't judge me. I can do that myself. I'm looking for empathy, not criticism.

Don't exclude me from invitations. If I'm uncomfortable at a social event where people are drinking then I won't come. Or I'll come and leave early. But the last thing I need right now is to feel like Norma-no-mates. A pariah. I have enough to deal with.

Don't feel bad about drinking in front of me. If you can take or leave alcohol, then I'd prefer you left it. But if you need it, then carry on. I don't want to feel guilt that I'm ruining your evening on top of everything else. And I won't judge you, however much you drink. I'm the last person in the world who'd do that.

If I've been a bad friend to you in the past, please try to forgive me. I beat myself up far more than you ever could. And I'm doing something about it. If you can stick with me I'll be a great friend in the future.

If you do worry about your own drinking, tell me. For as long as you like, in as much minute detail as you want. I LOVE talking about the evils of alcohol, and it's great to find another soul mate. I won't try to persuade you to quit before you're ready, but I've been there, I can help. I know what I'm talking about.

If you want to know what's really been going on in my head then read Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story.

If you see any positive changes in me then please tell me! Am I thinner? Is my skin radiant? Am I better company? Do I look 5 years younger? Do I have great hair? You can even fib a little bit. I need some encouragement right now.

Give me a hug. A big one.

And, when you are ready, join me.

Love SM x

Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

Day 87, and I'm struggling.

I had been fine. Upbeat, energetic, seeing light at the end of the tunnel. But the last few days I've felt despondent and tetchy. And I'm tired. Physically tired and emotionally drained.

I sleep like a log - 7 hours - but wake up feeling exhausted. Then, by mid afternoon, I'm falling asleep in a chair. By evening I've run out of the energy to do anything except collapse in front of the telly.

So I googled something along the lines of 'fatigue after quitting alcohol.' I got all the usual stuff about withdrawal symptoms in the few days after stopping. I know that. I remember the total exhaustion of day 1-5. But this is DAY 87!

Then I found all this stuff about Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (here's a link to one of the best explanations I found). It's also known by its more cuddly nickname PAWS.

Oh bugger.

Apparently, PAWS is the second stage of withdrawal from alcohol (or any form of drug) and occurs after the initial intense physical withdrawal stage. As the brain chemistry gradually returns to a new equilibrium it tends to fluctuate causing emotional, physiological and physical symptoms.

These episodes appear to be cyclical - some people swear they are lunar, occurring every 28 days or so or literally at the full moon. Good God I'm a werewolf!

The 'pink cloud' phase followed by 'the wall' is the first episode of PAWS, but these symptoms can reoccur for up to two years!

The good news is that each episode gets shorter and less intense, disappearing within a few days. And if you're aware of them and ready for them you can cope.

Apparently, being unprepared for an attack of PAWS is a major reason for relapse. You think everything's getting better, then BAM! It feels like you're back to the beginning. You lose faith that it's ever going to get better and reach for the bottle.

Symptoms of PAWS include: mood swings, anxiety, irritability, tiredness, low enthusiasm, variable concentration and sleep disturbance (including bad dreams in which you drink heavily!).

I also read that a number of people experience terrible memory lapses during episodes of PAWS. This was actually a relief to discover, as two days ago I was asked in a shop for my postcode and couldn't remember it!

I've had that postcode for nearly a decade and am constantly using it. I had a panic that I was getting early onset Alzheimer's. Imagine - 2 decades fuzzy through drink, a few months lucid, then off with the fairies again!

So, what do you do about PAWS?

Here's some advice I found: You can't hurry recovery. But you can get through it one day at a time. If you resent post-acute withdrawal, or try to bulldoze your way through it, you will become exhausted. And when you're exhausted you will think of using to escape.

Basically, you just have to go with the flow. Ride it out. Like PMS. Each episode is short and gets shorter/easier. The good times get better/longer. So they say.

We had bad spells when we were drinking too, didn't we? Loads of them! Only this time we don't have the false friend to help us through.

Love to you all!

SM x

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Could be worse...

Day 86.

Yesterday I heard that a friend of mine - an extremely popular 'bon viveur' - had been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis and told that he can never touch alcohol again.

I googled it.

It turns out that 70% of cases of chronic pancreatitis are caused by heavy drinking over a number of years. It's most commonly diagnosed in men aged 45-54. Between 2012 and 2013 over 35,000 people visited hospitals in England with the condition.

Yet again it strikes me that our years of partying are catching up with my generation, and that the mid forties are when it all seems to go horribly wrong.

But we, my friends, are lucky. Here is another bullet we've dodged. Chronic pancreatitis is no fun. It can't be cured, causes terrible pain and 30% of sufferers go on to develop diabetes. It can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

My friend was diagnosed at Christmas. Imagine. You're just getting stuck into the party season when BAM! You're told you've got to stop RIGHT THERE. Straight away. No passing Go. No collecting £200.

We, at least, had time to get used to quitting. We got to play all those silly games with the wine witch (I'll only drink at the weekend. I'll only drink one glass a day. I'll only drink beer. You know the ones).

We got to carry on proving to ourselves again and again that alcohol wasn't our friend any more before we had to say goodbye. In a way, we had it easy.

So how's my friend coping? Well, apparently, he's taken up smoking spliff.

(Before you rush out looking for some wacky baccy, remember - you'd only be swapping one witch for another. Don't even think about it.)

This got me thinking, what is it about us that makes us panic if we don't have a dimmer switch? Why is it that throughout history, all over the world, perfectly happy, sane, successful people have reached for alcohol, tobacco, opium, marijuana, sugar, gambling etcetera etcetera as a means of de-stressing. Tuning out. Winding down?

Perhaps when we stopped chasing hairy mammoths we needed another method of dealing with our adrenalin and cortisol levels?

In any case, today I feel lucky.

Lucky that I quit before (I hope) doing any major damage to my health. Lucky that I got to make a life changing decision when I was ready to make it. Lucky that I am the one in control. Lucky that, as a result, I'm dealing with the underlying issues rather than just swapping one problem for another.

Love to all you lucky, lucky people.

SM x

Monday 25 May 2015

Overdoing it

Day 85.

It's a bank holiday weekend, and the beginning of half term, here in the UK. In an effort to prove to myself that life still goes on without alcohol - I appear to have overdone it. Rookie error.

We had two families round for a barbeque lunch on Saturday. In typical UK Bank Holiday fashion as soon as we fired up the Barbie it began to rain. We moved inside and started eating at around 2.30pm.

They didn't leave until 7.30pm.

In the old days this would have been a result.  A valid excuse for a whole afternoon of non stop drinking! Not now.

We must have finished eating by 3.30pm. Unlike back then (when, by this stage, I'd have given up any pretentions of 'proper hosting') I remembered to offer everyone coffee and chocolates. I'd cleared all the plates. Loaded the dishwasher. And they all just sat there drinking.

Don't get me wrong. It was great fun. The conversation was hilarious, and at several points I laughed until I cried. But - to steal a word from a comment left a while back by mythreesons - I felt itchy.

I really wanted to be able to turn up the dimmer switch, slump down in my chair and just go with the flow. I was way to upright and aware to be able to spend four hours at a table without eating or drinking.

By 5pm I wanted to stand on my chair and shout "RIGHT! You've eaten my food. You've drunk my booze. Now just EFF OFF out of my house." But I love them all, and they were having fun, and I couldn't.

By the time they did go home I had a crashing headache and realised that I'd been literally gritting my teeth for several hours. I was proud of myself, but utterly exhausted.

Then, yesterday, I woke up with a feeling of dread as the realisation dawned that I had to do more socialising. Again, a lovely invitation. Dinner at the house of some very good friends. But all I wanted to do was to hole up in my safe little house with my safe little family and watch Mad Men with a cup of hot chocolate.

I did the dinner. It was fine. But I found myself analysing everything I was saying as I was saying it. Was that funny? Why am I telling this anecdote? Is this gossip really appropriate?

In the old days I just said stuff without thinking. It probably shocked people, or upset them from time to time, but it was easy. It was natural.

Funnily enough, I now remember being this analytical about conversation way back in my teens and early twenties. Probably the last time I did dinner parties relatively sober. Apart from when I was pregnant. And that was easy. You could just sit back in your chair, quietly and serenely stroking your precious bump, then leave early without any qualms.

As we drove home (drove home! Now there's a bonus!) I asked The Husband "am I more boring when I'm not drinking?"

"How can I possibly answer that?" he says, exasperated. "If I say no you'll worry that you spent years boring everyone. If I say yes you'll worry that you're boring everyone now. You weren't boring then. You're not boring now."

He's right. I'm never going to know the truth.

I've realised that it's a bit like learning to walk again after an accident. You just have to take baby steps. And this long (so long!) weekend, I've been trying to run a bloody marathon!

What are we doing today? Going to old friends in the country for lunch. More socialising. More drinking. More itching.

My advice to any of you in the early days? Protect yourself. Take it easy. Baby steps.

Love SM x

For more on sober socialising read: The Drunkard Detector, Tartan and Tiaras, Blast from the Past

Saturday 23 May 2015

Husbands. Who needs 'em?

Day 84! Creeping towards three figures...

Yesterday I found The Husband laughing uproariously at something on the computer. He spotted me, stopped abruptly and looked up guiltily.

He was reading my blog.

Now I've suspected for a while that he sneaks a peak from time to time, but here was proof. And he didn't appear to be laughing with me. He was laughing at me.

"What's so funny?" I asked, cocking The Eyebrow of Fear. Whereupon he accused me of  misrepresentation. Or, at least, of viewing my life through rose coloured spectacles.

The Husband thinks that I should point out (with regards to yesterday's post: Gardening) that I have, in actual fact (and he checked said facts with #1) never baked a cake for a school bake sale. The closest I got was buying one from Waitrose and 'distressing' it.

Our 'lawn', apparently, would be better described as 'a patch of grass', which is now mowed rather than 'manicured.' My 'herb garden', I should point out, is a collection of herbs in pots clustered on an old bench rather than a large kitchen garden.

"Where is this nirvana?" he chortled. "Can I go and live there?"

Ha ha.

I would like to point out to The Husband, should he be reading this, that it is in his interests that I view things through (climbing-)rose coloured spectacles because, despite thirteen years of marriage and having removed the beer goggles, I still think he's the most gorgeous guy around.

Happy, hangover free Sunday morning!

Love SM x


Day 83.

The thing about being a high functioning alcoholic is that you have to learn to prioritise.

There are not enough sober hours in the day to keep absolutely everything functioning perfectly, so you learn to pick your battles.

In my life, priority number one was keeping the children (and husband) happy. Properly fed, clothed, achieving. Homework done, music practice done, playdates arranged and executed, homemade costumes created for various 'dress up days', cakes created for bake sales, and so on. That, in itself, is a full time job.

Next in line is the house. We have an old, relatively big (for London) house which we can't afford to maintain properly. So not only do I have to make sure that it's clean and tidy, but I'm also constantly running around with pots of filler, damp proof paint etc, trying to stop it looking as if it's about to fall down (which it is).

After the house and its inhabitants comes me. And, I confess, personal grooming had started to slip a little. Who has time for appointments with the gym, the dental hygienist, the eyebrow threader or the waxing lady when there's serious 'socialising' (aka drinking) to do at the weekend, as well as all the house-kids-and-husband stuff? Not me.

And right at the bottom of the list? The garden. All too easy to shut the doors and just pretend it wasn't really there. Especially in the winter. Between the months of October and March the only member of the SoberMummy household who spent any time in the garden was the dog. With inevitable consequences.

Once the man from Sky arrived unexpectedly early for an appointment to fix a satellite dish. It had been raining for several days and I hadn't been into the garden to 'clear the lawn'. The man from Sky refused to erect his ladder on our lawn due to 'health and safety' and hot footed it back to HQ. God I felt like a slut.

But now I have eons more time. And over the last two days I have totally transformed my garden. The lawn is manicured. The borders are weeded. I took all the old, broken, plastic garden toys to the dump. I've planted lots of bedding plants. I've trained honeysuckle and clematis over the old Wendy House.

There's a little herb garden outside my kitchen door. I've even ordered an outdoor sofa (cost: a massive 30 bottles of wine equivalent, but worth it). And today we have two families coming round for a barbeque.

And not only is my garden looking lush (the only lush in the SM house now), but the act of gardening has given me a real high.

It appears that I'm not the only one to discover this. Apparently researchers have proved that gardening lowers blood pressure, increases brain activity and produces an 'upbeat feeling.' MIND - the mental health charity - has funded 130 ecotherapy projects across England.

It's believed that gardening works by providing a sense of 'control', which is the psychological nemesis of stress and anxiety. Plus, the act of gardening is a form of Mindfulness - it makes us focus on the 'now' and takes our minds off problems in the past, or fear of the future.

Even looking at gardens helps produce a sense of calm. The notorious New York jail - Riker's Island - uses horticultural therapy to clam prisoners and prepare them for release.

I remember a fabulous scene in Sandra Bullock's film 28 days (about an addict going into rehab). One of the rehab 'inmates' asks the counsellor when they can start dating. The counsellor replies that first they should buy a pot plant and try to keep it alive. Then try the same with a pet. Only once the plant and pet are still alive and thriving for a year should they think about trying the same with another human.

My new plants will, hopefully, thrive and grow, providing a living 'sober counter'. And we won't have any more problems with our satellite TV.

Have a great weekend all of you! And, to my UK friends, it's a Bank holiday woo hoo!

SM x

Friday 22 May 2015

Am I an Alcoholic? Part 3

My regular readers will know that I have been obsessed by the question: Am I an Alcoholic?

On Day 18 I posted Am I an Alcoholic? where I ranted about terminology and imagery.

I'd calmed down a little by Day 44, when I posted Am I an Alcoholic? Part 2. This one, based on Bill Wilson's 'moderation test', shows the light slowly beginning to dawn that perhaps I am.

Then, this morning, on day 82, I was looking at my list of potential blog posts (my aquarium of little fish that you may remember from Full Circle), and I realised that I'd never posted the NCADD's questionnaire.

I came across these 26 questions in Caroline Knapp's book (Drinking. A Love Story)

1.  Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed or have had a quarrel
with someone?
2. When you have trouble or feel under pressure, do you always drink more heavily than usual?
3.  Can you handle more alcohol now than when you first started to drink?
4.  Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though
your friends say you didn’t pass out?
5.  When drinking with other people, do you try to have a few extra drinks when others
won’t know about it?      
6.  Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable if alcohol is not available?
7.  Are you more in a hurry to get your first drink of the day than you used to be?
8.  Do you sometimes feel a little guilty about your drinking?
9.  Has a family member or close friend express concern or complained about your drinking?
10.  Have you been having more memory “blackouts” recently? 
11.  Do you often want to continue drinking after your friends say they’ve had enough?  
12.  Do you usually have a reason for the occasions when you drink heavily?
13.  When you’re sober, do you sometimes regret things you did or said while drinking?
14.  Have you tried switching brands or drinks, or following different plans to control your
15.  Have you sometimes failed to keep promises you made to yourself about controlling or
cutting down on your drinking?        
16. Have you ever tried to control your drinking by changing jobs or moving to a new location? 
17.  Do you try to avoid family or close friends while you are drinking?      
18.  Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of
your drinking? 
19.  Do more people seem to be treating you unfairly, without reason?
20.  Do you eat very little or irregularly during the periods when you are drinking?
21.  Do you sometimes have the “shakes” in the morning and find that it helps to have a
“little” drink, tranquilizer or medication of some kind?     
22.  Have you recently noticed that you can’t drink as much as you used to?   
23.  Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time?
24.  Do you sometimes feel very depressed and wonder if life is worth living?
25.  After periods of drinking do you sometimes see or hear things that aren’t there?
26.  Do you get terribly frightened after you have been drinking heavily?
The interesting thing about this questionnaire is that, according to Knapp, people who answer 'yes' to questions 1-8 are said to be in the early stages of alcoholism, which typically last ten to fifteen years.

Answering 'yes' to questions 9-21 indicates middle stage alcoholism which usually lasts 2-5 years.

Questions 21-26 indicate the beginning of the final stage.

The reason we become obsessed by the question 'Am I an alcoholic?' is that the underlying question - the one we really want answered - is do I really have to stop drinking? For ever?

The problem is that we don't often really, truly believe that we are an alcoholic until we get to the final stages, when the evidence is irrefutable, and by then it's really, really difficult to stop.

What this questionnaire showed to me is that alcoholism is a progression. It's an escalator which only goes down. I was at the beginning of the 'middle stage', still easily able to deny any problem, but who wants to go any closer to the bottom?

But you know the really odd thing? The reason this post was still languishing on my list (swimming unnoticed around the aquarium) is that I don't really care any more.

I realise now that the question isn't "do I really have to stop?" It's actually "do I really want to carry on?"

Finally, finally, I have got to the stage where I want to be sober, rather than having to be sober.

It strikes me that the reason people get into such a mess before they jump off the escalator is that the image of the alcoholic is so bad they can't associate with it, and the image of the sober person is not attractive enough for them to want to be one.

It's up to us to change that.

Happy Friday fellow revolutionaries! Vivre la vie sober!*

SM x

*apologies to any native French speakers.

Thursday 21 May 2015

BBC Horizon Documentary on Drinking

Is it my imagination, or is the news constantly full of reports on the dangers of alcohol at the moment?

Perhaps it's like when you're attempting to get pregnant. Before you start trying for a baby you don't see any pregnant people. Then, as soon as you begin trying to procreate, the world is filled with women overtly achieving what you have not yet managed to.

They are everywhere, flaunting their fecundity at you, smugly sticking their large bumps in your face. Or was that just me?

Well, this feels similar. I guess that before I gave up drinking I deliberately ignored news articles on the hazards of alcohol, whereas now I lap them up. (Well, I have to have something to lap up).

So last night was a corker! I was in the comfiest PJs, on the sofa, under a duvet, clutching a hot chocolate and indulging in a whole hour of documentary on the BBC about yucky alcohol.

Oh joy! Revel in holier-than-though smug-pantsiness.

If you missed it and want all the gory details, it'll be on BBC I-Player, or here is a link to an article written by one of the presenters/guinea pigs Dr Alexander van Tulleken (thankfully he is sexier than his name suggests). But, if you just want to quick top line summary, then here you go:

Dr Alex is an identical twin. (That could have caused you problems if you were watching while still drinking. Aarrghhh. I'm seeing double! Close one eye...).

He and his twin conducted an experiment where they drank nothing for four weeks, then they both drank the government recommended amount for men (21 units) each week for four weeks.

The twist was that one twin drank all of his units on the Saturday and then nothing for the rest of the week. The second twin, meanwhile, drank 3 units a day, every day.

21 units is the equivalent of 21 shots of vodka, or 3/4 of a bottle of whisky or 2 bottles of wine. To me, 21 shots of vodka sounds like quite a lot, as does 3/4 of a bottle of whisky. I'd always congratulated myself on 'rarely drinking spirits.' But two bottles of wine? In a whole week? Are you kidding?

And, remember, these were two large blokes. The equivalent amount for us ladies is 14 units. That's less than one and a half bottles of wine per week, or one measly glass a day!

So, these chaps had their livers and blood etc tested after four weeks AF and they were super healthy. Then they started on the steady drinking vs 'binge' drinking.

The first week the 'binge' drinker drank his 21 vodka shots over 4 hours. By the end he could barely walk. His twin had to get him home. He started singing in the taxi, invited the camera crew to a karaoke bar, then, when he got home, started crying, and passed out.

In the morning he couldn't remember any of it. Yikes! That is what 21 units does to 'normal' people! I could have drunk the female equivalent (1.5 bottles of wine) and barely appeared drunk! But, apparently, the damage done is the same.

In subsequent weeks, the binge drinker spread his units out over the Saturday. A couple of beers with lunch, a cocktail in the afternoon, and a bottle of wine in the evening.

Binge? That was my regular Saturday and Sunday, as well as every single day on a holiday.

The 'steady' drinker drank his measly 3 units (1 large glass of wine) every day. (For women, the equivalent would be one small glass).

Was he happy? Oh no! He said that, by the end, he was craving more. One glass just wasn't enough. (Tell me about it!). But even that small amount was messing up his sleep patterns.

So, after all this, they went back to the doctor.

In just 4 weeks of drinking no more than the government guidelines, a teensy weensy 2 bottles of wine a week, both of their livers were functioning significantly less well.

They also both showed signs of a huge increase in the markers of  'inflammation', which can lead to cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Bizarrely, both bingeing and steady drinking had the same impact. However, the binge drinker also had three times the amount of 'bacterial endotoxins' in his blood than his brother.

This means that the binges had damaged the lining of his stomach and intestines and were causing poisons to leak into his bloodstream.

Crucially, the binge drinker was tested at the end of the week. After six days completely alcohol free. Nowhere near long enough to repair the damage caused by the binge, it transpired.

I wonder what the impact of 'binge drinking' every day of the week would be? Perhaps best not to dwell on that one...

So, if you're already on the sobercoaster, take a moment to revel in your wisdom....

You, you gorgeous goddess, are surfing the zeitgeist! You are ahead of that curve! You are a thing of wondrous purity and grace.

If you haven't joined us yet, then what the hell are you waiting for???

Love SM x

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Full Circle

Day 80! There's something beautiful about round numbers. This one reminds me of one of the children's jokes. Q: "What did the zero say to the eight?" A: "Nice belt!

Appropriately, given that I'm already on the topic of zeros and circles, this post is about coming full circle.

This is my 68th post. Eighty days ago I never would have imagined that I'd be able to find so many topics to ramble on about. I keep a list on my iPhone called 'blog posts', and whenever a relevant thought pops into my head I stick it on the list.

The list items are a bit like fish in an aquarium (spoiler alert: another analogy approaching). They swim around for a bit. Some of them get bigger and stronger and more acrobatic. Some die, end up floating belly up and have to be fished out. Some cannibalise  friends who are just a bit too similar to them, and end up an amalgamation of two or three different fish.

Each morning I open up the aquarium, peer in and see which fish is throwing itself out of the water with enthusiasm, and that's the one I write about.

About three weeks ago I wrote 'full circle' on the list. I wasn't sure quite what that fish was all about yet, but I thought I'd let it swim around and see what happened to it. That fish kept bugging me. I knew it was important, but couldn't quite work out why.

Then I read one of Anne's brilliant posts (see Ainsobriety). Anne had taken my tiny little common old garden goldfish and turned it into a gorgeous, tropical Angel fish! Suddenly the 'full circle' thought made sense!

The reason I'd become interested in the full circle idea was that, yet again, I'd been thinking back to my pre drinking days. I remembered that when I was at boarding school I started THE DIARY.

THE DIARY (that's a JOURNAL in American) was a huge lever arch file into which I wrote religiously every day. I added photos, letters and news clippings.

THE DIARY wasn't private. I let all my friends read it. I also encouraged them to add their own news and comments. In fact, it was - in those pre-interweb days - a rudimentary blog! And I loved it. We would all gather round it reading back over our antics from the previous year "Weren't we all so immature and pathetic!" we'd shriek about our antics in the lower sixth.

Not only did I have THE DIARY, but I was constantly writing. I wrote most of the end of year comedy skits, taking the mickey out of all the staff. I wrote 'odes' for all my friends - long, comic poetry - on birthdays and for other significant events.

Over the years I stopped doing all of that. Until about 6 months ago (when I started writing a book) I hadn't written a thing except e-mails, thank you letters and work stuff for twenty years. In fact, it was probably starting the novel that got me thinking about quitting the drink.

So, here I am, full circle. Back to writing THE DIARY every day, and sharing it with my friends, encouraging them to add their comments.

Here's what Anne wrote on her blog a couple of days ago. She'd heard Wayne Dyer, self help guru, speak at a conference, and she said: "What stayed with me from his talk was the idea that at the end of our journey we will recognize it as the place we started. The circular path of life. The returning to source."

She, and Wayne Dyer, had blinged up my little fish!

Then I thought, if I've come totally full circle, does that mean the last twenty years were a complete waste? Where would I have been if I'd gone in a straight line???

But, you know what? I reckon that everyone comes full circle eventually. It wasn't the drinking that created the circularity. It's the self analysis caused by the stopping drinking that allows you to see it.

Big, circular, hugs to you all. SM x

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Losses and Gains

Day 79.

I thought that giving up drinking would be like an overnight transformation. I wasn't expecting it to be easy, but nor was I expecting the journey to be such an evolving and all encompassing one.

For me, it's felt a bit like moving house. And, in fact, many people try what AA call the 'geographical cure' when they decide to cut down or quit drinking.

The geographical cure involves leaving everything behind and trying a clean sheet of paper in a brand new place with brand new people. It usually doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work, apparently, is that the issues are internal, not external. When you move, you take them all with you.

Instead of clearing everything out and rearranging all your external stuff, you have to do the same thing with all your internal stuff. That, say the experts, is the only route to proper recovery.

And that's just what it's felt like to me.

Initially you bag up all the junk - the stuff you've always hated - and you chuck it out. Hurrah! You think. This is really easy. It's therapeutic. I should have done this years ago. What was I thinking?

That's the early stage of sobriety. The 'pink cloud' phase (see The SoberCoaster for more on pink clouds and 'the wall').

Overnight the hangovers have gone. You feel exhausted but positive. You've finally made a decision and started to do something about it. You are strong! Amazing! Unshakeable!

But then you have to start saying goodbye to all your favourite things. You lose all your routines, your comfort blankets, your oldest, most familiar friends.

Suddenly you find yourself sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a totally empty room feeling completely naked, alone and vulnerable.

(This was how I felt when I started weeping over the ironing a few weeks back (see Weeping). It's the phase known as 'The Wall').

But then, slowly, slowly the cold, empty room starts to fill up. You find some stuff that you haven't seen since childhood. You buy some lovely new things. And you discover that you don't miss the belongings you've left behind half as much as you thought you would.

Some of the things I've found creeping quietly into my empty room are courage (see Anxiety and Courage), compassion (see People in Glasshouses), energy and creativity. And I know there's more coming, so long as I leave the door open.

I'm looking around my new house and thinking "Ok, I'm not quite at home here yet, there's stuff that I still yearn for, but it's looking okay. It's still a bit sparse, but everything here feels like it's here for a reason, and not just because I've got used to it."

If I get really nostalgic, I can drive by my old house and have a good look at it. But it's not my home any more and I can't go back there. And, eventually, I won't want to, because my new home will be so amazing that it won't even cross my mind....

Does that ring any bells for you, fellow travellers? Or am I just going quietly crazy?

Love SM x

Monday 18 May 2015

Celebrity Drinkers

I love celebrity ex-drinkers. 'Alcoholics' have such a terrible image problem that we need a little bit of stardust from time to time.

Celebrity drinkers help people to understand that no-one is immune from the problems alcohol causes. They also provide a counterbalance to the 'sad, down-and-out wino in the gutter' image that people have of alkies. Celebs show that it is possible to be successful, admired, gorgeous and alcoholic.

Generally celebrities are generous with their PR. People like Michael J Fox, Russell Brand, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eric Clapton, Johnny Depp, Kristin Davis and many more have been open about their battles with alcohol (and other substances) and, therefore, supportive to the millions of other (non celeb) sufferers out there.

But then you get the occasional celeb who - accidentally - drops a bomb into the sobersphere.

Having spent years proclaiming the joys of being sober and the evils of the drink, they suddenly announce that they are now 'able to drink in moderation.'

At this point every newly sober person out there starts thinking "Hurrah! X says that 'after a period of abstinence' it's OK to drink again. Yee hah! Crack open the champagne."

The wine witch is back out of her box and sitting on your shoulder. Damn them.

I've ranted about this already (see Moderation. Is it possible?) using the example of Lara Stone.  Rachel Black and Nikkinuts commented that Zoe Ball did the same thing. And here's another one: Sally Bercow.

Non UK readers will probably never have heard of Sally Bercow. She's the wife of a prominent politician (Speaker of the House of Commons). She's an inveterate self-publicist who is constantly on Twitter and in the gossip columns.

Sally has been very open about her issues with alcohol. She says that in her twenties she would drink one or two bottles of wine a day and had a string of one night stands with dodgy men.

She quit in 2002 and said that she would never drink again. Things seemed to go ok. She got married to a very successful guy, had three children and carved out a career for herself as a 'media celebrity' and commentator.

But then, in 2012, she started drinking again. She told her 5,000 Twitter followers: "It's fine to drink after some time out - some people can handle it."  Aaarrrgghhh! How many ex-drinkers did that tweet (and its subsequent discussion in the media) derail, Sally?

So, can Sally handle it? Well, apparently not.

Since she started drinking again Sally has been photographed many times falling out of taxis in the early hours flashing her underwear. Then she was all over the press snogging a fitness trainer in a nightclub, visibly plastered. She was sued for slander on Twitter.

And now she's been interviewed, alternately weepy then effing and blinding, confessing to a year long affair with her husband's cousin.

When asked how the affair stared she cites "a mutual appreciation of fine wine." We know what this really means. It means that hubby has been trying to get her to stop drinking (as 'friends' have reported in the media), so Sally has been avoiding him in favour of spending time with someone else 'who appreciates fine wine.'

When the story broke, did the cousin stand by poor, battered, self loathing Sally? Oh no. He hotfoots it straight back to the wife and child. Sally says she is 'heartbroken.'

Meanwhile all of this is all over everywhere, for ever and ever, for Sally's three children to be haunted by, for their entire lives.

Now everyone seems to be laying into Sally and despising the poor lass. I don't. How could I? We all know how it happens. We know what she's going through.

But Sally, please, please STOP APPRECIATING FINE WINE! It does not appreciate you! Ditch the drink. Spend some proper time with your kids, whatever you decide to do about the husband.

Then please tell the world that, sadly, however much 'time out' you have, it really is best not to have another drink.....

Love to you all, and to Sally,


Sunday 17 May 2015

Anxiety and Courage

Day 77! Eleven weeks.

Having posted yesterday on books, I've been thinking about (and re-reading bits of) Jason Vale's 'Kick the Drink.'

When I first read this book it was a revelation. I began to realise, for the first time, that life without alcohol might just be, not only bearable, but actually enjoyable. Throughout the book I was nodding away. It all made sense. Well nearly all of it.

There was one bit of Jason's logic that just didn't ring quite true. Jason writes that alcohol has zero benefits. He asserts that your problems are actually caused by the drink, not solved by them.

Now I had many 'triggers' that made me reach for the bottle - feeling miserable, feeling happy, feeling stressed, feeling anxious etc etc. And alcohol really did help.

But Jason says that your negative emotions are, at least in part, caused by the drink. Heavy drinkers are, he argues, constantly experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking, and these exacerbate the feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. If you quit, he argues, you will feel as good as you used to after a few drinks all of the time.

Nice logic, I thought, but you're pushing it a bit. Alcohol may be evil in many ways, but it does have some positive effects.

But now, after 77 days (count 'em - yay!), I am starting to get what he means. Here's why:

I found, in the last few years, that I was getting increasingly anxious. About stupid little things. I'd have mini panic attacks about nothing.

If I had some (slightly) bad or annoying news via 'phone or e-mail I would get a knot of anxiety in my stomach. It would wriggle away there like a tapeworm. And the best way to kill it, or at least to numb it for a while, was to drown it in Sauvignon Blanc.

This bothered me. I'd run huge global ad campaigns with multi million pound budgets. I'd managed a group of around sixty employees. And here I was getting totally stressed out about a patch of damp in a bedroom, a tax return or a less than perfect school report.

I thought maybe I was just out of practice, getting old or peri-menopausal. I didn't blame the drink. In fact I thought the drink was the solution, not the problem.

But I realised last week that I hadn't felt that noxious knot in the stomach for ages. I'd had a number of issues crop up - don't we all - and I'd just dealt with them.

When you drown your problems they don't go away, they just get forgotten for a bit, fester and get worse. Then your inability to deal with them effectively destroys your confidence even more. It's like you're Superman and someone's stuffed kryptonite down your pants.

When you deal with your problems sober, straight away, your confidence grows. You find the kryptonite hiding it plain sight, chuck it away and feel your power returning.

Going to my college reunion the other night reminded me of how brave and fearless I used to be. Nothing fazed me.

And it's coming back. Oh yeah, baby.

Take that kryptonite out of your underwear and have a great weekend all!

SM x

Saturday 16 May 2015

SoberMummy's Book List

Day 76.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am obsessed by books on alcohol, alcoholism, quitting alcohol, being sober etc etc.

If I'm wrestling with the wine witch and can't stop thinking about drinking, I find that a handy trick is to indulge myself and read about it, rather than actually doing it.

Lindsay suggested a post on all the books I recommend reading, so here it is.

I'll keep posting links back to this one, so please add your own comments on any of the recommendations at any point (feel free to add negative ones as well as positive ones!), and do suggest any books that I've missed!

Books for the just-thinking-about-being-sober

I suggest to everyone who has just embarked on the sobercoaster that, before they do anything else, they read Kick the Drink, Easily by Jason Vale. There is a very similar Alan Carr book, but Jason's is, in my view, a bit more accessible.

Jason uses powerful argument, and a hell of a lot of repetition, to begin to break down the brainwashing we've all been subjected to that tells us that life without booze will be hell, and not worth living. He helps you to begin your sober journey with a sense of excitement and anticipation rather than doom and gloom.

Then I think it's a good idea to read some memoirs, so you know what you're letting yourself in for!

My favourites are:

Mrs D is Going Without by Lotta Dann.

Lotta is a boozy, New Zealand housewife who quits the booze, starts a blog and changes her life. It's a light, funny, uplifting memoir - you'll love it.

Sober is the New Black by Rachel Black

If you want to know how life without booze differs from life with it, then this is the one for you. Rachel juxtaposes 'then' and 'nows' throughout her book so you get an honest, heart warming view of the transformative effects of going sober.

Rachel's just released a new book too, looking at the journey further down the line, and how life keeps evolving. It's called The Secret to Being Fashionably Sober and Fabulous, which I'm currently reading!

The Sober Revolution by Lucy Rocca and Sarah Turner

This is the story of Lucy, the founder of Soberistas. But it also includes stories of other 'problem drinkers' and looks at the different reasons why we drink, and ways in which we drink. It's where I first discovered the term 'maintenance drinker' which is what I am (was).

Books for more established sober people

When you hit 'The Wall' and start getting a bit more introspective (why me? How did I get here? What's life all about anyway? Aaarrrggghhhh!) then you might want to read something a bit deeper, a tad more melancholy, and more analytical.

My two big favourites are: Drinking. A Love Story by Caroline Knapp and Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston

Both these ladies are beautiful, lyrical, hugely intelligent writers and their books will make you think, laugh and cry. Wait until you're brave enough....


And then, if like me you are so obsessed that you even like your fiction to feature a good old low bottom alkie, then read Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Rachel's Holiday by Marain Keyes. The first is a great, page turning whodunit that everyone's been talking about, and the second is a classic laugh and cry romp by the Queen of chick-lit.

Please, please add your own views and recommendations for all the newly sober (plus those of us who are constantly after more good stuff to read) below!

Thanks, and happy weekend!

SM x

Friday 15 May 2015

Blasts from the Past

Day 75.

I made it through last night! (See Sober Hair).

The Big Hair and I arrived at the House of Lords. Typically it was pissing down with rain, so I had to wrestle with a giant umbrella in order to protect the expensively coiffed locks.

I was wrong about the selection of soft drinks on offer. There was no elderflower cordial - only warm, sticky, processed orange juice. Not even mineral water, let alone virgin mojitos. FFS (as my kids would say).

Not only did I not want to drink orange juice, but my bright orange tumbler signalled non-drinker!!! loudly in the sea of sophisticated wine glasses. I did not see one other glass of orange juice being drunk.

(Incidentally, when asked why I wasn't drinking I said that I'd got to the age where it just didn't agree with me any more. There's a real beauty in understatement).

I found some old college mates and was chatting happily. Then two ladies approached me (who I didn't recognise) and shrieked "SM! We saw your name on the list and had to come and find you. You probably won't remember us - we were two years below you - but you made a huge impression on both of us!"

Oh dear. I smiled, weakly.

The first one said "You were my college mother," (oops, should have remembered her!) "and you gave me a piece of advice that I have never, ever forgotten. In fact it has become my life motto."

Did I? Gosh, how extraordinary. I have depths so hidden that even I wasn't aware of them!

"What did I say?" I asked, nervously.

"That you can never wear too many sequins!" she replied.

Ah. Profound.

The second lady joins in. "I remember you too!" Oh God. "You were famous for running down the corridor naked except for a strategically placed yucca plant, claiming to be Eve in the Garden of Eden."

I gave a silent prayer of thanks that Facebook had not been invented then, therefore saving #1, #2 and #3 from evidence of their mother's past misdemeanours!

I felt a wave of nostalgia for my younger, unforgettable (even if for the wrong reasons!), exuberant self, and sipped on my yicky, sticky orange juice.

After a couple of hours at the drinks, an old friend of mine (who I hadn't seen for 5 years) and I went out for dinner. It was great to see her and catch up, and it was fine not drinking. But - I have to confess - I missed that feeling of your shoulders relaxing, tension reducing and the wave of bonhomie and positivity that comes with a few glasses of wine.

I felt too rigid, too overly aware and analytical of everything I was doing and saying.

But then I reminded myself of the last time I attended the same event - 5 years ago.

I probably had at least one glass of wine before I left home. I then drank about three glasses at the drinks party - large ones on an empty stomach. By the time I got to dinner (there was a group of five of us) I was feeling lethargic.

I remember worrying that I was slurring slightly, plus being convinced that I was horribly boring as I was too drunk and exhausted to think up any witty repartee. And I'm sure I appeared totally uninterested in anyone else's life.

Needless to say I woke up with a horrible head the following day and had to do the school run.

So last night wasn't perfect. I missed my former self. But the self I missed was the one of twenty five years ago, not the more recent one. And I suspect that I am now, sober, more like the twenty year old me than I was five years ago.

Have a fab weekend all of you, and remember: You can never wear too many sequins.

SM x

Thursday 14 May 2015

Sober Hair

Day 74, and it struck me, looking fleetingly in the mirror (past the age of 40 it doesn't do to linger at mirrors!) this morning that something had changed.

And it's my hair.

There are many benefits I expected to accrue when I quit drinking - like weight loss, better sleep, more energy, and so on, but bouncy, springy, look at me hair was not one of them.

My hair has gone all exuberant, confident to the point of pushy, American. It's so big that it deserves its own post code (translation: zip code).

I googled 'sober hair.' It transpires that I'm not imagining it. Hair, like your skin, suffers from dehydration when you drink, and goes all dry and brittle and split endy. Plus, alcohol depletes your iron levels which makes your hair fall out. 

My older friends tell me that the menopause is disastrous for hair, so I see this as my hair's last Hurrah! Enjoy, you lovely little follicles. It's your chance to shine.

This hair thing is very good timing, because tonight I have an ordeal.

My old Oxford College is holding a drinks do at The House of Lords (for those of you across the pond, the House of Lords institution and building are older than America).

I still remember when I got the letter containing the results of my Oxford application and interview. I was with my friend Philippa. I poured us both a vodka and orange for courage, despite the fact that it was only 11am (that didn't auger well). When I read the words 'we are pleased to be able to offer you....' it was the proudest day of my life.

So tonight I'll look around the room at all of us - supposedly some of the brightest and most promising of our generation.

Many of my cohort are now government ministers, top lawyers, brain surgeons, newsreaders, best selling novelists and rich as Croesus financiers.

And what am I? An ex boozy housewife. All that promise left pickling at the bottom of a bottle of Chablis.

Not for the first time, I will wonder why I didn't carry on the career (which I was very good at) and leave a highly paid nanny (with far more experience and expertise in childcare than me) to bring up #1, #2 and #3.

I've not done a drinks party yet. I've done sober dinners, I've done a sober ball, I've done a sober holiday, but not a drinks party. What are they for if not to drink? The clue, as my kids would say, is in the name.

And I know from pregnant days that they are useless at providing non alcoholic drinks at these things. Sticky, warm orange juice or elderflower cordial. Drinks for children and grannies. No virgin mojitos for the sophisticated AF lady, oh no.

So, I have decided to treat my new, perky hair to a professional blow dry (translation: blow out). Cost: 2 bottles of wine equivalent - what I would have drunk tonight in the old days.

I might be standing, quivering in the doorway, but my hair will be way ahead of me, propping up the bar and flirting with the waiter.

Wish me luck!

SM x

Wednesday 13 May 2015

We're in the News!

The front page of the UK's Daily Mail newspaper today reads "WARNING OVER MIDDLE-CLASS WOMEN DRINKERS." (If you want to read the full article click here)

Who knew? Well, all of us on this site, actually!

Apparently an OECD study has revealed that, in a study of 34 Western countries, the UK has the highest number of female graduates drinking 'hazardously' (20%, compared with only 10% of less educated women).

There is a direct link between your likelihood of being a problem drinker and the number of years you spent in education. Well that was three years at university well spent, wasn't it?

Mark Pearson of the OECD says "women are adopting men's drinking habits and they are not healthy...As women have moved into the labour market they have adapted to the male culture. Jobs where you can earn more are more likely to be jobs that have a lot of networking. It's the dark side of equality."

The study states that two thirds of alcohol in the UK is drunk by just 20% of adults. That proportion may have dropped since I quit 73 days ago. I swear my local off licence has seen a huge drop in profits.

The report also shows that the highest proportion of hazardous drinkers are in the 45-64 age group. Yep, that's me again (although only just, I hasten to add).

The OECD suggest that women with higher education tend to have more stressful jobs, more opportunities for socialisation and delayed pregnancies, all of which can lead to heavy drinking.

Apparently 'much of it is done at home, away from public view,' aided by supermarket online delivery services. Ocado: the neighbourhood drug dealer of the middle classes!

None of this is much surprise to me, or - I expect - to any of you. If you delve briefly into the sober blogosphere you'll see that the majority of authors, and readers, are middle aged women.

Many of us drank - heavily but 'normally' for decades thinking that it wasn't really a problem. Back then I would have looked at today's headline with interest, but without much concern.  But then, when we hit our forties something changed.

For me, looking back, the big shift at about the age of forty was the amount of 'headspace' taken up by my drinking. Until then I'd drunk a lot, but I only thought about drinking while I was actually doing it.

But then an increasingly constant, nagging voice appeared (we call her the 'wine witch'). She would say things like "better check to see if there's a spare bottle in the cupboard, just in case.....Have a couple of drinks before you go out so you don't need to drink too much when you get there.......Better not go to the nearest shop to buy wine, you went there yesterday.....Can I ask the air stewardess for an extra glass or will she think I'm a lush?......If the husband pours another glass there won't be enough left for me...."

Forget all the quizzes about how to know if you have a drink problem - if you immediately understand what we mean by the wine witch, you do.

We are the first generation of women whose mothers fought for equality. The ones who went to University and into top jobs and thought it our duty to keep up with the boys, and we're now hitting our forties.

How many of us are out there quietly drinking a bottle at home every night and fighting off the wine witch? Given that we all lie when asked how much we drink, I suspect that the OECD survey massively underestimates the issue.

But, hell, it's good to come top of something!

Onwards and upwards.

SM x

For more on this topic read: Why so many well educated, middle aged women drink too much, and Women and alcohol: a deadly relationship

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Potholes in the Road

There's a lot of debate in the sober blogosphere about what to do if you fall off the wagon temporarily.

If you have one glass of wine, or even a whole bottle, after eight weeks (or however long) sober do you start again from day 1, or do you just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on?

For what it's worth, my view is that, presuming it was just a short blip, it's best to view it as a pothole in the road and keep going.

My rationale is that as soon as you tell yourself that you have to start again, the wine witch gets her claws in and says something along the lines of "if you're going to have to start at day 1 you might as well let your hair down and really go for it!" Next thing you know you're on a six month bender.

Then thinking about potholes reminded me of the fabulous "Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters' by Portia Nelson. It could have been written for us....

Chapter I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
 Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in... it's a habit... but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
 Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter V
I walk down another street.
So, if you do fall off the wagon, remember you are already on Chapter 3. Your eyes are open. You know it's your fault. Get out immediately. You don't need to go all the way back to the beginning of the book. Next time you'll know the hole is there and you can walk around it.
And, eventually, we'll all find another street.
Day 72 for me, and no potholes (yet).
Love SM x

Monday 11 May 2015

What's so Great About Moderation Anyway?

Day 71. For some reason I believe that 100 is the magic number, and that when I get there I'll be over the wall and into the Promised Land. Only 29 more days to go....

Regular readers will know that I, like many of you I imagine, am obsessed by the idea of moderation (stick it in bold). That's moderation (looks even more appealing in italics). MODERATION! (Too much perhaps?).

The reason 'moderation' is our holy grail, and the wine witch's most deadly ammunition, is that - whilst we never want to go back to opening the second bottle of wine, or the totally unnecessary bottle drunk on our own while watching telly, or the sneaky half bottle at 4.30pm while cooking the children's supper - we would dearly love to be able to keep the really 'special ones'.

My special ones would include a glass of rose in the garden with the husband on the first hot day of the year. The chilled glass of white to celebrate arriving at your summer holiday destination. A glass of champagne at a wedding or New Year's Eve. A punchy red with the Christmas Turkey. I'd better not go on or I'll be cracking open the cooking sherry....

If only we could have just those. Can I do a deal with the universe? I'll be really, really good. I'll make all the children, and even the dog, go to church every Sunday. I'll volunteer for every local charity and give all my spare cash to the homeless if I can just keep the special ones.

Then, as I was reading 'Drink' by Ann Dowsett Johnston I got to a passage where she explained that her mother - who was a chronic, low bottom, drunk and had a huge negative impact on Ann's childhood - at the age of seventy gave up all booze except two glasses of wine a day, mixed with coca cola.

WHAT?!?!? Firstly, how the hell did she do that? And, secondly, if you're only going to drink 2 glasses of wine a day, why on earth would you ruin them by mixing them with Coke???

This got me thinking, yet again, that maybe - just maybe - the whole 'moderation' malarkey is possible....

But then I thought STOP RIGHT THERE SOBERMUMMY! We've been through all this before. We know that one leads to another and another (see Moderation. Is it possible? and Moderation is it possible? Part 2). And, here's the new bit, even if moderation were possible, would it be any good in any case?

Ann Dowsett Johnston says that her Mum would pour the first of her yicky drinks at 6pm on the dot, and the second one also at a precise time. Now WE KNOW that she would have been looking at her watch constantly from about 4pm and fighting off the wine witch. Even if we had that self control would we really want to have to exercise it EVERY SINGLE DAY for the rest of our lives?

Plus, I don't know about you, but the one 'special drink' was never enough for me. It didn't provide enough of the buzz, or the numbness, or whatever I was looking for at the time. All it did was make me want the next glass.

And, finally, if we were able to 'moderate', to keep to one glass of wine a day, or whatever, we would never get to experience all the benefits of being properly sober, properly present, properly in control. All we would be doing is constantly stoking that desire for more, and forever feeling deprived.

So, for the first time since I quit the booze I am, genuinely, starting to think not "can I moderate?" but "who the hell would want to?" and that, my friends, is PROGRESS!

Plus the sun is shining.

Love to you all

SM x

Sunday 10 May 2015

Dancing in the Rain

Day 70! Ten weeks!

#2 and I have gone to stay with a friend and her daughter in the country for the weekend.

He is thrilled that he doesn't have to share Mummy with his sisters for 2 whole days. And given that I usually go nowhere without 3 children, a dog and the husband in tow, a road trip a deux is strangely liberating, even if my companion is only nine years old.

I brought with me a bottle of champagne for my friend and some alcohol free beers for myself.  When I handed over the bottle, my friend explained sheepishly that she's had a horrible stomach problem and is off dairy, meat and alcohol. Poor thing.....but RESULT!

On the stairs up to my bedroom there's a wooden board hanging with a motto in it. I usually hate that sort of thing, but this one has got stuck in my head, going round and round incessantly. It reads:

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

It struck me that for decades, at the slightest hint of a storm, I've used alcohol as an escape, an anaesthetic, a crutch, until it passes.

Feeling a bit anxious? Have a drink. Had a bad day? Pour the wine. Not sure how to deal with a major problem? Start with Chablis.

The storm blows in, we batten down the hatches, wrap ourselves up tightly and use both hands to clasp the glass of whisky.

No more. Now we need to peel off the layers, throw open the doors and run out barefoot into the rain.

The ice cold water stings your skin, the mud squelches between your toes, your hair is plastered to your head but you are alive and you are dancing!  Now both your hands are free and you can use them to touch the sky.

And the next time the rain blows in you don't feel so scared. You know you don't need the whisky. Instead of a knot of fear, there's a sense of anticipation, of exhilaration.

So, friends, there may be storms ahead of us, but we are holding hands and dancing in the rain.

Woo hoo!

SM x

Saturday 9 May 2015

Rebel Without a Cause

I've always seen myself as a bit of a rebel.

I never liked rules, or rather I liked them being there so they could be broken. Drinking and smoking fitted neatly into the image I had of myself.

I was at a very famous, extremely traditional, girls' boarding school. Don't feel sorry for me - I loved it. So many opportunities to be naughty.

In my final year my bedroom led onto a flat roof. My friends and I used to climb over my desk and through the window late at night in order to huddle in the gale force winds (we were on a cliff) smoking. I was, literally, the gateway to rebellion.

In my final exam term I would loan out my revision notes in exchange for bottles of Martini or Southern Comfort. I liked the idea of drinking more than the actual drink itself at that point.

Most of my best friends from that time, and the next twenty years, were the people I met huddled in groups smoking, or the last ones at a party playing drinking games.

I chose my career (advertising) because it seemed like the antithesis of a 'sensible' job. There was a bar in the office. You could smoke everywhere. You were expected to be a bit wild.

The early 1990s were party days. I worked hard and played hard. I burned the candle at both ends, and in the middle.

We spent weekends camping in fields at impromptu festivals, and at clubs like The Cross, The Fridge and The Ministry of Sound. I was intimately acquainted with dawn over the city, and sometimes slept on the sofa in my office since there seemed no point in going home.

Then, nearly 15 years ago, I quit smoking. It took me a while to adjust the image I had of myself to exclude the constantly present cigarette - the badge of rebellion (as I saw it), the smoky haze of mystery and promise. But I still had my drink...

And, until 69 days ago, when I was feeling boxed in and squashed - a boring old, podgy, middle aged housewife, alone at home with the chores - I'd pour myself a glass of chilled Sancerre, turn the music up loud and dance, thinking "yeah baby, she's still got it."

And now it's gone. My last remaining vice. My final rebellion. And I am a sober, skinnier, middle aged housewife.

What next? I know all about cross addictions. The last thing I want (or need) is an internet porn habit, bulimia or an online bingo addiction. So here's how I try to see it...

If eighty percent of the adult UK population drink, then who's the rebel? Who's zigging while the others are zagging? Who's at the frontier, pushing the boundaries?

I am, my friends, and so are you. We are the new It Girls (and boys, Tallaxo!), not the drinkers, copping out on being properly present in their own lives. So stick that in your bong and smoke it.

Plus, this little blog is my own private rebellion, my subversive secret.

Sometimes when one of the other mummies asks what I'm up to I say "oh, I've started writing a blog."

"Really? Does anyone read it?" they ask incredulously.

"Oh yes, thousands of people, all over the world. From India and China to the Ukraine, Antigua and Oman - all over the place."

"What's it about?" they ask, agog.

"Oh, this and that. Nothing kinky or illegal," I reply enigmatically, and walk off.

Still a rebel.

Love SM x

Friday 8 May 2015

Sober Conversations

Day 68. The numbers are slowing clocking up, and it is getting easier....

Last night I went out with some of the Mums from #3's class (Year 1). I've known these ladies now for a year and a half, and this was about the eighth social we've had in that time.

We met in a local restaurant. I ordered a diet coke. I said that I was focussing on being 'beach body ready' for the summer. What a joke! I haven't been 'beach body ready' for twenty years!

In any case, we always go to Cornwall in the summer, so I end up encased in a full body wetsuit, not a teensy weensy bikini. 'Beach body ready' in Cornwall actually involves laying down as much subcutaneous fat as possible as insulation!

Anyhow, no-one batted an eyelid at my ridiculous excuse, they just accepted it and moved on.

Yet again, I realised how little everyone drank. One or two glasses each. In the old days I would have drunk half a bottle 'while getting ready' and at least another half bottle over dinner. (I noticed that the bill was a lot lower with me on the diet coke!).

I started chatting to one of the Mums who I like, but only know through the school. "I'm so sorry," I say, "but I can't remember the name of your little girl, Tom's sister."

"Lily," she says, somewhat icily. I take it I've asked her this question a number of times before.

"Oh, yes, so sorry! Isn't she starting school in September?" I ask, trying to make up ground.

"She's already there." More icy.

"Of course she is! So she'll be going to the Upper School soon?" I'm starting to panic. She's looking really unimpressed.

"She's already at the Upper School. Year 3." Oh bollocks. And the problem is that I couldn't even neck a glass of wine to take the edge of my embarrassment.

I realise that I must have had all of these conversations a number of times over the last few years and just totally forgotten all the details. Plus, after a few drinks, I'd get stuck on 'transmit' rather than 'receive.' Another person speaking was just a chance for me to work out what to say next.

I had honestly believed that everyone I knew drank (almost) as much as me. But now I wonder whether we heavy drinkers just manage to surround ourselves by other heavy drinkers because we feel more comfortable with them. Perhaps they are the only people who actually want to hang out with us.

I wrote a post a while ago titled 'Will I Lose all my Friends?' I wonder now whether there may have been many potential friendships that went totally by the wayside due to my drunken inability to show any genuine interest in anybody else.

I may well lose some of my drunken friendships, but perhaps I'll pick up a lot of more sober ones.

I came home, somewhat humbled, chastened and reflective, and watched the election results come in with the husband and a mug of hot chocolate.

By the way, with all the UK election coverage I've been thinking of a previous Prime Minister - Winston Churchill, and his huge fondness for a drink. If you missed my post on exactly how much Winnie managed to drink each day, then follow this link: Why Ex-Drinkers Rock - Part 2.

Happy Friday to you all!


Thursday 7 May 2015

Health Consequences of Drinking

Isn't it funny how adept we are at only seeing what we want to see, and hearing what we want to hear? When I was a terrible smoker I was confronted multiple times a day with the health warnings. I'd seen endless pairs of blackened, diseased lungs. I knew that half of all smokers will eventually die as a result of their habit. La la la la la (hands over ears).

But now I look at young women smoking outside bars and I want to scream "What are you doing?!? Don't you know how bad that is for you? Do you really think it looks sexy?" And it's only now that the health implications of drinking are starting to hit home.

If you're just lurking and haven't yet quit, then you may as well stop reading now because I bet this will not sink in yet. Too many years of ignoring the statistics! Come back to it another time.

If, however, you are one of the alcohol free, then here - my friend - is the bullet that you have, I hope, missed....

Yesterday I posted about how, in the 1990s, women began to see drinking alcohol as a form of liberation and emancipation (see Women and Alcohol - a Deadly Relationship). We matched the men drink for drink at the University bars, over romantic dinners and at work functions.

And often those men were drinking beer, while we were drinking strong wine, or flavoured vodka shots. We forgot that, whilst we may be their equals (and more!) mentally, we will never be their equals physically.

Because we have less body fat than men, a lower level of a key metabolising enzyme that helps us break down alcohol, and oestrogen intensifies the effect of alcohol, we become dependent on alcohol much faster than men.

And alcoholism is, apparently, twice as deadly for women as it is for men. Alcohol dependant women are 4.6 times more likely to die young, as opposed to men who are 1.9 times more likely. On average these women will die twenty years earlier than those not dependant on alcohol.

Ian Gilmore ex president of the Royal College of Physicians says "In the thirty years I have been a liver specialist, the striking difference is this: liver cirrhosis was a disease of elderly men - I have seen a girl as young as seventeen and women in their twenties with end-stage liver disease. Alcohol dependence is setting in when youngsters are still in their teens. This mirrors what we saw with tobacco, when women caught up with men on lung cancer." (see also Livers and Mojos)

Women who consume four or more alcoholic drinks a day quadruple their risk of dying from heart disease, and are five times more likely to have a stroke. Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to many cancers - particularly breast cancer.

Globally, one in 5 deaths from alcohol are due to cancer. A study by Oxford University suggests that the relative risk of developing breast cancer increases by 7.1% for every unit of alcohol you drink per day.

So, if you're finding the not drinking thing difficult today, just think - is that one glass of vino (which we know will just lead to another, and another, and another) worth twenty years of your life? Is it worth burdening yourself and your family with the horrific treatment for breast cancer?

Pass me the hot chocolate!

Happy, healthy days to you all!

SM x

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Women and Alcohol - a Deadly Relationship

Day 66. I have been reading the most amazing book - Drink, by Ann Dowsett Johnston. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The subtitle of the book is 'The Deadly Relationship Between Women and Alcohol,' and it examines why more women than ever before are drinking too much.

Dowsett Johnston argues that, in many ways, alcohol is the new tobacco. In the same way that the tobacco industry started to deliberately target women once the male market was saturated, so - in the 1990s - the alcohol manufacturers began to do the same.

The alcohol industry, she argues, 'is conspiring to drip-feed us the notion that cocktails will deliver us happy endings, rescuing us from the great modern scourges of loneliness, exhaustion and boredom.'

In her home country of Canada, Dowsett Johnston remembers the launch of brands with names like French Rabbit, Girl's Night Out Wines and Mommy Juice. The fastest growing spirits line in the US in 2012 was the Skinnygirl Cocktail range with their ad-line 'Drink Like a Lady.'

In the UK - which Ann describes beautifully as 'the Linsday Lohan' of the western world - Diageo launched Smirnoff Ice in 1999, targeted at young women, which quickly became the number one alcopop.

And, in addition to all the advertising and marketing, we had Sex in the City, with Carrie Bradshaw selling us a dream floating on a sea of Cosmopolitans, and Bridget Jones with her endless Chardonnays and her fairy-tale ending.

Somehow, alcohol became inextricably entwined with women's liberation.  Alcohol could, we were told, make us feel more confident, more relaxed, more sociable and more desirable. And, of course, it did seem to live up to the promise - for many years - until, suddenly, it didn't. We discovered that everything we thought alcohol was giving us it was actually taking away, drip by insidious drip.

So where was I in the 1990s when all this was going on? In advertising. And the awful thing is that as I was reading all of this, I remembered working on a campaign for a major multinational re-launching a wine brand aimed at young, professional women! Did I have any qualms about this? Hell no! I was thrilled. I had, I believed, found a way of combining my work with my favourite hobby.

I spent months around board room tables presenting concepts and mood boards showing sexy, slim, confident women gathered in sociable groups in the sunshine, sipping their wine, tipping their heads back and laughing with abandon.

Did we feature any miserable, middle-aged housewives drinking at home on their own to erase the stress and boredom of their lives? God no! It was all empowerment, freedom, sophistication. I sold the dream, not realising that I'd end up living the nightmare.

Isn't that ironic? When the Goddess of Karma was looking for someone to introduce to the wine witch, what better candidate than me?

Isn't it true, my friends, that what goes around comes around? So now it's pay back time. My mission is to advertise sober. It's up to us to make sober as sexy and desirable as we once thought alcohol was.

Are you with me?

SM x

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

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Not the Girl he Married Part 2

Day 65.

My regular readers might remember that, exactly a month ago, I confessed my fear that in stopping drinking I'm ruining the husband's life (see Not the Girl he Married).

After all, he never signed up to being married to a teetotaller. I was convinced that he was hankering after our long, boozy, romantic dinners and feeling huge trepidation about the dry wasteland ahead of us. Or, rather, ahead of me.

So, a couple of nights ago I finally plucked up the courage to ask him about it. We were having dinner. He was slowly sipping his one glass of red wine. Ggrrrr.

(Actually, I know he sometimes has more than one, because I found a half full bottle in the playroom hidden behind some books! He must be having an extra glass from time to time while watching TV. How hilarious to find someone else hiding bottles! Don't worry, though. Mr SM is definitely not on first name terms with the wine witch. He's just, thoughtfully, trying not to wave too much vino in my face).

"Darling," I say, "can I ask you a question?" He looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Mr SM is old school - he doesn't do 'talking about stuff'. He went to boarding school at the age of seven. His mind is whirring, running through his mental filing cabinet of 'appropriate answers for tricky conversations' in advance.

"Does it bother you that I've stopped drinking? Do you miss having a drinking partner?"

Mr SM looks relieved. At least I hadn't asked him "does my bum look big in this?" He always struggles with the correct response to that one.

"God no, it's a wholly good thing" he replies. I press him for more. I want to know details.

The benefits, according to Mr SM are as follows:

1. I no longer fall asleep while watching TV, so we can genuinely share a box set.
2. I'm less grumpy.
3. I don't keep him awake tossing and turning at night time.
4. He doesn't have to drink really fast to make sure he gets his share of a bottle of wine.

I grill him for any negatives. He thinks hard, then replies "I don't get as much access to the TV remote control." Then he hides behind his newspaper, like a tortoise sticking his head back in his shell. Conversation over.

Men. Simple creatures. Don't mess with their sleep, their TV watching or their comfort blankets and they're happy.

The truth is, I suspect, that the idea of losing a drinking partner is only terrifying to us - the pickles - not to the 'normal' drinkers.

But if I tried to take away his remote control permanently? That would be a deal breaker...

Love SM x