Friday 31 July 2015

SoberMummy Out of Office Notification

My Dear Readers,

I am now en route to Cornwall. I'll be there for three weeks. Without Wifi. Yikes! How primitive is that?

I will try to post whenever I can. Apart from anything else, I have become rather addicted to posting (can you see a pattern emerging here?).

But, please forgive the radio silence if you don't hear anything for a while.

If you'd like to receive all my posts by e-mail so you don't miss anything then just visit the main site (not the mobile one) and add your address in the 'subscribe by e-mail' box in the top right of the page.

I'll miss you!

Love SM x

Thursday 30 July 2015

Alcoholism and Ancestry

It has long been accepted that alcoholism is, at least in part, an inherited trait. 40-60% of your susceptibility to alcoholism is genetic. The remainder is environmental. One study I looked at estimated that 25% of children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves.

In her fabulous memoir - Drinking, a Love Story - Caroline Knapp writes: Alcohol travels through families like water over a landscape, sometimes in torrents, sometimes in trickles, always shaping the ground it covers in inexorable ways....In some families alcohol washes across whole generations, a liquid plague.

We can fight against our genes (after all, three quarters of children of alcoholics don't follow that path), but there are traits and tendencies buried deep within our souls.

I was thinking about this as I was dreaming (again) about our holiday in the land of my fathers: Cornwall (leaving tomorrow!). Despite the fact that I've never lived there, the minute I see the harsh, yet stunning, landscape unfolding in front of me, I feel an overwhelming sense of coming home.

There's something about the rugged cliffs, windswept moors, multi-coloured heathers and rough seas that appeals, at a fundamental level, to my Celtic roots.

I am a classic Celt. Dark haired, blue eyed, pale skinned. Years ago, when men were trying to chat me up, they used to say that I looked like Elizabeth Taylor in her younger years (they were lying, obviously). Spookily, until recently, I rather resembled Liz in her later years - puffy, overweight alcoholic, going slowly crazy.

It's often said that the Celts (particularly the Irish) have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. I can't find a reliable study on this one but, spookily, there is a recent study showing that people with blue eyes (like the Celts) are significantly more likely to have alcohol problems.

Apparently, the genetic components that determine eye colour line up along genes related to excessive alcohol use. How weird is that? That's me, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton (Welsh - also a Celt) many of you?

I worry about my blue eyed children and their mother with alcohol issues (still can't say the A word!).

I particularly worry about #2 who, at nine, is already horribly obsessed by sugar and Minecraft. He will happily spend hours (if he were allowed to) watching Stampy videos. (If you don't have children this age you will not have heard of Stampy. All I can say is "lucky you!")

But I remind myself that only half of alcoholism is genetic. The other 50% is environmental. And the environment that I'm creating now is one where alcohol is never drunk at home alone. It is a treat (for Mr SM, not for me, obviously), for special occasions.

Because no-one needs alcohol to be happy. Right kids?

Love SM x

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Oldest Habits Die Hardest

Apparently, changing habits is only 5% down to the conscious mind, and 95% down to the subconscious. Which means, in effect, that you just got to give it time.

You have to drown out all those past (drunken) associations with lots of shiny new (sober) ones. Baby step by baby step. It's one of the reasons why they say it takes 2 years before you stop getting withdrawal symptoms (see Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms).

It seems to me that it works on a 'last in, first out' basis. My recently acquired alcohol associations (like drinking at lunch time) were the easiest to ditch. I hardly ever get cravings at lunch time now. But the deeply engrained associations (like drinking at parties) are a bugger to shift.

Whatever you tell your conscious mind about sober being better, not needing alcohol blah blah blah, your subconscious still pipes up "Party! Oh Goody! Pour us a drink, why don't you?"

We can try to avoid the most problematic situations, like refusing party invitations - but that's just postponing the problem. By doing that you don't create the new associations to fight with the old ones. Plus it's no fun. There's no point being sober if it's going to ruin your life.

Another cheat is to change the routine slightly. I've realised that I've been doing this with evening meals. I don't find not drinking at home in the evenings tricky now, but that's partly because I've got into the habit of eating 'on the hoof.'

I pick at the children's left overs. I snack. I no longer wait to eat until Mr SM comes home. I don't lay the table for two. Having a formal dinner just makes me miss the wine too much.

Changing the routine has made things way easier, but I'm missing out on my 'adult time' with the husband. Our tiny oasis of romance. I've got to bite the bullet and re-instate dinner.

Yet again I'm reminded of the children's book Going on a Bear Hunt. "We can't go over it, we can't go under it, we've got to go through it."

There are no short cuts.

It's another reason why it makes sense not to slide all the way down the slippery slope to rock bottom. With every year you keep drinking you're creating more and more deeply ingrained associations. Making it harder and harder to quit when you eventually do.

So, I'm starting to pack for our annual trip to Cornwall. Three weeks of surfing and sandcastles. And it struck me that part of the reason I'm so excited is that I have, relatively speaking, very few drunken associations with Cornwall.

My father's family are Cornish, so I've been going every year since I was born. I did a fair bit of drinking there, obviously. I've done a fair bit of drinking everywhere! But the drinking memories are totally overwhelmed by loads of sober ones.

Hot chocolate and donuts on the beach after surfing. Catching crabs in rock pools. Hide and seek in caves. Long, wind blown cliff walks. Building walls of sand to stop the tide coming in. Picking blackberries. Making blackberry and apple pie. Flying kites. Frying sausages on the beach. Finding hidden coves. Spotting seals. Riding bikes. Paddle boarding. Water skiing. Ice creams. Cream teas. Cornish pasties. Swing ball. Frisbee. Building damns. Floating boats down streams. Sandy toesies. Burnt nosies. Brown paper packages tied up with string (oops. Wrong list.)

Last year a lovely American friend of mine came to meet us on our regular beach with her family. She's in fashion. She turned up wearing Jimmy Choo strappy sandals and pastel silks, perfectly made up and coiffed. Dressed for The Hamptons. She was horrified to find us in wellies and waterproofs, sheltering from driving rain in a cave, crazy hair matted with salt water and faces wind burned. We looked feral.

Cornwall reminds me that the best things in life don't need dressing up for. They are both free and priceless. And sober.

2 days to go!

Love SM x

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Shopping Addiction

Today I took #1, #2 and #3 to KidZania. There are several of these amusement parks around the world, and the latest one opened a few weeks ago at London's Westfield shopping centre.

The place is extraordinary. It's a whole miniature city. The kids are given some fake cash as they go in, then they find 'work' as, for example, a fireman, a doctor or a hairdresser which earns them more cash. They have banks and cashpoints, a university, a recycling centre, restaurants and shops (which accept the fake money).

#1 said "I had really high expectations of this place, and it's exceeded all of them." And she's not easily impressed.

One of the best things about KidZania is that, if your kids are aged seven or over, you can just check them in and leave them to it for four hours. They're electronically tagged so that they can find each other, and you can find them.

Sadly, #3 is only six and a half. So (shut your eyes now if you are a perfect mother) we taught her how to lie on the journey there.

There was a tense moment when the checker-inner asked her "how old are you, #3?" We all held our breaths. "Seven!" she squeaked. Her interrogator's eyes narrowed (#3 is very small, even for six and a half) "When is your birthday? And what year were you born?" she asked, sneakily. #3 looked a little pale and sweaty, but managed to trot out the fake birthdate (making her just seven) like a seasoned pro. That girl will make a great politician or lawyer one day.

So, I now had hours to kill in one of the biggest and best shopping centres in Britain.

(I do hope that Mr SM doesn't decide to read this post. He's Scottish. He honestly believes that no-one needs more than two pairs of shoes: one for work, and one for home. Darling, if you are reading then stop now. It'll only make you queasy and miserable. It's not worth it).

Despite the fact that Westfield is only fifteen minutes drive away I have only ever been there for the restaurants and movies. I've never hit the shops. The truth is that for more than a decade I haven't really been interested in shopping. It's no fun if you're feeling fat and generally hating yourself. I only shopped online, and mainly for stuff that wouldn't stand out.  Ideally in black.

But now I'm feeling rather different. For a start I'm nearly a stone (fourteen pounds) lighter. I'm a medium! (I always hated buying anything in LARGE).

I went a little crazy.

I bought a top from Reiss (justification: it's white. It'll go with anything).
I bought new trainers (sneakers), running top and capri pants from the Nike store (justification: the more you spend on a new hobby, the more likely you are to keep it up).
I bought new underwear and nightwear from Calvin Klein (justification: sorry, it's not that kind of blog. There are some things I don't share. I'm not a Kardashian).

By then end of this splurge I felt HIGH. I was light headed. My pulse was racing. I was intoxicated.

I bought a coffee and Googled 'shopping addiction'. (I wonder how many people have Googled that one from Westfield).

It turns out that shopping releases endorphins and dopamine, just like drugs and alcohol. It is quite common for alcoholics to quit drinking and take up excessive shopping. There's even a Shopaholics Anonymous with a twelve step programme!

I left Westfield feeling horribly guilty and sort of hungover.

But, hell, I have a really cool pair of trainers (sneakers).

Love SM x

Related post: Cross Addictions

Monday 27 July 2015

Florence and the Booze

I'm a little bit obsessed by Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.

Firstly, I think she, and her music, are really cool and properly individual.

Secondly, I used to work with her Dad, Nick Welch (how old does that make me feel?).

He was my first creative director, and I was both in awe of and terrified of him in equal measure. Spookily, she looks exactly like he would do if he were twenty five years younger (as he was when I first met him) and wearing a long red wig (which is the sort of thing he used to do).

Thirdly, she is very open about her 'unhealthy relationship with alcohol' which began, she says, when her parents divorced when she was fourteen and "there was chaos at home, so I drank. I went to wild parties, met some bizarre, amazing people and did mad things like running around naked in fields covered in leaves.”

We've been there, haven't we? Apart from maybe the bit with leaves. Definitely done wild parties, bizarre amazing people and inappropriate nakedness.

Flo claims she used alcohol to combat shyness (sound familiar, anyone?) and stage fright.
I used to drink before every performance," she told Billboard. "I’m quite shy, really - that’s probably why I used to drink a lot. But I don’t anymore."

Then, following the breakdown of a relationship, Florence says she went through a 'deeply chaotic and unhappy period.' She took a year off from the music industry and quit drinking.

"It [drinking] wasn’t coming from a place of fun and joy. It was coming from a place of wanting to cover and hide. But, actually, if I did want to go back and enjoy drinking again, then that’s a choice...

(NO FLO! FLO NO! Don't even think about it! Why go back into the hole you've just climbed out of?)

"I was so sad. And I’ve never been that interested in having a glass of wine, I’ll have a shot of tequila, it’s always been about the end result.”

Florence says that, during her year out, a cagoule* saved her life. No, that wasn't a typo. A cagoule.

Flo stole the cagoule (with all that money she could have bought a diamond encrusted one from Dolce & Gabbana! Surely no need to nick a manky second hand one?) from a house party on New Year's Eve, and wore it with a pair of leggings for a whole year.

She says "it saved my life." (see! I was not kidding you) "Clothes to me are a way of distracting myself and I had nothing left, I wanted to be identity-less.”

I so identified with the cagoule thing (although not in a literal sense, obviously). Two months ago I wrote a post called Losses and Gains (click here) where I said that when you quit drinking.... 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.

And Florence, in effect, did exactly that, and not just in a metaphorical sense. She says that clothes had become her 'protection' (along with alcohol, I'm guessing) and that she had to spend a year or two 'unravelling all that stuff.'

So, it was great to see Florence back at Glastonbury on such great form, and here's hoping that she decides to ditch the Tequila for good. And the cagoule. Which must be really smelly by now...

Love SM

*a cagoule is a thin raincoat with hood, often taken on hikes/camping trips as it can be squashed into a small carry pack.

Friday 24 July 2015

To AA, or not to AA?

Regular readers will know that I have been wrestling with this one for a while. And whenever I mention AA in a post, even in passing, it causes much debate, so I guess lots of you have been agonising over it too.

I always tell the children when they have to make a big decision to write a list of the pros and cons, so that's what I'm going to do.

To those of you who are AA experts, please forgive my obvious ignorance! This is a totally personal list based purely on hearsay and reading, not on any actual experience.


1. Fear

I confess. I am a coward. The idea of even walking into 'the rooms' fills me with terror. I'm scared of seeing anyone I know and I'm terrified of confessing to myself, let alone others. that 'I am an alcoholic.'

2. Negativity

Like Wine Bitch ( I worry about the whole language of AA. The 'disease' stuff (see Is Alcoholism a Disease?), the turgidity of 'one day at time'. The prison sentence of forever being 'in recovery.' The endless re-telling of horror stories from the past.

Instinctively I prefer the positive language of Jason Vale - 'addiction to an addictive substance', rather than 'a disease called alcoholism', looking forward, not back, 'recovered' rather than 'in recovery.'

3. Comparison

I'm sure that, in listening to people's stories there'd be loads of 'ah ha!' moments and lots of similarities, but I'm scared of the differences.

I know how easy it is to hear people talking about their rock bottoms - drinking whisky for breakfast and losing their homes, jobs and families and to think 'that's not me, ergo I am not an alcoholic'. I don't need to go down that cul-de-sac again.

I've also heard stories (which I'm sure are not at all representative) of people being mocked for their 'bottle of wine a day' habits by the 'two bottles of vodka' brigade.

4. Rules

I've always hated rules. And I hate the idea of 'doing the steps'. I also still feel horribly uncomfortable with the concept of 'surrendering your will,' to putting myself in the hands of anyone, let alone a 'higher power.'

I prefer to see myself as someone taking responsibility for their own actions, and doing it my own way. (It's only now that I've typed that that I realise it's terrible pride holding me back. I am definitely not humble enough for AA!)

HOWEVER, over the last few months, I keep returning to the idea of AA over and over again. I'm obsessed by Bill Wilson. I love the serenity prayer. I have The Big Book under my bed. So here are my....


1. Some of You

People I admire and respect hugely keep urging me to give it a go. People like P, Anne, Wendy (  and Melanie (my e-mail buddy from Boston), to name just a few.

2. A New Tribe

One of the many truths that I've quoted from AA is that you can't do this journey alone. To date, with the exception of Mr SM and my friend P, all my confidantes have been virtual. Increasingly I feel the need to meet people like me IRL, as the kids would say (in real life).

Anne (from keeps telling me 'they're your people', and I think she may be right. I'm wondering whether I can find the same sense of belonging and solidarity that I once found in the smoking sections of aeroplanes, around the next bottle of wine at a party and dancing in fields in Hampshire in 'The Rooms.' Maybe that's where my tribe are now.

A promise

So, because I'm boring myself, and you, with my endless prevarication, and because I'll never know if I don't try, I promise that I'm going to go. Once the kids are back at school, in September - by when I'll be six months sober. It seems like an appropriate way to mark that milestone.

(But I'm not doing the steps. Or surrendering. And I can't guarantee that I'll be able to say 'I'm an alcoholic'. One step at a time, as they say)

So, if you're still reading my blog by then and I don't mention having gone to a meeting, please call me on it!

Love to you all

SM x

Thursday 23 July 2015


Quitting alcohol is often likened to a type of bereavement. We have, after all, lost one of our closest friends. The one we turned to whenever we were celebrating, commiserating, stressed, lonely or scared (or coping with any other emotion you can think of). Suddenly life stretches ahead of us with a massive gaping void at its centre.

With this in mind, I looked up the 5 stages of grief (the Kubler-Ross model). They go like this:

1. Denial wherein the survivor imagines a false, preferable reality.

Well, we've all been there, haven't we? Oh no, I'm not a proper alcoholic! I didn't drink every day/drink in the mornings/have blackouts/get the shakes (delete as appropriate). I'm just going through a bit of a rough patch. Anyhow, all my friends drink, and I don't drink half as much as X (insert name).

2. Anger...why me? It's not fair! How can this happen to me?

Bingo again. Hands up if you've secretly wanted to murder the 'moderate drinker' sipping oh so slowly on that damn glass of wine and making it last all night.

3. Bargaining - the third stage involves the hope that the individual cam avoid a cause of grief.

Been there, done that. I'll give up completely for a month, and then only drink on really special occasions. I'll never touch wine again - only beer (which I hate). I'll only drink at parties. Etcetera ad infinitum.

4. Depression. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.

We've been through bouts of this too, right? What's the point in going out if I can't let my hair down a little? Life's never going to be fun again. All my friends will abandon me. Boo hoo.

5. Acceptance. That's what we're aiming for folks!

What got me thinking about this today was a radio programme about the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva (I've always had a secret yearning to be Jewish. At school I used to skip Sunday chapel and go and hang out with the Rabbi and the Jewish girls instead).

When a Jewish person dies, their immediate family 'sit shiva' for a week. They stay home and receive guests so they can mourn, reminisce and pray together.

It seemed to me that really indulging your grief like this is far more helpful, and healthier, than the 'stiff upper lip' approach.

I'm sure that part of the reason I've made it this far not drinking is that I allowed myself, especially in the early days, to wallow in my grief and obsession. I spent hours each day reading, blogging, researching. I discussed the subject endlessly - not face to face, but with my new, virtual friends.

AA recommend that newbies aim for 90 in 90 - ninety meetings in ninety days: a similar principle.

So if you're reading this having only just stepped onto the sobercoaster, then make sure you give yourself some time to obsess - however you want to do it. Just make sure you don't do it alone. Find friends - real, virtual, AA - or all three!

And then, when you finally get to stage 5 - acceptance - you realise the big difference between quitting alcohol and bereavement:

Bereavement is an ending. But you are just at the beginning. There's a whole new life ahead of you...

Love SM x

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Mirrors and Photographs

For at least a decade I have avoided mirrors. Or looking glasses, as Nancy Mitford would have said (she deemed the word 'mirror' frightfully infra dig. Along with toilet, serviette and fish knives).

I would hate it when a mirror snuck up on me unawares. I'd suddenly be confronted by my image and think "when did my mother get so fat? Yikes! It's me. Look away you fool, before you're turned to stone...."

If I knew a mirror was coming I could prepare. I'd suck my cheeks in, angle the head to avoid double chinnage and suck in the belly.

#1 calls this my 'scary mirror face', and says it looks nothing like me.

I hate photos even more.

Until the age of around 33 (when #1 was born), there were loads of photos of me. SM partying, SM hugging Mr SM (and his predecessors), even SM on various beaches topless!

Last ten years? Barely a single picture. All erased at infancy. I've been as merciless as Herod. Thank god for digital technology! One click and ppppffff....gone.

So our last decade of family albums show Mr SM, the heroic single father of 3. Or they would if photo albums hadn't been one of the activities that went by the wayside in favour of drinking.

Anyhow, a couple of days ago I went to the supermarket with #3. Once we'd finished and paid up I wheeled the laden trolley towards the lift. #3 pressed the button and the doors opened.

The lift was already occupied by a lady with a trolley, so I moved to the side to let her out. She was a fair bit younger than me, slimmer and well turned out. The sort of person I liked to think I was. But wasn't.

She moved to the side too.

Then I realised that the lift was empty. The back wall was mirrored. I was looking at myself!

The sobercoaster isn't always easy, but once in a while the universe throws you a gift like that moment of realisation, and it makes everything worthwhile....

Love SM x

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Relapse Remembered

I am in Scotland.

Mr SM needs to return to his homeland on a regular basis in order to stride up heather coated mountains in a skirt without underpants (yes, it is true what they say about Scots), shoot things (at the appropriate times of year), do silly dancing and eat deep fried offal. He is scared that if he leaves it too long between visits he will turn into a sissy (English person).

As usual, we do the pilgrimage in two parts: part one involves me driving for nine hours north with a car packed to the gills with all our stuff, #1, #2, #3 and the dog. Part two involves Mr SM following a few days later (important business to finish in the office, obviously) on the train, reading the papers and sipping gin and tonics.

The last time I made a serious attempt to quit drinking was two years ago. I made it to about six weeks sober, then did the long drive north....

(Aside: I often read about people cracking at the 6-8 week mark. I looked back through this blog, and realised that day 46 was when I hit 'the wall' - see my post: the Sobercoaster. Apparently 'the wall' phase classically runs from day 46-120, and is a common reason for relapse)

So, two years ago, all was fine until about eight hours into the journey. #1, #2 and #3 started fighting. Proper yelling and pulling hair. I suspect teeth were involved. I lost it and started yelling too. The dog spotted some sheep (he's a Chelsea dog - cashmere jumpers he's familiar with, actual fleeces on legs...not so much) and starts barking madly.

Then, to cap it all, the police close off the only road over the Cheviots due to a road traffic accident. We took a diversion and got horribly lost.

By the time we arrived it was late, I was exhausted and fed up and everyone was crying over something. I told myself that I really, really, really deserved a glass of wine. I found a bottle in a cupboard, opened it, and within about an hour and a half it was empty.

The next day I felt awful. After six weeks sober my body was screaming for mercy. I had no desire whatsoever to drink again.

Ha ha! I thought. I have managed to reset the system. I am a normal drinker. I can let rip from time to time, then have absolutely no interest in continuing. Well done me.

And I didn't drink again. For a week. Then I drank a couple of glasses over dinner with family. Patted myself on the back. Look at me: moderation in action! Didn't drink again for five days or so.

You know the story. A month later I was back to drinking every day, more than ever.

So this time round I was nervous. I can't remember ever having done that journey, with all the packing, unpacking, driving, traffic jams, refereeing, etc etc without a bucket of alcohol at the end of it.

Until today!

Yes, I was frayed when we got here. No, the solitary Becks Blue that I'd packed didn't hit the spot. BUT a few hours later and the children are in bed, I've had a hot bath, lit the fire (I know it's July, but it's Scotland), made a hot chocolate, unpacked the laptop and I'm doing great. The only sound is the ticking of the kitchen clock and the crackling of the embers.

And, even better, I'll wake up to the glorious landscape, stillness and fresh air, with a clear head and bags of enthusiasm.

Another 'first' ticked off, my friends.

Love SM x

Monday 20 July 2015

Running and Insomnia

So, ever since being inspired by Sarah Connor (see Strong Women Don't Drink!) I have been running every day.

When I say running, I actually mean a combination of running and walking. And anyone more interested in veracity than being supportive might actually say jogging rather than running. But, hell, it's a start.

The terrier is in shock. He's used to me ambling along, checking e-mails, making 'phone calls and chatting to passers by while he wanders off having a good old sniff and marking the territory. Now if he stops for a bit he has to sprint to catch up with me.

I wouldn't say that I'm enjoying the whole thing yet. I enjoy getting back. And every now and again I get a glimpse of 'runners high' - the endorphin rush that us lot have been chasing for years in the bottom of a bottle.

The only way I can keep going for longer than a few minutes is with a really good sound track, so I've put together a playlist on my iPhone with a whole load of clubbing tunes from my misspent youth including Fat Boy Slim, Chemical Brothers, Leftfield, Robert Miles and Faithless.

(Quick aside: I used to work with the actual brother of one of the Chemical Brothers (who weren't actual brothers). I remember him telling me about taking his middle class, middle aged parents to one of the Chemical Brother's gigs in Brixton. They were totally bemused, not only by the music, but by the fact that complete strangers kept hugging them).

This morning I ended up running to a Faithless track: Insomnia (click here for a reminder). The lyrics, I can't get no sleep (repeat), combined with the relentless beat took me back vividly to all those nights I used to spend from 3am onwards tossing and turning, sweating and fretting.

I would get stuck in an endless cycle of trying to sleep, thoughts racing, hating myself, then going to the loo, then going back to bed, then going to get a drink of water, then trying to get to sleep...repeat....until about half an hour before the alarm was due to go off, at which point I'd drop off and have weird dreams.

(For more on alcohol and insomnia see my post on Sleep, Glorious Sleep)

It struck me that I haven't had a night like that for nearly five months! Even if I wake up in the night worrying about something I can think about it logically, park it and go back to sleep. I sleep for, on average, seven hours a night. Proper, restful sleep.

Those tracks still give me a pang of nostalgia, but I wouldn't swap the natural high of a sunny, Sunday morning feeling energetic and fabulous for anything.

Love to you all,

SM x

Sunday 19 July 2015

Mindful Self-Compassion

I came across this quote this morning:

'A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.' C.K.Germer.

Wow! I thought. What a great way to start the day! Thank you C.K.Germer.

I was, in fact, so impressed by old C.K. that I Googled him.

(Aside: how did we manage without Google? I'd have to seriously have my socks blown off by someone before I'd troop down to the local library and look them up on the dewey decimal system).

Here's what C.K. has to say about Mindful Self-Compassion:

"Mindful self-compassion is the foundation of emotional healing—being aware in the present moment when we're struggling with feelings of inadequacy, despair, confusion, and other forms of stress (mindfulness) and responding with kindness and understanding (self-compassion). Mindful self-compassion also means holding difficult emotions—fear, anger, sadness, shame and self-doubt—and ourselves, in loving awareness, leading to greater ease and well-being in our daily lives.

"Mindful self-compassion can be learned by anyone. It’s the practice of repeatedly evoking good will toward ourselves especially when we’re suffering—cultivating the same desire that all living beings have to live happily and free from suffering. And as the Dalai Lama says, self-compassion is the first step toward compassion for others."

He sounded like such a wise chap that I decided to download one of his meditations and give it a go. (If you want to do the same, then click on the Mindful Self-Compassion link above).

I've never tried meditation before, but I've been meaning to. The children and the husband were all still slumbering upstairs, so I found myself a comfy chair and pressed play on the first download (18 minutes long).

Lots of breathing. Lots of paying attention to the breathing, and to what the breathing feels like.

This was all somewhat scuppered when the terrier got overexcited by discovering me sitting down with an unoccupied lap and decided to join in. Soon I was paying attention to the feeling of being licked by a puzzled dog.

You will find thoughts wandering in....says C.K. No shit Sherlock. Mine went something like this:

How long have I been doing this for already? Any minute now the troops will start appearing for breakfast. I'm hungry. What happens if I stop concentrating on the breathing? Will I stop breathing? Arrgghh. I'm going to die. How long have I been doing this for already? I've got stuff to do. I've got to write my blog and go for a run all before they wake up. Was that someone waking up? I'm hungry. How long have I been doing this for already?

Ten minutes in and I was stressed!

So, I totally buy the concept of self-compassion. We all need a bit of that. Plus, I love mindfulness, BUT I like mindfully doing stuff (see Monkey Brain and Mindfulness), not mindfully doing nothing. It freaks me out. And I feel like a pillock. Perhaps I'm too British?

Any thoughts and experiences with meditation gratefully received.

Have a great sober Sunday my friends! I'm off for a run...(after breakfast)

SM x

Friday 17 July 2015

Mother's Little Helper

I don't remember ever feeling much guilt before I had children. Yet, from the moment I became a mother there's probably not been a single day when I haven't felt guilty about something.

We were the 'have it all' generation. We were weaned on Cosmopolitan magazine, and raised to believe that we could - no, it was our duty to - have everything; glittering careers, successful marriages and perfect children.

I would picture myself wafting seamlessly from board meeting to baking perfect cupcakes, children at my side, clapping their chubby little hands with glee, and licking out the bowls without messing up their beautifully pressed outfits.

But it's not like that, is it? And perfectionism and motherhood go together like oil and water.

Guilt became my constant companion. Crushing guilt because I couldn't breastfeed #1 for longer than a few weeks (mastitis), guilt when I went back to work, guilt because I found nursery rhymes and building bricks boring, guilt for secretly hating monkey music, guilt for losing my temper. Guilt for not being the perfect Mother of my imaginings.

For five years I juggled the high powered job with one child, then two. Peeling sticky fingers off my leg as I dashed to the airport to catch the red-eye to New York. Hastily 'distressing' shop bought cakes at midnight for the nursery bake sale. Endlessly missing bedtime stories so I could entertain clients at the latest trendy restaurant.

It started to drive me crazy. I got to the point where I was sleeping no more than four hours a night. I was physically unable to sit down or keep still. I was constantly moving, but achieving little. The only way I could switch off was by drinking.

I would have a glass or two of wine in the office bar before going home (as a managing partner that counted as crucial debriefing time with the team), then another half bottle (at least) at home. I'd eventually get fuzzy headed enough to sleep, but would wake up three or four hours later, mind racing.

On top of that, I'd often have an excuse (client entertaining or team bonding) for drinking at lunch time.

I sometimes think that I deliberately got pregnant with #3 in order to give myself a 'get out of jail free' card. She was my excuse to get off the hamster wheel.  

After my maternity leave drew to a close, I feigned regret and handed in my notice. I decided that I was going to scale down - do one thing properly. I was going to be the best ever stay at home Mum.

Ha ha ha.

After years of being the boss, and employees falling over themselves to follow the direction you set, dealing with three headstrong children is a bit of a shock, to say the least.

I had a small baby, so was getting hardly any sleep (plus ca change), trying to deal with a stroppy toddler, and the eldest who'd just started school and was tired and fractious much of the time. Plus I decided to get a puppy (!) So I was potty training, house training, cooking nutritious meals from scratch, and breast feeding on the go.

I was exhausted, impatient, bad tempered and not very good at it. I missed adult interaction. I missed using my brain. I missed being able to go to the loo without someone banging on the door. I missed being able to leave the house without snacks, wet wipes, nappies and clothes covered in milk stains and pureed carrot.

By the end of the day I'd flop into a chair with a goblet of wine. Yet again it became the way to wind down, to change gears, to punctuate the day. It took the edge off. helped me relax. Put the lid on the guilt for a while.

Luckily, I was too frantic to be able to drink too much. I barely had time to breathe, let alone drink. Until #3 went to big school two years ago. Suddenly things clamed down a little. I was 'free' from 9.30am-2.30pm.

I was still busy, but it was all mundane stuff. Housework, admin, shopping, cooking. I was bored. I was alone much of the time. The gloves were off. There was no-one to tell me that a glass or two at lunch time really wasn't a good idea....

So, over the last couple of years, the drinking escalated to the point where I was drinking a bottle of wine a day, every day. Two a day at weekends.

Like many mothers over the generations I used it to 'take the edge off', to help me relax, to make me feel adult.

And if there's one taboo greater than someone not being able to control their drinking, it's a drunk mother. So I, like hundreds of thousands of others, did it secretly.

Ann Dowsett Johnson, in her book 'Drink' asks 'Is alcohol the modern woman's steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting in a complex, demanding world? Is it the escape valve women need, in the midst of a major social revolution still unfolding?' Yes it is!

But Ann also points out that the generation before us had their version of 'mother's little helper' too. Between 1969 and 1982, Valium was the most commonly prescribed drug in the US. In 1978 it was estimated that one fifth of American women were popping it. They also needed a secret escape hatch.

Having children was, without doubt, the best and most rewarding thing I have ever done. But also the hardest. I don't get appraisals, feedback, bonuses and pay rises. I am constantly learning, and I never get it 100% right.

But, slowly, slowly, I'm starting to accept that I don't need to be perfect. Plus, in being totally sober, I'm a hell of a lot more perfect than I was!

And my children, bless them, tell me (sometimes) I'm the best mother in the world. And they mean it (I can tell when they're fibbing).

Happy, sober Saturday to all you perfect-enough-Mums out there.

SM x

Life is Where You Look

There's another quote I love from Jane Green's amazing new novel, Summer Secrets, featuring an alcoholic heroine (see Instant Bonding).

The hero says "Life is where you look, right?....I mean look for the bad, you'll find more of the bad, look for the good, you'll find more of the good."

I've been turning this over and over in my head for a while.

I'm sure that if we spend much of our lives staring into the bottom of a glass rather than looking around us, our worlds become smaller and smaller.

If we fill our bodies constantly with poisons, our lives become more and more toxic.

If drink is crucial to our social lives, we end up surrounded solely by other drunks.

The more we stress out and feel anxious the more stress and anxiety we attract.

In effect, the world is what we make it.

When you get sober, you look up from the glass and find that your world has broader horizons.

As your body gets less toxic, you see beauty and clarity around you.

As you go out sober, you attract more sober (or less drunk) friends.

As you ditch the constant anxiety, your life becomes calmer and less problematic.

It really does depend where you look....

.....and how you look.

I went to a fabulous gathering of old friends recently. Wonderful P was the catalyst, as she was visiting from the US.

I was nervous, but feeling better (and more generally attractive) than I had in years, so I was ready for it. And P would have never forgiven me if I'd bailed.

Despite being a picnic in the rain (how classically English is that?) I had a ball.

Then one of the gang published a photo of us on Facebook. I wasn't looking at the camera, and looked utterly miserable.

I realised - horror of horrors -  that I have a grumpy resting face. Yikes!

Since then I have been trying to train my mouth to turn up, even when I'm just 'resting'. And, when I'm walking down the street I make an effort to smile at people.

Sometimes they think I'm a total nutter, but generally people smile back. Genuinely smile.

And after just a few days of doing conscious SMILING, I'm feeling great. I feel like I'm surrounded by happiness.

I'm spreading the love.

So remember, life is where, and how, you look.

SM x

Thursday 16 July 2015

Instant Bonding

I had to collect #1 from a new friend's house yesterday. I'd never met her Mum, but I liked her instantly. I could see us becoming friends.

"Cup of tea?" she asked, "or a glass of wine?"

It was six thirty. A perfectly reasonable time for a glass of wine.

"Ooh. Tea, please," I replied. (Obviously. Get with the programme...)

I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Not because she's a drunken lush and desperately wanted to open a bottle (I can tell that look by now!), but because of what it said about me.

I miss alcohol (and cigarettes) for their ability to create an instant bond. The tea or wine test - in my book - was a way of telling what sort of person you were dealing with.

I often used to employ the test with potential new friends. Those who replied 'wine' were, I decided, the fun ones. Grown up when required, but always young, wild and reckless at heart. The 'wine' responders were my crew. My posse.

When I replied 'tea' to the new friend, she thought 'responsible, sensible, straight....dull.' And that's not me!

I desperately wanted to say "Better not open the wine, unless you want to haul me out of here at 2am after having heard my full life story and seen my comedy version of a cabaret striptease." But I didn't want to scare her off completely.

Cigarettes were the same. I made some of my lifelong friends huddling in a garden trying to get the Zippo lighter to work at a party, or when banished to the smoking section of an office, restaurant, train or aeroplane (remember those days?).

What I miss by not doing AA (do you think I'm gradually talking myself round?) is a new posse.

And ex-drinkers are, in many ways, the best posse of all. (See Why Ex-Drinkers Rock! and Why Ex-Drinkers Rock Part 2)

I was reading a new novel (BUY IT! It's a lovely page-turner with romance, drinking, recovery, AA...what's not to like?) by Jane Green about an alcoholic and her chequered life called Summer Secrets.

The heroine, Cat, describes the people she sees at AA. It's a meeting she hasn't been to before. She says:

I know the people. I recognise the look we have, all of us who have lived a little too hard, partied a little too long, done everything a little harder, faster, longer. Addicts and alcoholics. People of extremes.

We are, as a group, often too fat, or too thin. We are too tanned. Our fashion sense is out there. But our hearts? Our hearts are as big as the ocean.

And that's us, my friends. You and me. The new crew.

Love SM x

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Strong Women Don't Drink!

Last night was date night. Mr SM and I gabbed a quick bite to eat (I've found that I can't hang around in restaurants for too long without a glass (or 5) of vino), and then went to the movies.

We watched the new Terminator movie. Mr SM's choice, obviously. I wanted to see the new Amy Winehouse biopic.

The film was pretty much like the last ones, just with even more confusing time travel (people going backwards, then forwards, then both simultaneously. Even sober it was tricky to follow....).

What I did love, however, was the lead female character - Sarah Connor.

Sarah Connor (mother of the future leader of the revolution), is played by Emilia Clarke who is also my heroine - Daenerys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons) - in Game of Thrones.

As I was watching Sarah Connor, I was imagining her getting a little stressed about the responsibility of saving the future of mankind. What if she'd decided to sink a bottle or two of vino instead of kicking ass with a machine gun?

She wouldn't have been much of a match for a shape shifting terminator from the future then, would she? Unless she was planning to bore him to death.

Do you think Daenerys Targaryen has a swift double vodka 'just to take the edge off' before unleashing her dragons? Would the army of Unsullied have pledged their devotion to a slurring lush? I don't think so.

What about Ripley in Alien? If she'd decided to quench the anxiety a little with a few drinks before heading out with the flamethrower she'd have had aliens popping out of her stomach before she could say "open another bottle, will you?"

I may be (only just) closer to fifty than forty, but I decided last night that I want - I deserve - to be a strong woman. In mind and body.

I am going to get back to my fighting weight (I'm 11 pounds lighter already). I'm going to get serious about running. I'm going to take up yoga and get strong and flexible....

.....and then I'm going to change the world.

Who's with me?

(I might just have a sit down and a quick cup of tea before I get started)

Love to all you strong women. And any men out there.

SM xx

P.S. For those of you following the fate of the tadpoles (I'm looking at you, Suburban Betty!), we now have three frogs! Which is good. I'm unlikely to be able to change the world if I'm unable to ensure a bunch of tadpoles reach maturity....

Related Post: I am Khaleesi!

Tuesday 14 July 2015

10 things to do when you get sober

HUGE CONGRATS to RCW on 100 days! Awesome work RCW.

We're all getting there, baby step by baby step...

I love lists. So here's my top 10 things to do when you get sober. Please add your own ideas in the comments section....

1. Love yourself

Hell, at times it's hard and we need some treats. Plus we're saving buckets of cash. So get a new haircut. Get your nails done. A massage? Why not? And the key here is not to feel guilty. You're doing a great thing, and you really are worth it!

2. De-clutter

There's something about getting sober that makes us want to sort out the recesses of our houses as well as our minds and bodies. Clear out all those drawers and cupboards that we shoved everything away in when we were spending too much time drunk or hungover.

(Read more about de-cluttering and feng shui in my post: Clutter)

3. Love your space

Once you've de-cluttered you can start to really love your surroundings, to create a safe haven. Buy fresh flowers, frame all those old photos, dust off the scented candles.

Plus cleaning, painting walls and gardening are fabulous ways to banish the wine witch and practice mindfulness.

(See post on Monkey Brain and Mindfulness)

4. Get creative

Another great way of doing mindfulness. And lots of us seem to find that once we stop drinking our synapses start firing in all sorts of amazing ways.

We rediscover our ability to write, to paint, to dance. Write a diary, a blog or a book. Draw, sketch, sing, dance, knit, do origami, batik, needlepoint - whatever floats your boat.

5. Get physical

Many of us swear by yoga or running (both of which are on my list of things to do next). Try spinning, swimming, or kick boxing.

Exercise will not only help you lose the wine belly, but it's a great way of relieving anxiety and it boots your serotonin levels, just like alcohol used to.

Go wild: have lots of sober sex (I hesitated to write that in case Mr SM decides to read this and gets over-excited....)

6. Get outside

The great outdoors is another proven way to reduce stress and anxiety. Plus we have fewer 'triggers' when we're no-where near a bar or a fridge! Think about getting a puppy, or just borrow one. Dogs remind you how to appreciate the simple things in life, like a good, long ramble.

(see Dogs: A sober girls best friend)

7. Get with the kids

I spent hours with the kids wishing the time away, and not really concentrating on what they were doing. Now it's make up time. Take them swimming. Paint with them. Play Monopoly. Be really present, not just pretending to be.

8. Get healthy

Listen to what your body's telling you. Now it's not all confused with booze it will tell you when you need to sleep and when/how much you need to eat.

If you're craving certain foods (except sugar! Try to avoid that one!) it's probably something you need.

Avoid anything processed and go for good, clean nutrients. Buy a nutri-bullet (another one on my list) and get juicing. Your body deserves looking after, after all those years of abuse.

9. Listen

After years of self obsession and being stuck on 'transmit', try really listening to people. They can be fascinating - who knew? It gives parties a whole new purpose. Plus, people will like you more if you're genuinely interested in them.

10. Spread the love

We've been given a huge gift by the universe. A second chance. It's time to pass it on. Dole out free babysitting. Look after your neighbours. Rescue a stranger.

But, most of all, help other people following in your path. Pick up the fellow lushes and offer them a shoulder to lean on. That's good karma. It's good for them, and it's good for your soul.

Love to you all.

SM x

Monday 13 July 2015

The Lies Alcohol Tells

I've been thinking about Michael Jackson's face. (Bear with me, it does become relevant!)

When I was at boarding school, I had a poster of the young Michael Jackson on my wall. It was the days just before Thriller, when he was properly black, with afro hair and a slightly squishy nose.

He was gorgeous. I would lie on my bed, staring up at him and imagine what our babies would look like.

But Michael never thought he looked good. He didn't like his hair, his skin, his nose, his chin or his eyes.

So Michael discovered plastic surgery. It promised him a solution to all his self esteem issues. And initially it did what it promised. He liked his nose more, his paler skin, his straighter hair and his sculpted chin. But he still wasn't happy, so he did more and more...

Bit by bit, Michael hacked away at all his perfect features until, one day, he must have looked in the mirror and discovered that instead of making himself perfect, he'd turned into the freak he'd always feared.

The surgery he thought was the solution had caused a horrible problem.

He must, surely, have realised that his original self - before he listened to all those surgeons - was actually pretty perfect.

That's what alcohol does. It promises to be the solution to all your problems. Then, one day, you realise that, actually, it's made all your problems much worse, and that the person you had been - before you started on this road - was actually pretty amazing.

Here are some of the lies we believe:

I will give you courage!

To start with, a shot of 'dutch courage' does seem to do the trick. But then, we get so used to using alcohol as a prop that, without it, we become complete cowards. We retreat into our own little worlds, clutching our bottles, unwilling and unable to take any risks in our lives.

I will give you confidence!

And you do feel more confident in the beginning. But pretty soon you become a bag of fear and anxiety. Unable to cope with anything much without your crutch. You're bloated, overweight, not sleeping and eating junk.

I will make you popular!

And, initially, we are life and soul of the party. But over time we become more and more boring. Self obsessed. Sometimes badly behaved and rude. We look around and realise that the only friends we have are other 'big drinkers.'

I will calm your anxiety!

And so it does - to start. That little knot in your stomach just dissolves after the first few glugs. But then you find you're anxious pretty much all the time! Because the need for a drink causes exactly the same build up of anxiety that it then releases. Plus, you have a hell of a lot more to be anxious about! Your life is a mess.

I will help you sleep!

A few glasses of wine before bed and - bang - out like a light. Only to wake up again at 3am as your poor body tries to process all that booze. Tossing, turning, sweating and hating yourself.

Like Michael Jackson, one day we look in the mirror and think: what have I done? What have I become? All the things I thought alcohol would give me, it's taken away.

You look back at your teenage self and think Wow! I was amazing. Gorgeous, popular, confident, strong. Why couldn't I see that?

But, the good news is, unlike Michael Jackson you can turn back the clock. You can get it all back: courage, confidence, popularity, calmness and sleep.

All you need to do is to see the lies for what they are, and step away from the bottle.

I'm back online!

Love SM x

Related posts: Anxiety and Courage, Sleep, glorious sleep,

Saturday 11 July 2015

Control Freakery

Sober Mommy (my American blogging twin) commented on my post yesterday that things happen for a reason. And, sure enough, my internet debacle (still not fixed. I'm still one fingered typing on my iPhone) has made me realise something:

I am a total control freak!

I was already aware that my biggest trigger is anxiety. That knot of tension that wine unravels so easily.

Now I realise that what makes me really anxious is when something is out of my control. 

Like my internet problem - currently in the hands of some keen, overworked, massively overqualified, call centre operator in Delhi.

It's why I often find being a stay at home Mum so stressful. You can't control 3 kids. Coach, yes. Cajole, bribe, threaten, encourage....but not control. It's like trying to herd cats.

My wonderful friend P (who sent me her 90 day chip. See: AA, and when the virtual world isn't enough) came to stay from the U.S. with her 2 kids (including my gorgeous Godson Mark).

She is the first person I've met in real life who's read my blog. And she's an addiction counsellor.

Naturally, we talked about it all. To my horror I was totally tongue tied! Here I am, perfectly fluent in the page, but - faced with a real person....bag of nerves.

P told me how she felt after nine years of sobriety. I can't remember her words, but what sticks in my mind is the gesture she made.

She kept clenching her hand into a fist, and then opening up her palm. She talked about acceptance, and letting go. And I realise now that what I am is a clenched fist - desperately trying to control everything.

One of the things that always scared me about the idea of AA is the concept of 'surrendering your will to a Higher Power.' Funnily enough, it's not the Higher Power bit that bothers me; it's the idea of 'surrender'.

Surrender? Me? No! I caused this problem, I can fix it! I will write my own program with my own steps, thank you very much! Read blogs? Not only that, I'll write my own damn blog!

I'm still trying to control the process - every step of the way.

So yesterday, unable to control the issue, or fix it myself, I was a tightly wound stress ball. I couldn't get myself out of my funk. I couldn't even turn to the Internet (my usual escape hatch) since it was down. The only way I knew, with an absolute certainty, I could unwind the ball was to drink.

I explained this to The Husband.

"Go for a run", he suggested.

Now, I was not built for speed. I have only gone running a handful of times in my life. But I changed into the closest thing I own to 'running kit', put my headphones in and headed for the door.

#1, #2 and #3 fell about laughing.

I was back 15 minutes later (don't want to overdo it initally! And after 15 minutes of light jogging I felt like I'd run a marathon) feeling way better.

I'm still a little wound up, but there's a song going round in my head which helps:

Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera.

Which, spookily, is very much like the AA serenity prayer 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change.'

Gradually I feel that clenched fist unfurling....

Love SM x


My internet connection is down.

I had 3 BT engineers in my kitchen scratching their heads for 3 hours yesterday.

I'd packed a picnic and was ready to go the the park with the kids who were by now stir crazy, hungry and beating each other up.

I could feel the stress levels rising. I was getting more and more tightly coiled, like a spring about to explode.

There was a bottle of chilled Chablis in the fridge. It was talking to me. "I'll make it better. This would not be your fault. The situation is out of your control. You deserve this."

Instead I yelled at the kids (not good behaviour) and disappeared to my room with two AF beers until I'd calmed down.

The engineers left without fixing the problem and I've subsequently spent 2 hours on the phone to their call centre in India with no joy.

So I'm typing this with one finger on my iPhone, just to let you know that I am still here and will post properly once I'm back online.

I keep telling myself that, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a big issue. We managed without the internet for millennia. I haven't exactly been plunged back into the Stone Age (despite what the children say!).

How did I get to the point where a small technological problem becomes a major disaster? There are people coping with war, famine and persecution. I just have a problem blogging, and three children whining about not being able to play interactive Minecraft.

This really is not an excuse to pour a drink after four months sober. Get a grip SM x

Friday 10 July 2015

Best Kept Secret

A few of my readers have mentioned a book by Amy Hatvany called A Best Kept Secret.

I'm enjoying it hugely, but it terrifies me.

The heroine, Cadence, is a Mum (sorry, Mom), just like me. For many years she drank 'normally,' 'moderately'. But then it starts to get out of control. In secret.

Unlike me, Cadence splits up with her husband.

I know from e-mails I've received and blogs I've read that divorce (like bereavement) can be a huge catalyst. Not only is it hard, but - once there's no-one around to hide from and to disapprove - the gloves are off.

Cadence (and this is not a spoiler, you know it from the beginning of the novel), ends up fighting for custody of her son who is, for the time being at least, living with her ex and his (ghastly) mother.

There's an analogy in the book that really resonated with me. Cadence asks a man at an AA meeting how he know he'd 'hit bottom.' He replies "When I stopped digging."

Hatvany/Cadence then writes: I see myself at the base of a deep, dark hole, shovel in hand, face blackened, exhausted. I'm prodding the soil, digging here and there, the ground literally falling out from under me, right along with my footing. But it's me, I'm the one digging. I stop my jabbing movements and see myself lifting the shovel out of the dirt. I hold onto it still, unsure how to let go, where to put it, no clue as to what else I might use as a tool to find my way out of this deep well I've put myself in.

"How do I stop digging?" My voice is quiet. "I don't know how to stop."

"Put down the shovel, honey," he says. "That's all. Just put it down, and start looking up."

#1 has a friend who, for as long as I've known her, has lived with her Dad. She never talks about her Mum. Her parents split up when she was tiny, and, like Cadence, her Mum's drinking spiralled out of control.

Like Cadence, she had to fight for custody. I don't think she had any fight in her by that stage. She lost.

I've never met this lady, but her story, and Cadence's, terrifies me. Because my children (and the husband) are what kept me 'high functioning'. Once you've lost your kids how can you cope without the drink? What's to stop you drinking yourself to death?

So if you're standing there with your shovel, digging deeper, thinking 'I'm not a proper alcoholic! I'm functioning! I haven't reached 'bottom.'

Stop and think. Do you really want to know what bottom looks like?

Start looking up whilst you can still see the sky. Start climbing while there's not so far to go.

Just put down the shovel.

Love SM x

Thursday 9 July 2015

Boozy Parenting

Today is the first day of the summer holidays. 7 weeks.

On the one hand, I'm excited. No school runs. Lots of adventures - beaches, ice cream, surfing, lie-ins, movies, expeditions.....

But I'm nervous too. Seven weeks of trying to find different ways of keeping #1, #2 and #3 off the computer. Arbitrating sibling disagreements (aka trying to stop them beating each other up). Cooking hundreds of meals that at least one of them will turn their nose up at. Constant tidying, washing, sun cream applying, nose wiping, manner correcting.....

.....all without anything to 'take the edge off' at the end of the day. And with no time for myself with blogs, bubble baths, long dog walks or any of my other 'displacement activities.'

But it has to be better than doing all of the above with a hangover. Then letting them run wild from 5pm onwards while I get stuck into the vino. Then shouting at them because I'm slightly drunk and cross.

I'm starting the holidays with bags of energy. I weigh under 11 stone (154 pounds) for the first time in years. I'm (relatively) relaxed and even tempered. I can be the perfect Mum! (yeah, right).

I have always been the opposite of the 'helicopter Mum'. I've never done that buzzing constantly overhead, coaching, pushing, adjusting, organising endless 'improving activities' and monitoring appropriate play dates.

It's pretty impossible to be that kind of Mum and drink too much. I had to prioritise.

So, I've been more of a 'satellite Mum'. Bleeping somewhere overhead, keeping a weather eye and checking that no-one's in mortal danger.

I've made sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time, in the right kit (except when they're not). They all do their homework, their reading and their spellings (most of the time).

But Kumon maths? Suzuki violin? Mandarin lessons? Fencing? Extra tutoring in anything? I don't think so!

This approach makes me most unusual (almost unique) in my part of town. I'd like to claim that it is all part of a 'free range kid centred philosophy', but actually it was probably laziness, selfishness and booze.

Given my history, I was definitely not one of those mothers who could feel a personal sense of achievement yesterday as we watched our year 6's graduate from Prep (primary) school. #1's achievements were entirely her own.

Which is why I was utterly blown away to see her perform as the lead girl role in the end of year musical - belting out her solos to the back of the hall, despite never having been in a choir or had a single singing or drama lesson (outside of school).

Then she walked off with the cup for outstanding achievement and an academic scholarship to her next school. Out of sixty or so highly-tutored-intensively-mothered kids she came out top.

Blow me down with a feather.

If you're a Mum reading this, worried about what effect your wine habit has had on your kids, then stop worrying right now (and stop drinking right now, obviously). They are hugely resilient, and a bit of self reliance is good for them.

Plus their time frames are different from ours. I quit four months ago, and - for my kids, if not for me - it's already the 'new normal'.

I overheard #1 talking to a friend the other day. The friend said something about her Mum drinking wine. "Oh," said #1, slightly smugly, "my Mummy doesn't drink."

Now that was something I could take some credit for.

Love SM x

Monday 6 July 2015


When you stop drinking you find that there are certain 'triggers' that always make you yearn for a delicious, chilled glass of white wine (or whatever your favourite tipple is).

Because I drank every evening, and lunchtimes more often than not, pretty much everything was a trigger to start off with.

Walking past the fridge. Any type of food preparation (except breakfast, thankfully! I hopped off the down escalator before that point). Any form of stress. Walking past the wine shop, or the booze aisle in the supermarket. Anyone dropping in. Being at home alone. Being out with friends. You get the picture.....

The biggest trigger was wine o'clock. Wine o'clock was, officially, 6pm, but it had gradually crept earlier and earlier, until it settled at around 5pm. (Given that 'lunch time' didn't generally end until around 1.30pm, this didn't give me a great deal of time off).

To start with I had to 'white knuckle' it between 5pm and 7pm. I begged the long suffering husband to come home from work as close to 6.30pm as possible, and I'd dash upstairs to take a hot bath with bubbles and deep breathing. By 7.30ish it would be relatively safe to emerge again.

I've now done four months of wine o'clocks, and they are officially not a problem any more. Woo hoo! 6pm is now alcohol free beer time. 9pm is hot chocolate time. Sorted.

The day-in-day-out triggers I've got more or less licked. My issue now is the triggers which pop up unexpectedly. Like the whack-a-mole game I mentioned yesterday. Yoo hoo! Over here! Bam!

People tell me that one of the worst things about bereavement is when you first wake up and forget, just for a moment, that your loved one is gone. Then it hits you afresh.

Quitting alcohol is very much like losing a lover. Your constant companion. Best friend. Your go to prop. And, like bereavement, my worst triggers are when - just for a moment - I forget that my lover is gone.

I received an e-mail a few days ago from #1's school. It was about the year 6 leaver's production of Oliver. It said 'children should be dropped at school at 5.45pm to change and warm up prior to the performance at 6.30pm. Drinks will be available in the marquee for parents.'

My heart soared. Yay! An official excuse to drink! At school! Before 6pm! On a hot day! What's not to like?

Then BAM. Reality. Oh yes. Not me. Never again. Boo hoo.

The other trigger that's currently driving me crazy is bloody Ed Sheeran.

#1, #2 and #3 insist on listening to Capital Radio in the car, which means that - for the first time in a decade - I am totally up to date with the charts. I am intimately acquainted with Taylor Swift and 1D.

If I am annoyed with the offspring, I park outside the school gates, wind the window down, sing loudly to whatever chart song is playing and add appropriate 1980s hand movements. This causes howls of anguish from the back seat as they desperately try to pretend that they've never met me before.

(They get their revenge by shouting loudly in shops "My Mummy's forty six!")

Anyhow, one of their favourite songs is Ed Sheeran's Bloodstream.

It gets me every time. "I got sinning on my mind. Sipping on red wine......I've been looking for a lover, Thought I'd find her in a bottle...."

Then, the line that makes me grip the steering wheel hard, "I feel the chemicals burn in my bloodstream."

There's something about that line.

I don't really miss the second or third glass of wine any more. I miss that first big glug. I miss the moment when you feel it hit your bloodstream, and the world shifts on its axis. The gear changes. Everything softens.

It's like the Star Trek teleport system. Spock hits the button and everyone goes all wavy then pops up somewhere else.

I feel a wave of loss as I realise that I'll never have that fast track to relaxation again.

So, Ed Sheeran, I say take your flipping chemicals and shove them where the sun don't shine, because you're messing with my head. And my school run.

Onwards and upwards peoples.

Love SM x

P.S. In case any of you have been fretting about the sad, premature demise of #3's tadpoles, you will be glad to hear that my sainted mother came up from the country yesterday with 5 new, healthy tadpole/frog combos for the tank, thereby saving her granddaughter from having to face the inevitability of death for a little bit longer.....

Monkey Brain and Mindfulness

Alcohol addicts often talk about having 'monkey brain.' It feels like we have particularly active minds. Constantly whirring, analysing, criticising, worrying.

Or perhaps everyone has minds just as busy, but are just better at dealing with them.

Whatever the reasons behind 'monkey brain' it does seem to be one of the reasons we drink. We use alcohol to shut our heads up. Alcohol is, it seems, the only way to stop us agonising about the past or stressing about the future.

You know the feeling: you've been running around all day, your internal dialogue is driving you crazy, you sink into an armchair, pour a large glass of wine and - after a few good glugs - relative peace.

(Until about 3am when you're woken up by the monkey brain chanting a litany of self loathing).

When we stop drinking, one of the things we miss the most is that 'dimmer switch' or volume button.

Which is where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness is another (less toxic!) way of stopping the monkey brain for long enough to give ourselves a break.

I was a bit sceptical about mindfulness, as I thought it necessarily involved meditation and, being British, I feel a bit of a pillock meditating. Besides, who has the time?

But not so. According to Daniel Ingram, "mindfulness does not stop after you get off the cushion." In fact, mindfulness does not even have to involve a cushion.

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice, very similar to the psychological concept of 'flow'.

You know that feeling when you are totally lost in an activity, and the time seems to fly by - you're almost in a trance? You're not worrying about anything because you are totally focussed on the present moment? That's 'flow'. It's also 'mindfulness'.

Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in a particular way:  on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally in order increase awareness, clarity and acceptance.

So, to achieve a state of mindfulness, you don't need to learn to meditate - you can just choose an activity you love and give it your full focus. Pay proper attention to what you're doing. How it looks, feels, sounds, smells. Don't let your mind wander.

The activities that ex addicts tend to choose range from yoga and gardening, to cooking, knitting, art, dog walking or fishing. There's even a best selling colouring book called 'colouring for mindfulness.'

If any pesky worries creep into your mind notice them, then get rid of them.

(This process is known in mindfulness circles as 'wack-a-mole' after the arcade game).

After half an hour you'll have achieved something (baked a cake, weeded the garden, caught a fish - whatever), but you'll also feel great - relaxed, calm and peaceful. Without the drink.

So be mindful. Go with the flow. Get in the zone.

Love to you all,

SM x

Sunday 5 July 2015

I Hate Being 'Sober'

If you're reading this from the USA on the day after fourth of July, perhaps you've woken up with a terrible hangover and found my blog after googling something like 'how to stop drinking' or 'am I an alcoholic?'

Maybe one of the things that has stopped you quitting any earlier is the terrible thought of living the rest of your life sober.

Sober is a horrible word. I looked up the dictionary definition. It means serious, sensible and solemn. Other, equally ghastly synonyms are: grave, sombre, severe, restrained, conservative, strict, puritanical, unemotional, and dispassionate.

Do I want to be any of those things? No! Do you? I suspect not.

Part of the reason we all got into this mess is because we are not, and have never been, restrained or sensible, conservative or dispassionate. We were the wild ones! We still want to be the wild ones!

So we need another word.

I've been wracking my brains for some time on this question, and here are my current options. Instead of saying 'I am sober' how about:

I am free

Free of the wine witch constantly telling me to drink just one more. Free from fretting about how much wine is in the fridge, or what I said to whom the night before. Free of the crashing hangovers. Free of guilt and self loathing. Or perhaps....

I am in control

In control of my life, rather than the wine witch pulling my strings like a puppet. In control of what I do when, rather than scheduling everything around the hangovers and the drinking sessions. In control of all the other bits of my life that have gone crazy over the years - the waistline, the clutter, the house and garden, the relationships. Or maybe....

I am brave

Brave enough to face life head on without blurring all the edges, without seeking oblivion, without an artificial crutch.  Brave enough to walk into a party sober, to make new friends, to make up with old ones. Brave enough to meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. Or do you prefer....

I am clean

Clean of any artificial stimulants. (Except caffeine. Nobody gets between me and my morning skinny cappuccino). I have clear eyes, clear skin, shiny hair. I respect my body and my mind. I am a finely tuned and beautifully oiled machine. I am - in a very tiny way - Gwyneth Paltrow. Without the unbearable smugness.

But here's the one I prefer:

I am me

Not artificially buoyed up by a drug. Not faking it, hiding from it, avoiding it. I am exactly as you see me, all of the time. I am, in many ways, more like the person I was twenty years ago than the person I was last year. I am passionate, emotional, unrestrained, happy, relaxed, carefree and wild..... other words, the very opposite of sober.

Happy, non-sober, Sunday morning everyone!

(S)M x

Related post: I hate the word 'normal'



Saturday 4 July 2015

Rude Lushes

Happy 4th of July to all my American friends! I bet that's a tricky one....good luck!

I did my second party in two nights last night. I am SO looking forward to a night in with Mad Men and a hot chocolate....

(In the old days I'd now be on a weekend long bender in order to postpone the inevitable hangover, anxiety and self loathing).

I am getting used to sober life now, but parties, whilst getting easier, I still struggle with. It's also one of the topics that people e-mail me about the most.

I no longer get that fizz of anticipation leading up to a big event. But I don't dread events any more either. Now it's just mild, but mounting, anxiety.

I don't worry that I can't do it. I know I can. I don't even worry that I won't enjoy myself. I know I will, at least for a few hours.

What I still worry about is being seen as boring.

I used to pride myself in being unconcerned by what others thought of me. Now I wonder whether I ever achieved this state of 'blissful lack of concern' sober! I suspect it's yet another thing I have to learn to do unaided...

So, last night was a party that some friends throw annually. Each year there are a handful of new people, but most of us have known each other for ten or twenty years.

I find that sort of event harder than walking into a room full of strangers. Too much (drunken) history, too many past (accidental) insults, too many (uncomfortable) questions.

An hour into the party I was chatting in a small group and this girl bounded up and hugged the people I was talking to. She turned to me, all Hollywood smile, frozen frown lines and fake breasts, and said "Hi, I'm Blanche."

I knew she was Blanche. I knew last year on the two or three occasions that we met that she was Blanche. I've known for the last decade that her name was Blanche. She does this to me every time! 

What Blanche was actually saying, as she flicked her hair and pouted at me was "you are far too insignificant for me to bother to remember."

I was, as you can tell, livid.

But then it struck me that I have done that sort of thing many, many times. At the same event in previous years I would have talked to the same handful of people (other big boozers) and ignored everyone else (too square and boring).

Last night I made a point of building bridges. I had some great chats with a lot of lovely people. I left at midnight and drove home (still a thrill!) as the party was ramping up a notch.

Needless to say, I didn't say goodbye to Blanche.

I'm starting to realise that the boozers probably don't think you're boring because they're too drunk themselves to notice what you're drinking. And the non boozers think you're a hell of a lot more interesting and less rude than you used to be.

So now it's a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning. I have the joy of Mr SM's hangover to remind me what I'm (not) missing, but the pain of having to explain to #3 that her tadpoles have died in the heat wave.

Poor little tadpoles who never made it into frogs (there's an analogy there for another day!)

Happy independence day to you all. Here's to freedom!

Love SM x

Friday 3 July 2015


This morning I was reading Irish Mammy's fabulous blog My Time to Shine.

At the end, she wrote "the last few months of my drinking I felt invisible and old and that that was how I was going to feel till I died."

This struck a major chord with me, as I had felt more and more invisible over the last decade.

Long ago I'd resigned myself to that fact that I wasn't going to be troubled while walking past building sites any longer, let alone find a people turning to stare as I walked into a party (unless I'd accidentally tucked my skirt into the back of my knickers).

I guess that's inevitable. But, on top of that, I deliberately made myself invisible...

I was painfully aware that, whilst my life was seemingly fairly perfect, it didn't stand up to much scrutiny. Anyone who looked a little more closely would probably see it all falling apart round the seams.

I'd scoot as unobtrusively in and out of the school gates in the morning as possible, in order to avoid having to make conversation with a hangover. Ditto school gates in the afternoon, in case it was obvious I'd had a glass or two at lunch time.

As I became increasingly overweight, bloated and puffy, I avoided wearing anything much other than stretch jeans and black (aka the cloak of invisibility).

My aim when dressing for a party was to not wear anything that would draw attention: to my wine belly, my rapidly expanding arse, or to me generally.

I couldn't face shopping for anything new as I didn't have the confidence any more to know what looked good (or less bad), and couldn't face buying anything in a dress size that I was desperately hoping was temporary.

But now I feel like a butterfly creeping slowly, slowly out of its chrysalis. I still don't have the confidence (or the cash!) to go on a big shopping spree, but I'm reaching into the depths of my wardrobe and pulling out some of the 'optimistic' clothes that have been loitering there for up to five years.

The 'optimistic' clothes are the ones in bright colours and bold prints that you buy slightly too small on a day when you're feeling optimistic about the new diet.

Inevitably, a few days or weeks later, reality bites savagely, but you can't face admitting defeat by taking the newly purchased garment to the charity shop, so it stays there for years, taunting you.

So now I might be looking several years out of date, but at least I'm not in black and I'm easily doing the zips up on the size twelves (US size 8). (See Stop Drinking, Lose Weight?)

Last night we went to a drinks party in a trendy new restaurant in Chelsea. I drank my elderflower cordials and, despite still feeling a little bit 'off' and self conscious, managed to meet a handful of new people (which I wouldn't have bothered to do in the old days) and crack a few good jokes.

As we left (by car, which I'd parked right outside!) Mr SM said to me "You are amazing!"

"Why?" I asked, assuming he was referring to the free lift home. But no. He elaborated:

"Fred came up to me as he was leaving and said 'Hey, Mr SM, your wife is on fire tonight!'"

HA! No longer invisible, but actually ON FIRE!

I am Katniss Everdene (without the murder of teenagers).

Love, and Happy Friday, from SM x

Thursday 2 July 2015


4 months! That's one third of a year!

By way of a celebration I am going to stop counting days. From now on I'm counting in months.

I re-read my post from exactly a month ago (imaginatively entitled 3 MONTHS SOBER!), and it struck me that things are still changing.

I'd imagined that when you give up drinking you'd go through a brief period of turmoil while you physically 'detoxed' (a few days? Maybe 3 weeks?), and then you'd be done. All you'd have to do then is to get used to the new you.

Not the case, as I'm sure most of you have discovered.

In fact, you go on changing in a myriad of small ways (that all add up to something monumental) over a period of....well at least four months. Who knows how much longer?

My current favourite analogy is that of a car engine (bear with me! I know nothing about mechanics so this is not going to get technical).

For twenty five years I have been filling my engine not with lovely, clear, clean engine oil, but with dark, sticky, toxic stuff.

If I'd only made this mistake once in a while my engine would have coped - it would have been able to clear the gunk in a day or two and got back to working order. But no. I poured the toxic oil in every single day.

Not only could my engine not run efficiently on this oil, but gradually the oil started to gunk up the whole system, making it run slower and slower, spluttering and backfiring, chugging painfully up the hills.

Because this happened relatively slowly, I hardly noticed it at first. And when I did see other cars charging past me as I hogged the slow lane, I assumed that it was just age. Poor old engine, not what it used to be....

Then, overnight, I stopped pouring the toxic oil in. I switched to the lovely, clear, clean engine oil (which had been available at the pump all along!).

It only took a few days for the new oil to flush the toxic stuff out of the system but the engine didn't immediately spring back into action.

Although the engine was clean, the individual parts were so used to being gunked up that they didn't initially know how to function. And even when the separate bits started working again, it took them a while to start working well together.

There were rocky moments where one part would spark into action, causing other bits to go into shock and seize up for a while. And, initially, when the car first started going really fast it was a bit of a shock. I'd grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, yelling "Slow the f**k down!"

But, four months down the line, the old engine is all shiny and clean and firing on all cylinders! And I'm getting used to driving the new super charged version. Still not entirely safe, but getting there.

That is what happened to me.

The first few weeks did make an immediate difference. I was less puffy, I had clearer skin, shiny hair. I was sleeping brilliantly. I was less toxic.

But the changes kept coming. Now my whole being feels different.

It's like everything is starting to work together better. My body tells me when it's tired, or hungry. I get cravings for food that I later discover contain nutrients I need (see my post on PAWS and vitamin B).

If I drink a bottle of cold water on a hot day I can feel my cells re-hydrate. And, most intense of all, I feel all my emotions (anxiety, anger, elation, boredom etc) and am learning how to deal with them.

Perhaps most people are this in tune with their bodies and minds all the time. Perhaps they take it for granted. Maybe it's only because I lost the ability for so long that I see it as so miraculous.

It struck me that the only other time in the last twenty years that I've felt like this was when I was pregnant with #1, #2 and #3. Back then I assumed that it was the miracle of pregnancy hormones.

Wow - I thought - thanks to all that oestrogen I have glowing skin, bouncy hair, I sleep like a log. Plus my body talks to me! I know what to eat and when to eat to keep my baby healthy. The downside was that my emotions - at least initially - were all over the place.

Now I wonder: how much was pregnancy, and how much was sobriety? Because the last few months have felt remarkably similar - just without the swollen ankles, heartburn, stretch marks and massively expanding belly.

I'm aware that if I warbled on like this to anyone who's never had an unhealthy relationship with the vino they'd think I had a screw loose, so I can only hope that you lot know what I mean....

Keep on motoring!

Love SM x

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Why it's Best to be Uncool

Day 122.

Last night I was helping out at the Year 6 leaver's disco.

It was a really hot evening and there were 70 or so 11 year olds dancing in a church hall. You can imagine. These kids are just becoming acquainted with body odour, but have yet to discover underarm deodorant. The air was a soup of nascent hormones and pungent sweat.

I remember this lot when they started in reception at the age of four. Back then there was about 2 inches difference between the height of the tallest and the smallest. Now some of the girls tower about a foot over the boys, who are starting to stare up at them adoringly like puppy dogs.

(Quick aside: this lot had a blast, despite the only drink on offer being iced water. Isn't it funny how we'd be horrified at the idea of serving alcohol to eleven year olds, yet we think it's obligatory to serve it to adults? The same reasons that make it both unnecessary and dangerous for them are surely true of us?)

Predictably, the evening began with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, both sides pretending to have absolutely no interest in the other. They'd dance in their gangs, and then - from time to time - someone would break out and do some showy dance move - like a breakdance (boys) or the splits (girls) - resembling a cocky peacock flashing its plumage.

Amongst the girls it was easy to spot the hierarchies. There were the 'loners' on the edge of the action, looking rather uncomfortable, the 'middles' in their little groups, and the 'cool gang' who were by the far the showiest, and were quite quickly surrounded by the bravest of the boys.

#1 is not in the cool gang. This doesn't seem to bother her a jot. She thinks they're all 'rather pathetic'. But not as 'pathetic' as the 'wannabees' whose moniker says it all, really. Neither cool enough to be 'cool', nor cool enough to not care.

I was in the cool gang at school. Not, I hasten to add, because I was (or am) in any way 'cool'.

I can take an achingly fashionable item of clothing and make it look like supermarket own brand. I have two left feet and hands when it came to any sport, and I was far too clever.

But I made it into the gang by being funny and very mouthy. Plus my best friend oozed cool from every pore. She was (is) six foot tall in her bare feet, the best athlete in the school and, literally, stopped traffic.

So I confess to feeling a little miffed last night that #1 wasn't part of 'the gang', despite the fact that she had a blast with a group of her best friends who are all delightful.

I remembered the buzz of being at the top of the school tree, but then recalled the corresponding anxiety of the expectation that comes with that position.

This morning I looked up an article that I read last year in Time magazine (click here). 

This piece is based on research by the University of Virginia which followed teens over a decade and found that people who tried to act “cool” in early adolescence were more likely to have problems in later life.

According the research, by the age of 22 the kids who were considered 'cool' at thirteen had fallen from social grace.

It states that their peers rated them as less competent when it came to managing social relationships than others. The formerly popular youngsters were also more likely to become alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals.

“It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behaviour might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviours to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens,” says Joseph P. Allen, a professor of psychology at UVA who led the study. “So they became involved in more serious criminal behaviour and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed.”

And, to an extent, that was me. I remember forcing myself at a horribly young age to like smoking, even when it made me feel sick and dizzy. Likewise I spent years mixing alcohol with something more palatable, like lime or blackcurrant juice, so that I could bear drinking it. Needless to say, drinking and smoking were entry level requirements for the 'cool gang'.

The conclusion from this research is that the best thing we can teach our teens is not to care what other people think. And, as adults we know that not caring is the true definition of cool.

So I thought back to last night, and #1 happy in her group of friends, ignoring the shenanigans of the cool kids, and thought good for you, sweetheart. Keep it up!

Love to all of you, the new cool gang!

SM x

Related Post: Rebel Without a Cause