Monday 30 November 2015

I Can See Clearly Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We become her; she becomes us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SM x

Saturday 28 November 2015

What's the Real Alternative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always ask yourself what's the real alternative? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I have seen the real alternative and it sucks.

Happy sober weekend to you all!

SM x

Wednesday 25 November 2015

SoberMummy's Party Survival Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Remember you do not have to go

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

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

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

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

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

2. You do not have to stay

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

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

NOT ANY MORE! You can drive!

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

3. Take time out

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

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

4. Fake it

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

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

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

5. Deal with the envy

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Watch the drunkards

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

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

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

6. Know your enemy

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

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

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

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

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

7. Pardon the turkey

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

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

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

8. Focus on the morning

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

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

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

Love SM x

Tuesday 24 November 2015

If You Were My Wife....

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing," I replied.

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

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

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

Big Hugs

SM x

Monday 23 November 2015

Living Life in Control

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

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

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

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

But now I get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that's how it was until recently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to you all.

SM x

Friday 20 November 2015

Make Someone's Day

We overly-enthusiastic-drinkers tend to be extremely lazy when it comes to looking for a mood boost.

We have one go-to default option: vino (cross out if necessary and insert your alcoholic drink of choice).

Well, here's another one. It's way better for your liver, and your long term mental health. Plus it's costs nothing.

Pay someone a compliment.

It's been scientifically proven that when we receive a compliment, our brains are flooded with serotonin. Seratonin is an amazing (free, legal and harmless) drug. It's the 'pride' drug, the 'status symbol' drug; the high quality cocaine of the brain chemistry world.

BUT, not only does the compliment receiver get a serotonin hit. So does the compliment giver.

This process of giving and receiving flattery also builds a bond between the two, which raises levels of oxytocin in both, and it fulfils our positive expectations, which adds a great big shot of dopamine.

(You know dopamine well - that's the chemical released when you had your first glass of wine of the day back in the dark days).

So, all in all, what's not to like?

I was thinking about this yesterday when listening to a piece on Radio 4 about Caitlin Moran (one of my favourite journalists) who's started handing out cards to creatively dressed strangers in the street which read I want you to know, I really appreciate your look.

What an awesome thing to do!

Imagine you are a hormonally ravaged teenager with miniscule levels of self confidence. You've spent hours in your bedroom trying on various outfits and posting pictures on Instagram to see which get the most 'likes'.

Eventually you decide on the 'least worst' option. But ten minutes after leaving the house you know you've made an error. You're about to bail, or to walk into a party with the self assurance of a gnat.

Then a total stranger gives you a card saying I really appreciate your look.

Suddenly you stand a foot taller. You are Khaleesi! You enter that room like you're being paid to turn up. Then you pull the Year 12 God you've been lusting after in remedial maths lessons, and you embark on the great adventure that is First Love. *sigh*

Later on I was parked at  traffic light. A guy on a pizza delivery bike ahead of me sped off to the front of the queue. As he did so, a leather glove fell out of his pocket.

A young bloke on the pavement spotted this, ran into the road and picked up the glove. I half expected him to nick it (that's the kind of thing that normally happens in London). But no. He ran, at full speed (as the lights were changing) through the queue of traffic, tapped the pizza guy on the shoulder and handed him the glove.

As the traffic started moving, I pulled over, wound down my window, and shouted out to the Good Samaritan "You are a truly great human being!" then drove off.

In my rear view mirror I could see him grinning. I was grinning. I could feel that serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine having a party in my head. It made my day.

We took the kids out for supper at their favourite restaurant last night. We have a running family joke at this place, as the waiter always starts by offering us 'complimentary water.'

(N.B. This is not super generous. It's tap water. Of course it should be free).

When the water arrives, decanted into two large, earthenware bottles, the children take turns picking it up and making it 'complimentary.' It goes round the table saying Wow, Mummy, I LOVE that dress on you! So slimming! Daddy, your hair is looking PLENTIFUL today! and so on.

It struck me that every meal should start with a bottle of complimentary water.

(For more on being sober and happy read my post Smile and the World Smiles With You).

Happy, sober weekend all you gorgeous, wise and wonderful people. (See what I did there?)

SM x

Thursday 19 November 2015

Alcohol and Charlie Sheen

Regular readers will know that I'm a teensy bit obsessed with celebrity drinkers.

(See my post on Celebrity Drinkers)

Celebrity drinkers do a great job of publicising the dangers of alcohol addiction. Plus, they have a habit of being just like us but more so, which, I find, makes me feel an awful lot better about my past misdemeanours.

One thing that winds me up, however, is the tendency of the media to portray celeb alkies as 'tortured artists', and their alcohol addiction as a totally understandable side effect of their talents.

We mere mortals, however, hide behind our pseudonyms and our excuses ("I'm on antibiotics") as we know that we'll be seen as weak willed, sad case losers.

Anyhow, the latest celeb lush in the news is Charlie Sheen, who's just come out as HIV positive (which he describes, with lyrical understatement, as "three hard letters to absorb").

It now transpires that Charlie Sheen's public meltdown, and drink and drugs rampage back in 2011, was a reaction to his diagnosis.

Two weeks ago I posted about dealing with crises, and how easy it is to spiral from High Functioning Alcohol Addict to Low Bottom Drunk (see When Life Throws You Lemons). What better illustration of this than Charlie Sheen!

And Charlie really has done everything that we have times one hundred.

Has alcohol affected your relationships? Well, Charlie has been married and divorced three times, and many of his relationships have combusted amid allegations of, and arrests for, substance abuse and assault.  He was, for example, engaged to Kelly Preston until he accidentally shot her in the arm (as one does).

Have you spent a fortune on your addiction? Well, in addition to the millions Charlie must have spent on drink and drugs, he also confessed in 1995 to spending $50,000 on prostitutes, and in 2010 was arrested for causing $7,000 of damage to his Plaza Hotel suite.

Were you an expert at denial, at convincing yourself that you didn't really have a problem? Well check out these quotes from our friend Charlie:

I'm different. I have a different constitution, I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man. Dying's for fools, dying's for amateurs.

The only thing I'm addicted to is winning. This bootleg cult, arrogantly referred to as Alcoholics Anonymous, reports a 5 percent success rate. My success rate is 100 percent.


So, has Charlie finally sobered up? Hell no.

He has, he claims, quit taking drugs, but he's "still drinking, a little bit." What's the betting that Charlie's "little bit" is our "all night bender"?

Charlie's doctor - Dr Robert Huizenga - is, apparently, more concerned about his drinking than his HIV status. He says "My biggest concern, with Charlie as a patient, is substance abuse and depression from the disease, more than the HIV virus in terms of shortening his life, because it's not going to."

When asked if he planned to quit drinking, Charlie replied "perhaps the freedom of today might lead to (not drinking) as well," which sounds like wishful thinking rather than total commitment!

Charlie, Charlie, come and join us at Mummy Was a Secret Drinker. You know it makes sense....

Love SM x

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Stop Drinking and Grow Up

All you need is faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.
Peter Pan

About once a week the terrier and I go for a romp around Kensington Gardens. We always stop at the little statue of Peter Pan.

The Boy Who Never Grew Up is sounding a horn, surrounded by a host of fairies, rabbits, mice, squirrels and other animals. His metal is tarnished, but some patches glint in the sunshine where the base bronze shines through, rubbed clean by thousands of children's plump fingers as they fondly fondle a fairy, or stroke the head of a snail.

Psychologists say that drinkers stop growing up at the point when the drink starts taking over. That would make me around twenty-eight years old. Which figures. That's about the age I've felt for the last (nearly) twenty years.

As I walked past Peter Pan yesterday, I thought about my children and what the difference is between them and a 'grown up.'

Children, I concluded, are always the centre of their own world. They find it difficult to see things from the perspective of others. They are natural drama queens - they overreact to emotions like excitement, boredom and jealousy.

Children often don't look ahead too far, or see the consequences of their actions; they're all about what they want right now, and damn the consequences. And they rely on someone else to deal with any major problems - like fear, uncertainty or unfairness.

Does that sound familiar? Wasn't that all of us? Trapped by the vino in an increasingly claustrophobic Never Never Land?

When we stop drinking, we kick start the process of growing up, and that comes with major growing pains. We have to learn to deal with our emotions without help, to think of others. To deal with the consequences of our actions, past and present.

I've grown up ten years in the last four weeks. I've had to face my own mortality, and accept it while putting my family first. Sober. And that lesson will stand me in good stead whatever the future holds. I feel, for the first time ever, like a bona fide Grown Up.

But there are magical things about childhood too. That sense of possibility and wonder. The certainty that everything can be solved by love and a kiss. The belief that good things happen to good people.

And those things we have to hang on to. Because, as Tinkerbell reminds us, whenever you stop believing in magic a fairy dies. And you do not want that on your conscience....

Peter says to Wendy "I taught you to fight and fly. What more could there be?" And we, my friends, have learned to fight and to fly.

If you're still struggling, and are looking for some direction then just remember:

Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning.

Love SM

Monday 16 November 2015

Going Backwards

It's four weeks since I found The Lump, two weeks since The Lump was cut out and sent off to Imperial College to be part of a student research programme (I kid you not), and another 3 days in limbo before I see the oncologist to discuss "What next?"

In that time I've had the strangest sense of going backwards, of deja vue.

The cancer journey is so spookily similar to the getting-sober-journey that it's hard to believe the timing is co-incidental. It feels like the last eight months have been a warm up to the Big Event.

And the diagnosis hit me at the exact time that I was strong enough to take it. Any earlier than eight months and I'd have been staring at the bottom of several empty bottles of sauvignon blanc before you could say 'malignant tumour.'

Like going sober, dealing with The Big C is a leap into the unknown. It's about learning to live, at least for a while, in a world of uncertainty and fear.

I wrote early on about the roller coaster of emotions when you first quit drinking (see The Sobercoaster), taking you from the pink cloud to The Wall and back again. And the last few weeks have been like that again - just more so.

I lurch from feeling thrilled at just being alive to weeping uncontrollably with the dog in parks (so the children can't see).

(See my post from the early sober days on Weeping)

The tools you use to deal with all this are the same too. You take one day at a time. Baby steps. Try not to look ahead until you know you can deal with it.

Like the early sober days, I find that I have to be kind to myself (see The Importance of Self Care). Sleep in the afternoon for a while if I have to. Have hot baths. Eat cake.

And finding a tribe is crucial. People like you who've trod the path before you and can let you know what's ahead.

I found my sober tribe online because I was too ashamed to look for a real world one.

Funnily enough, confessing to cancer is way easier than confessing to an alcohol addiction, so I'm discovering a few local ladies - Mums like me - who've been through breast cancer and out the other side and can tell me what lies ahead.

I'm also using The Haven. It's a charity funded retreat in Fulham for women with breast cancer. I'm meeting a Macmillan nurse there this morning.

Bizarrely, in my previous life I was responsible for the Macmillan Cancer Support brand strategy, and all their advertising.

It's hard not to imagine the Authors of Destiny sitting on some celestial cloud chortling and patting each other on the back at their clever use of irony.

Am I losing my mind?

Love SM x

Saturday 14 November 2015

Wine Bellies Can Kill!

One of the very best things about quitting drinking is losing the dreaded Wine Belly.

Here's how I described mine just after I quit, eight months ago:

I have a horrible, muffin topped wine belly. As I sit here in my size 12 (US size 8) skinny jeans, a little roll of flab - like a child's rubber ring in the swimming pool - is hanging over my belt. Lovely. If I lie down in the bath (spoiler alert, do not read this if you are eating lunch), and grab my belly fat with both hands it is - ironically - about the size of a bottle of vino.

(For my full post on Wine Bellies click here)

I wouldn't describe my belly now as a pancake, but it's certainly no more than a gentle hillock. If I grab the belly fat in the bath these days, it's about the size of one of those pathetically small, two gulps and it's gone, bottles of wine they serve with your meal on airlines (I always used to ask for two, obviously).

I got the tape measure out again, and my waist has gone from 36" to 33", my belly from 41" to 37", and my hips from 43" to 39". That's pretty incredible!

I have a favourite belt which, for years, I could - with a bit of breathing in - just about fasten on the first hole. It's now, comfortably, on the 4th hole. And nothing spills over the top of my jeans any more. I'm certainly not wearing crop tops, but nor am I scaring the shoppers if I reach up to a high shelf at the supermarket and accidentally expose my midriff.

This is, obviously, great news in an aesthetic sense, but, according to research published this week, it's also amazing news for your health.

It is, apparently, way better to be obese all over than to be relatively skinny with a beer/wine belly.

The study showed that normal-weight adults who carried fat around their middles had twice the risk of early death than those who were overweight or obese but with normal fat distribution.

The reason belly fat is so dangerous is that it doesn't just sit under the skin and wobble (like the bingo wings or thunder thighs), it wraps itself around your vital organs and massively increases your risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

(For more on this see this article by CNN)

To see if you're at risk just divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. The magic number is under 0.85. Mine used to be 0.87 (BAD), it's now 0.846 (GOOD - just).

So, quit the vino and you'll lose the muffin top and live longer. What's not to like?

Don't fret if you've stopped drinking and haven't yet lost any weight, or the belly. It takes time. Plus, to start with you really need to be kind to yourself, and if that means eating a whole mountain of cake to keep the wine witch at bay, then so be it. One thing at a time. Baby steps.

It will shift eventually, little by little, half a pound or so a week, which will all add up to a huge amount of vanishing lard. In eight months I've lost 17 pounds. That's a whole toddler I'm no longer carrying around with me.

(For more on this see Stop Drinking, Lose Weight?)

Happy, sober and skinny Saturday to you all.

SM x

Thursday 12 November 2015

Faking It

One of my readers sent me an article recently from ABC in Australia. It was about research being undertaken by a PHD student - Ashlea Bartram - at the University of Adelaide into drinking habits of over 25's.

Ashlea says that "drinking is, for many people, something that is very ingrained in their social life, something they tend to do with friends and it has a lot of meaning attached to it... to celebrate, to commiserate, to mark achievements." (Don't we know it?!)

"To not drink risks losing all those meanings that we attached to the drinking. You're rejecting not just the drink, but the celebration and all the experiences."

One of her interviewees backs this up: "I drink very little alcohol in relation to my friends and I get the sense they feel I'm judging them when they get boozy, that I'm taking the high moral ground or something."

Ashlea found that, in many cases, the solution people found to this social dilemma was to fake it.

"As someone who doesn't drink, I find it easier at social functions now to just have a red wine that I hold," said one interviewee. "No-one notices that you don't actually drink it, but they notice and go on and on if you don't have one in your hand."

There was another article in The Times and The Sun in the UK recently, under the headline Sobriety's taken me by surprise...and it feels great (click here for full article) in which journalist Daisy Goodwin talks about quitting the 'lady petrol'.

(Co-incidentally, Daisy was, like me, diagnosed with breast cancer a few months after she quit. She says she is incredibly grateful that she was sober when she got the diagnosis, because "I am quite sure that otherwise, my reaction would have been to anaesthetise myself.")

At the end of the article, Daisy prints some 'teetotal tips', one of which is: DON’T TELL PEOPLE YOU HAVE GIVEN UP - I usually nurse a glass of champagne. Non-drinkers make drinkers uncomfortable – better to practise some deception.

Now, Daisy only quit three months ago, and I get the impression reading her article that she's still at the 'parties are really hard work, and I'm not sure I'll ever enjoy them again' stage.

I've been there. But I do feel that I'm coming out the other side. I'm loving parties again, though in a different way from before.

Instead of buzzing round the room in a blur, talking to no-one for more than ten minutes, I find a few old friends, or new people who look fascinating, and have a really good chat (which I remember in detail the next day. Who knew?).

Even so, I do totally get the fake drinking thing. At dinner parties I let people fill up my wine glass. At drinks parties I choose drinks that look alcoholic. Not because I'm embarrassed about not drinking, but because other people get totally hung up on it. It becomes the only thing you're able to talk about.

And I know what they're thinking. I know because it's what I used to think. It goes like this: Oh God I'm sitting next to the TEETOTALLER. This is going to be really HARD WORK. They'll be no fun. I'll have to have a SERIOUS CONVERSATION. They'll judge me. Am I slurring? Beam me up, Scotty!

So I fake it. And no-one knows I'm not drinking (unless I choose to tell them). I don't have to talk about it, or defend myself. They don't think I'm dull, worthy or judgemental (I hope). Problem solved.

But isn't it ridiculous?!?

Imagine a situation at a party where you felt you had to hold a cigarette in order to make the smokers feel more comfortable! Or pretend to eat a deep fried Mars Bar so as to make the morbidly obese person next to you less self conscious.

It's not our problem, it's theirs!

I wonder whether, or when, not drinking will start to be seen as a perfectly valid and normal lifestyle choice that can be embraced and celebrated rather than disguised.

Perhaps we can make it happen, my friends.

Big Hugs

SM x

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll

You don't know what it means to win
Come down and see me again
Been down one time
Been down two times
I'm never going back again.
Fleetwood Mac

If you've been down more times than you can count, and you still don't know what it means to win, then you should read this e-mail that was sent to me by a lovely lady from down under (who I'm going to call Stevie).

Stevie kindly agreed that I could share it with you. Here it is:

Good morning SM,

I wanted to share an experience with someone who might understand, and who will not think that I am a complete fruit loop (at least not straight away.)

I went out on Friday evening to see Fleetwood Mac with Dear Husband.

I know that they were at their greatest before your time, dear SM, but suffice to say that they were there in my formative adolescence and teenage years.

In my mind I was Stevie, despite only having the odd scarf on my wrist, and no flowing golden locks.

Stevie and the band rose on the wave of their success. She and Lindsay Buckingham had met at school, and were in a relationship in the band, as were Christine McVie and John McVie.

The whole thing combusted under a tirade of success, money, drugs and hedonism.

The personal relationships all fell apart with heartbreak on show. The band split up, reformed, did solo projects and generally the world moved on. As did I.

They have been on this tour for a couple of years. It was interrupted by John McVie’s ‘cancer scare’ (know all about that huh?), and Christine McVie unexpectedly leaving her stately home, ringing Stevie, and saying "sorry I haven’t been in touch for a couple of decades but can I join the band?"

I went to see them somewhat apprehensively. Had the coke fried her voice? Could they still play? Was it going to be like the Stones, where the antipathy amongst members is only just below the surface?

It blew my mind. I would also like to confess that you are responsible for that happening.

This was the first band I have seen sober (still looking for a better word than that) since I was a teenager. It was all clear and crisp and wonderful. The band were tight, fit and presented their emotions for all to see.

However, what I wasn’t expecting was that Stevie and Lindsay spoke to me. Literally.

Their lyrics all seemed to be describing what it is like to be addicted, unhappy and anxious, but more importantly there was hope and love to be gained if you could get through it.

They spoke about this between songs. They communicated to me directly, and showed me that, like they have, I can have a future too.

I thought of the life experiences we have shared:

1.Addiction. Me: alcohol, Stevie: drugs.

2. Failed important early relationship due to: Me: first marriage collapsed under the weight of alcohol (for both parties) and drugs (for him), and failure to deal with the important things. Stevie and Lindsay: the same, and it still causes pain.

3 Wasted decade in your thirties due to addiction. Me: alcohol, Stevie: drugs including prescription.

4. Rock goddess with vast wealth and every man on the planet adoring her….maybe we didn’t share that.

Anyway, I have now confessed that important people are sending me secret messages so I had better make myself a foil hat.

Just remember, SM:

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be better that before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

Stevie's e-mail made my cry (in a good way). I, too, am a huge Fleetwood Mac fan. I have been known, when on my own in the car, to put them on top volume and belt out the lyrics to myself.

And hearing secret messages doesn't make you a fruit loop. Secret messages are always there - we were just too drunk to hear them.

So remember, friends, to never go back again!

Thank you, Stevie. You rock ('n'roll). And, by the way, I wasn't responsible in the slightest. It was all you.

SM x

Sunday 8 November 2015

Victim or Survivor?

Being a survivor doesn't mean being strong - it's telling people when you need a meal or a ride, company, whatever. It's paying attention to heart wisdom, feelings, not living a role, but having a unique, authentic life, having something to contribute, finding time to love and laugh. All these things are qualities of survivors. Bernie Siegel.

One of the reasons I still haven't been to AA (aside from being a total coward), is that I've always kicked back against the idea of being a victim.

I hate thinking of alcoholism as a disease (see Is Alcoholism a Disease?) that has no cure. I don't want to feel powerless, or to 'surrender.' Nor do I want to define myself by the label 'alcoholic.'

That's not to say that I believe any of this is our fault. Nor do I believe that I can, or should, ever drink again. I know I'd end up right back where I started. But that's not because I have a disease. It's because alcohol is addictive, and I was an addict.

I prefer the Jason Vale attitude.  We are not victims; we are survivors. We realised that we were in a hole, and didn't surrender. We climbed our way out, with the help of our friends.

Now we can get on with life, and make up for lost time. We have no need to define ourselves by a problem that's behind us (so long as we make sure never to go back).

My cancer diagnosis has taken me through the same thought process. I've realised that there are two ways of dealing with cancer:

1. You can scream WHY ME? See yourself as a victim of some cruel universe. Then you can live the rest of your life in fear of the cancer progressing or returning, spending hours googling 'cures' and prognoses. You can turn your rose tinted glasses into cancer ridden spectacles and live half a life.

2. You can take it as a wake up call. A reminder that life is precious, and that we need to make the most of every moment. You can see yourself as a survivor. A kick ass Katniss Everdene, who is only made stronger and fiercer by the whole Cancer Games experience.

We are not victims, my friends. We are survivors. Which, as Bernie Siegel says, doesn't mean being strong - it means being brave enough to ask for help when we need it, and finding time to love and laugh.

Happy hangover free Sunday!

SM x

Friday 6 November 2015

Alcohol and Class

It's a week after my operation, and I've finally plucked up the courage to have a peek at My Left Boob.

The surgeon was a genius. Lefty is very black and blue, but apart from that doesn't look terribly different (he was far from perfect to start with, to be honest).

I'm back on form, feeling perky, and I have ten days R&R before my meeting with my oncologist to discuss next steps.

So, I'm moving on from thinking about nothing but cancer. I've turned over the page in the dictionary of highly emotive c words, and now I've been thinking about class.

The British have always been obsessed by class. We may not like to admit to it these days, but it's still there, seeped into our bones.

Mr SM is deeply upper class. Properly coat-of-arms posh. He visibly flinches if the children ever use a word like toilet, or serviette or (God forbid) pardon. One of his favourite bon mots is "Bad manners: worse than adultery."

(I don't think, by the way, that Mr SM actually condones adultery. Even if his wife has a wonky boob and may soon be bald).

The last few weeks have been particularly tricky for Mr SM, as his upbringing makes showing any emotion anathema, and he can't say the word breast out loud. Plus the poor thing has to sit there while a conveyor belt of strangers cop a feel of his wife.

Anyhow, because of all of this, I find anything to do with class rather fascinating.

A month or so ago there was a flurry of articles in the press about research showing that mothers are drinking earlier and earlier in the day, often cracking open the vino mid afternoon, after the school run.

There were a number of interviews, with celebrities and regular Mums, who would readily and happily confess to sharing bottles of wine with friends over a Friday afternoon play date, or having a glass or two with lunch mid week.

I read through a number of the online comments under these articles. Frequently someone would point out that this behaviour was only seen as acceptable (normal even) because of class.

A group of nice, well dressed, middle class mums sharing bottles of wine at 3pm on a Friday was deemed to be okay, but a group of mums on benefits passing round extra strong cider would lead to a call to social services.

It's so true. I was able to justify my drinking habits because I only drank wine. And wine is sophisticated, up market, expensive. Hell, the majority of it is French.

But it's still the same poison. The same addiction. Whether it's called Chablis grand cru and is being sipped from crystal glasses by a connoisseur, or it's methylated spirits being drunk from a plastic bottle by a tramp.

The same is true of cocaine. It is - I kid you not - deemed totally acceptable at many Notting Hill or Kensington dinner parties for the host to offer round cocaine rather than coffee at the end of the meal. After all, cocaine is for the rich, the rebellious, the young at heart.

(You'd get a sharp intake of breath if you served non organic milk in Notting Hill. Were you not aware that Milo is lactose intolerant?!? But cocaine? Perfectly okay!)

Can you imagine anyone passing round a bag of heroin? Oh no! That's an entirely different thing.

But it's not really, is it? It's just about image. And class.

So next time you're battling with the wine witch, make sure you see it for what it is. Strip away the packaging, the sophisticated names, the rituals. It's just ethanol. And it's a poison.

Happy Friday!

Love SM x

Thursday 5 November 2015

When Life Throws You Lemons

I, like many of you, was a 'high functioning' alcohol addict. I never (well, hardly ever) dropped a ball, my guard or (God forbid) my knickers. I kept the ship afloat pretty well on a bottle of wine a day.

I now realise this was only possible because my life was blessed. I have a great marriage, happy, healthy children and active parents. We're solvent (most of the time), and relatively secure.

But sometimes life throws you lemons. Divorce, bereavement, a sick child, a major illness. Suddenly, out of the blue, your life can shift on its axis and never be the same again.

And, however easy it was to stay on track in the good times, that's when the wheels start to come off and everything falls apart. That's when 'high functioning' quickly morphs into 'low bottom',

I was thinking about this the other night. I woke up to find little fingers around my neck. #3 had had a nightmare, and had crept into our room and snuggled into bed between us.

I remembered being that age (very nearly seven), and the feeling that if you were with both your parents then absolutely nothing can harm you. It's like being enclosed in an impenetrable magic circle of safety.

It reminded me that I am the leader of this pack. That utter certainty, that innocence of my children, is totally in my hands. If I fall apart then everyone falls apart, and, like Humpty Dumpty, no-one will be able to fix them without the cracks showing.

If I had had to deal with cancer when I was drinking I know for sure that this is how it would have been different:

When I found the lump, instead of getting it checked immediately, I would - with the help of a few glasses of wine - have pushed it to the back of my mind for at least a few weeks. Alcohol, as you know, gives us false confidence. And those few weeks could have made all the difference.

When I got the diagnosis I would have gone on a bender. And being drunk (or hungover) makes us self centred and unaware of those around us, doesn't it? I would have cried (a lot) in front of the kids. I would have ranted and raged. Then I would have disappeared into my room and not emerged for some time.

In one fell swoop I would have destroyed the confidence and security of my family. I'd have pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall and mocked all the kings horses and all the kings men as they tried to put them together again.

Instead everything carries on as normal, around all the endless hospital visits - and it's that normality that's keeping me sane, as well as them.

I hold everything in my hands, and I'm keeping it safe.

You, too, are pack leaders. You are responsible for your cubs, your partners, your aged parents.

One day life will throw you lemons, and it's down to you to be strong enough to greet them with a sharp knife and a grater, not a large gin and tonic.

Make sure you're ready. For them, as well as for you.

Here endeth the lesson!

SM x

P.S. Mr SM has just called me from work where, it appears, he has been reading my blog. He is outraged. He wishes it to be known that he is, in fact, Pack Leader. My response? "Yes, dear."

Wednesday 4 November 2015


I quit drinking eight months and two days ago. Since then my whole life has changed in more ways than you can imagine.

I went back and re-read some of the milestone posts along the way and thought I'd compile some highlights of the journey.

Here you go (if you click on any of the headings, you'll get the full post):

100 days sober

What could I have told myself 100 days ago? I could have given her a list something like this:

1. You will sleep more, and better, than you've done in years, but will be more tired than you can imagine.

2. You will discover that hot chocolate has magical healing powers, and that there really is a point to alcohol free beer.

3. You will feel ten years older and wiser, but look five years younger.

4. You will have to start to hate yourself before you can learn to love yourself again.

5. You will discover a passion for cleaning, tidying, weeding, sorting and clearing out - both literally and metaphorically.

6. You will obsessively read everything you can find about alcohol, alcoholism, and anything else beginning with 'alc'.

7. You will find that some of the really big hurdles (like parties) can be easy, but some of the small things (everyday stresses and upsets) can be terribly hard.

8. You'll find that that knot of anxiety you lived with for years was caused by the drink, not solved by it. Your best friend was actually your worst enemy.

9. You will become an obsessive navel gazer (not to be confused with a naval gazer - someone who stares at seamen). You'll constantly wrestle with questions like 'Who am I? Who was I? How did I get here? Where am I going?'

10. You will meet some incredible fellow travellers along the way. People who will make you laugh, cry and think. Hugely strong, brave and inspirational people sharing your journey.

Four months sober

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.

Six months sober

Now I realise that you use 'one day at a time' until you no longer need it. It's there to stop you worrying about forever (which, in the words of Prince is a very long time) until you can cope with it.

And now, my friends, I can.

Now, after six months, I can truly see myself never drinking again. It doesn't scare me. At all. It's liberating. Exciting. Miraculous.

I'm not, I hope, being smug, or over confident. I'm totally aware how easy it is to fall off the wagon and end up back at Day One. I read stories about people like me doing just that all the time.

I also know about the ups and downs. This time next week I could easily be a shivering wreck again.

But, the point is, right now I am no longer scared. Or miserable. Or feeling denied.

So, if you're at the beginning of this journey, then listen to the King from Alice in Wonderland:

"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

Seven months sober

If we can't see the joy in the ordinary, then how on earth can we teach our children to find it?

Being sober is more 'ordinary', but that is its joy. I've had it with the artificial ups and downs of drunk.

And, you know what? The extraordinary really does take care of itself.

Just you wait and see....

And here I am at eight months sober, older, wiser and more battle scarred. And I feel like I've discovered the biggest lesson of all about being sober:

You have to learn to cope with regular life without alcohol, because only then can you stay afloat when life decides to throw you lemons.

More on that one tomorrow.

Love SM x

Monday 2 November 2015


So, three days ago I was in hospital waiting for my lumpectomy. A lovely anaesthetist came over to discuss the operation.

"....then I'll start the anaesthetic, and you'll feel a bit woozy - like you've just had a couple of glasses of wine," he explained.

I tried hard to look nonchalant.

".....once you've come round, the nurse will give you some oral morphine for the pain. Not too much, or it'll take you longer to get up and about and back home..."

After the nightmare two weeks I'd had, the idea of some 'obligatory' oblivion was incredibly tempting. Almost (but not quite, obviously) worth losing part of a boob for.

An hour later, I'm all gowned and stretchered and waiting to go in. The anaesthetist works his magic. We're chatting away when suddenly I feel incredibly light headed, and find it almost impossible to finish my sentence. It's like the middle bit of a great party...

.....then I'm in the recovery room and they give me a syringe full of morphine.

And I'm thinking: Hello numbness. I remember you! Hello, nothing-really-matters, so good to see you. Waaay haaay pink, fluffy cloud, give me a hug.

All was well with the world. For the first time in weeks I wasn't scared. I was all wrapped up in a feather light duvet of lassitude.

I went home, slept like a log, woke up and wrote a post on Friendship. Everything was hunky dory...

.....until it wasn't.

I went for a walk in the park with #1 and the dog. I probably overdid it. Then a bird shat on my head. I kid you not. It was so big I thought I'd been hit by an acorn. It's supposed to be good luck, but it felt like the final indignity.

And I remembered the small print the anaesthetist had given me about the post morphine blues. (I've never been one to dwell on the small print).

And I'm thinking: Hello utter despair. I remember you! Hello irrational anger. Welcome back. Oh, self loathing! You've shown up to join the party.

Then, with total inevitability, the Wine Witch pops her head round the door and says I have just the thing to take the edge off....

Alcohol, morphine, it's all the same. What goes up must come down.

I've moved onto Paracetemol.

Love to you all,

SM x