Monday 30 May 2016

Hope, and Marianne Faithfull

Yesterday we did the long drive to Scotland - the land of wide horizons, untamed landscapes and Mr SM's forefathers.

Thanks to the modern miracles that are Bluetooth and Spotify, #1 and I have created a new tradition for road trips.

She plays me the latest 'yoof' tunes (I like to imitate my own parents by rolling my eyes, harrumphing and saying you call this dreadful racket music? While secretly enjoying it).

I then play her my favourite songs from my own 'yoof', a few of which have made it to hallowed places on her iPhone playlist.

One of these, which we were listening to yesterday, is Marianne Faithfull's Ballad of Lucy Jordan.

I idolised Marianne. Marianne, with the face of a fallen angel, and the voice that smoked a thousand cigarettes.

I always saw myself as a rebel (see my post: Rebel Without a Cause), and Marianne was the Queen of all Rebels, who all we wannabe rebels knelt down to and worshipped.

While I might get myself arrested after finals for being drunk in charge of a bicycle, Marianne was arrested during a drunks raid while tripping on acid with Mick Jagger, naked and wrapped in a fur rug.

(She has always vehemently denied the oft repeated rumour that there was a Mars Bar involved).

As we listened to The Ballad of Lucy Jordon, the story of a housewife who, on realising that she'll never achieve her dreams, goes crazy and is carted off in an ambulance (to hear it click here), I thought about how addiction strips away hope.

At the age of 37
She realised she'd never ride
Through Paris in a sports car
With the warm wind in her hair....

Marianne battled many demons.

She spent much of the 1970's (having lost custody of her son) living rough in Soho, an alcoholic and heroin addict, with anorexia thrown into the melting pot.

By the 1990s, she'd managed to quit the drugs, but was still drinking, despite being diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and then breast cancer (see, we have so much in common!)

Interestingly, while I visualise my demons as the 'wine witch', Marianne sees hers as 'Marianne Faithfull' - the public persona.

She says It is actually my name. It is me. But it hasn't felt like me for a long time.

What has happened in the past 10 years or so, and what has been my goal for as long as I can remember, is to bring me and Marianne Faithfull into some semblance of harmony.

It was her doing drugs and drinking, her inside my head, so it has been tough. The Fabulous Beast, that's what I call her.

Marianne's story, and the fact that even she, finally, beat the Fabulous Beast, and is now completely sober, and - she says - happier than she's ever been, shows that you should never be Lucy Jordon.

Never relinquish hope.

(One of her favourite quotes is from William Blake: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, and perhaps Marianne has finally made it there.)

And it is never too late to ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in your hair. At 37, 47, or even 87.

I'm going to book the tickets, and #1 wants to come with me...

Love SM x

Saturday 28 May 2016

Self Esteem

There's a scene in the documentary Drinking to Oblivion that, even weeks later, is still haunting me.

(See my post: Drinking to Oblivion)

One of the alcoholics who Louis Theroux spent time with was a young woman with the most appalling boyfriend. He taunted her with stories of the other women he was shagging, and constantly put her down, to her face and in front of the camera.

When, finally, Louis asked her why she didn't leave him she replied "who else would want a fat drunk like me?"

This is another of the terrible contradictions of alcohol. We drink it to give us confidence, but it gradually leeches away all of our self esteem.

AA have a saying along the lines of alcohol gives you wings, then takes away the sky.

The problem is that the less self esteem you possess, the more difficult it is to quit. Which is why it is so crucial to get off the slippery slope before you hit rock bottom.

In order to quit you need to be able to believe you can do it, and believe you are worth it.

If you're in the early days of quitting, then it really helps to consciously work on your self esteem.

For example, if you're plagued with insecurities at wine o'clock (I can't do this, it's too hard. I haven't got the strength) then try visualisation (See my post: I am Khaleesi).

If you find yourself thinking what's the point anyway? I'm so old/dull/insert your adjective, I might as well just carry on drinking then think back to your pre-drinking days and remind yourself what a brilliant person you are.

Find a picture of a young, happy, vibrant you (see my post: Picture a Young You) and stick it on the fridge.

Ask your children to describe you, and stick those words on too (be warned: my kids usually come up with words like 'saggy boobs' and 'big bum'. You need to ignore those ones).

You owe it to the younger you, and you owe it to the super-hero Mum in your kids heads, the one who can heal all wounds with a kiss and has an answer to every question, to nail this thing.

Since I've been thinking about self esteem, I started a new project. I've called it the You're Awesome Project.

My kids love table plans. The rule in the SM house is that whoever lays the table gets to decide the seating plan (this is v good for my self esteem as it always involves sitting next to Mummy, even if I do have saggy boobs and a big bum).

Every family meal we end up writing out little place names, and then losing them. So, I decided that each time anyone has a birthday, I will give them a plate, hand painted by me at the local pottery café, with their name on it.

Then I got a bit carried away, and I decided to paint thirty adjectives, all round the rim of that plate, to describe why that person is awesome.

I've just finished Mr SM's plate The smalls all helped choose the words, which include: kind, cuddly and hero. But also descriptors like James Bond expert, soufflé supremo, skydiver and cable guy. Plus, since we're being truthful here, my personal favourite: folically challenged.

So now, whenever we have a family dinner, not only do we all know where we're sitting, but we're all reminded of what makes us awesome.

What's not to like?

Love SM x

Friday 27 May 2016

Why Alcohol Makes You Fat

Last night I watched a programme on the BBC called The Truth About Alcohol.

(Thanks for the tip SW6Mum)

It was a light hearted look at the effects that alcohol has on the body.

It was a tad trivial, with the usual discussion about 'how to avoid hangovers', and 'why a little red wine is actually good for you.' But, even so, great to have a programme about the negative effects of booze on prime time TV.

Inevitably, they looked at the impact alcohol has on our weight.

Now, we all know that alcohol is full of 'empty calories', and they pointed out that drinking a pint of  beer has the same effect, calorie wise, as eating a jam donut. A glass of wine is like eating a tea cake.

If I ever think about taking up booze again, I imagine sitting in front of the TV and eating five tea cakes in swift succession. Bleurgh!

But that wasn't the interesting bit.

They then took two groups of young men and put each group in a room with 2 pints of beer each, and several bowls of snacks.

What the men didn't know is that whilst one group were drinking 'proper beer', the other group had alcohol free beer (my favourite: Becks Blue. They ought to sponsor me).

After about an hour they totted up the results and discovered that the group with the real beer ate significantly more than the Becks Blue chaps. The booze made them hungrier.

And when you added the booze calories and snack calories together, the boozy lot demolished 30% more calories than the others.

Imagine doing that every night!

And we've all been there, haven't we? Hoovering up the crisps at the drinks party, ordering Death by Chocolate at the restaurant, or raiding the snack cupboard after a big night out.

Plus, what they didn't discuss in the programme is the morning after!

If you wake up with a hangover the last thing in the world you want for breakfast is a green smoothie. Oh no! You want CARBS. And FAT. Preferably combined in something like a bacon sandwich, or a greasy fry up.

It's no wonder I gained 21 pounds in a decade. Frankly, it's a miracle it wasn't more.

But, here's my (familiar to all you regular readers) health warning:


I know. It's really unfair. You give up all those calories and then..... Nothing. In fact, many people GAIN weight initially.

Do not panic. Our metabolisms are complicated machines, and they take a while to adjust. And you'll probably crave sugar initially. Quitting booze is not easy, and if cake helps then EAT IT.

Most people find that, at around 100 days alcohol free, the weight starts to come off. Slowly slowly. About half a pound a week.

(Plus, even before the scales start moving you'll notice that you look much less puffy and the wine belly starts shrinking).

And here's the magic thing: it stays off! Unlike every other 'diet' I've ever done.

Fourteen months in and I've lost that 21 pounds, without changing the amount I eat all all.

I've stopped losing weight now, but it's not going back on. And I still eat cake.

So, if you weren't already convinced that quitting booze was the right thing to do, then look down at that wine belly and think again..,.

Love SM x

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Let Yourself Off

I've had a pretty tumultuous year, what with giving up a decades long booze habit, and then dealing with breast cancer. And you know what? In many ways the two experiences were similar.

Both involve going through the wringer physically. And then, by far the harder part, dealing with the emotional fall out.

In both cases you end up doing a lot of navel gazing. Who am I? What's important in my life? How did I end up here?

Both require you to dig really deep. To find strength you didn't know you had. And to totally re-write the image you have in your head of your future, which inevitably leads to a grieving process.

And, after all of that, you end up a slightly different person - more battered, but wiser, calmer, more philosophical and, possibly, spiritual. You rediscover your appreciation of life, family and the things that matter.

There are, however, some key differences.

One of the main ones is other people.

When you're going through all this change, and angst, and physical and emotional battery as a result of cancer treatment, people fall over themselves to help you. It's almost too much.

Any time it gets on top of you, you're exhausted or just can't cope, all you have to do is raise a little finger and there's a stampede of people offering to collect your children from school or make you a casserole.

Plus, you can (as Mr SM called it) play the cancer card.

Regular readers will know that I played the cancer card to get off a parking ticket. And it was hugely helpful when I just didn't have the strength to do one of those additional jobs we mums get lumbered with constantly.

For example, I remember getting an e-mail just after my diagnosis asking if I could run one of the stalls at the school Christmas Fete (known in our family as the fete worse than death).

I sent an e-mail to the fete committee which went something like this:

Dear Ladies,

As you know, I am usually very happy to help with school events, however in this instance I'm afraid I have to say 'no'.

I have breast cancer, so am rather busy. Sure you understand.

Good luck with the fete! I'll send Mr SM and the smalls along to buy lots more plastic tat for the playroom.

Love SM

P.S. Isn't that just the Best Excuse Ever?

The problem with giving up drinking is that, as so many of us do it secretly, we don't get to play the sober card.

You can't say sorry, I'm not hosting the class party/having your children for a sleepover/taking on more responsibility and stress at work, because right now I need some space to concentrate on not drinking.

No-one's rallying around to help with the kids and cook your family meals so that you can go to bed early with a copy of Jason Vale.

So, here's my plea to you: Let yourself off.

If no-one's rallying around to help you, you need to help yourself.

Treat the early days of quitting like having an illness (which it is).

Give yourself a reasonable time to recover (100 days?), and in that time let yourself off anything which is too hard, and which'll make you want to reach for the booze.

For me it meant not cooking evening meals for a while. Instead I'd eat fish fingers with the children early and leave Mr SM to forage in the fridge. That gave me space at wine o'clock to go for a run, or have a hot bath, or read the sober blogs.

If (and I'm thinking of you, Annie), you find getting through the first five days really tough, then pretend you have 'flu. Go to bed with lots of chocolate, the laptop and some good books, and don't come out until you're strong enough.

Here's a secret: The world will not fall apart.

You are making a huge investment in your future health and happiness, and that of your family, so a few weeks of dropping balls and not living up to your usual standards is well worth it.

Don't take on any voluntary jobs. Don't feel obliged to turn up to any social events unless you really want to. Don't see anyone who stresses you out. There's plenty of time for all of that later.

Be your own support group.

(And we're all here to support you too. Although I'm afraid the service doesn't stretch to delivering casseroles).

Love SM x

Monday 23 May 2016

All or Nothing

Regular readers will know that I hate the word 'alcoholic,' and refuse to describe myself as one.

This is not, you understand, because I am in denial. I happily admit to being an alcohol addict. And I (fairly) happily accept that I can never drink again.

BUT I will never happily say "My name's SM and I'm an alcoholic."

(I yelled at Mr SM when he used the word 'alcoholic' in relation to me the other day. Poor thing just looked confused and went back to the Financial Times).

So why the animosity to the A word? Surely it's just an innocent little adjective?

Well, actually, I think the A word does a huge amount of damage.

Because it's become loaded with such terrible baggage. It has an awful image, particularly when it comes to mothers...

If a mother is described as 'an alcoholic' you immediately picture a woman passed out in her own vomit while her grubby, neglected children forage for stale biscuits in the cupboards. Or, at least, that's what I imagine.

The implications of being an 'alcoholic' are so frightening that no-one wants to join the club.

We spend hours, days, Googling 'am I an alcoholic?' and, luckily, the definitions are so vague that we can easily convince ourselves that we are not.

So, instead of addressing the issue of our alcohol addiction (which we secretly know is there) we wrap ourselves happily in the cashmere soft cloak of denial and pour another drink.

The term 'alcoholic' is too black and white: you are one, or you're not. Whereas, actually, alcohol addiction is all about darkening shades of grey. A slippery slope. And one that it's best to get off at the top, before it gets harder.

By the time things are so awful that you'll happily accept the alcoholic badge, you've lost everything, including all self respect, making giving up terribly, terribly difficult.

But that leaves the question what terminology do we use instead?

I like to talk about 'alcohol addiction', because it makes it clear that alcohol is a drug like any other - like nicotine, heroin, cocaine. And, as a result, anyone can get addicted. Not just the unlucky few, born with some genetic disease called Alcoholism.

Then, this weekend I was reading an interview with Fearne Cotton, married to Jesse Wood, son of Ronnie the Rolling Stone.

Fearne talks about how Jesse and Ronnie got sober together: 'an incredible bonding experience.' BUT she doesn't describe her husband as an alcoholic. She says:

Like his dad, Jesse's an all-or-nothing guy, and with a growing family he felt that he'd prefer to not drink alcohol, so it's tea and fruit cake all the way, round at Ronnie's.

HURRAH for the all-or-nothing tribe!

Now that's a label I'm happy to admit to, a club I'll accept membership of.

(And I'm sure thousands more women, currently still home alone, drowning their sorrows and convincing themselves that it's 'normal' to drink a bottle of wine a day, would do the same).

My name's SM, and I'm an all-or-nothing girl. I did decades of all, and I've done 14 months of nothing. And it's great.

The 'all-or-nothing' label makes it clear that our relationship with alcohol is intrinsically tied up with who we are, and, therefore, that drinking again isn't an option, BUT it also portrays the positive side of the coin.

With that descriptor, you don't picture the slovenly mother having her children taken into care, you picture the wild, funny, party girl who's reached the age where she's had to throw in the sequinned towel.

And that, my friends, is me. Not an alcoholic, but an alcoholic addict and all-or-nothing girl.

Love SM x

Sunday 22 May 2016

Being Square

One of the big things you have to do when you get sober is to re-adjust the image you have of yourself.

I've always seen myself as a rebel. A bit naughty. Slightly wild. Ever since I first started smoking behind the bike sheds at school, playing practical jokes on the teachers and 'customising' my school uniform.

Last night we were staying with lovely friends in the country. There were twelve of us for dinner. We got through twenty three bottles of wine.

Or, rather, they did. I drank water. Which didn't bother me. I'm pretty used to that now.

Shortly after midnight, as it started getting a bit raucous, I decided to slink unobtrusively off to bed.

Sadly, slinking unobtrusively is not my forte, and one of my friends yelled out "Goodnight, SM!" at which point they all turned round to stare at me. The first one to leave the party.

I woke up at 3am. The lack of snoring and alcohol fumes alerted me to the fact that Mr SM was not there. I walked down the corridor to the bathroom and could hear laughter and voices from the dining room two floors down.

And I felt sad. And square. And boring.

I don't want to be the good one, the reliable one, the predictable one. I still want to walk on the wild side.

This morning did, as you can imagine, make up for it. I felt great, while everyone around me was crumbling.

We all went out for a big Sunday roast (back at the Soho Farmhouse), and I didn't have to have the customary stand off with Mr SM about who was going to drink and who was going to drive back to London. Because I was going to drive. Obviously.

Good old, boring old, reliable old SM.

I had a lovely weekend. I really didn't want to drink. I had great fun with great friends and all our children. But I'm feeling sad.

I have to remember that, given the huge proportion of people who drink, I'm actually still the rebel. Still zigging while others zag. Still breaking the rules.

And if I want to shock people a little, make sure no-one sees me as boring or predictable, all I have to do is publish this blog. That would put the cat among the pigeons...

HAPPY SOBERVERSARY to fabulous Silver Birch! Awesome work, girlfriend :-)

Love SM x

Friday 20 May 2016

Deja Vue

So, this weekend we're going to stay with friends in the glorious Cotswolds.

For the benefit of my American friends, the Cotswolds is the go to part of the country for London A List celebrities and Hollywood location scouts.

You know the picture of the archetypal perfect English village, all honey coloured stone and patchwork fields, on the 1000 piece puzzle that Great Aunt Edna brings out every Thanksgiving? That's the Cotswolds. So is the picture on the English biscuit tin.

It may look sleepy and peaceful, all chirpy birdsong and the distant drone of the combine harvester, but it's actually party central.

This county is the home/second home of some serious imbibers, like Kate Moss and Jeremy Clarkson, both of whom have featured in this blog (see Drinking and Sexism, and Alcohol Induced Rage).

More vino will be drunk at the house party this weekend than could fill a Cotswold swimming pool (tastefully tucked away in the walled garden). There are three families staying over, and three or four more couples coming for dinner.

And today I have a big case of the deja vues.

I've been thinking back to the last time I went to stay with these friends. It was just over a year ago, about a month before I quit for good (the timing is not entirely co-incidental).

We arrived at around 5pm. I expect our hostess offered tea or wine, but the question was academic. We got stuck in. Obviously. It was a Saturday, and we'd been on the motorway for two hours. We'd earned it.

One of the couples joining us for dinner that evening were running late, so we didn't sit down to eat until around 9pm, by which point I'd drunk at least a bottle of wine, on an empty stomach.

I cringe now thinking of the poor man who sat next to me (the fat, incoherent lush) at dinner. I remember struggling hugely to think of anything to say that wasn't a terrible cliché. What do you do? How old are your children?

I told a joke that was so bad they were still teasing me about it the next morning.

Then, at about 11pm I took myself off the bed, as I could barely stay awake/upright by that point.

The following morning I remember counting down the minutes until midday, when I could legitimately accept a glass of wine to take the edge off my headache.

This, for me, was one of the signs that my drinking was becoming a problem.

You see, 'normal drinkers' can't bear the idea of any alcohol on a hangover. Problem drinkers can't bear the idea of not having a drink on a hangover. (See my post: 5 Signs You're a Problem Drinker).

Needless to say, this weekend is going to be different.

And, you know what? I'm really looking forward to it. Because doing a weekend like this sober can be hard at times, but not half as hard as doing it rip roaringly drunk!

Have a fabulous Friday, my friends,

SM x

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Secrets and Lies

Not only was I very secretive about the amount I was drinking, I was also just as cagey about stopping drinking.

For months and months I kept up the charade of I'm driving, or I've given up for Lent, or I'm on a health kick.

Then, as luck would have it, I got cancer, and everyone assumed that I was on doctor's orders not to drink.

Ironic, actually, as the doctors and nurses in the cancer clinic were constantly urging me to 'go home and pour yourself a large drink.'

(By the way, I wouldn't recommend that one as a smoke screen. Stick to the 'I'm on antibiotics' line rather than getting breast cancer. It's easier).

I lied, evaded and dissembled because I was terrified of what people would think.

Would they assume I was a reckless drunk who'd endangered her children and abused her husband?

Would they think I was a boring teetotaller who wasn't worth a party invitation?

Would I end up with no friends, and no booze with which to drown my sorrows?

But gradually I've become less and less bothered, and I've told more and more people that I no longer drink.

Pretty much all my friends and family now know. And you know what? They don't seem to care.

The bigger drinkers get the issue. The hardly-ever-drinkers don't see it as a big deal.

If they quiz me about it I say "I was drinking way to much, and I'm an all or nothing kind of person. I find it much easier not to drink at all than to drink just a little bit. Moderation is not my forte."

But I didn't tell any of them about this blog. That would be (to coin a phrase from the kids) too much information.

Then two of them just came across it while surfing the great wave of the interweb. (See my post: Outed). And they were really supportive. So I got a bit braver...

One of my best friends has known for months that I quit drinking. She also knows that I write a blog. So a few days ago I sent her the web address.

And she was horrified!

She said "I'm in shock," and "I need some time to process this," and "I can see why you've kept it so quiet."

(You'd think I'd told her I was having Donald Trump's love child, not that I quit drinking and wrote about it).

I know it won't affect our friendship, and I know she'll always love and support me (and I her), but her reaction has made me rather scared. Scared for me, and for my family.

It's made me totally reconsider the idea of publishing a book, because I know that it would be impossible to stay anonymous if I did so.

But then I found this poem by Dorothy Parker, and it made me feel a little better:

In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.

Dorothy, by the way, was an alcoholic. At one New York speakeasy she frequented, a bartender asked her "What are you having?" to which she replied, "Not much fun."

Love SM x

Monday 16 May 2016

If Only.....

I'm still recovering from Saturday night's awesome Moonwalk. 50,000 women (some men), all dressed up, walking through London overnight in aid of breast cancer charities.

It's been a long time since I've been up all night with crowds of excited people wearing silly, neon clothes. And I've never done it sober!

We laughed. We wept. We weed behind bushes in St James's Park. It was a great reminder that you don't need to drink to get high.

(Walking past all the scary, edgy, wild eyed drunks around 3am was a great lesson too).

While lying on sofa bemoaning my aching muscles and shredded feet, I was thinking about a question Annie asked me last week.

She asked me if I ever felt sad that I can't just have one drink from time to time.

As soon as she asked the question I felt a wave of regret as I pictured myself on a terrace, overlooking a perfect beach, clutching a glass of chilled white wine.

With huge effort I pushed the image to one side and thought logically.

"No," I replied (lying only slightly), "because that's not the sort of person I am. To wish that I could drink moderately would be to wish that I were a moderate person. And that's not me."

You see, we enthusiastic imbibers are not moderate, we never were. That's why ex drinkers are awesome.

We didn't want one glass to just soften the edges, we wanted all the edges obliterated.

We didn't want one glass of champagne to toast the bride, we wanted two bottles and a serious PARTY!

We didn't want a drink or two at the end of the day to relax a bit, we wanted to be transported to somewhere else entirely.

To become a moderate drinker I'd have to become someone altogether different.

But, in being totally sober, I have found myself again. Still all or nothing. Still over the top. Still immoderate. Still me.

But now I can be immoderate about other, better stuff, like being a great Mum, and a good friend, and making the most of every opportunity (that's all still work in progress, obviously. Not there yet....).

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday 14 May 2016

Walking Away From Booze

Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

I find that walking is an invaluable sober tool. For a whole host of reasons. Here are five of them:

1. It has no booze associations

However much of a hardened drinker you are/were it is unlikely that you used to go for a walk with a glass of Chardonnay in hand.

(In my case, walking was one of the few occasions when I wouldn't have a glass of wine nearby).

That's why it's a perfect activity around wine o'clock, when you really, really want a drink. Just go. Walk out the door. (I'm channelling my inner Gloria Gaynor here).

Get away from the fridge, the wine rack, the irritations of home and walk. Walk until you feel better.

(N.B. Remember to plan a route that does not go past your favourite pub or bottle shop).

2.  It's a natural drug.

We enthusiastic imbibers rather like our drugs, our highs. And walking is a natural high. It releases serotonin which boosts your mood.

Numerous studies have shown that walking helps reduce depression, anxiety and can even ward off Alzheimer's.

3. It can be social

I avoided parties for a while. But I'm a sociable person. I wouldn't want an alcohol free life that turned me into a hermit.

So, even in the days when I avoided going out too much in the evenings, I would arrange to meet friends during the day for a dog walk.

I'd spend an hour of the day drinking coffee, catching up with an old friend and getting myself, and the dog, fit. That's multitasking ;-)

4. It blitzes the belly

One of the best consolation prizes for ditching the booze is losing weight, especially the dreaded wine belly (see my post: Wine Bellies Can Kill).

Walking not only burns calories and builds muscle, but it can improve your body's response to insulin which leads to reduced belly fat.

5. It reduces your risk of chronic disease

Again, there are a huge number of studies showing that walking can be a wonder drug.

It lowers your blood sugar and, therefore, your risk of diabetes, it lowers blood pressure and your risk of heart disease and stroke, and it reduces your risk of cancer - especially breast and colon cancer.

When I first had the cancer diagnosis (eight months after I quit drinking. To read my story, click here), and I knew that easiest and quickest way to blot it all out, to silence all the thoughts of death and motherless children, would be to pour a large glass of wine (and then drink the whole bottle), walking saved me.

I would take the dog out to the nearest park and then howl. Literally.

(I once bumped into a school gate Mum while doing this. It was what the children would describe as #awks).

Walking calmed my thoughts. It made me feel happier - or at least less desperate. And, crucially, it got me away from the vino.

But tonight I may just be overdoing it on the walking front.

#1 and I are doing the Moonwalk (she's only just old enough, so will be one of the youngest there).

It's a twenty six mile walk through the centre of London with thousands of other women (and some men) all decked out in decorated bras (even the men), in aid of breast cancer charities.

We've raised nearly £2,500 between us, so we've got to make it through to the end!

We set off at 10pm, and should finish at around 7am. I haven't been up all night for a very long time, and certainly not because I was walking. Wish us luck!

I'm not going to post my Moonwalk fundraising page because I'm still a little twitchy about my own anonymity, and a lot twitchy about my daughter's

However if you would like to support us, and help other women dealing with breast cancer, then please please visit my Justgiving page in support of the Haven Breast Cancer Support Centre.

Here's the link:


Love SM x

Friday 13 May 2016

Meeting Annie

Regular readers of this blog, or Annie's blog (A Dappled Path) will know that yesterday we arranged to meet I.R.L, as my kids would say (in real life).

I was really nervous.

I got married before the days of internet dating, when we still did things like introduce single friends to each other at dinner parties (how quaint!), but I imagine it's a similar feeling....

....You read someone's profile, you e-mail them for ages, you exchange secrets, hopes and fears. You think you're going to really, really like each other, but - deep down - you're terrified that you'll see them and immediately think oh no! Not my cup of tea at all. Totally not what I was expecting. Beam me up, Scotty!

I've never seen a photo of Annie, but we'd e-mailed each other describing our outfits, and arranged to meet under the clock in Charing Cross Station - just like in a cheesy romance.

And, you know what? Even if Annie had turned up disguised as Wonder Woman (which she didn't, by the way) I would have recognised her.

This lady walked towards me, and she looked just like her blog - all gorgeous and honest and hopeful, and a little bit scared.

And we hugged.

Then we walked. Over Hungerford bridge and alongside the river, in the sunshine. I find it easier to talk honestly when I'm walking (it's a great way to get teenagers to open up, by the way. Take them for a walk). And we talked. For hours.

And I realised that all Annie needs is faith. Faith that the field on the other side of the obstacle course filled with fluffy bunnies does exist (see my post: The Obstacle Course which I wrote for Annie back in September). And faith that she can make it there.

The problem is that when you've done hundreds of Day Ones you start to lose confidence in your ability to get any further. You re-inforce the feeling in your subconscious that it's all too difficult. That you're just not strong enough.

I told Annie about a friend of mine who recently completed her PhD. She said that initially she was terrified. It all looked too hard. Impossible. Insurmountable.

Then, someone told her not to think about the whole project, but to break it up into tiny individual tasks, and to just do one of those each day.

So that's what she did. And she kept going, until one day she realised that she'd nearly finished her whole dissertation! And that buoyed her up with so much confidence that she sailed through to the end with panache.

Quitting booze is the same.

If you think about the whole thing, it paralyses you. Annie would get through a few days then, usually on a Friday, panic about the idea about doing it forever, and feel that it was too hard. Impossible. Insurmountable. So she'd have a drink. And another one. You know the story.

"Break it down into tiny, individual bits," I said. "It's only two hours per day that you find really hard - 7pm - 9pm. So just focus on how to get through those two hours.

"Write a list of things that you can do that hold no associations with drinking, and will keep your mind (and, ideally, hands) occupied. Walking the dog, blogging, playing the piano, or the cello.

"Explain to the rest of the family that for the next three months you need those hours in the evening to yourself, and they'll have to learn to cook (or at least re-heat) their own suppers!

"Then, when you start really, really wanting a drink, look at your list and do one of those things until you feel better. If you're still feeling edgy at 9pm, just go to bed early.

"You can do two hours, can't you? That's all you have to do - one hundred times. Then it'll all start getting easier. And I know that one hundred sounds like a big number, but it's only one school term. And think how quickly one school term goes!"

I hope I helped. She seemed happy to have a plan, along with her weekly counselling sessions and AA meetings.

I found this quote for you, Annie:

My personal definition of confidence is to keep believing that the stars in the solar system are actually watching and applauding you. (Johnnie Dent Jr)

And they are watching and applauding, and so are all of us!

Annie and I are meeting again at the end of the summer holidays to celebrate her 100 days. Whoop whoop!

You know what? The sobersphere is great, but nothing beats being able to look into someone's eyes or sharing a great big hug. I.R.L.

Love to you all, especially beautiful Annie.

SM x

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Sober Blogging Community

When I started writing this blog, I didn't realise how much camaraderie existed between the sober bloggers around the world, and with those readers who comment frequently.

I thought blogging would be much like writing a diary - just one that strangers can read too.

Actually, it's like being part of a huge global family, but one where everyone understands each other, and there are no secrets (so not like any real family then).

That's what makes it so hard when people disappear. In a real life family you could pop over and bang on the front door until they open up. Failing all else you can send the police round.

All we can do with disappearing bloggers is leave a message on their blog expressing concern and sending love. And disappearing readers can't be contacted at all.

I always hope they've just got bored with all this thinking about not drinking, and have swanned off into the sunset, clutching their virgin mojitos in one hand and a lush toy boy in the other.

I always suspect they're back to downing endless glasses of wine, and not wanting to feel any more guilty than they already do.

I hope they know that if and when they do come back they will be welcomed by all of us with open arms and absolutely no judgement. We've all been there, or if not there exactly then somewhere. We all have our baggage and our demons.

I was thinking about this because yesterday I had a lovely e-mail from a lady asking if I knew what had happened to Daisy H (Sober Girl, Wife and Mum).

I do have 'offline' (e-mail) relationships with quite a few of the other sober bloggers, but not Daisy, who has not posted since December 22nd.

Does anyone know how Daisy is?

Also missing in action is Bea of Be Sober Bea. Last posted two months ago, and has closed down her blog. Exploring Something Else - gone quiet for four months. And two of my early and favourite readers - Kags and Tallaxo. Where are you now?

If any of you are reading this, then please comment below, just to let us know how you are and if you need help.

If you're missing anyone else then please add their names, in case we can find them again too, or at least let them know we're thinking of them (should they find this page).

One of the bloggers I correspond with is Annie (A Dappled Path). We're meeting up tomorrow for the first time. Under a clock in a train station, just like a Hollywood movie.

So, if you see two middle aged ladies at a station hugging, but looking a little awkward, that'll be us. I'm telling you all so that she can't back out. I know what she's like....

Love to you all

SM x

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Soho Farmhouse, and Friendship

When I'd just received my cancer diagnosis, one of my very best friends, S, came round, scraped me off the floor and took me to the pub.

I sat, mute with fear, clutching a Beck's Blue in one hand, and her hand in the other.

It takes a very brave, and very good friend to be with you in moments like that.

The theologian Henri Nouwen says it much better than I could:

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing.... not healing, not curing.... that is a friend who cares.

After a while she said, "SM, when this is all over, and when all your treatment is finished, we will go to a Spa and have a wonderful couple of days, and this will all seem like a bad dream."

Another great thing about real friends is they don't make empty promises.

Yesterday S, and two of my other oldest (in the sense of longstanding, not long in the tooth) girlfriends took me to the Soho Farmhouse for two days and one night of girl stuff.

The Soho Farmhouse is the newest, and trendiest, of the Soho House outposts, nestled in the lush Oxfordshire countryside.

I wouldn't usually use a twee word like nestle, but if any spa/club/hotel complex can nestle then the Soho Farmhouse can.

It was utterly perfect.

We had a beautiful three bed cabin by a lake (Kate Moss's favourite apparently), decked out in the latest retro chic - all Roberts radios, claw footed baths, vinyl record players and wood burning stoves. (My 1970s childhood is now officially hip).

There was the best stocked drinks fridge and liquor cabinet I've ever come across (I'd have been in heaven in the old days) and a larger array of luxury bath products than in my local Boots.

Outside the cabin were four identical bicycles for us to get around on, plus umbrellas and welly boots should it dare to rain.

We even had our own 'Farm Hand' on call in case the perfection wasn't perfect enough, and we needed to call for more perfection immediately.

I suspect there were people running around picking up any globules of stray mud with tweezers.

Hipster couples with dewy complexions and washboard abdominals wandered around sipping on glasses of champagne and green juices, like paid extras in an episode of the Truman Show, with the bird song and fluffy bunnies appearing on a loop.

I have never been so clean. I made the most of every water based opportunity: I swam, hot tubbed, steamed, showered and bathed.

I had six months of tension extracted from my shoulders with a combination of gentle coaxing and brute force by a man called Greg with magic fingers.

(I revelled in the thought that those fingers had quite possibly kneaded David Beckham's buttocks).

I frolicked in a little bubble of fabulous female friendship.

I'm afraid I'm not one of those people who can say that having cancer was actually a good thing, because it made me a better person. Cancer sucks. It's never a good thing. I'd rather be a worse person without cancer than a better person with it, quite frankly.

However, it has taught me the value of great friendship.

I'm astounded that my friends have stuck by me. I am extraordinarily lucky.

I've been a rotten friend for a very long time, but I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to rectify that.

Love to you all,


Sunday 8 May 2016

Sunday Mornings

Sunday mornings are our reward for white knuckling it through all those Friday evenings, and facing all the Saturday drinks parties where the only non alcoholic beverage on offer is warm, sticky orange juice.

Aren't they just the best?

In six days time I am doing the Moonwalk with #1. The Moonwalk is a twenty six mile walk through the centre of London overnight, in aid of breast cancer charities. Thousands of women do it (and some men) all dressed in wildly decorated bras.

#1 is pretty fit. She plays two hours of sport every day. She breezed through our last training walk, propelled by a stream of non stop chatter. Me - not so much.

So, today I set my alarm for 6am. I left the rest of the family sleeping, wrote a note saying 'Gone walking', and set out on a ten mile training walk with the terrier.

It was a glorious sunny day, and I set the iPhone to the unashamedly nostalgic Magic FM.

As London started waking up I walked through Earl's Court, and past the flat where Mr SM proposed (to me, obvs), and where we celebrated with bottles of champagne.

I walked into South Kensington, and down Cornwall Gardens, where I lived in my university holidays and held wild student parties.

Then round the church on Southwell Gardens where two male friends of mine were arrested one night for climbing onto the roof, during one of said parties.

(When they used their one 'phone call to call me from the police station, all I wanted to know was what had happened to the vodka we'd sent them out to purchase).

I walked through Kensington Gardens, passing the bandstand where I threw massive Pimms parties in my twenties, and into Hyde Park.

Round the playground where I pushed my children on the swings for hours when they were toddlers, and alongside the Serpentine where we'd meet friends for long, boozy picnics.

I looked back on it all fondly, but it didn't make me sad.

If I'd still been drinking I'd never be up at that time on a Sunday (unless I hadn't yet gone to bed).

There's no way I'd voluntarily do a ten mile walk. I'd have been hiding under the duvet, sweating booze through every pore and trying to work out how to make it through till lunch time.

I would have missed out on the most magical morning.

I walked past a couple of drunks, sleeping it off on park benches, and was hit by the smell of stale booze and despair.

And I thought back to the days when I agonised over and over about whether or not I should, or could, quit for ever.

I tried to remember what I was so scared of. And I just couldn't....

Happy Mother's Day to all my American friends!

SM x

Saturday 7 May 2016

Put the Glass Down!

There's a classic self help parable doing the rounds on Facebook. It goes like this:

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they'd be asked the "half empty or half full" question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: "How heavy is this glass of water?"

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

She continued, "The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything."

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don't carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!

This struck me as somewhat ironic, as what I used to do, as early in the evening as I could, in order to put all those burdens down, was to pick up another damn glass!

And it works for a while, doesn't it? Pick up that glass of wine, and the glass of water that's been weighing down your arm all day is completely forgotten. Magic.

But, gradually, we find that we're spending so much time holding onto that glass of wine that our arm is aching more and more. And the glass of water hasn't actually gone away. We're holding that too, with the other hand.

Instead of one numb and paralysed arm we have two. Oh bugger.

So, eventually, we put down the glass of wine.

Initially things get even worse. All the feeling comes back to the arm that had been numb for so long, and it hurts.

Plus, without the glass of wine to distract us, all our attention is back on the damn glass of water in the other hand.

But, over time, the freed arm completely recovers, and we find new - and better - ways to put down the water: meditation, yoga, running, drinking hot chocolate, eating cake....

So, put down all the glasses my friends, and take up something more interesting instead :-)

Love SM x

Friday 6 May 2016


I wouldn't be sober now if it weren't for the internet.

Maybe some people can do this completely on their own, but it can't be easy.

Johann Hari's Tedd talk on addiction (for more, see my post here) concludes with the words the opposite of addiction is connection. And connection is what AA have provided for alcoholics the world over, and what the sobersphere gives us today.

The reason I think connection is so crucial is that it is so very easy for us to give up on ourselves, to push the self destruct button in a moment of stress, fear, boredom or raging hormones. We're used to letting ourselves down, after all.

But, the more connections we have the more difficult it becomes to activate the ejector seat. Because we're letting down other people too. Our children. Our partners. Our AA sponsor. Our sobersphere buddies. And all of them have their hands out ready to catch us when we're falling.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I picture all of us round the world - so different in terms of culture, background and circumstance, but utterly united by common fears, experiences, hopes and dreams. It makes the world seem smaller, and our reach across it so much broader.

I remember feeling the same when I had my first baby. Buoyed up by all that serotonin and oxytocin, I felt 'at one' with all the other new mothers around the world.

Then the sleep deprivation kicked in, and I began to realise that mothers spend an awful lot of time criticising each other rather than supporting each other.

The sobersphere, however, is generally a really warm and accepting place. We look for similarities rather than differences, and we know (from bitter experience) that no-one is perfect.

We find the sober community when we're looking for help, then we hang around to give back. It's twenty first century karma.

Which is why I've found the news this week so shocking.

Fort McMurray in Canada has been burning for days. All 88,000 inhabitants have been evacuated. 1,600 of their homes, shops, schools and offices have been reduced to cinders.

In the old days I would have seen this news and felt a fleeting compassion for the people affected, then been jolly glad that I was okay, and carried on with my day.

But now I don't just see nameless strangers, I think of all those women like us. Women wrestling with all the day to day challenges of home, family and work, and dealing with issues like addiction, divorce, redundancy and so on. And now....facing this biblical style disaster.

And most of all I think of Anne and her family who live in Fort McMurray. Anne who has inspired all of us in the sobersphere by sharing her life, hopes and dreams (see her blog here) for the past two years. Anne who is safe, but must be dealing with the most unimaginable situation.

So, please send your love and strength to Anne. And Anne, if you find this post, point us in the direction of a funsdraising page so that your virtual community can do something to help rebuild your real one.

Love SM x

Thursday 5 May 2016

Alcohol and Buddhism

About 14 days after I quit drinking I left a comment on someone else's blog (can't remember which one!).

I was thrilled when the author replied. She said something along the lines of 'you're doing really well! Now you need to find something spiritual to fill the gap.'

I confess that I snorted with derision.

I was far more worried about whether I was going to lose all my friends, and why I was sleeping for twelve hours a day, than filling some hole I didn't think I had.

As with so many things, I was wrong.

Way back in my early twenties, and following several months travelling through Thailand, I became fascinated by Buddhism.

However, my brief flirtation with Buddha was quickly set aside and forgotten, as I got on with the important business of burning the candle at both ends.

But, recently I've found myself being drawn towards Buddhism again. It turns out quitting the booze did leave a hole after all.

Then I read a post by the fabulous Hapless Homesteader (find her blog here), where she talks about the Five Precepts of Buddhism, and I was reminded of the fact that the fifth precept is refraining from intoxicating substances.

Hurrah! I'm already one fifth of the way to enlightment!

I did some more research on the precepts.

Number one is doing no harm to other living things. Two: not taking what is not freely given. Three: no sexual misconduct, and four: no lying or gossiping.

The reason the fifth precept exists is that taking intoxicating substances leads to 'heedlessness', or 'carelessness' - the exact opposite of mindfulness.

Plus, becoming intoxicated is very likely to lead to you breaking one or more of the other four precepts.

I found this parable which explains it beautifully:

A Buddhist monk is told that he must either sleep with someone else's wife, kill a goat or drink a bottle of wine. He chooses the wine, believing that it would do less harm than the other actions.

Several hours later the monk wakes up naked, having drunk the wine, shagged the wife and eaten the goat.

And ain't that the truth?

I may be past the days of 'sexual misconduct', but I certainly caused 'careless' harm left, right and centre. Secrets spilled, promises broken, good deeds not done.

And alcohol, as Hapless Homesteader points out, turns us all into liars.

We lie about how much we drink to others (friends, husbands, doctors), but mostly to ourselves. We lie to give ourselves excuses to keep on drinking (I've had a super stressful day), and we lie about the harm it's doing (a glass of red wine is good for you! It's Mediterranean!).

Plus I was the most terrible gossip.

I've been trying to work out why. I think that when our own life is less than perfect we revel in the imperfections of others. And, when you're a few drinks down, idle gossip is easy, non-demanding, conversation.

Funnily enough, I've started to find gossiping (which I confess I still do from time to time) increasingly distasteful. It feels bitter and mean spirited. It leaves me feeling depleted.

So, I'm trying to ditch the gossip. I'm taking it slowly, starting with only gossiping about strangers. For example, I'll happily dissect the state of David Beckham's marriage, but not those of my friends. Baby steps....

Gossiping, thinking badly of people and being mean about them is just bad karma.

In the words of Buddha:

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

That's what I'm working on. Now, I'm off to kill a goat and flirt with my gym instructor ;-)

Love SM x

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Family Time

We've just had a lovely, sunny, three day weekend here in the UK.

In the old days, this would have been a great excuse to drink like a fish.

I'd, obviously, have overdone it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, and I'd have found excuses to start drinking by midday, continuing on for much of the afternoon.

By now I'd be feeling like death, and would have slunk into a pit of despair.

But these days my Bank Holiday weekends are all about family.

It struck me recently that I've spent much of the last decade trying to avoid my children. Isn't that terrible?

I would look for day time activities at weekends where they could play happily somewhere, while I would sit and watch from the side lines with some adult friends and lots of booze.

In the evenings, I would try to feed them relatively early, then there would then be a frantic rush, with lots of kicking and screaming, to get the children into bed 'on time' so that Mr SM and I could settle down for a boozy, 'adult' dinner a deux.

Over a bank holiday weekend I'd often arrange a 'family lunch.'

These generally involved inviting round another 'bon viveur' family. We'd eat lunch with the children down one end of the table and grown ups down the other, then pack them off to watch a movie/destroy the house, while we got really stuck in to the vino.

They'd leave at around 5pm (and probably stop drinking at that point), I'd keep on going until I eventually passed out on the sofa at around 10pm.

Despite the 'family lunch' description, I'd have spent barely any time at all actually talking to any of the children.

This weekend was different.

I booked tickets for us all to go to a wonderful Roald Dahl exhibition on South Bank. We then had lunch by the river, and walked along the Thames, pointing out St Paul's Cathedral and Big Ben, and ogling all the street performers.

We stopped, along with over a hundred other onlookers, to watch an amazing Australian escapologist doing a Houdini style show. He picked two young men out of the crowd to help tie him up. Then he looked around for a female assistant and....picked me!

The smalls were thrilled that Mummy got to be a star in a show and we all had a ball. (I lied when he asked me my name, so every time he addressed me as 'Sheila' the children cracked up).

Our evenings are different now too. Instead of wrestling wide awake children into bed too early, we've relaxed all the rules for non school nights. We all eat together, and we find programmes on TV that we can all enjoy.

The current favourite is Britain's Got Talent.

(Runners up are The Durrells and The Wives of Henry VIII - which counts as revision, and the children love the gore and sex references. You need to watch this sober, as you get thrown questions like "what does he mean 'Anne Boleyn had relations with her own brother'?")

So, Saturday night, I invited a friend and her daughter round, we ordered in a takeaway curry and we all watched Britain's Got Talent, piled onto cushions in the playroom, with much cheering and booing.

None of the smalls got to bed before 10pm, there was no 'adult time', just one big mess of family.

But that's the way I like it now. And, needless to say, so do the kids.

Hugs to you all,

SM x

P.S. Thank you all so much for your messages yesterday. You, and just the act of writing down my fears, helped enormously. I am 90% sure I've just strained my arm (probably as a result of an over-enthusiastic dog on a lead), and I'm not going to die (yet). I know that these cancer fears will fade in time, just like the wine witch does when you quit the booze....

Sunday 1 May 2016

Cancer Recurrence

I do apologise. I know this is a sober blog, not a cancer blog, but regular readers will know that last October, seven months after I quit drinking, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

(To read my story from that point, click here).

What we breast cancer 'survivors' are terrified of is recurrence.

If breast cancer comes back, anywhere other than in the breast, it's called 'secondary breast cancer', and it's incurable. 85% of people with secondary breast cancer are dead within five years.

The most common places for it to crop up are the lungs, the liver and the bones. (And eventually all three of those).

Anyhow, the reason for the medical lesson, is that I've had pains in my left shoulder and arm for the last week or so, and I'm freaking out.

I know I'm being illogical. I know I'm overreacting. That's why I'm blogging about it, because I find that just the act of writing it all down helps me to calm my anxieties.

(Which is why I recommend blogging, or writing a journal, to everyone).

For my own personal benefit (so no need for you to read on!), here are all the reasons why I am unlikely to be dying:

1. I had a full body scan only 5 months ago which, apart from the dodgy left boob, was clear.

2. I had an ultrasound just a few weeks ago which showed nothing at all in my boobs or lymphs, and it seems unlikely that my cancer could have migrated so quickly from my breast to my bones without ever showing up in any lymph nodes.

3. My cancer was not a fast growing one. In fact, it was pretty lazy. It's improbable that it moved its arse so swiftly.

4. Since the pains are on my left side, where I had surgery, it seems far more probable that my muscles, nerves etc are all just a bit out of whack on that side.

5. Secondary cancer in the bones generally gets you in the spine or legs first.

6. I only get pain when I move in a specific way, whereas bone cancer tends to be more constant, especially at night.

7. Surely life's not that bloody unfair?

I'm seeing my oncologist next month, and he'll do blood tests for cancer markers, so I can ask him about it if it's still causing problems then, but in the meantime....

.....hurrah! I feel a great deal better. If you made it to the end of this post then thank you for your patience. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Love SM x