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


  1. Pay a cleaner with the wine money and meet friends for coffee or lunch would be my tuppence-worth.

  2. Ha ha ha love that fete story, you should be ashamed of yourself ha ha. I know what you mean though. I went to bed every afternoon to "rest" when I was having chemo (to be fair I did work every morning) managed to watch all 5 series of breaking bad on netflix so time well spent. Thing is with the giving up drinking it feels a bit of a cheat, like its my own fault so I should just make more of an effort to knuckle down, which is wrong really. You are quite right and so we will be having chips tonight. I have a lovely long dog walk planned! Also pleased to report a smooth time on the sober front and also a 3 year all clear as of yesterday, life feels calm and serene.

    1. Huge congrats, Sharon! Awesome news on both fronts! Xx

  3. Thanks, this is just what I needed to hear tonight. I'm feeling a bit out of sorts, questioning the whole thing, but know I need to keep going. I'm going to let myself off the hook for all the sugar I've been eating too.

  4. Excellent advice as usual SM. I couldn't agree more. We all need to have our own time, and when I read sober blogs I am struck by the number of us who describe the wine as "my time". Of course it's just making things worse, but we don't really realise that at the time! For me, part of being sober means learning to value myself properly and doing what I need to do to be well and happy. X

  5. I count myself as fortunate that January around here means life is pretty much at a dead halt....that made it such a good time to start the new journey. And I did just give in - to the fatigue and the sugar craving, especially. Figured the sugar nutsiness would pass (it did) and regardless, it was still fewer calories than the nightly alcohol intake.

    I've just finished reading a piece, on another topic, that stressed the importance of self-compassion. Fortunately, in the instance of quitting, i was really good about it. I knew what a big change I was asking of my mind and body (reading here and lots of other googling helped hugely with that, of course). For those still running a household, overseeing 'smalls' or no-so-smalls, the challenge and difficulty is greatly multiplied. So those of you in that place: be as kind as you possibly can to yourself, at every opportunity! (And big discovery - when we do so - allow kindness and compassion to ourselves and stop being our own worst critic - life just feels a lot easier! Success can happen.

    1. Thank you NorthWoman for the reminder. Sometimes I think we all can be very hard on ourselves. I remember a dear friend once telling me to be as kind to myself as I was to her and when I was in the being down on myself mood to imagine it was my best friend going through the same thing and what I would say to her. Just need to remember to do it!

    2. What a lovely post both SM and Northwoman.
      I am the absolute worst at being kind to myself and I also hardly give myself a rest. Sometimes though I do milk the fact that I no longer drink and Mr ScousMous does, therefore I am "owed" for all the nights I've put the kids to bed whilst he's gone to see his other woman - Stella! xx

  6. I am so happy to read this. I'm still working on my "line" but the smalls are providing a good excuse because frankly they DO take up a hellovalotta time and for once their diaries deserve some attention. Don't need to go to another opening of an envelope with people who make me feel terrified. Hurrah for box sets and fish fingers xx

  7. It took much more than 100 days for me,I find 13 months later I still have to pace myself and say no. I read somewhere that during your first year of sobriety the most important thing to buy yourself us a nice set of pyjamas because you need so much rest. 13 months AF, and I still don't feel up to doing everything I used to do (probably shows that I took on too much and was lousy at looking after myself)

  8. Wonderful post! I loved your analogy to breast cancer and quitting are so right!!!! Xo

  9. I read your post in the morning and thought about it all day. I haven't been letting myself off lately and I'm only at day 45. Time to get some perspective here and recognize that I've got a long ways to go until 100 and better slow down. Thank you!

  10. That is absolutely brilliant. This post should be delivered to the Inbox of every person who is trying to stop drinking, within minutes of making the decision. I did exactly the opposite in the past and ran myself ragged to "make up" for being such a slackerd. There was no need! The world didn't fall apart! I did. I collapsed under the weight of responsibilities, completely sans casseroles. Thank you for this post!!!!

  11. Wise words. I will remember them tonight whilst scoffing blocks of chocolate and packets of crisps, my current way of dealing with wine abstinence ☺

  12. I am now convinced you are head was just starting to fry with all the things that are going on this month, a perfectly timed post, and so true...much of what I have read about relapse says it is because people take their eye off self care...I did exactly what you said, used flu to tackle the first three weeks, fortunately others In family had had it so got support, and it have used the menopause to cover tiredness of the last few called MenoPAWS after a real problem 10 days recently, I suspect the WALL! .am at day 63 two months exactly, THANKYOU for the permission to continue use to cut myself some slack and recognise I am not out of the woods yet...although saw Jools Holland and friends last night..we were dancing right in front of stage, singing along,stone cold sober..another first....I kept thinking what a fool I would have looked if I had had my usual bucket full of wine, and I got to drive our sports car home (bought with a loan take n out on the basis of the savings we are making on my not drinking) yeehaw...thank you as ever..and for those really struggling please keep going the bunnies are there, I can see them.....

  13. Such a brilliant blog SM. I think giving up drinking is a bit like recovering from depression. The illness isn't obvious on the outside to anyone. Give me a broken leg any day and the sympathy and help are boundless. Your advice is spot on, down tools and indulge yourself until you are ready to face the world again. Thank you, xx

  14. Hi, SM! I haven't been getting to your blog much on account the Wordpress/Blogspot cross-blogging annoying bullshit, and I'm kinda lazy, also I somehow jacked up my blogspot login. So, sorry. But I love this post! We can't be everything to everyone. Your calling-in-cancerous letter was hilarious. Honestly, I still don't cook dinner much, I'm fairly precious. But sometimes I just hide out in my bedroom with my tea and laptop and HGTV and the world has to go on without me. THEY'LL LIVE!!