Saturday 27 August 2016

Bridget Jones

I got up at dawn yesterday to pack up our rented holiday cottage in Cornwall before the 10am deadline.

By the time the children emerged, bleary eyed and mussy-haired, from their lairs, I'd got all the suitcases and bags shoehorned into the car, leaving them with a change of clothes for the journey, and just enough space to sit in.

(At least #3 didn't have to perch on top of a case of Beck's Blue like she did on the way down).

"MUMMY!" Wails #1. "I HAVEN'T GOT A BRA!"

At this point I lose it.


But she fixes me with that baleful, nearly-teenage glare, until I go and unpack her suitcase from the car, like playing Jenga with surfboards, buckets and sundry kitchen items, and retrieve the crucial piece of clothing.

Eventually, we're driving over the A4 flyover into London, and there it is. A giant poster proclaiming that BRIDGET JONES'S BABY is about to hit our cinema screens.

And I'm hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I loved Bridget. I loved her neuroses, her imperfections and her granny knickers.

I loved her humour and the way she cut through all the 'emotional fuckwittery.' And I loved the way she ate like a normal woman, smoked like a chimney and drank like a trooper.

I loved Bridget because I pretty much was Bridget.

So much so, that when the BBC were looking for people to 'star' in a documentary about the 'real life Bridget Joneses' they called me.

I flatly refused, despite a fair amount of arm twisting, to let a camera crew follow me around town for a week, but I did agree to take part in a small segment of the film - a single's dinner party.

I turned up, along with seven other 'singles' at the appointed Chelsea restaurant, and was told that the film crew would be a while setting up, "so do, please, help yourself to free drinks at the bar."

An hour later, nervous and tanked up with booze on empty stomachs, we were all flying. At least, I was.

In a herculean effort to stand up for the rights of women to be single and happy, I waved my wine glass around and proclaimed "Look. I've got a great job, a really cool car, and I own my own flat. Why on earth would I need a man to make myself complete?" Job done. Or so I thought.

I wasn't expecting anyone to actually see the documentary. My friends were all far too busy working and partying to be indoors watching TV on a Thursday night.

(And this was before the days of Sky Plus and Catch Up TV. You actually had to set a timer on your VHS machine, which was far too much hassle).

So, imagine my horror, when ALL WEEK, on prime time TV, the BBC ran a trailer.

There was only one person in the trailer: Me.

There I am, slightly tipsy, saying "Look. I've got a great job, a really cool car, and I own my own flat." Then the serious, male, voiceover cuts in: "So why can't these women find the one thing they really want: A MAN?"

Everyone saw it. Everyone saw me slapping feminism in the face and pronouncing myself un-whole.

But it didn't stop me loving Bridget.

After all, she gave us all an excuse to drink too much. She made downing gallons of Chardonnay with your friends cool. She made drinking home alone, holding a pity party for one, de rigeur.

So, what's Bridget up to now?

More of the same, apparently. Still drinking. Still going to nightclubs. Still looking for a man to make her emotionally stable.

Well that's all just bollocks.

For a start, I know - better than anyone else - that Bridget could not have drunk that amount of Chardonnay for the last twenty years without suffering some pretty major side effects.

One thing's for sure: she would NOT be the size two that Renne Zellweger portrays her as in the movie.

(I presume that Renee flatly refused to 'bulk up' to a normal size this time around).

And would a drunk, forty-something Bridget still be funny and endearing, or just a bit....sad?

I like to think that lovely Bridget would have learned something over the past two decades.

I think she'd be a brilliant, funny, imperfect mother. I think she'd have a not-always-perfect, but kind and forgiving marriage.

And I think she'd be sober. (Let's face it, moderation would never be Bridget's thing).

Love to all you proper Bridgets out there.

SM x

P.S. That was my 400th blog post. If you'd like to read from post #1 then click here.

Monday 22 August 2016

Paying it Forward

It's nearly time to go home.

After three weeks of sand, surfing, cliff walks and beach barbeques, it's back to reality on Friday.

It'll be a flurry of washing, ironing, buying new school shoes, dental check ups, hair cuts, and all the other minutiae of getting three children back to school in a presentable state after weeks of being feral.

As I've been mentally packing away our holiday in a little memory box labelled 'Cornwall 2016', I've been thinking about what holidays are for.

In the drinking days I was pretty clear on this point: holidays are a reward.

After months of being good - working hard, bringing up children, doing all the endless chores, here are a few weeks of the year which are pay back time. Time to let your hair down, go wild, time to indulge - 'me time'.

And all of that is important. But I took it to extremes. Because, as ever, 'rewarding myself' meant never applying the brakes.

The minute I, or anyone else, even thought about criticizing my behaviour, I'd reply But I'm on holiday!

This meant that by the time I got home I'd have gained a stone in weight, I'd be held together by toxins and mentally and physically exhausted. In need of a good holiday, in fact.

The following few weeks would then be all about payback. I'd go on another fad diet (only raw food, or no carbs, or nothing after 5pm).

I'd try (yet again) to keep a lid on the drinking (not drinking during the week, or only drinking beer, or not drinking at home).

I'd vow to be a better person.

Then, after a few months of trying, and failing, to do all of the above, I'd need another good holiday to REWARD MYSELF.

Repeat, ad infinitum.

I see holidays - like everything else - differently now.

Now I see that it's actually about paying it forward.

This last year has taught me that we really have no idea what's around the next corner - particularly as we get older, so having reserves in the bank is crucial.

After three weeks by the sea I've caught up on sleep, fresh air and exercise.

Three weeks of carrying surf boards up and down the hill every day from our cottage to the beach has made me feel fitter than I've been for ages.

Three weeks of spending pretty much every minute with the three children means I feel like I've got to know them all, in this current phase of their lives, fairly inside out.

Three weeks with the husband might not have completely rekindled the fires of young love, but we have at least warmed the embers.

So I feel like I'm all set up.

Set up to weather the endless battles over homework, the squabbling over household chores, and the inevitable next big challenge that life will throw at me.

And these weeks of being immersed in nature - huge skies, crashing waves, towering rock faces - have made me feel ready to appreciate the energy and buzz (and reliable wifi) of the city.

Instead of going home dreading the next few months, and ticking off the days until I can go away again, I'm going home thinking BRING IT ON.

I'm ready.

Love SM x

Thursday 18 August 2016

Nina is not OK

I didn't drink dangerously as a teenager.

Don't get me wrong - I loved drinking. I loved the buzz it gave me at parties, the way it made me feel more. More beautiful, more interesting, more naughty.

I loved sharing a bottle of carefully chosen wine over dinner with a date, or while setting the world to rights late at night with a girlfriend.

But I didn't like the feeling of being really drunk - feeling sick or out of control. So, when I'd had a few glasses I just.... stopped. Simples.

It wasn't until my mid thirties that my drinking started to morph from 'social' to 'hazardous'. Because by then I could drink a whole bottle of vino without feeling particularly drunk.

And by the time I hit my mid forties I was drinking a bottle of wine every single day. More sometimes. (Often).

Knowing what I know now about alcohol addiction, I worry about my children, and how they'll cope when they start playing with booze.

So, when I read a review of a new young adult novel by Shappi Khorsandi called Nina is not OK, I knew I had to buy it.

Nina is seventeen and, like all her friends, loves to party, and to drink. But she has no off switch.

Nina is gorgeous, funny and clever. She has a five year old sister who she loves passionately, and desperately wants to protect. And yet, after a few drinks she changes. Her eyes go dead, and it's as if Nina has left the building.

Every time she gets drunk and does something awful she swears she'll never touch booze again, but by about 5pm the next day her resolve falters.

Drinking makes her life increasingly unmanageable, but the more difficult it becomes, the more she relies on the booze to deal with all the emotions it's unleashed.

Sound familiar?

Then combine all that with the hormones, insecurity and recklessness that come with being a teenager, and chuck in an omnipresent and judgemental social media, and you end up with an incredibly disturbing (but scarily believable) tale.

Please read it.

And if you have a teenage daughter, then rather than sitting her down for one of those 'talks' about the dangers of drugs and alcohol that they dread as much as we do, just give her a copy of Shappi's novel.

It's a far better cautionary tale than either you or I could ever tell, and you won't have to endure all the eye rolling.

Love SM x

Tuesday 16 August 2016

What Happens Next?

I came across this expression yesterday, and I think it may become my new life mantra:

It's not about what happened, it's what happens next.

When I had the Big Job in advertising I spent an awful lot of time dealing with other people's cock ups.

The commonly applied methodology at the time was the witch hunt. 

This involved interviewing all involved parties, deciding who was at fault, then hanging them out to dry so that everyone else could declare themselves totally blameless and move on.

I found the whole thing horribly distasteful and soul destroying.

My alternative approach was to ignore all the bleatings about who was to blame for the latest disaster, and instead to focus on what on earth we were going to do to fix it and, crucially, make sure it didn't happen again.

The same philosophy applies to children, who often have a horribly over developed sense of injustice.

After four weeks of summer holidays, my three are constantly fighting with each other.

We'll have moments, sometimes a whole hour, of happy co-operation over building a sandcastle, then world war three breaks out and I'm surrounded by children telling me (in minute detail, and simultaneously) who did what to whom.

So next time I'm going to say to them all, very calmly, "it's not about what happened, it's what happens next."

It's all about how you fix the sandcastle, how you apologise to the lady who now has sand in her picnic (without making a joke about putting the sand into sandwich) and how you get to be friends again.

(I have to confess, this may not work. They'll probably look at me with incredulity and go back to hitting each other with spades. But worth a go...)

And this mantra is crucial for us, my friends.

How much time have you wasted trying to work out what happened? How did I go from being a 'normal drinker' to an addict? Is it my genes? Is it hormonal? Am I just overreacting? What about the time I've wasted, the relationships I've neglected or destroyed?

The truth is, it's not about what happened, it's what happens next.

You're at a crossroads, and you can spend the next few months, or years, agonising about where you are and what got you here, or you can focus on the future, and make sure that you use the whole experience to become stronger, wiser and happier.

So, ask yourself: What happens next?

Love SM x

Sunday 14 August 2016

Vive La Revolution!

Regular readers will know that, as part of my bid to change the world, I decided to try to publish a book based on my blog.

I put together a proposal (with your help), and a few weeks ago I sent it to five literary agents.

Within a few days I'd received my first rejection.

As these things go, it was a really nice one.

The agent said that she understood the issue (and made the point that the publishing industry is awash with wine), and that she was sure there was a market for this book. But she went on to say that it was not for her, and wished me luck.

I berated myself for my ill placed optimism. Why on earth would anyone be interested in the ramblings of a middle aged lush?

I heard nothing at all from the remaining four agents and decided to forget it all and move on.

Then, yesterday, a text pinged onto my mobile.

It read: Hi SM. I love your book. Have you found an agent yet?

And so, when I get back from Cornwall, I'm meeting one of London's top literary agents. How awesome is that?!?

But now I have two big concerns:

1. If this does all come off, how on earth am I going to explain it all to family and friends?

2. What am I going to wear?

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Carpe Diem?

I've spent an awful lot of time since I quit drinking thinking about the time I've wasted.

Time that I can't even remember. Time feeling 'under par'. Time squandered endlessly planning, and waiting for, the next drinking opportunity.

Because of this, and my recent brush with mortality, I've spent the last few months desperately trying to shovel as much into each day as I can - to carpe diem.

But today, in Cornwall, it's raining. Not cats and dogs, but a steady drizzle, a fine mist, like God's own giant Evian spritzer.

(Note that, in the same way that Eskimos have hundreds of words for 'snow', we Brits have many and varied ways to describe 'rain'.)

So I looked out of the window at the crashing waves and persistent precipitation and.....went back to bed with the newspaper.

The husband came in, took one look at me, and muttered "what's the opposite of 'carpe'?"

But the truth is that sometimes seizing the day means seizing the opportunity to do absolutely bugger all.


Love SM x

Monday 8 August 2016

Here We Are Again

Family SM have decamped to Cornwall for three whole weeks of sun (sometimes), sand and surfing.

For this first week there are twelve of us: we five, my parents, my brother, his wife and their three children.

We're in two separate houses, both two minutes walk from our favourite beach. Our house has a telescope, and we can actually look straight into my brother's house across the bay.

(This has not impressed Aunt A, who is now very nervous about taking a shower, but the cousins all think it's a hoot).

We were here exactly a year ago.

I'd been sober for five months, and the fog had started to clear. I remember feeling, for the first time, that perhaps it really was possible to live without booze forever. Not only possible, but maybe even enjoyable.

I felt as if, for the last few years, I'd been living in one of those dreams where you're trapped in a room and the walls, floor and ceiling are slowly moving inwards, leaving you less and less room to move and to breathe. And I'd found a door - a way out.

Then we'd gone on a boat trip, and I'd said something like if my life is about to change in miraculous ways, then send me a dolphin.

And, blow me down with a feather, an actual dolphin appeared, swimming right under our boat.

(For the full story, click here).

So I waited for the miracles to happen - for fame and fortune.

Then, two months later I found The Lump. (To read about that one, click here). A cancer diagnosis wasn't at all what I was expecting.

I didn't die, but one of my best friends did, just a month ago.

So, here I am again. And while the dolphin didn't bring me fame and fortune, I realise that getting through the last year sober, stronger, wiser and still happy, has been nothing short of miraculous.

So perhaps the dolphin wasn't lying after all.....

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Falling Off the Wagon

I've had a number of e-mails and comments on the blog recently from people who've recently fallen off the wagon. Sometimes after just a few days, sometimes after months or years.

If that's you, and you're thinking aarrrgghhhh! Now what do I do? Then this post is for you....

A dive off the sober wagon generally starts with the same thought process. It goes something like this:

It's really not fair that everyone else is drinking and I'm not. It's summer/Christmas/my birthday/a funeral (delete as appropriate). I really deserve to be able to celebrate/commiserate/de-stress (delete as appropriate).

It's been AGES since I had a drink. By now I'll have 'reset' my relationship with booze. I'll be able to moderate! It's not as if I was a 'proper' alcoholic. I'll just have one, then stop. I'm older and wiser now. I know the dangers.....

Sound familiar?

So you have that one drink.

Now there are two ways that this can go. The end result is the same, but the path there is different.

Scenario One

You have that one drink and it's like coming home.

You think hello, old friend. I've missed you. 

But one isn't enough. It's just a teasing reminder of what you were looking for. A peak-a-boo from behind the fingers. So you have another. And another.

Before you know it you're on a bender. You wake up in the morning feeling terrible - physically destroyed and emotionally distraught. You know there's only one thing that can fix this terrible black hole: more booze....

Scenario Two

You have that one drink and you don't even enjoy it that much.

It tastes a bit like vinegar. Mouldy socks.

You think blimey, was that what all the fuss was about? Then you think yay! I'm cured! I don't even like booze much any more!

So, a week later, at another party, you feel confident enough to have another one. Actually, two this time.

Before too long you're drinking a glass or two most nights, and a bottle at weekends. Before much longer you're back to exactly where you started, dazed and bemused and thinking how on earth did I let that happen?

I know you'll be reading this thinking ah, but I'm different. We ALL think that we are different. Yet the main thing I've learned from this blog is how spookily similar we all are, despite our variations in ages, locations, nationalities and backgrounds.

So, if you've just fallen off the wagon, then here's what to do next...

Pick yourself off the highway, grab onto the chassis with both hands and haul yourself back up as quickly as you can.

The problem is that even one little drink kick starts the wine witch right back into action. After days, weeks, months or even years of training her to stay in her box and keep quiet, she's back with a vengeance.

In scenario one, she's saying: oopsy daisy. You've really blown it now. Never mind, you might as well go for it for a day or two and quit again next week when you've re-gathered your strength. You know you can quit again - you've done it before. Easy peasy!

In scenario two, she's saying: see! I told you so! You can moderate! You're a 'normal drinker'. Woo hoo. Carry on baby!

But the truth is the longer you carry on drinking, the stronger the wine witch gets, until before long quitting seems just as impossible a task as it did last time.

In fact, this time it's even harder to gather up the enthusiasm, the energy, the excitement. You know it's going to be tough and you just don't think you can face it right now.

(And now there's this little inner voice saying: you failed. You're useless. You'll never do this).

Perhaps next month, when things are a bit easier....

But if you climb right back on, as quickly as you can, you can treat it as a bump in the road, a cautionary tale, a salutary reminder. It'll be hard for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, but you won't be back at square one, not by a long shot.

Check out the comments below, for relapse stories from lots of my readers. Do please add your own.

Onwards and upwards (and sometimes a little bit sideways),

SM x

P.S If you're a serial falling-off-the-wagoner, and can't get past the first few weeks, then please, please read this post: The Obstacle Course

The Sober Diaries, the warts and all story of my first year sober, is now out in paperback! Click here.

Monday 1 August 2016

What Would They Say About You?

One of my favourite books is The Telegraph Book of Obituaries.

I know it sounds morbid, but it's actually hugely inspiring. Beautifully written pieces about the lives of extraordinary people. They make you want to climb mountains, swim oceans and paint masterpieces.

One of the (many) reasons I quit drinking was thinking about what people would say about me if I died.

SM - so much promise, so much talent.....loved a party.

Not exactly inspirational.

Unlike Q's eulogy, which Mr SM delivered on Friday to a congregation of six hundred people who'd travelled to Q's home town in Scotland from all over the world.

Q packed a huge amount into his (too short) forty-seven years, and made an impact on hundreds of people, so this reading - A Song of Living by Amelia Josephine Burr - was perfect for him:

Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings, to be lost in the blue of the sky.
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheeks like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end,
I have struck my hand like a seal in the loyal hand of a friend.
I have known the peace of heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of hell.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I gave a share of my soul to the world, when and where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task I surely must leave undone.
I know that no flower, nor flint was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life I have looked on God,
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

Would you be able to say that about your life?

It's never too late to make sure that you could....

Love SM x