Wednesday 30 November 2016

Channel the Iguana

Last year I wrote a post called The Obstacle Course which has been shared and recommended more than anything else I've written. In it I described what quitting booze feels like, and why you really, really don't want to keep doing the early days over and over again.

(To read the Obstacle Course click here).

Well, last week I was watching David Attenborough's incredible Planet Earth 2 with the children and I came across a scene which reminded me vividly of those initial days wrestling with the obstacle course.

So, if you're at that horrible stage when you're sitting on your hands and grinding your teeth every evening at wine o'clock, and you can't believe that life is ever going to feel good ever again, then please watch this clip, it'll really help.

David Attenborough films a volcanic island where hardly anything lives except a lot of iguanas and even more snakes. These are no ordinary snakes - they are called 'racer snakes' and they live up to their name.

Pretty much the sole diet of the racer snakes is iguana.

The adult iguanas lay their eggs away from the shoreline to protect them from the waves, but this means that the very first thing a newly hatched baby iguana has to do is to make it across the beach to the shoreline where the mummies and daddies are hanging out.

The racer snakes know this, and they hide in the rocks just waiting for a tender young iguana to run by, at which point it's dinner time.

This clip shows a heroic baby iguana - his first day on the planet. He knows instinctively that there is danger around him, and initially he stays very still, hoping that an approaching snake won't see him (this is the denial stage, remember that one?).

Eventually he realises that he has to run, or he's toast.

As he charges towards the shore he's chased by loads of snakes - at one point they are literally coiled around his body - but each time he escapes with amazing determination, courage and death defying leaps.

Finally, he makes it to safety.

So, next time you're wrestling with the racer snakes, channel your inner iguana. You can do it. You can make it to the shore. You will find peace.

(To watch the clip, click here)

Love SM x

Saturday 26 November 2016


A few days ago I was having tea with a girlfriend who has just returned to London after 3 years of working in Manhattan and living in New Jersey.

I told her that, since she'd been out of town, I'd quit drinking, started a blog and was now in the process of (hopefully) selling a book.

"Do the New Jersey housewives drink the same way the London ones do?" I asked.

"Oh no," she replied, "they're generally far too worried about smelling of booze. They take pills."

"What pills?"

"Usually a whole cocktail of prescription meds. The doctors dole them out like Smarties. Prescription painkillers, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds, anti-depression meds. They're obsessed with perfection - always at the gym, dressed in Lululemon, driving the latest Range Rover, but I swear, they're like zombies."

I confess, I was a little sceptical. I thought she was maybe exaggerating to make me feel better about my own little addiction issue. But then she told me this story:

"When we were selling our house the real estate agents said 'remember to empty your bathroom cabinet.' I asked why, and they were amazed that I wasn't already aware that if you leave your medications in the bathroom people steal them during viewings!"

So, different continent, same problems, same 'solutions'.

We are all so stressed out by trying to keep up with the faked perfection of other people's lives, of Facebook and Instagram, that we look for something to blur the edges, and pills do the job as effectively as booze.

I have to confess, just a tiny bit of me was desperate at this point to make an appointment with the GP. But then I remembered reading about a sign that David Hockney has hanging in his studio in Los Angeles. It reads:

All visitors, please please.
No photography and video.
Look with both eyes.

We spend too much time looking at life through a lens of one sort or another - blurring the focus and changing the reality.

It's time to look with both eyes.

Love SM x

Tuesday 22 November 2016

AA Gill

AA Gill announced in his Sunday Times restaurant review this weekend that he has cancer.

Not just a little bit of cancer, like I had, but 'an embarrassment of cancer, the full English. There is barely a morsel of offal not included. (He has) a trucker's gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy.'

This made me cry. Not because I've ever met AA (Adrian Anthony, not Alcoholics Anonymous, although more on that later), but because he is a genius and the world would be a less interesting and vibrant place without his words.

I can, I hope, make words line up on a stage and take a hesitant bow, but AA can make words do aerial acrobatics and death defying somersaults. His metaphors and analogies make me laugh out loud with their originality and utter rightness.

AA is an alcoholic which is, in my book, another reason to love him. In his early thirties a GP told him that unless he quit drinking he would only live another six months.

'It's not death that terrifies me,' Gill said, 'it's life.' And isn't that just a perfect explanation of why we drink?

Gill dried out, did the steps and was introduced to an editor at Tatler who commissioned him to write an article about his experience in rehab. The rest, as they say, was history.

It's not his years of drinking that caused AA's cancer, but his other addiction - nicotine. Despite having ditched the smokes fifteen years ago he has smoking related lung cancer.

AA says of his future: 'I don't feel I've been cheated of anything....I gave up (alcohol) when I was still young, so it was like being offered the next life. It was the real Willy Wonka golden ticket, I got a really good deal.'

So, if you're still humming and hah-ing about quitting then please just grab that golden ticket while you're still young enough to make the most of it.

And Adrian, if you ever come across this post, then thank you. Thank you for showing us all how words can change the world.

SM x

P.S. If you want to read my blog from the beginning then click here.

Friday 18 November 2016

Pride Comes Before a Fall

After twenty months of not drinking I had this sense that my whole life was slotting into place. I was a little happy bunny, veritably hopping along verdant verges, counting all my blessings which went something like this:

(1) A twelve month 'all clear' from the cancer clinic and a happy, healthy family.

(2) I have finally reached my wedding weight - ten stone, one hundred and forty pounds. I have lost two stone without even trying very hard (I eat a lot of cake).

(see my post: Reasons to quit drinking #1: weight loss)

(3) I have not just one, but a flurry of publishers interested in my book. My agent is busy arranging meetings (I hope they don't change their minds once they've met me!) and has set a deadline 'for offers' of December 6th.

Life doesn't get much better than that.

I should know better than to allow myself to feel smug.

Then Mr SM comes back from the office and says "we have to talk," followed by the words most designed to make me freak out: "don't freak out."

It transpires that his whole team is being gradually 'phased out.'

Now Mr SM is relatively sanguine about the whole thing, muttering phrases such as "time for a change anyhow," and "don't want to get stuck in a rut."

He's even taking to quoting The Apprentice: "next time you come into the Boardroom, at least one of you will get fired," and "why do you deserve to stay in the process?"

I, however, am very bad at dealing with uncertainty. I spent a sleepless night catastrophizing. After just a few minutes of this information hitting my over-active brain I had us all homeless and begging on the streets.

In the morning I was blearily loading up the car with school kit when I realised that it had been broken into. Someone had stolen my stash of parking change and - bizarrely - my driving glasses.

We're looking for a thief with an unusually large number of 10p coins and an eyesight prescription of approximately -1.75, sporting a pair of rather old and battered middle-aged-lady specs.

It's on days like these when alcohol would be extremely useful. Just a few glasses of vino and all those sharp edges disappear, everything feels a bit less real and life becomes an awful lot easier to cope with...

....for a short while.

But I am stronger than that now (plus, I suspect it would bugger up any chance of that publishing contract!), so I tried all the other things that I know can help.

I did gratitude (see my post: Gratitude) and counted all my blessings (see above). I did mindfulness and stopped myself looking ahead and panicking. I did exercise. I wallowed in the bath with a dash of aromatherapy oils. And I ate cake.

And today it all seems a lot better.

Especially as I discovered that one incredibly generous and kind reader has anonymously donated £100 to my JustGiving page in aid of The Haven Breast Cancer Support Centres (see my post: Giving Back for more about The Haven and how to donate).

Isn't that awesome? Thank you, thank you, whoever you are.

Happy Friday everyone!

SM x

Sunday 13 November 2016

There is a Crack in Everything

What a week. America elects Trump and Leonard Cohen dies.

Do you think those two events are related? Did Cohen see the news and lose all desire to ever sing again?

Cohen was, first and foremost, a poet. He said that he only took to song writing because he couldn't make enough money from poetry.

The lines of poetry, from his song 'Anthem', that have been haunting me this week are these:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

We are obsessed with papering over our cracks.

We are constantly bombarded with Facebook and Instagram posts of people's perfect offerings. Perfect faces, bodies, children, houses. We never get to see the hidden wrinkles, cellulite, behavioural issues and damp.

It's so easy to believe in all of it, particularly if you're an adolescent, programmed to hate your own flaws and disregard anyone else's.

One thing the last year and half has taught me is that there really is a crack in everything. Everyone has their hidden struggles - their addictions, their fears, their challenges, because that's how life is.

I've also learned that, once you find out how to deal with those cracks, how to fill them up properly, rather than just pour booze into them, you'll be stronger and more fearless than ever before.

Now, when I meet someone new, I look past the perfect face they show the world and try to see the cracks. Because it's the cracks that make us unique, that make us interesting. Without them it's all a bit bland, a bit meh.

It's the cracks that let the light in.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for leaving us your words, and happy Sunday to you all,

SM x

P.S. Please check out lovely reader Neinwine's new blog at

Thursday 10 November 2016

What's in a Name?

Names are very important things. I know this because I spent twenty years in advertising building and growing brands. Our names are a crucial part of our identity.

When I got married to the wonderful Mr SM, at the age of thirty-two, I changed my name to his. It was important to me that we became a 'unit', and that any future children would share the same name as us.

We couldn't just add our names together since Mr SM's name was already double-barrelled as a result of some inheritance malarkey several generations back.

Now, Mr SM's name is old and deeply posh as well as being stupidly long. The history of his family, going back more than five hundred years, is listed in minute detail in Debrett's peerage and Burke's Landed Gentry.

But it's not my name. It's not the name that I spent thirty-two years becoming. Even after fifteen years of marriage I still feel like a fake when I use it.

For many years I ran the two names simultaneously. I used Mrs SM socially, and Ms P (my maiden name) at work.

It made me feel slightly schizophrenic (and caused havoc at airports when I'd often turn up with a ticket in one name and passport in another), but my life at that time was schizophrenic: high powered global businesswoman by day, harassed mother covered in baby vomit by night.

Then I quit work to become a full-time Mum and my birth name just... disappeared. I became subsumed by the name that belonged to my husband and my children and, at the same time, felt that the girl I was before the age of thirty-two was drifting away from me.

This, of course, coincided with me drinking more and more, until one day I looked at myself and thought who the hell are you, anyway?

Since I quit the booze, twenty months ago, I've gradually felt more and more connected with the person I used to be. I feel like I've come home.

Then, last week, an envelope dropped into my post box. It was addressed to Ms P. It was the contracts from my agent (I love being able to say my agent, in the same way that, when I first got married, I loved saying my husband).

Just seeing my original name on an official document made me all tearful.

She's back, baby. She's back.

Love SM x

Sunday 6 November 2016

All Clear

My friend S and I went to the boob clinic for my 12 month check up.

A couple walked up the stairs behind us. They were, I think, in their late fifties. Their fear was palpable.

She was in exactly the same place I was a year previously - recently diagnosed, waiting for more detailed results to tell her just how bad it might be.

I desperately wanted to give her a hug, but this may have just tipped her over the edge. It's bad enough receiving a life altering or threatening diagnosis, without mad women accosting you physically on stairwells.

After a short wait I was called in for a mammogram. I can barely remember my last one - I was in shock at the time, having just been told by Mr Boob God that he was 99% certain that my lump wasn't at all benign (the 1% of uncertainty he left me was his version of breaking the news gently).

I felt very much like I was making a toasted sandwich with my boobs as the huge machine squeezed each in turn flat and x-rayed them. I fought the urge to suggest the addition of a little Worcestershire sauce.

As I was getting changed, I could see the radiographer checking and printing off my results. I tried desperately not to analyse her facial features. Likewise when, back in the waiting room, I watched her trundle down the corridor and put my envelope in Mr Boob God's in-tray.

After a wait which felt like an eternity I get the call up and he says "your mammogram was all clear." I wanted to clasp his hands and kiss them all over, but I knew just how many mammaries those hands had kneaded over the previous few hours.

He had a grope of mine, pronounced them all good and I was done.

S and I cried. Then we shopped. Then we went to the Chiltern Firehouse where I ordered a Virgin Mojito and we had the most delicious lunch.

Funnily enough, I am so used now to dealing with traumatic situations without booze that I don't miss it so much at those times. I know that a clear head is crucial in testing circumstances.

The time I really miss the booze still is when I'm celebrating.

However, fabulous food and friendship go a long way to making up for the lack of a fuzzy head.

And last night we went to a fireworks party. At the same event last year I'd felt totally disconnected. I was floating in a bubble of fear, watching all the people around me having fun.

But this time, as I watched the display surrounded by my family and some of my oldest and best friends, it felt like all those fireworks were laid on just for my benefit.

I knew that every year from now on fireworks will have a special message for me: you made it. Another year all clear. Another year to do all the things you want to do and to be with the people you love.

Hurrah, and love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday 2 November 2016


The internet has been responsible for some terrible things; grooming, trolling, cyber bullying and those horribly irritating gaming videos on YouTube that the children are obsessed by, but it also has the miraculous ability to bring together people who would never normally have met, but who go on to change each other's lives.

Just over a year ago I received an e-mail from a lady called Elizabeth. She wrote this:

....I'm drinking a bottle of 12.5% red wine a night and would love to be one of those 'normal' one glass with dinner people, but I'm an all or nothing girl. When I smoked, I smoked 30 a day. Now I haven't touched a cigarette for 11 years but I have another crutch in red wine. I will stop one day and I read your blog every day. So please don't stop blogging because one day will be day one of never again....

I wrote back to Elizabeth, telling her that she sounded exactly like me, and that she'd never regret quitting once she decided that the time was right.

Then, just ten days later, I found The Lump in my left boob. In a bid to try to calm my terror, I wrote about it (see my post: I Need Help). That night I was lying in bed, unable to sleep and I found this e-mail from Elizabeth:

...I have just read today's blog and I really feel for you. I know exactly what you're going through. I found a lump when I was 42 (16 years ago) and it turned out to be cancer....

....what I can tell you is that the waiting is far worse than anything you have to come. The not knowing, the terrifying scenarios that play in your head every single second of the day far out-terrify the outcome...

....I am just one of so very many people thinking of you because you have done so much for so many. if anyone deserves good luck it is you.

I remembered those words over the next few weeks and, you know what? She was absolutely right: the waiting is always the worst.

When it turned out that I wasn't one of the lucky ones, Elizabeth mailed me again, telling me her story in detail, reassuring me that it would all be okay, and ending with these lines: Keep dreaming your dreams because there is a future for you and your lovely family and this is just a blip in that wonderful future.

When I posted from the depths of despair I found a message saying I don't know what to say, because whatever I say won't help while you are in this horrible fog of doubt. All I can tell you is the truth. You are going to be fine. I know this because (a) I've been there and (b) I'm a nurse :-)

Once or twice over those initial weeks I found myself on cancer sites and forums. Within minutes I'd be convinced I was going to die. So I stopped Googling. Instead, almost every day, I'd read one of Elizabeth's wonderful mails. It felt like she was holding my hand across the interweb.

Then, on 30th October last year I said farewell to a chunk of my left boob, and Elizabeth sent me this:

...we find the people we are meant to find, and, as a result, come Friday when you lose a bit of boob I'm going to give up my wine habit....It seems like as good a day as any to rid myself of a bad habit while you rid yourself of bad cells.

Elizabeth and I have mailed each other regularly over the last year, and then a couple of days ago this dropped into my inbox:

I can't believe that it is one year tomorrow that both our lives changed. Had I not pledged to quit drinking on the day of your surgery, I may have slid off the wagon in those early days, but you had been so supportive I couldn't even contemplate failure...

I replied that the support I had given Elizabeth was nothing compared to what she did for me.

The truth is that angels come in all forms, and some of them are wifi enabled and have addiction issues :-)

CONGRATULATIONS, Elizabeth my friend, on one year sober. You are my angel.

Tomorrow I have my check up at the cancer clinic. Please keep your fingers crossed for me. (Unless you're a surgeon on duty - that would be dangerous).

I'm going with a lovely friend (another angel who has dropped everything so that she can hold my hand) and have booked a table for lunch at the ferociously trendy Chiltern Firehouse afterwards.

If I'm going down, I might as well go down in flames....

SM x