Saturday 31 December 2016

New Year's Eve

It does seem deeply unfair for newly sober people that, just a handful of days after the major challenge of Christmas, they are faced with the biggest party evening of the year: New Year's Eve.

(If you are worried about this evening then this post might help: SoberMummy's Party Survival Guide)

I have a complicated history with New Year's Eve.

I've had some wonderful, unforgettable times with incredible friends in beautiful places. But I have also had many years that have bowed, then broken, under the pressure of expectation. Years when I attacked the booze so enthusiastically, and so early, that well before midnight I'd be sleepy, grumpy and able only to slump in an armchair, telling circular, rambling stories to anyone drunk enough to listen.

And the worst thing about New Year was waking up on January 1st with a raging thirst, pounding head and a mounting sense of despair. How, I would ask, can I find the strength to start all over again?

One thing that is worth remembering if things get tough tonight is that - like many things post booze - everything turns upside down and it becomes all about the morning, not the night-time.

Last New Year (my first sober) I had a relatively quiet evening. It was lovely, but not hugely memorable. But the next morning, as we were in the Swiss Alps, I took the whole family SM up the mountain relatively early. We stood on the deserted peak, literally on top of the world, looking at the most beautiful, shiny New Year's Day and everything and anything seemed possible.

This year I'm being more ambitious.

It strikes me that we tend to blame ourselves for not enjoying parties as much when we get sober, whereas actually it's the fault of the parties.

We expect people to have a wild time at an event which consists solely of a bunch of people - many of them strangers to each other - standing in a room for several hours just talking and drinking. When did that start to happen?

Can you imagine a children's party where forty kids were expected to just talk for five hours? No way! We have pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and pinatas. Then, after just two hours, we give everyone a large slice of cake and a party bag and pack them off home.

There are fewer party games at teenage parties, but the gap is filled by lots of dancing, raging hormones, flirting and experimental snogging.

Even into my twenties I remember wonderful celebrations involving hugely competitive games of charades, sardines, squeak piggy squeak, karaoke, dressing up and Scottish dancing.

Then, gradually, all the party games and events (what my Scottish in-laws would call 'happenings') petered out, and we were left with the standard format of fifty people in a room, constantly drinking, wheeling out tired anecdotes and chasing tired canap├ęs.

This suited me, actually, as all I really wanted to do by this stage was drink. And if I was hosting, the idea of organising anything more challenging than a bottle opener, once I'd had a few glasses myself, was anathema.

But now I'm on a mission to revive the great party happenings of the past.

Tonight we are celebrating Hogmanay in Scotland - five adults and six children with ages ranging from eight to eighty.

Rather than trying to hustle the children into bed early so that we can all get drunk, I'm letting them stay up to see midnight in. It's not as if there's school in the morning (thank God).

We're going to have a huge dinner together, then we'll play charades, guess who? and other party games and teach everyone how to dance an eightsome reel. Then at midnight we'll sing Auld Lang Syne and let off some celebratory fireworks.

Actually, I'm feeling a little exhausted just thinking about it, but I'll make it through on a wave of adrenaline and caffeine.


Happy New Year to all you wonderful people! See you in 2017.

Love SM x

Wednesday 28 December 2016

George Michael

If you've just made it through your first sober Christmas, then CONGRATULATIONS! I'm sure it wasn't easy, but I'm prepared to bet that it was also awesome.

Maybe you overdid it on Christmas Day and have decided that this is your Day One, or perhaps you're gearing up to quitting in the New Year?

I think we're all looking forward to a new, bright and shiny 2017. After all, 2016 has been a really hard one, starting with the death of David Bowie, then Prince, Leonard Cohen and now George Michael. Some of the greatest songwriters and poets of my youth all.... gone.

I loved George Michael in all his incarnations - except his final one, as a bloated, depressed recluse, addicted to alcohol, marijuana and - allegedly - crack cocaine and heroin.

I was at a traditional girl's boarding school, perched on a windy cliff overlooking a grey sea, when George burst onto the scene in Wham!

There was very little to do at weekends when we were fifteen. We weren't yet trusted to go into Brighton unaccompanied, so we were left, rattling around the decaying old buildings and vast bleak grounds, to make our own entertainment.

This involved activities like trying to get high on Tippex thinner, seeing if we could make our own tobacco from baked banana skins or competitive cockroach catching. I was the House champion at catching cockroaches - the only school sport at which I excelled.

Anyhow, one memorable weekend we spent hours perfecting a dance routine to Wham!'s newly released single Bad Boys.

I still have the lyrics seared into my memory:

When you tried to tell me what to do,
I just shut my mouth and smiled at you,
One thing that I know for sure

Bad boys
Stick together, never sad boys
Good guys
They made rules for fools, so get wise

I remember thinking how those words could have been written for us - the cool rebels who loved ignoring all the rules.

But the truth is that breaking the rules catches up with you eventually, and it's wise to fall into line before it's too late.

So, if you spent this Christmas drinking way more than you know you should have done, then why not make it your Last Christmas boozing, in honour of gorgeous, wonderful and talented George?

Love SM x

Saturday 24 December 2016

Stephen King on Booze

We are in Scotland for the festive period, hunkered down around blazing fires, keeping out storm Brenda who is raging outside.

(Don't you just love the names they pick for storms? Brenda sounds like she'd be more at home in the Bingo Hall or with a knitting circle rather than flooding roads and knocking down power lines).

Whenever I get to take a break from the frenetic Christmas supermarket shopping and last minute present buying and wrapping, I've been reading Stephen King's book: On Writing.

I bought this book because it was about writing. Little did I know, it also covers King's alcoholism, about which he writes brilliantly.

King says that when he first realised that he was an alcoholic his immediate reaction was to be incredibly careful not to let anyone know, otherwise someone would tell him to get control of his drinking.

Telling an alcoholic to control his drinking, he writes, is like telling a guy suffering the world's most cataclysmic case of diarrhoea to control his shitting.

Eew, but we know what he means, don't we?

King says it's been almost twelve years since I took a drink, and I'm still struck by disbelief when I see someone with a half-finished glass of wine near at hand. I want to get up, go over, and yell 'Finish that! Why don't you finish that?' into his or her face. I found the idea of social drinking ludicrous - if you didn't want to get drunk, why not have a Coke?

Well, quite.

But the really fascinating thing about King's story is how his subconscious was crying for help through his writing.

It was, apparently, many years before King realised that the alcoholic writer and ex-schoolteacher who starred in The Shining was actually himself. He had been up to his neck in denial, but somewhere, deep inside his brain, in the part that writes the stories, he knew.

Ten years later, in 1986, he wrote Misery, a title, he says, which accurately described his state of mind. The hero - a writer again - is tortured by a psychotic nurse. The nurse, Annie Wilkes, he says (with the benefit of hindsight) was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided that I was tired of being Annie's pet writer.

The book which followed Misery was Tommyknockers, which King says he wrote with cotton swabs stuck up his nose to stop blood from his cocaine ravaged nostrils dripping all over his typewriter keys.

In this novel, alien creatures get inside your head and start messing about in there. The upside to this alien activity for the host is boundless energy and a superficial intelligence, but in exchange they give their soul. King writes it was the best metaphor for drugs and alcohol my tired, overstressed mind could come up with.

So, if you're tempted tomorrow to have just the one glass of wine with your Christmas lunch, then remember that alcohol is not your best friend, your greatest fan; she is a crazy obsessive with a penchant for amputation (or 'hobbling' in the film version). She will get inside your head and she will steal your soul.

Get the hell out of there before it's too late.

(If you need more motivation, then read this one: Relapse Stories)

Love to you all, and have a very, very merry (but sober) Christmas! It'll be awesome! See you on the other side....

SM x

P.S. I've just been told that the storm is actually Barbara, not Brenda. Still more redolent of home knitted jumpers and self sufficiency than 100mph winds....

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Before and After Pictures

Not drinking in December can be really hard, so when I came across this article on Facebook I thought I should share it.

It's 'before and after' pictures of people who've stopped drinking, so Click here for instant motivation and a sneaky warm, smug feeling.

(Apologies, I've removed that link as one of my readers tells me that the photos were taken from a 'stop drinking' forum on Reddit without permission which may not be legally wrong, but does feel morally suspect).

I find it ironic now the lengths we go to look younger and fresher. Fillers, botox, endless fad diets, lasers, chemical peels, etcetera. And yet the best, quickest fix is not doing something, but not doing something: not drinking.

Booze is filled with toxins. It makes your skin puffy and your eyes yellow. Plus - ironically - the more you drink, the more dehydrated you get, giving you wrinkles and lank, dull hair.

Alcohol is filled with empty calories, so it makes you pile on the weight, particularly around your stomach (muffin top, anyone?).

So, if you're feeling a bit down about the fact that you're surrounded by people drinking endless glasses of mulled wine, champagne and festive cocktails, then just think about how amazing you're going to look in January when they are starting the new year counting regrets, making impossible resolutions and feeling bleurgh.

The first thing you notice when you quit is the changes to your face. You lose that puffy, jowly look, your skin gets rosier and your eyes get brighter.

(See my post from day 110: Go Sober for Free Botox)

Then, even your hair gets shinier and bouncier.

(See my post from day 74: Sober hair)

And, hopefully, you'll start losing weight - although do remember that in the early days of not drinking chocolate and cake are necessary food groups.

Even if it takes a while to shift the pounds you'll notice that the pounds are shifting around. You start to lose that six month pregnant look and can do the belt up an extra notch.

(For more on weight loss click here)

So DO NOT DESPAIR. It's all worth it. You're going to start 2017 looking and feeling AWESOME!

Big hugs to you all,

SM x

Friday 16 December 2016

New Phases

HAPPY SOBERVERSARY to claireperth! Awesome work, girlfriend!

Claire wrote in her e-mail to me: This year has been the best year of my life. I still haven't quit smoking, I still have some serious shit to sort out, but I feel really at peace - it's a shiny new lovely place to be! The biggest thing I have learnt is that it's a slow process to change a life; to change a really big part of who you are and to be comfortable with it takes time.

This got me thinking about the different phases we go through when we quit the booze.

Most of you will be familiar with Phase One. Many of you are still battling through it.

It's the physically tough stage, the period when you feel more tired than you can ever remember being and the phase when you become totally obsessed by booze: by drinking it, by not drinking it, reading about it, blogging about it, dreaming about it.

Then, after about 100 days, the fog starts to clear and come out into the light, blinking, and thinking ok, now what?

And now what is Phase Two, the mentally tough bit. This is when you start getting your head around the idea of 'forever', when you battle with the idea that perhaps now you can go back to 'moderating', when you have to find new ways of dealing with fear, anxiety, elation, with life.

Then, as you reach your first soberversary, you start to think hey, I may have got this now. I can do it. I've done my birthday, Christmas, a whole twelve months of ups and downs. Hurrah, but then....

....what next?

And Phase Three is all about working out what to do with the rest of our lives.

You see when you get sober you're left with huge chunks of time to fill, and massive amounts of energy and passion (because we 'overly-keen-imbibers' are a hugely enthusiastic and passionate lot - that's what got us into this mess, isn't it?).

You're also left with a sense of having wasted too much of your life and a realisation that time is precious.

Plus, twelve months of facing up to your fears and trepidations sober has given you back your courage and your drive.

So you start to think what am I going to do now?

And, funnily enough, the process of getting sober often involves re-discovering old passions, or finding new ones.

In order to make it through wine-o-clock day after day after day we take up things like running, yoga, knitting, baking - whatever stops our minds racing and keeps our hands occupied.

Then, miraculously, for many of us, the hobbies that saved us become a career. Anneinsobriety became a yoga teacher, melanie-from-boston set up a jewellery making business, Lucy Rocca took up running and founded Soberistas.

And my old passion, the thing I did to wind down, to take my mind elsewhere, was writing and reading.

When I got to my soberversary, last March, I thought how can I turn my passion into a job? And, in doing that, how can I help as many people as possible who are stuck in the same hole that I climbed out of a year ago?

So I wrote a book proposal, based on this blog, and I sent it to a few agents. Then my agent sent it to a few publishers. And along the way I got a whole heap of rejections which, in the old days, would have had me weeping into several glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and resolving never to bother again.

But, along with the rejections, I had some amazing feedback from women (all women, funnily enough. The men usually didn't bother replying) who really got it and who said there is a need for this book and we want to help you publish it.

AND YESTERDAY I AGREED A BOOK DEAL with a wonderful team at one of the biggest and best publishing houses in the world. All being well, it'll be on shelves in January 2018.

That glass of wine might give you a momentary buzz, but there is nothing like the high of having worked at something really hard for months, having been knocked back but having picked yourself up and then, finally, to have achieved what you set out to do.

That's a high that lasts for days and doesn't end with a hangover.

So, to all of you who helped me get there, thank you. I could not have done it without your support and encouragement.

And please believe me when I tell you that quitting booze really does change your life.

Love SM x

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Booze and Marriage

Last week it was our fifteen year wedding anniversary.

My marriage was one of the things that worried me the most about quitting the booze, and I know from many of the e-mails I receive that I wasn't alone in this.

I thought Mr SM would be horrified at losing his drinking partner and I mourned, in advance, all those romantic evenings over a bottle (or several) that we'd no longer share.

No more giggling like children over terrible jokes, clinging to each other as we stumble up the stairs and slurring I really, really love you, I do.

(Click here for my posts from back then: Not the Girl he Married and Not the Girl he Married, Part 2).

I confess, there are still a few moments that I miss. But the truth is those fun moments are fleeting, and they are followed by hours - if not days - of grumpiness and recriminations.

I may not be the wild party child I once was, but I'm much nicer, more thoughtful, even tempered... I'm a much better wife.

And as for Mr SM - he's transformed!  I never asked him to stop drinking around me, but, because I'm no longer egging him on, he generally only drinks at weekends and has lost at least a stone in weight.

The new healthy living regime has spurred him on and he's even taken up pilates! He keeps muttering about 'six packs' (not the booze related variety) and 'ab cracks'. My husband is starting to look seriously hot.

The day after our wedding anniversary, (when we still giggled like children over a fabulous dinner out, just with less stumbling and slurring), Mr SM sat down on our bed (purchased just before our wedding) which promptly collapsed beneath him.

I do hope this is not a sign.

Mr SM found some old bathroom tiles in the cellar and used a stack of them to prop up the broken corner of the bed, which means I'm back to spending every night on the tiles. Ho ho.

It's really hard to nurture a marriage when you're spending all your time wrapped around a bottle. And if you're not careful, you'll find that you left it too late.

Liam Neeson, whose wife Natasha Richardson died in a ski accident five years ago, says it much better (in a recent Facebook post) than I ever could:

Spend time with your spouses. Treat them well. Because, one day, when you look up from your phone, they won't be there anymore.

What I truly learned most of all is: live and love every day like it's your last. Because one day it will be. Take chances and go and live life. Tell the ones you love that you love them every day. Don't take any moment for granted.

Life is worth living.

And so say all of us.

Love SM x

Saturday 10 December 2016

Christmas has Arrived!

Christmas has arrived in the SM house.

I picked the children up from school yesterday and we went shopping for a Christmas tree. We found a gorgeous one which was then wrapped in netting so we could transport it home.

At this point #2, who was helpfully trying to carry said tree, got the netting all tangled up in his school blazer buttons and was inextricably attached to a large Norwegian spruce.

A couple of hours later and our kitchen was festooned with fairy lights, lovely tree in the corner, fire lit and the children were playing carols on various musical instruments.

I was drinking Marks and Spencer's alcohol free mulled wine (as recommended by RedRecovers)

Mr SM was sulking slightly as he realised that the presents under the tree were labelled 'with love from Mummy (and Daddy)'. I've never seen such a huff over a couple of parentheses.

I looked around thinking this is all really Hygge. It almost looks like good parenting.

What a difference from last year, when I was in the middle of radiotherapy for breast cancer, and the year before when I was ricocheting from drunk to hungover and back again, only briefly passing through a state which could be described as 'normal and happy'.

And today we are all trooping into Covent Garden for lunch followed by the new musical: School of Rock. Then I have a babysitter booked to look after the children in the evening as some old friends of ours are having a big Christmas Housewarming near Oxford.

How is that possible? I hear you ask. Surely Oxford is at least 90 minutes up the motorway from London?

And it is, my friends. But here's the thing: I can drive! Because I don't drink. So we can go to the party, stay three hours, drive home and still be in bed by 1am. Result.

When I was coming up to my first sober Christmas it felt like too huge a hurdle to handle. But now I realise that Christmas is a truly awesome time of year, and being properly present in every moment is just amazing.

A sober Christmas is calmer, happier, more organised and generally more....Christmassy.

Merry, merry Christmas to you all,

SM x

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Everyone Needs Cheerleaders

One of the biggest issues when it comes to quitting the booze is the lack of cheerleaders.

If you quit smoking everyone pats you on the back and tells you how strong and awesome you are. But give up drinking and they look at you askance and wonder if you have a problem (is she an *whisper it* alcoholic?) and if you're going to become a total party pooper.

It's no wonder that we generally hide behind smokescreens and excuses: "I'm driving/ on antibiotics/ detoxing/ still getting over last night ha ha ha."

But quitting is hard, especially at this time of year when the world and his wife are constantly out getting drunk.

We need cheerleaders. We need someone to say "YOU ROCK! YOU'RE AMAZING! SEE YOU ROAR!"

That is, I imagine, one of the wonderful things about AA. There's always someone to light candles on a cake for your soberversary and give you a big hug.

The internet can also make you feel surrounded by cheerleaders, and I hope that through this site, and those of my fabulous fellow sober bloggers, you can feel supported and understood.

But, just in case some days you need just a bit of an extra boost, I'm going to share my little secret with you....

(You may, at this stage, start thinking I'm a little mad. I suspect you're right).

....when I'm feeling a bit flat I imagine that I am being followed everywhere by my own personal rock band. Click here to see what I mean.

Let me know if it works for you too.

Love SM x

P.S. If you're new to my blog and would like to read from my Day One, then click here.

Monday 5 December 2016

The BBC on Sober Christmas

Are you about to do your first Christmas sober (in the UK)?

If so, then a journalist called Erin at the BBC would love to talk to you for a piece on Up All Night on Radio 5 Live.

I know that this may sound like a scary prospect, particularly if you haven't even told your friends and family that you've quit the booze yet, but you can be completely anonymous and you would be a huge help for anyone out there struggling.

We know what it's like to feel completely alone, don't we? Well this is an opportunity to make a difference.

Erin's e-mail address is She'd love to hear from you.

Merry, sober Christmas to you all!

Love SM x

Friday 2 December 2016

Doing Christmas Sober

It's December. Which means Christmas is coming.

If you've only recently quit the booze then I know how the idea of coping with Christmas without it is terrifying.

Last year I wrote four posts which might help, just click on these links:

Coping with Christmas, Part 2
I discovered that, like most things in a post-vino world, a sober Christmas is only scary the first time.  Once you've done it once, you realise that Christmas without booze is SO much more manageable, enjoyable and soul enhancing that Christmas on the usual merry-go-round of drunk and hungover.

Last year, my first sober Christmas, was the best I can remember, despite the fact that I spent most days in December in hospital having what was left of my left boob blitzed by radioactive waves.

But, just in case you think it's only me, my lovely reader, Laura, (who, miraculously) managed to find me on my second day of blogging, when I thought I was just talking to myself) sent me an e-mail yesterday which she said I could share with you.

Here it is:

Dear SM,

I am coming up to my second Christmas without alcohol and really looking forward to it. You know, the first one was a bit hesitant and quiet, not wanting to go out or socialise too much.

This year I am there with bells on, so to speak. I have started shopping, cleaning out the spare room, ordered an elf outfit for the dog, tested the lights, am harassing Himself to get a tree sooner rather than later. Even the goose is ordered from the butcher and the overseas Christmas cards written with a few personal lines in each.

How different is this from when Christmas was a great excuse for a month (or two) long champagne bender, starting the New Year with a fat face and belly. The presents were some hastily bought things (usually expensive as I thought cash trumps thought).

A booze free Christmas has freed up space in my heart and head to embrace its meaning. To look forward to hunkering down with the fire on, long walks with the dog, delicious food shared with friends and family, laughter through the games of Monopoly and Scrabble, volunteering for the local charity and realising all I have to be grateful for.

Thank you, SoberMummy, for opening my eyes to the idea that life after Margaux could be joyous and good.

And it can! And it will be!

Thank you, Laura, and Merry Christmas to you all. I'm off to order an elf outfit for the dog.

SM x