Saturday 28 January 2017

The Power of Stories

I've been reading Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, with tears dripping down my face and onto my Kindle (which needed a bit of a wash, frankly). Read it - it's wonderful.

There's a scene in the book where Conor says to the tree monster "Great, another story when there are more important things going on," and the monster replies "Stories are important. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth."

And the tree is right.

Stories - the stories of others, and writing my own story, changed my life.

At a time when I felt most at sea, isolated and in despair I found the stories of other women like me on the internet, and in books like Mrs D's and Caroline Knapp's, and realised that I was not alone, that there was a way out.

Writing my own story helped me to understand what was going on in my head, served as a reminder of where I'd been, lest I forget, and found me a whole tribe of wonderful supporters (thank you!).

Alcoholics Anonymous have always been aware of the power of stories. Each meeting starts with people sharing their own.

Stories teach through 'show' rather than 'tell'. Instead of being preached at, "you must do this", (and we drinkers are not very good at following rules or instructions, are we?) telling your story shows the listener what the possibilities are, what the future could be.

How you respond to that story, what you take from it and what you leave behind, is completely up to you.

The storyteller hands you a seed - it's your choice whether to plant it, pass it on or toss it away.

Reading those lines of Patrick Ness's this morning just made me want to say thank you. Thank you to all those bloggers, writers and storytellers out there who have the courage to stand up - literally or virtually - and tell their tale.

Because stories have the power to change the world.

To read my story from the beginning click here.

Now go write that happy ending to your own story. You are the author,  so you can make it whatever you want it to be....

Love SM x

Sunday 22 January 2017

The First Minute

One of my fabulous readers, J, sent me (on an extraordinary article which I have to share with you all.

It's written by Kelly Coffey, a personal trainer who used to weigh over 300 pounds (21 stone!) and it's the story of a talk she gave to a group of seventeen year old girls which had them all in tears. Ten years on, she still gets e-mails from some of them telling her she changed their lives.

Kelly's speech was about the importance of looking after your body in college, and she was just wrapping up when some smartarse asked her a question.

She was asked what the point was of looking after yourself when we're all going to die anyway.

It sounds like a stupid question, doesn't it? But don't many of us feel like that after decades of drinking too much? I certainly did.

I had a feeling of we're all doomed anyway, so I might as well enjoy myself while I still can. And I carried on... not enjoying myself, but getting progressively more miserable.

Well Kelly's answer to this girl's question totally summarised the difference between my life now, sober, and my life when I was drinking a bottle of wine a day. She says it's all about the first minute.

Kelly said "Even if you sleep late, eventually every day begins, and in the first minute of each day you have to face yourself. Day after day, until you die, you will wake up and remember what you’ve done.

Memories of what you did the night before will bubble to the surface. Those memories will come with feelings. If you binged on ice cream or box wine or cocaine, that will be one of your first thoughts, and it will come with a weight of shame, maybe even self-hate.

Those feelings may be subtle when you’re young and you think you have all the time in the world to turn things around. But unless you practice treating yourself well, soon you’ll be in your 50s and you’ll wake up and the pain of that first minute will be so intense that the day ahead will feel like a prison sentence.

I’ve spent years harming myself and years healing myself. I’ve had thousands of first minutes that were torture and thousands that were good, and I can tell you that nothing has more of an impact on how we feel about just being alive."

And that is so true.

Towards the end of my drinking years, my first minutes were characterised, at best, by a feeling of ennui. What's it all for anyway? At worst my first minutes were filled with shame, dread and fear.

Now, almost every first minute (everyone has some bad days) is filled with hope, expectation and exhilaration. I start the day like my terrier, bounding out of bed, wagging my tail, desperate to get on with the excitements of a new day.

I'm not kidding or exaggerating.

And that, more than anything else, is what has changed my life.

For the Kelly's full article, which is well worth the read, click here.

Love SM x

Tuesday 17 January 2017


It's funny thinking that not that long ago I couldn't even deal with the stress of renewing my car insurance without a glass of vino to take the edge off, and yet now, several times a year, I have to cope with check ups to see if there's any sign of my cancer coming back stone cold sober.

Yesterday I had a meeting with my oncologist to go through the results of my blood tests. The key thing they check for is 'tumour markers'.

Their main concern is that some pesky breast cancer cells may have escaped last year's slash and burn procedure and have taken up residence somewhere else - like my bones, brain or lungs. If this happens (which is, in my case, statistically unlikely, thank heavens) I am buggered.

I'm getting better at dealing with these appointments. On previous occasions I've started to freak out several days in advance and have had to take a friend or relative with me to hold me up.

Yesterday I only started falling to bits that morning and I decided to (wo)man up and go on my own.

I love my oncologist. He's all antipodean and twinkly and frightfully clever. If you have to have someone use the words terminal in front of you (apart from an airline operative), then he's the one you'd choose.

"So," he says, after giving me a bear hug, "how are you doing?"

"Good," I reply while thinking just tell me about the tumour markers. Are my children going to be motherless?

"How's the Tamoxifen? You don't look like you've put on any weight." (I bet he says that to all the girls) "Hot flushes?"

"I get a bit warm sometimes, but at least it saves on heating." I'm trying to read my incomprehensible blood test results up-side down.

"Well," he says, moving his finger painfully slowly down my print-out, "immune system fine...." tumour markers??? "Vitamin D levels normal," what about the tumour markers? "liver function good" ha ha, "cholesterol good" spit it out! "tumour markers normal."

Hurrah ! Hurrah! Hurrah! Looks like I'm going to be around for the immediately foreseeable future, which is great as I have a lot to do.

We move onto the 'manual examination' phase. I have had my breasts fondled more in the last fourteen months than over the entirety of my teenage years. And my boobs were a completely different kettle of fish back then.

(Can one describe one's boobs as a kettle of fish?)

While the Prof is copping a feel I take the opportunity to tell him about the book.

"I thought you should know that I'm writing a book..... and you're kind of in it."

"Really? What's it about?"

"It's about quitting booze, with a little foray into the whole breast cancer thing. I know it sounds dreadfully worthy, but it's actually a black comedy."

The Prof looks rather chuffed and asks for a signed copy.

"How much were you drinking?" He asks.

"Around a bottle of wine a day," I reply. The first time in my life I've been honest about my drinking to a member of the medical establishment.

He looks a little shocked, but rallies quickly. "I'm sure lots of my patients drink that much," he says. Bless him.

He signs me off for a whole year (although I still have appointments for mammograms and ultrasounds).

I skipped out of the cancer clinic feeling like an escapee from death row.

In the old days I'd have gone straight to a bar. Now, without the masking effects of booze, I realise the real impact that huge stress followed by release has on the body: I felt utterly exhausted.

I picked the kids up from school and, as early as possible, we all piled into my bed, read Harry Potter and went to sleep... at 8.30pm. Result.

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday 14 January 2017

Sober Drinks

One of the issues with giving up booze is knowing what on earth to drink.

Most non-alcoholic options are either super unhealthy (Coca-Cola, for example), or make you feel like a child or a geriatric (orange juice/elderflower cordial). It feels as if all 'adult' drinks are alcoholic.

Plus, we have programmed our brains over a period of decades, to equate a 'grown up' drink with winding down at the end of the day, de-stressing, celebrating and so on, so a good alcohol free replacement really helps to fool our brains into doing the same thing.

The trick is to find an alcohol free drink that is enough like the real thing to do the job, but not so much like your favourite tipple that it just triggers all your old thought patterns.

My go-to solution is Becks Blue beer, because I was never a beer drinker. I'm not sure I could have got through my first year without my Becks Blue. During the whole cancer thing I was drinking around six per day! (Now I'm down to around four a week).

Over Christmas I found a half decent alcohol free wine in Sainsbury (for only £2.99). At first this seemed like a really good idea, but within days I was feeling utterly dependant on my AF wine. I drank a whole bottle of the stuff on Christmas day and started to panic about my supplies running out.

Needless to say, I've come to the conclusion (again) that AF wine is just too close to the bone for me.

My latest find (and huge thanks to Dr C for the recommendation) is Seedlip (described as 'the world's first non-alcoholic spirits)They are properly distilled drinks with botanical flavours and taste very much like gin. I drink it with Fever Tree tonic or in mocktails.

(Here's a link to their website)

So, I'm gradually solving the 'what on earth to drink at 'wine-o-clock' dilemma, but it's often still really tough when you're not at home.

More and more pubs are serving AF beer (a recent study showed that one in ten women drink AF beer on a weekly basis, and 31% of people have tried it), but little else for the sober lady out and about other than 'children's drinks' and mixers.

Which is why my old drinking buddy (now sober for nine years), Jamie Walker, is a hero.

Jamie, and his childhood friend Tertia Bailey, are about to open an alcohol free pop-up bar in Edinburgh called DRY. It's in Stockbridge, at 15 North West Circus Place, until the end of February.

DRY will be open all day, serving food (provided by local pop-up food stalls), artisan teas and coffees and a whole host of craft AF beers, AF wines (not for me!) and mocktails. (I did check, by the way, and they are selling Seedlip).

Not only that, but to prove that sober venues are way cooler, more vibrant and more interesting than drunk ones, there's a host of entertainment planned, from cooking demos, poker and ping-pong, to quiz nights, guest speakers, teenage parties and burlesque lessons.

Jamie's even doing a 'silent disco' in the basement, where everyone wears headphones, so can limber up to the best DJs without disturbing the neighbours.

So, if you're anywhere near Edinburgh (I'm thinking of you, Edinburgh Housewife), then please support Jamie and Tertia by taking all your friends to DRY. If it's successful enough it'll hopefully keep trading past February and even roll out country-wide.

Vive la Revolution!

SM x

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Run For Your Life

If you can't fly then run; if you can't run then walk; if you can't walk then crawl; but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.


One of the things that really helped me when I first quit drinking, and has now become the mainstay of my daily routine, is walking.

I did flirt briefly with running (see my posts: Strong Women Don't Drink and Running and Insomnia), but came to the realisation that I am not built for speed, and a brisk walk suits me better.

I found that walking, preferably amongst green stuff - in parks and along rivers, not only got me away from the fridge and all the wine associations, but lifted my mood and helped me to see things more clearly.

(I know I'm not alone in this. Many former addicts talk about how crucial running - or walking - was to their recovery, Lucy Rocca, the founder of Soberistas, for example and Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild).

I'd take the terrier with me and, over time, built up a squad of dog owning friends who'd join in. I found that the conversations we'd have during an hour long walk were way more wide ranging and life enhancing than any drunken ramblings at parties, and the quality of my friendships improved immeasurably.

This is why I love the book just published by Penguin: Run For Your Life by William Pullen. William is an incredible psychotherapist, is terribly fit and also happens to be rather gorgeous. (Plus he's an old friend of mine).

William's book is all about Dynamic Running Therapy which is inspired by mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

William explains how and why running (or walking!), and being outdoors in nature, positively impact on our mental wellbeing and he shows how you can harness this power, either on your own or with a friend, to solve problems, deal with stress or anxiety and make changes.

It's incredible how the solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem can come to you when you're out walking or running.

This is, William argues, because the act of movement helps us to connect with feelings hidden deep inside and can lead to incredible moments of illumination.

Interestingly, many authors talk about walking to relieve 'writer's block'. They find that it helps to unleash creativity in a way that sitting, staring at a screen, can never do.

It's also much easier to discuss your problems with a friend when you are both moving (and therefore avoiding eye contact) than it is when you're sitting staring at each other, which is why William's book includes therapeutic exercises you can try in pairs as well as on your own.

So do check out William's book by clicking here, or his free App here, and get moving. It really can change your life.

Love SM x

Saturday 7 January 2017

Post Alcohol Fatigue

If you quit drinking on New Year's Day, then HUGE CONGRATULATIONS on making it through your first Friday night and into Day 6. You are awesome!

Have you had much in the way of withdrawal symptoms?

Despite the fact that I was drinking around ten bottles of wine a week, when I finally quit my issues were mainly psychological rather than physical.

My readers and fellow bloggers often report headaches, mild 'flu like symptoms and difficulty getting to sleep, but the one physical symptom that seems to unite us all and I bet you're grappling with too is...


Not just feeling a little bit weary, must put my feet up tiredness, but a bone deep sluggishness, a feeling that every cell in your body has switched to 'go slow'.

It's a weariness that mere sleep can't solve, and it's accompanied by an all encompassing feeling of ennui, of what's it all about anyway?

The only time I had felt anything approaching this was in the early stages of pregnancy, when getting through the day is like wading through pea soup.

So, if that's how you're feeling then DON'T PANIC! It's entirely normal and it will shift.

People often talk about 'the threes' when it comes to addiction and breaking habits.

It takes around three days for all the alcohol to leave your body, then three weeks for the worst of the physical effects to pass, and three months (we tend to talk about 100 days) before the worst of the psychological effects start to recede.

By day 21, or thereabouts, you should be feeling a great deal perkier.

In the meantime, indulge yourself. Think about it like a bout of 'flu. Go to bed early. If you can, have an afternoon nap. Drink hot chocolate, wear cashmere socks, have lots of hot baths with bubbles.

Exercise helps, especially in the fresh air, as does taking a vitamin B complex supplement (alcohol strips us of B vitamins which causes fatigue) and a magnesium supplement before bedtime if you're having problems sleeping.

Eat as well as you can and drink fresh juices and smoothies to replace all the nutrients that alcohol has leeched out of your cells.

If the constant tiredness is getting you down, then remember it's your body healing. If you ever have wobbles about why you're doing this, then the way you're feeling now is evidence you're doing the right thing.

You feel like you've been run over by a bus because you've been filling your body with toxins for years and it's going to take it a while to recover.

Before long you'll be sleeping like a baby and be bouncing out of bed in the mornings like the Duracell Bunny, ready to take on the day.

(See my post from Day 24: Sleep, Glorious Sleep)

Just one word of warning though: as your body recalibrates and your dopamine levels adjust to life without booze, these periods of exhaustion do recur from time to time. It's called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, and you can read more about it here.

Keep on at it - you're doing an amazing thing, and let us know how you are in the comments below.

Love to you all,

SM x

Wednesday 4 January 2017

It Has to Stop!

We are now back at home, after two weeks of complete over-indulgence in Scotland.

This has been a bit of a shock to the system as I've been (relatively speaking) a paragon of virtue for the last twelve months.

In fact, since I quit the booze I've managed to lose a massive two stone (28 pounds) without much effort. Just before Christmas, I was back to my wedding weight and a size 10 (US size 6).

(For more on post booze weight loss click here: Reasons to Quit Drinking #1 - Weight Loss)

However, during the festive period I dived with abandon into a veritable mountain of food, in the same way as I would have attacked the vino in the old days.

Bacon sarnie for breakfast? Great idea - it'll keep the cold out. Crisps before dinner? Rude not to! More pudding? Well, it is Christmas! Chocolates with your coffee? Well, if you're having one too....

We had a stream of friends and relatives visiting so I was constantly cooking, and they always turned up bearing gifts of more food (and alcohol, obvs).

A whole stilton! Thanks so much. What a massive box of Belgian chocolates - my favourites.

Plus, I was surrounded by endless boozing. Wine with every meal (except breakfast - even my family aren't that bad!), champagne at any excuse, whisky nightcaps. I deserved a bit of a treat, don't you think?

The problem is that, as regular readers will know, I am not very good at moderation. Once I put my foot on the accelerator I just can't stop. I think we drinkers tend to be all-or-nothing people, that's what got us into this mess.

(See my post: All or Nothing)

Yesterday we were driving back from the North and I was clutching a bag full of leftover chocolates which I had convinced myself had to be finished before we got home.

I was 'tidying up' the remains of a box of After Eights when it struck me that I must look just like Mr Creosote from Monty Python's Meaning of Life. "Just one more wafer thin mint".....

IT HAS TO STOP! Either my bathroom scales are malfunctioning, or I have gained five pounds in fourteen days. How is that possible?

So, this morning I was hugely relieved that the children were going back to school and I could get on with all the accumulated chores and start planning the new healthy eating regime.

The first day back is always a bit of a trial, isn't it? Getting out of bed when it's still dark and cold. Making sure they're all dressed in the correct kit, breakfasted and armed with the right bags and books.

I pulled up outside the school gates. It was really quiet. Ha! I thought. We're early! How clever are we?

Twenty-four hours early, it transpired. Not very clever at all. #awks.

Well done, kids! I said, with a forced grin. Great trial run! We'll be really good at this by tomorrow.

Three pairs of eyes rolled in the back seat. They already think their mother is a little unhinged and this morning hasn't helped.

Happy New Year to you all, and HUGE CONGRATS to SFM, Dr C, Pattik, Justonemore and everyone else who has just made ONE YEAR SOBER! You are totally awesome.

SM x

Sunday 1 January 2017

Dry January

Happy New Year everyone!

It's 8.30am in the Scottish Borders. The children are fast asleep, after staying up hours later than usual, and the grown ups are sleeping off the booze.

I'm feeling fabulous.

I threw a wonderful party last night, but this morning both the sky and my head are clear and even the kitchen is clean as a whistle as I washed everything up before going to bed.

How different from the decades of New-Year's-Days-of-Despair during the era of over-enthusiastic imbibing.

So, if you've found this page because your New Year's Resolution is to quit drinking - for a while or forever - then you're in the right place! If I can do it, anyone can.

I finally stopped drinking when, after years of trying to cut down, I realised that I had no other option. But I did it with a fairly heavy heart.

I realised that life would never be the same and that there were many events - such as New Year's Eve - which would always be (like myself) pale shadows of their former selves.

Well, as someone who's made it out the other side, I can tell you that it's true. Life will never be the same. It'll be WAY BETTER. More real, more technicolour, more manageable and more rewarding.

The first few weeks, and - let's face it - months, are hard but there is huge amounts of help in the sobersphere. You are NOT ALONE.

If you're after advice on how to get through Dry January then click here: Dry January

If you're still not convinced that quitting is a good idea, then click here: Reasons to Quit Drinking

If you're here because you think you may be an alcoholic, but you're not entirely sure, then click here: Are You an Alcoholic?

If you'd like a summary of my first year without booze then click here: 2015 - the Year I Quit Drinking

If you'd like to read my story from the beginning then click here: Mummy was a Secret Drinker

I, along with all the regular readers of this blog from around the world, am here to help you and am cheering you on. You are awesome.

2017 - a new year for a new life.

Love SM x