Saturday 24 February 2018

Sober Birthdays

As IT'S MY BIRTHDAY, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on birthdays past (drunk) and present (sober)...

In the last of the drinking years, I'd begun to greet birthdays with a mixture of excitement and dread.

I'd be excited because a birthday is one of the only days of the year when you can properly let your hair down without any guilt or remorse. On a birthday, anything goes, and you have to be forgiven any bad behaviour, right?

But I'd dread birthdays too. Another year gone of nothing much changing and nothing much happening. More broken promises and unfulfilled dreams.

And I knew that it was likely to spin out of control. Which it inevitably did...

I would wake up on my birthday morning, and have to cope with three very excited children with a hangover. Because the night before had been the eve of my birthday! A great excuse to indulge a little more than normal.

And a little more than normal was an awful lot!

Then, because of said hangover, and said birthday, I would - obviously - have a long, boozy lunch.

By the time the evening celebrations rolled around, I'd already have drunk a bottle of wine, and would be well into the second, which meant that half way through the party/dinner/whatever I was up to, I'd be slurring, forgetful, confused and sleepy, and a terrible host.

I'd collapse into bed (possibly before the last guests had left), and then wake up with the 3am horrors, trying to remember which secrets I'd spilled and who I might have upset.

The next day would be ghastly.

The morning after my birthday party three years ago was the day I quit drink for good, and you can read about how awful it was on page one of The Sober Diaries. 

(If you click here, you can read the first few chapters for free with the 'Look Inside' feature).

My first sober birthday, nearly a year later, was a little bit hard. It's difficult not to remember, with rose՛tinted glasses, the ghosts of birthdays past, and to feel a little nostalgic....

....but since then, sober birthdays have been AMAZING.

This morning, I woke up feeling perky, but pretended to be asleep as I could hear the pattering of tiny feet and whispering outside the bedroom door.

I could be genuinely excited as three children and the terrier all piled into our ancient, creaking bed, and Mr SM produced bacon, eggs, coffee and presents on a tray.

I realise now that birthdays are as much about the children as they are about me, and today I can spend the whole day on the same level as them, not looking for ways to escape with a glass of vino.

Kit's birthday present to me is having his hair cut.

He's been resisting this for weeks, and his hair has got so long that he can barely see. As I type this, he's in the barber with his dad, and I'm looking forward to receiving his three inch long sideburns tied in a ribbon... It may be another year before I can get him in there again, so I'm going to make the most of it.

This evening, after birthday tea with the kids, Mr SM and I are going out for dinner and to the theatre in the West End.

It's going to be brilliant, and I won't wake up part way through the play to find that I've fallen asleep on the stranger next to me and am drooling on his shoulder (this did happen once, back in the day).

And I can spend the evening reflecting on a year when I did stuff. Stuff that mattered. 

I faced my fears and exposed all my secrets and vulnerabilities to the world, then discovered that my story was changing people's lives, which is the best birthday present ever.

And I'll fall asleep, tired, happy and sober.

Happy birthday to me, and love to all of you.

SM x

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Me O'Clock

I used to love the wine o'clock jokes and memes.

They made me feel like my daily wine habit was totally normal - expected even. It was all part of being a busy mum, winding down at the end of a day corralling three energetic children.

They were proof that everyone else was doing exactly the same thing. So I didn't have a problem! Despite the fact that I was drinking a bottle of wine every day, not just one glass....

Then, after I quit drinking, I started to hate the wine o'clock thing. It just made me feel left out. It was a constant reminder of what I was missing. And I was ANGRY. Angry that booze had misled me, lied to me and let me down.

Now that I am a seriously happy alcohol-free person (and, if you are still struggling, believe me, you WILL get there) I just give the wine o'clock jokes a wry smile and think (in a slightly patronising way, I have to admit. I am not perfect) you can keep your yucky addictive toxin. I am not interested.

Then I came across a fabulous blogger via my new Instagram addiction (you can find me at @clare_pooley) called Cat Sims. Her blog is called Not So Smug Now. 

Cat was on a Radio 5 Live programme about wine o'clock - titled is #wineoclock damaging or just a bit of fun?, which she then wrote about. (You can find her brilliant post on the SoberMummy Facebook Page).

Cat argues that we're asking the wrong question.

The wine o'clock hashtag, she says, 'comes from a place of good.' Not so long ago, mothers tended to compete with each other, rather than support each other, and the hashtag is an acknowledgment that motherhood is tough.

Cat says that instead of worrying about whether wine o'clock is normalising drinking, we should be concentrating on normalising not-drinking. 

I totally agree.

We need to address the fact that non-drinkers are often made to feel like party poopers, and feel like they have to explain why they're not 'joining in'. 

I don't ask anyone to justify why they're drinking an addictive drug - that's their choice. So I don't see why I should have to justify why I choose not to. It should be accepted that people can choose to drink alcohol, or not. Simples.

This got me thinking....

.....instead of grumbling about #wineoclock, why don't we create our own hashtag. Because the truth is that we still need some wind down time at around 6pm. We still need to feel adult, and we still need to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Don't we?

So, why don't we start using #meoclock?

I'll share this blog post on Facebook and Instagram, with my picture of #meoclock above - that's me and the terrier relaxing with the fabulous self-heating, aromatherapy Spacemasks.

It would be great if you could add your own pictures of #meoclock in the comments on the Facebook page. Or, if you use Instagram, post on there with the hashtag (and please tag me so I can see!)

Let's start a new movement, showing all the alternative, wonderful and wacky things you can do at 6pm that DON'T INVOLVE WINE!

(If you're stuck about what to do at me o'clock, then why not check out The Sober Diaries - you can read the first few chapters for free by clicking here and choosing the 'look inside' feature).

Love to you all,

SM x

Tuesday 13 February 2018

5 Signs That You're Drinking Too Much

In the final months of my long and turbulent love affair with wine, I would often end up asking Google or Siri if I had a drink problem.

Usually, one of those online questionnaires would pop up asking questions like do you drink first thing in the morning? Have you lost a job because of your drinking? Do you drink alone?

I'd answer 'yes' to some (of course I drink alone sometimes. Doesn't everyone? Anyhow, I'm not really on my own - the dog is here, and the kids are asleep upstairs...), but there were an awful lot I could answer 'no' to, which would convince me that I didn't really have a problem. 

Yay! Crack open the vino to celebrate!

However, alcohol addiction is not black and white. It's far more nuanced and complex than that. Like any addiction, it's progressive, it's fifty shades of grey (but not in a kinky way).

Alcohol can have a hugely negative impact on your life way before you get to the vodka-on-the-cornflakes stage. And the sooner you realise that it is a problem, the easier it is to address before you really do reach rock bottom.

So, based on my experience, and on the hundreds of e-mails I've had from readers over the years, here are the five signs that I wish I'd been told to look out for:

1. Is Alcohol Affecting Your Mental and Physical Health?

Alcohol has a huge impact on our mental and physical health, particularly as we get older.

It's not just the obvious things, like the hangovers, it's far more insidious than that.

If you have a problem with anxiety, you may well think that the booze helps you to relax. Well actually, it's the booze that's causing the anxiety. 

Alcohol affects our dopamine levels. When you have a drink you get a boost of dopamine which, admittedly, helps you to chill out, but the next day you'll get a corresponding domaine crash, which makes you feel hugely anxious.

And, over time, the brain reduces the levels of dopamine it produces to compensate for the alcohol you're drinking, making you feel generally depressed.

Sound familiar?

You may also find that you're getting worse and worse at sleeping. You get to sleep okay, but then wake up at around 3am tossing and turning for ages. That's the booze.

Muffin top? Nope, it's a wine belly. A bottle of wine contains around 650 calories.

Those are just some of the obvious ways in which booze is impacting on your health, but there are longer term and more dangerous ones too, like the fact that alcohol hugely increases your chance of getting seven different types of cancer.

2. You Keep Making (and Breaking) Rules

I did this for years before I finally quit drinking.

I did Dry January (but started a few days late and finished a week early).

I did 'not drinking during the week', but then decided that the weekend started on Thursday and ended on Monday. I did 'not drinking at home' and started going out an awful lot.

I tried alternating alcoholic drinks with water, which worked okay until I got slightly drunk, then I totally forgot about that rule. I tried only drinking weak beer, but after several of those I'd lose all willpower and order a vodka.

The constantly making and breaking of rules is exhausting and hugely damaging to your self esteem, and it's a really good sign that booze is no longer your friend.

3. You Keep Thinking About Alcohol

I know that there was a time, back in my dim and distant past, when I didn't think about alcohol at all, except when I was actually drinking it. But it started taking up more and more space in my head.

If you find yourself constantly thinking about if you're going to drink, when you're going to drink and how much you're going to drink, then it's starting to be an issue.

You might find that you've started to think really weird stuff (if so, don't worry, you are really not alone!)

Many of us, for example, started to worry about whether the supermarket cashiers were judging us and would rotate the shops we bought booze from. Or we'd worry about our neighbours checking out our bulging recycling bags.

You might also find that you've started to Google 'am I an alcoholic?' and that you're avidly reading articles titled things like 'Signs that you're drinking too much.' Just saying...

4. Your Memory is Playing Up

Alcohol is really toxic to our brains and our memories.

You might joke with your friends about how you can't remember the details of the party the night before, but actually, those memory blackouts are a really bad sign. You've overloaded your brain with so many toxins that it's stopped being able to make memories.

Maybe you've never experienced a full scale memory blackout (some people are more prone to them than others), but you may well have found that although you spent five hours at a party you can only really recall enough of it to fit into about an hour. And it takes you a while in the morning to remember how you got home and where you put your handbag and your phone.

That's called a 'brown out'. It's the precursor to a blackout, where your memory sort of flicks on and off like a malfunctioning lightbulb.

If any of this sounds familiar then you're drinking too much,

5. You're an All-or-Nothing Person

One thing I've learned is that some people are just more prone to addiction than others, and if you're one of these people then you really need to be careful around any form of drug (or even sugar, gambling and internet shopping!)

I call this tribe the 'all-or-nothing' people, and we are brilliant. We throw ourselves into everything - love, friendship, hobbies, you name it. We are hopeless at moderating all of that good stuff. But, sadly, we're also hopeless at moderating booze.

If you were totally unable to be a 'social smoker' and ended up with a packet a day habit, if you can't eat one crisp in a bowl and leave the others, if you've never seen the point in having only one small glass of wine, then it's likely that you and booze are not a good mix.

If you've read all of that and are now thinking OMG I HAVE A DRINK PROBLEM! WHAT DO I DO? then do not panic.

You might find that you're easily able to cut down, but if not (see point 2 above) then do ditch the drink! Go alcohol free! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

That anxiety, sleeplessness, wine belly, increased cancer risk - gone. The lack of self esteem as you keep making and breaking rules - no longer. All that time wasted thinking about drinking - no more. You'll have more energy, more money and a better life, and you'll be able to remember all of it!

If you're still not convinced then read the diary of the ups and down of my first year sober. Here's a link to my Amazon page. You can read the first few chapters for free using the 'Look Inside' feature.

Love to you all!

SM x

Wednesday 7 February 2018

What Do I Advise My Teenager About Booze?

Argh. Teenagers.

One minute your children are climbing all over you like little chubby monkeys, winding your hair in their fingers and whispering "I love you, Mummy" into your ear, and then - in what seems like no time at all - they're smelly, grumpy, eye-roll-ey teenagers who find you hideously embarrassing.

I've had several questions from people recently about what we should be telling our teenagers about alcohol.

I'm no expert, but here is what I told mine the other day:

"You do realise that alcohol is an addictive drug, right?"

*eyeroll* from teenager who is looking for an escape hatch. I have anticipated this, and she is in a moving car, strapped in safely.

"If alcohol came on to the market today it wouldn't be legalised. It is perfectly possible to live a fantastic life, a better life, without alcohol blurring all the edges. Just look at me!"

*scathing glance*

"...However, I do realise that the majority of the population do drink and that you're bound to want to give it a go, so can I please just give you a little bit of advice?"

"'Spose", she replies, reluctantly.

"If you want to drink happily and sensibly for your whole adult life, and not get into the pickle that I did, then there are three rules that you need to stick to:

1. Never drink on more than three occasions in one week.
2. Never drink more than three drinks in one session - as soon as you feel even slightly out of control, then stop.
3. Only drink socially, never alone.

Does that sound reasonable? Easy to do?"


"Right, well I want you to remember this conversation for your whole life. Because your reasonable, logical, clever self knows that those three rules are perfectly acceptable and achievable.

But there may come a day when you try to convince yourself that one of them or, indeed all of them, are unnecessary and unreasonable.

That is NOT YOU talking, that is the booze. That is an indication that slowly, slowly, it is making you think and behave in a way that is NOT YOU and that you know, deep down, is not right.

So, if that happens, you need to decide if you're able to stick to the rules or if, like me, you actually find it easier not to drink at all. Rules were never my forte, and they may not be yours."

"Can we go to Nando's now?"


It is also worth reminding your teenager that if they do get trashed at a party (which, let's face it, is bound to happen at some point), not only do they put themselves in danger, but they could well end up with horribly embarrassing photos of them doing the rounds of the world wide web for ever and ever.

Teenagers feel invincible, and are often oblivious to the idea of coming to any physical harm, but apparently the fear of being shamed on social media is one of the big reasons why they drink less than our generation, so let's shamelessly exploit that fact.

However, I honestly believe that the most powerful thing we can do for our teenagers is to set a good example. Teenagers tend not to listen to what we say, but they do learn from what we do.

And that is one of the main reasons why I quit drinking. I didn't want my children to grow up believing that adults need a glass of wine (or several) to cope with the ups and downs of everyday life.

Do please let me know in the comments what you've advised your children about booze!

There's lots of new articles and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook page. Or follow me on Instagram @clare_pooley, and I have (finally) decided to do Twitter @cpooleywriter.

To find my book, The Sober Diaries, click here. You can read the first few chapters for free using the 'Look Inside' feature.

And, finally, if you want to treat yourself for Valentine's Day (which you really should, because you are amazing), then the wonderful Wise Bartender is offering all readers Bees Knees alcohol-free Prosecco for only 99p with the promo code HAPPYVALS.

Love to you all.

SM x