Sunday 29 December 2019

What Happens When You Tell Your Truth?

Welcome to Mummy was a Secret Drinker. If you've found this page because you're looking for help quitting drinking then WELCOME!

All the information and support you need is in this blog. There are hundreds of posts, all free to read and share.  Click here for a good place to start! You can also find daily advice and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook page.

If you're looking for more information about me and what I've been up to recently, plus my recent blog posts, you can find me at

I can't believe it's nearly five years since I started writing this blog, and two years since I published The Sober Diaries, the warts-and-all story of my first year without booze.

I'll never forget the long, dark nights before publication. I hardly slept. I was utterly terrified, not just about the book being out there, but about the fact that I was booked to appear on Woman's Hour, the Steve Wright show and Lorraine, and was going to be all over loads of publications, including the Daily Mail.

I hadn't been booked to discuss some impressive charity work, or business venture. I was expected to tell the whole world my darkest secrets, how I'd found myself drinking around ten bottles of wine a week, how I'd become a terrible mother, how I'd been anxious all the time, hugely overweight and unable to sleep. How I'd hated myself.

By December 28th 2017 I was convinced I'd made a terrible mistake. Was it too late to pull the plug? It was. The books had been printed, the advance paid, the PR lined up. I thought I was going to be horribly trolled, by people telling me (with some justification, I thought) that I was an unfit mother and a terrible human being.

You see, I'd spent YEARS covering up all my weaknesses, filling in the cracks, hiding my recycling bins, freshening my breath and curating my social media feeds. If you looked at my life from the outside it all looked pretty damn perfect.

But I gritted my teeth and did everything my publishers told me to do, then waited for the fall-out.

It never came. There were a few horrible comments in the Mail Online (my favourite was if I was her husband, I'd be drinking a bottle of wine a day!) but that was it. Instead what I got was a deluge of messages from people all over the world saying thank you for telling your story, because until now I thought I was the only one who felt like that...

What I discovered was that telling your real truth not only changes your life, but can transform the life of so many other people too, and create magical communities.

And that made me think. What would happen if we all told the truth about our lives? 

I started writing again, but this time a fictional story, about a little green notebook titled The Authenticity Project in which a terribly lonely widower and artist - Julian Jessop - tells his truth. He leaves the book in a cafe where it's picked up by the owner, Monica, who resolves to track him down and transform his life.

The book is passed between six people including Hazard, a cocaine and booze addict and Alice, a mummy instagrammer, who all write their stories in its pages, leading to a life-changing world of friendship and forgiveness.

I wasn't sure whether anyone would be interested in my novel which, like this blog, I wrote partly as a form of therapy, but - incredibly - it's being published in twenty-nine different languages in 2020.

If you'd like to read The Authenticity Project, it's out on February 4th in the USA in all formats (click here to pre-order), and in audio and e-book in the UK (click here to pre-order). The UK hardback is out on April 2nd, and other languages throughout the year.

A huge thank you to everyone who's followed my journey. I am so grateful to you all. And if you're new to this blog, then know you are not alone. Thousands of us have been where you are, and life is going to get so much better...

Love Clare x

Friday 5 April 2019

Mother's Little Helper, or Mother's Ruin?

Did your family give you a present on Mother’s Day this year? Breakfast in bed maybe? Flowers? A home-made card?

In the days BS (Before Sober), my three children always knew what to give me as a present, because they knew what Mummy’s favourite hobby was: drinking wine. 

So, they’d buy me a corkscrew. A bottle stopper (ironic, since there was never anything left in a bottle of wine once I’d opened it). A giant wine glass with ‘Mummy’s glass’ etched onto it. You get the picture. 
This year, my kids gave me a frame, with a photo of me and the three of them inside it. This made me all tearful, as I realised that now my focus isn’t distracted by wine, it really is on them. Not entirely on them, obviously, but more so.
I might not have been given booze on Mother’s Day this year, but an awful lot of women in the UK were. 

Between 2016 and 2018, gin sales doubled to over £2 billion, and the sales peak – 2.6 million bottles – was in March, coinciding with Mother’s Day. 

In the weeks leading up to the big day, retailers bombarded us with alcohol based presents. I saw a bottle of wine branded ‘Mummy Fuel’, wine bangles (hollow bracelets filled with wine) and wine purses (handbags with a built-in wine pouch and a tap on the outside – yes, really).

How did we end up in a place where motherhood is synonymous with wine? Or gin? When did ‘mother’s ruin’ become ‘mother’s little helper’? Why did we all start buying into the myth that it’s impossible to be a mother without some form of anaesthetic?

I had my first child in the early days of this century – 2003. That was when the ‘mummy blogger’ first appeared, and back then mothering was all about perfection. We wanted to do it brilliantly. 

We read Gina Ford and The Baby Whisperer. We tried to bake perfect cupcakes and make home-made playdough. We bought organic vegetables and spent hours pureeing and freezing them into little ice-cubes. 

And we were knackered.  We felt like failures. Because motherhood is really hard, and perfection is unachievable. You just need to give it your best shot, and forgive yourself.
So, by the mid noughties, the backlash began. The perfect-mum-blogger was replaced by the slummy-mummy. 

We cheered! We threw Gina Ford in the bin and bought ready-made baby food from Ella’s Kitchen. We laughed about our failures on Mumsnet. And all of that was a really good thing, but along with it came wine-o’clock.
When we decided to shout about motherhood being difficult, we also started joking about how we managed to cope. And how we managed to cope was WINE. 

As social media took off, so did all the wine memes. Wine o’clock. Why Mummy drinks. Mummy juice. 

The retailers and marketing departments were really quick to jump on the bandwagon, and then start driving the train. We didn’t feel bad about pouring ourselves a large goblet of wine at the end of a long day, because it was ‘me-time’, we were worth it. And everyone else was doing it too.

The problem is that wine is a drug. 

That sentence looks really obvious to me now, but it wasn’t back then. How could something so beautifully packaged, so ubiquitous, joked about all over social media, be an actual drug? After all, you wouldn’t joke at the school gates about being desperate to get home for a line of cocaine, but everyone admitted looking forward to that first glass of wine.

But it is. A drug. And, like any other drug, your tolerance increases over time, so it no longer takes one glass of wine to help you unwind at the end of the day, it takes a whole damn bottle. And when you’re drinking several bottles of the stuff a week, it’s not just your shoulders unwinding, it’s your whole life.

I honestly bought into the myth that wine helped. I thought it made me more relaxed. When I’d had a day filled with nappies and wipes and Monkey Music, a glass of wine made me feel adult again. I thought it made me more tolerant with my kids.

The scary thing is, alcohol does exactly the opposite. 
Alcohol made me anxious all the time. It made me rush through bedtime stories so I could get to the fridge. It made me short tempered and grumpy with my kids. And it made me a terrible role model. I was teaching my children that grown-ups need a drug in order to be able to cope with everyday life. To be able to cope with them. 
So, this Mother’s Day, I looked at that photo of me with the three of them, looking relaxed, happy, present, not wishing the time away until it was wine o’clock, and I realised that sobriety is the best gift ever, for you and your children.

To read about my first year sober, and for lots of hints and tips, check out The Sober Diaries. You can find it here (UK) or here (USA).

(I wrote this article for Catherine Gray's Sober Spring campaign, in conjunction with Alcohol Change).

Love to you all,

SM x

Sunday 24 March 2019

The Best New Sober Blogs

I'm really not exaggerating when I say that blogging saved my life.

I'd tried to quit drinking many times before, and I'd kept it up for a week or two, sometimes whole months, but eventually I'd end up back where I started. Usually worse than where I'd started.

I'm often asked what made the difference this time, and the answer is simple: blogging. Here's why:


In Johann Hari's amazing TED talk titled 'Everything you thought you knew about addiction is wrong' he says that the opposite of addiction is connection. It's finding a group of people who understand what you're going through and can support you and guide you that makes the difference.

In the dark days, when I was desperate for a drink, and when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, that community held out its hand and saved me.

Giving back

Alcoholics Anonymous have 'giving back' as one of their twelve steps. Helping other people in the way that you've been helped is good for the soul. It also helps to remind you where you've been and to feel grateful for where you are, and gratitude is crucial for good mental health.

Blogging is a great way of giving back.


We all know that mindfulness is a really good thing, but it's really difficult for we addicts, because we often have what's known as monkey brain. Overactive minds that just won't shut up - that's why we drank, for the dimmer switch that alcohol provides. It also makes things like meditation really, really difficult.

However, blogging, or any form of reading or writing, is a great way of practising mindfulness, and of keeping your thoughts in the moment.


Therapists often prescribe 'journalling' as a way of aiding recovery. Writing down what you're going through and how you're feeling on a daily basis is a great way of understanding where yourself and your issues.


One of the main reasons for falling off the wagon is because you start feeling SO much better, and then you forget how bad it was. You forget why you're doing all this. You think maybe this time it will be different. Having a blog to remind you what it was really like and why you quit is really helpful for times like these.

I get lots of messages from people who've started sober blogs, and are finding it really therapeutic, but finding readers initially is hard, particularly if you want to stay anonymous and don't want to share your blog posts on social media.

Often, by the time people have found them, they've been sober for a year already, and those readers are missing out on helping the writer through the hardest, early days.

That's why I'm writing this.

If you have recently started a sober blog, or podcast, or YouTube channel and you would like people to find you then please leave a few lines about your 'thing' and your web address in the comments below.

Also, if you have recently come across a brilliant new blog, or podcast or whatever, then please recommend it below.

If you've recently quit drinking, or want to do so, then check out the recommendations below for some new virtual friends, who are going through exactly what you are. You can help each other.

I will share this post on all the SoberMummy Facebook page, and will add it to the pages at the top of my blog, so it's always accessible if you're wanting to promote or to read.

If you get a chance to share this post too, then please do. Let's all help each other, spread the word and the love.

And if you'd like to know more about my first year blogging my way through going sober, you can read The Sober Diaries. Available from Amazon here (UK) and here (USA).

Love to you all,

SM x

Friday 8 March 2019

3 Things I Learned From the Worst Year of my Life

I've been asked to speak at The Rising Festival in Cambridge, in celebration of International Women's Day. Here is the transcript of my speech. I do hope you enjoy it.

Three things I learned from the worst year of my life.

My name is Clare Pooley, and I’m going to tell you the story of the worst year of my life. I realise that doesn’t sound particularly uplifting. Bear with me.

The worst year of my life was 2015. I was totally stuck in a rut. I was depressed, a terrible insomniac, two stone overweight, anxious all the time, and self-medicating with a bottle of wine a day. 

In March of that year, I quit drinking alcohol. Eight months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet now I see that that year was the most important one of my life, which has, since then, been transformed in incredible ways. Here are the three things 2015 taught me:

1.     When you drink to numb all the difficult things in life, you numb all the good bits too.

I drank in the way that many women do. At the end of a busy, stressful day, when the big hand hit ‘wine o’clock’ I would pour a large glass of Chablis (because if you drink expensive wine you’re a connoisseur, not a lush, right?) and tell myself that it was ‘me time.’ Because I was worth it. 

Gradually, over a period of years, that one glass became two, then three, and the glasses got larger. By 2015 I was drinking a bottle a day, more at weekends. Even I knew that was WAY more than the government guidelines.

Drinking was my hobby, my thing, my passion. I drank to celebrate, to commiserate, to relax, to have fun, for pretty much any reason at all, actually. Every now and again I’d worry about whether it was getting out of control and I’d find myself, late at night, asking Siri if I was an alcoholic. Siri would give me an online questionnaire which would ask questions like ‘do you drink alone?’ I’d answer ‘no’, because I was with the dog. 

I would scroll through my social media feed and chuckle at all the memes about ‘mummy’s little helper’ and ‘mummy juice’ and feel reassured that everyone drank the way I did. And I wasn’t wrong. 

In the UK, it is middle-aged, well-educated women who are most likely to be problem drinkers, not the hedonistic youth. An OECD report estimated that one in five female graduates drink hazardously (at more than twice the safe level).

I totally ignored the fact the that the WHO classifies alcohol as a group 1 carcinogen, or that alcohol causes insomnia and exacerbates depression, anxiety and dementia. I ignored the 700 calories in a bottle of wine, because it was a liquid and didn’t count. 

Instead, I would focus all my attention on the studies that showed that red wine was good for you. It was part of a Mediterranean lifestyle. It was made from grapes, for goodness sake. One of your five a day! I would imagine myself as one of those wizened, but happy, crones, dressed in floor length black shapeless dresses, gossiping on the sun-drenched steps of a piazza at the age of one-hundred-and-nine. 

I didn’t want to stop drinking. I thought my life would be over. And I was terrified about what people would think. It’s not easy at my age, in today’s Britain, to tell people that you don’t drink.

If you quit smoking, people treat you like a hero. They tell you that you are brave and clever and pat you on the back. If you quit dairy or gluten or sugar you can boast about it on Instagram and get loads of ‘likes.’ If I told people that I’d stopped drinking tap water they’d not bat an eyelid. But if you tell people at a party that you don’t drink alcohol they look horrified. And then they want to know WHY. They want gory details. They want to know if you got done for drunk driving, had inappropriate sex with inappropriate people or passed out in gutters in front of your children. Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking.

But then, when I finally plucked up the courage to quit, miracles started to happen. Not immediately, but gradually over the next few months. For a start, the insomnia that had plagued me for decades disappeared, and I started sleeping like a baby. I also lost two stone. The low-level anxiety that had been my constant companion for years slowly drifted away and I felt much more positive and energetic about life. It was like someone had turned up the colour contrast on the TV, and life morphed from rather grey to technicolour.

As a teenager, I’d always loved writing, and when I stopped drinking, that passion returned with a vengeance. I became more creative and imaginative than I’d been for years. I started writing a blog, which I called Mummy was a Secret Drinker, an online diary of what I was going through, and within a few months, my blog picked up hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world. 

I wasn’t alone in finding that quitting booze can reinvigorate your life and your career. Readers of my blog have done extraordinary things since they stopped drinking – they’ve launched businesses and new careers, written books, rediscovered old hobbies and found new passions. It’s no co-incidence that many of the most successful people in any field don’t drink. Anna Wintour and Tina Brown – don’t drink. Bradley Cooper, Tom Hardy and Samuel L. Jackson don’t drink. Kim Kardashian, doesn’t drink. 

I realised that for the previous decade, in trying to numb all the difficult parts of my life, I’d numbed all the good bits too.

Then, just as everything was going swimmingly, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I learned the next big lesson of that year:

2.     Dealing with addiction or trauma turns you into a superhero

It’s not easy giving up an addictive drug, especially when the majority of the population don’t treat it like one. You take it one day at a time. You spend hours wrestling with the demons in your own head. Then, one day, you come out the other side and you think wow. I did it. I’m free. And then you think now I can do absolutely anything.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t have been. The American Society for Clinical Oncology estimate that alcohol is the direct cause of more than one in twenty of all cancer deaths globally. In fact, alcohol kills more people around the world than malaria, meningitis, tuberculosis and dengue fever put together.

If I’d still been drinking at that point, all the wheels would have come off. I’d have dived into a vat of vino and not reappeared for some time. I’d have yelled and screamed in front of my children and would have been entirely focussed on me, not them. As it was, sober, I coped. Everything carried on as normally as possible, I took it one day at a time and wrestled with my demons.

And, when it was all over, I thought wow, I did it, I’m free. Now I can do absolutely anything. 

When you self-medicate your way through any difficult patch, trying to rub out any feelings of fear and anxiety, you become more and more cowardly, and unable to deal with the vicissitudes of life. 

When you learn to deal with trauma completely raw, you become braver and braver. And you realise that on the other side of your maximum fear lies all the best things in life. That is where the magic happens.

So, I faced up to my biggest fears. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being judged. And I wrote a book. I called it The Sober Diaries,(available from Amazon and most good bookshops. My publisher told me to say that) and I told everyone my darkest secrets, about how badly I was addicted to wine, and how much my life had changed since I gave it up. 

And that’s when I learned the third lesson:

3.     Speaking your truth changes lives

We spend so much time curating our own images, and presenting perfect versions of our lives online. Then we make ourselves miserable by comparing the truth of our lives with the fiction we’re shown of other peoples. 

Social media does not tell the truth. It tells us that everyone is beautiful, happy and successful, when the truth is we are all struggling with something. Behind all the whitened smiles are people dealing with addiction, redundancy, caring for parents with Alzheimer’s or children being bullied. And many, many of those people are feeling totally alone.

Oprah Winfrey said, in her speech at the Golden Globes “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”And, you know what? She’s right, because when I published my truth, I learned that stories really can change lives. 

I’ve had thousands of messages from people all over the world saying “I thought I was the only one struggling with my relationship with booze, and I thought life without it would be miserable, so thank you for making me feel less alone and for giving me the courage to quit.”
I’ve now been sober for four years, and cancer free for three, and life has never been better. I’ve done a TEDx talk, up here at my old Cambridge college, talked from the stage at WOMAD for Radio 4’s FourThought, and have had the great honour of being invited here to talk to all of you. I’ve also written my first novel – The Authenticity Project – which is coming out in Spring 2020. So, my new fear is whether anyone's going to want to read it!

 Sometimes, what feels like the end is actually the beginning.

 You might be lucky enough to be the sort of person who can drink ‘sensibly.’ If so, I applaud you! (Although, full disclosure, I hate you a little bit too). But the truth is that most people use something to take the edges off life, whether it’s bingeing on sugar, spending hours on social media or a fortune on internet shopping. 

Whatever your prop is, you’re likely to discover that in escaping the difficult things in life, you’re also escaping its opportunities. Learning to live life in the raw will make you a superhero, and being open about your demons will change lives.


Monday 4 February 2019

Am I Addicted to Sugar?

My name's Clare, and I'm a sugaraholic.

When I was drinking (a lot), I wasn't that interested in sugar. I felt quite smug about my lack of sweet tooth. I could inhale a packet of crisps (that's chips for my American friends) from twenty paces, but chocolate? I could take or leave it.

Then, I quit drinking, and hot chocolate and cake became my lifeline.

I have to confess, that over the last few years, that craving for sugar hasn't really diminished. In fact, it's got worse.

In our house, we have cupcake Friday. I don't actually bake the suckers. I'm really not that kind of mother, sadly. But I pick the kids up from school and we go to the local cupcake shop where they sell such beauties as Unicorn cupcakes! With horns and sprinkles.

I swear, eating a large cupcake with lots of frosting makes me totally HIGH.

But then, there's the inevitable crash, an hour or so later. And I've started craving that sugar high more and more.

When I was madly editing my new novel for a Christmas deadline, I spent hours in my pyjamas and Uggs, hunched over my laptop, mainlining mince pies. I kid you not. I ate dozens of those evil temptresses.

I know I am not alone. Many, many people tell me that after going sober they developed unbearable sugar cravings.

Why is this?

Well, it turns out that sugar acts on our dopamine levels in exactly the same way as alcohol, or cocaine, or any other drug.

Dopamine is a neuro-transmitter in the brain associated with pleasure and reward. If you have a tendency towards addiction, it is likely that you are particularly sensitive to dopamine.

When we drink alcohol, or eat sugar, our brains produce a spike of dopamine. Way-hey! The issue is that following that spike, there's a crash, which makes us crave more.

And over time, our brains reduce the amount of dopamine produced naturally to compensate for all the stuff we keep shovelling in, so without booze, or sugar, we feel a bit...meh.

After my Christmas sugar binge-fest, I decided that something had to be done. I needed to moderate.

I have, therefore, given myself some parameters. I will NOT eat sugar during the week. I will NOT eat sugar alone. I will NOT eat more than one cupcake in one sitting.

Is this all sounding horribly familiar?

And, just the same as when I tried those rules with booze, I find myself becoming obsessed by the idea of sneaking down to the newsagent and hiding a cheeky bag of Maltesers (they are mainly air, after all) in my shopping basket, amongst lots of random items that I don't actually need.

I did some research, and there is some good news. There are, it turns out, several ways to produce dopamine in a totally healthy way.

First off, you can eat foods rich in something called tyrosine, like almonds, bananas, avocados, eggs, beans, fish and chicken. Not as pretty as cupcakes, but they do the same thing in a more gentle, less addictive fashion.

You can exercise. Yoga is especially good at producing dopamine, but any exercise, particularly outdoors (dopamine loves sunlight) will do the job.

Make sure you get lots of sleep. If you're sleep deprived, your dopamine levels will go through the floor. That's why you crave sugar when you're tired.

Listen to music! Your favourite tunes lead to an increase in dopamine. Yes, really.

Get a massage. Apparently, massage therapy increases dopamine levels by nearly 30%, while also decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone).

I've been trying these strategies, and they really do work.

So, whether you're craving booze, sugar or cocaine, grab a banana, do some asanas in the sunshine, book a massage and turn the music up, and before you know it, the cravings will go.

Read the story of my first year sober, The Sober Diaries, described as 'Bridget Jones Dries Out.' You can get the first few chapters for free using Amazon's 'look inside' feature. Click here for UK, here for USA.

For daily inspiration and information, check out the SoberMummy Facebook Page. 'Like' page to stay updated.

Love to you all,


Wednesday 16 January 2019

How Cancer Changed my Life

It's been three years since I finished my treatment for breast cancer, and yesterday I had a meeting with my oncologist to discuss my latest blood tests.

I have, he told me, 'a perfect set of bloods.' I don't have a perfect set of boobs any longer, obviously, but you can't have everything.

This, my friends, means that I am, as far as we can tell, still cancer free.

I swore, when I was first diagnosed, that if I was lucky enough to survive this, I would never, ever become one of those irritating people who said that cancer was the best thing that happened to them.

I still stand by that. Cancer was the very worst thing that has ever happened to me and my family, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

However, in many ways my life is so much better now than it was before my diagnosis.

I am Grateful

Many studies have shown that feeling grateful is really good for our mental health. It's so easy to send life feeling constantly dissatisfied with our lives, and to forget the important things, like health and family.

I can never forget. Because three times a year I have checks at the boob clinic.

The night before this check-up, I lay in bed mulling over the usual issues of the day, like whether my son will ever get to grips with French grammar, and where my daughter's hockey mouth guard had disappeared to, and it struck me that in twenty-four hours I might be worrying about how long I had to live instead. From one day to the next, your life can change irrevocably.

Every four months I am reminded that having your health and your family is a precious gift that we can never take for granted.

I Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

I used to stress out about the smallest things. Everything had to be perfect.

A cancer diagnosis puts things into perspective. Once you've had to stare death in the face and think about your children growing up without a mother, a parking ticket or a less than perfect school report seem utterly insignificant.

I'm still not an entirely laid back mother, but I'm much more so.

I'm More Empathetic

We are always so quick to judge each other, and to get angry when we think that someone has treated us badly in some way.

Dealing with cancer makes you realise that everyone has their own stuff going on - a sick parent, a troubled child, a mean boss. Sometimes, just getting to the end of the day is a triumph. No-one can be expected to be perfect.

I Have a 'Fuck-it Button'

My life has totally transformed over the last three years. There were always many things I wanted to do with my life, but I thought there was plenty of time. I'd get around to it one day, when the time was right.

I was also paralysed by the fear of failure.

Since I was a child, I'd wanted to write, but I worried that I didn't have time, that I would never be good enough, that I'd be rejected or, worse, laughed at.

Since the cancer thing, however, I've developed a 'fuck-it button.'

Now, whenever I hear that little voice of doubt saying you can't, I reply FUCK IT! What's the worst that can happen? I'm not going to DIE (yet), and if I don't do it now, I might run out of time, because who knows what's around the next corner.

So, I published the story of that year of my life - the year I quit drinking, and then got cancer, The Sober Diaries (click here for my Amazon page). And, next year, my debut novel is being published.

I told this story to my oncologist yesterday, and he said that many of his breast cancer survivors have gone on to do extraordinary things.

But it's not just about cancer.

Whatever trauma you are dealing with in your life right now, know this: when you get out the other side (which you will), you will be stronger, happier, nicer and - what's more - you'll be a superhero.

Love to you all,

SM x