Tuesday, 13 February 2018
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.
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!
Wednesday, 7 February 2018
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!"
"...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.
Tuesday, 30 January 2018
If you've recently quit drinking, and you're giving yourself a hard time about all those years of bad behaviour and self-indulgence, then stop it right now.
Perhaps you're a 'normal drinker' (curse you), and have a newly-sober friend who you're kind of avoiding because you're worried that they might not be any fun, or that they'll start judging you.
Well, that is so lame.
Here are five (of the many) reasons why ex-drinkers are the best people around:
1. We Are People of Excess
We talk about having 'a genetic tendency towards addiction' as a bad thing. And in some ways it is. It's why we got into a bit of trouble with booze and ended up quitting altogether.
But being an addictive personality, an all-or-nothing person, is also an incredibly wonderful thing.
You see, we are not just excessive in our love for alcohol, or nicotine, or shopping, or whatever, we are also excessive in doling out love, in following our dreams, in indulging in our passions for other things like art, literature, running or yoga.
Whatever we do, we like to do with all our heart, its just that, for a while, that mainly involved booze.
2. We are Survivors
We made it through days, weeks and months of taking one day at a time and battling with our inner demons.
We learned how to pare ourselves down to the bone and then rebuild ourselves, piece by piece. And every emotion, every set back we dealt with head on, with no props or anaesthetics to blur the edges.
And we came out of all of that strong. We know that we can walk through fire and emerge, not only unscathed, but fiercer, because we've done it before, and we can do it again.
3. We don't Judge
In today's society we are always judging each other and ourselves. We scrutinise each other's Facebook and Instagram feeds, we gossip and we bitch.
Well, we ex-drinkers know better than anyone that no-one is perfect, least of all ourselves. We don't look at the glossy social media and fall for it, because we know that everyone has a secret pain, that we are all gloriously, messily flawed.
So we don't judge. You can tell us the very worst thing you've ever done, and we'll nod, give you a hug and say "I've been there too."
4. We Make Really Good Friends
Because of all of that, we are really good friends to have around. And we value our friendships, because for a long while we didn't deserve them, and we're terribly grateful to anyone who stuck around.
We nurture our friendships too. We don't just meet up at parties and tell the same stories on a loop, we'll get together for a coffee and a good chat, for a long walk, for a trip to an art gallery or a yoga class - in fact we'd prefer that.
And if we do meet up at a party, we'll give you a lift home.
5. We Have Stories to Tell
And ex-drinkers are far from boring.
If you want to hear tales of a life well-lived, of triumphs and disasters, of excess and passion, then talk to the ex-lush. And they'll tell them without slurring or repetition.
So hurrah for you! Hurrah for us! Hurrah for them!
To read my tales of drinking, and then not drinking, visit my Amazon page. You can read the first few chapters free with the 'look inside' feature.
Click here for daily inspiration and information on the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like' page to stay updated), or follow me on Instagram @clare_pooley.
Love to you all,