Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Repairing the Damage



I am not the same woman I was ten years ago.

The process of beating addiction requires you to tear yourself apart, layer by layer, and then to reassemble yourself, as best you can.

Then I got breast cancer, and dealing with that was very similar. I was shattered, and had to gradually rebuild.

I didn't just end up emotionally scarred, I was physically scarred too - an ex-lush with only 1.75 breasts and a big gash where one of my my sentinel lymph nodes used to be. Not to mention the damage inflicted by three lots of childbirth and breast feeding.

It's very easy to emerge from all of that feeling damaged. Flawed. Imperfect.

That's why I loved a performance I saw recently by the amazing feminist poet - Megan Beech.

(Megan's debut poetry collection was brilliantly titled "When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard.")

Megan performed a piece about living with depression. She compared her relationship with mental illness to the Japanese art of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum, thereby creating a piece much more beautiful and unique than the 'perfect' original.

It is said that when this new art emerged in the late 15th century, collectors became so enamoured with it that they would deliberately smash valuable pottery so that it could be repaired with the golden seams of kintsugi.

Kintsugi is not just an art, it's also a philosophy which treats breakage and repair as part of the unique history, or story, of an object, rather than something to disguise.

In a book about mended Japanese ceramics, Christy Bartlett writes "not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated."

Another brilliant poet, Leonard Cohen, said the same in these lyrics from Anthem:  

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

And the truth is that those repaired cracks and flaws are what makes us unique and precious and beautiful. We shouldn't be ashamed of them, we should celebrate them - highlight them in gold and make them shimmer.

It also makes us brave and fearless, because we know that even if something is thrown at us that makes us shatter again, we have the ability to rebuild, and to - eventually - emerge even better.

I like to think that understanding Kintsugi can make us less judgemental too, that instead of criticising the flaws and imperfections of others we can see them as marks of a bewitching individuality.

So, if you are feeling battered and bruised by life, then don't be, because it's those scars which make you beautiful, unique and courageous.

There's lots of new stuff on the SoberMummy Facebook page, including much heated debate on the Liz Jones article about the misery that is sobriety (*angry face*). 'Like' the page to stay updated.

To listen to my TEDx talk on Making Sober Less Shameful click here.

To read about the ups and downs of the first year sober in The Sober Diaries click here (UK), or here (USA) or here (Australia).

To hear Megan perform her kintsugi poem, click here.

Love to you all!

SM x

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Social Media: Good or Evil?




I have a messy, love-hate relationship with social media. My Facebook status would describe our relationship as 'it's complicated.'

Until recently, I didn't spend much time on social media. Occasionally I'd post one of those smug family holiday pictures for family and friends (which wouldn't show the reality of flight delays, family arguments and sunburn) on Facebook, but that was it.

Then, when I 'came out' from behind my SoberMummy pseudonym, six months ago, I set up the SoberMummy Facebook page.

I love that page because it allows me to post all the fabulous articles and videos that I find, and that people kindly send me, about booze.

I love the fact that it's picked up over four thousand followers from all over the world, and I love that it's introduced me to other great Facebook communities, like Club Soda, World Without Wine and Recovery Buddha.

In many ways, social media has transformed life for addicts like me. I was WAY too scared and ashamed to pitch up at an AA meeting. I would have got there eventually, but I would probably have had to reach rock bottom first.

The blogosphere and social media make finding help before you lose everything so much easier, they make you feel less alone and provide that connection that is the antithesis to addiction.

Then, three months ago, I published The Sober Diaries, and people, very kindly, started posting pictures of my book all over Instagram, and tagging me. Except I wasn't on Instagram, so some other poor, unsuspecting Clare Pooley was being bombarded with messages about being an ex-lush.

So I set up an Instagram Page. And I discovered a whole new community of sober folks over there.

I realised that Instagram is a lovely, supportive and happy place to hang out, and it makes sober feel sexy and avant-guard. 

Which is why social media is AMAZING and a huge support for addicts everywhere.

However....

I'm still a bit cross about the way social media normalised excessive drinking for me for so long. All those 'wine o'clock' memes and 'mummy's little helper' jokes made me feel like everyone with a normal, hectic, imperfect life used wine to get through it.

I'm also increasingly freaked out by the way my social media sucks up information about me to make assumptions about what I might be cajoled into buying, and gets it wrong!

I spend a fair amount of time searching for, and reading, articles about booze so, as a result, Facebook and Instagram have me down as a huge wine fan. I get endless ads for things like wine bangles, mugs and T-Shirts with funny wine jokes printed on them and bizarre hangover cures.

Even worse, at some point I must have made a joke about pelvic-floor exercises, because every day I get bombarded with ads for Tena lady pads and - get this - 'pee-proof pants'.

I AM NOT INCONTINENT (yet).

But the worse thing about social media is that it is addictive. Super addictive. And I, my friends, am an addict.

If you have found yourself addicted to alcohol, nicotine, gambling, anything at all, it is very likely that your brain is super sensitive to dopamine. 

Doing any of those things releases that lovely, feel good chemical and makes everything seem a little bit... brighter (for a while).

There is a downside, however, which is that the brain starts to crave dopamine. It wants more and more of it, which is where the addiction sets in.

And guess what happens when you check your Facebook or Instagram feed and find a bunch of 'likes'?

Yup, you guessed it, you get a dopamine hit.

This, people, is no accident. Sean Parker, one of the founders of Facebook, admitted that it, like cigarettes, was designed to be addictive. Here's what he told US news site, Axios:

"We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. It's a social-validation feedback loop.... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

Well, thanks a bunch, Sean.

So, whilst I love Facebook and Instagram, they are sucking up more and more of my time, and my headspace, just like the booze did.

Today is the last day of our holiday. We've had an amazing week driving all over Ibiza, exploring off-the-beaten-track beaches and eating paella in fabulous restaurants.

BUT, several times a day one of the children will say:

"What's Mummy doing?"

And another will reply "She's with her internet family."

I let the booze keep me away from my children for too long, I can't let social media do the same.

It's time for some MODERATION! (And I'm really good at that, aren't I?)

If you'd like to read The Sober Diaries click here for UK, here for USA and here for Australia.

To listen to my TEDx talk, Making Sober Less Shameful, click here.

If you're new to the sober thing, then there's a great chat going on in the comments section of the 'Advice for Newbies' page which you can find here.

Love to you all!

SM x

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Sober Easter Holidays



Before starting this post on Easter holidays, I just wanted to say a huge thank you, from the very bottom of my heart, to all of you for your incredible support after my mini meltdown last week.

I am so, so sorry that I haven't been able to reply to you all individually, but your messages meant so much to me.

I was reminded, yet again, that this sober tribe is made up of the most generous, thoughtful and amazing people. You are all superheroes.

Thanks to you, I'm back to feeling chirpy, plus the weather is improving, and we're into the Easter holidays!

But I know that holidays are not the easiest time if you've recently quit. I've had a number of messages over the past few days from people worrying about how to get through them without drinking.

I really love sober holidays now and can't imagine doing them any differently, but it takes a while to get there.

I think the biggest issue is that we've conditioned ourselves over years - or decades even - to associate holidays with partying. And by partying, I mean drinking. 

The Easter weekend, for me, was all about being able to have long, boozy lunches that went on well into the evening. Then long, boozy evenings that went on well into the night.

But, you know what? At the end of that weekend, I'd feel awful! I'd be toxic, anxious, depressed, exhausted and run down. I'd go back to work feeling like I needed..... a holiday. But wasn't that what I'd just had?

The trick is to redefine what holidays are about!

Now I see holidays as a chance to look after myself, to recharge and reset and get ready for new challenges ahead.

I get loads of sleep, eat well and go on long walks, so that by the end of the holiday I feel amazing.

More importantly, I see holidays as a time to reconnect with my family, especially my children.

Over Easter holidays of old, I'd spend a lot of time trying to escape the children so I could drink with my grown-up friends. Now, the holidays are all about doing things together. Making memories (that you actually remember!)

A bit of over-indulgence is still obviously crucial, so this weekend I will go a little crazy on the chocolate.

So, if this is your first sober holiday, be good to yourself. Easter is a great time for new beginnings. Hole up in a cosy cocoon for a few days and get ready to fly.

Talking of flying, my New Year's resolution was to do more new things this year, so a few weeks ago I booked us all an Easter holiday in Ibiza!

It turns out that no-one goes to Ibiza in April, because all the clubs are closed and the weather isn't great (but no worse than August in Cornwall, which is what we're used to), so I managed to rent a villa for a fraction of the normal cost.

I've always wanted to go to Ibiza, but - back in the drinking days - I was a bit worried that, on a party island, like that the wheels really would come off! I might never have come home.

Now, that's not an issue. My wheels are firmly stuck on.

I'm hoping that the island will be pretty quiet, and we can drive around visiting local tapas restaurants and deserted beaches and just chill.

Mr SM has obviously booked the cheapest flights available - RyanAir. He then had a panic about having to pay for everything apart from the actual plane as 'extras.'

"Do we really need any suitcases?" he said. "And surely we don't need to sit next to each other on the plane?"

I had a panic yesterday when I received an e-mail titled IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR FLIGHT!

Arrrgghhh! I thought. They've cancelled it (RyanAir have form in this area).

Turns out they haven't (yet), but as this is a flight which is very popular with hen and stag parties, they've issued a complete ban on any alcohol on the plane.

ALL BAGS WILL BE SEARCHED! ANYONE SHOWING SIGNS OF INEBRIATION WILL NOT BE ALLOWED ON THE PLANE!

Hilarious!

Have a wonderful Easter, everyone! If you want to see any of my smug holiday pictures, you can follow me on Instagram @clare_pooley

There's inspiration and information every day on the SoberMummy Facebook Page ('like' page to stay updated).

If you're looking for holiday reading, then look no further than The Sober Diaries. You can read the first few chapters for free by choosing the 'look inside' feature. Click here for UK, here for USA and here for Australia.

And, finally, you can see my TEDx talk - Making Sober Less Shameful here.

Love to you all, and see you on the other side,

SM x