No-man’s land

Gah life is proving tough at the moment and I don’t know what to do to be honest – actually that’s not quite true – I am giving it another week and if I still feel the same I’m going to see my GP.

See I went ‘over the top’ of the booze trench and away from alcohol, my perceived comrade and safe place, propelled by courage and the rallying cry of other sober bloggers to try to conquer the, again perceived, enemy of the life lived sober and straight-edged.  But now here I stand in no-man’s land, so called because it was left unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty.

And that so aptly explains it.  I am a swirl of free floating fear and uncertainty that is hounding me night and day.  I know I can’t go back to booze, as that was not the answer and will not help, but I am finding life so damn hard with no chemical escape hatch.  I have heard said so many times that stopping drinking is the easy part – it’s the doing life that is the hard part and now I truly get it.  I am muttering the serenity prayer like a mantra, changing the things I can change, meditating, soaking in the bath, going to bed early and the anxiety still won’t shift.

It has reached the point where I am beginning to wonder if I self-medicated all these years for some kind of low grade General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and am concluding that maybe I need some pharmaceutical support.  I’m not overly keen on this idea but I am unsure of what else to do.  I am already doing CBT, which is the gold standard anxiety treatment, hence the planned conversation with my GP.

Is there anything I’m missing?  Is there a tool in my sober toolbox I’ve overlooked or a new one you can recommend to me?

Are you an Oblivion Drinker?

‘Are you an Oblivion Drinker’ was a feature article headline for a Daily Mail piece written last October that I discovered recently.

The key paragraphs were these:

Indeed, experts are suggesting that alcohol abuse has become the modern ‘mother’s little helper’, replacing the widespread Valium addiction of Sixties housewives and offering multi-tasking women a temporary escape from the pressure to look, behave and perform as the perfect wife, mother and colleague.

Psychoanalyst Jan Bauer, author of Alcoholism and Women: The Background And The Psychology, who coined the term oblivion drinking, explains: ‘Alcohol offers a time out from doing it all – “Take me out of my perfectionism”.

‘Superwoman is a cliche now, but it is extremely dangerous. I’ve seen such a perversion of feminism, where everything becomes work: raising children, reading all the books, not listening to [your] instincts.

‘The main question is: what self are these women trying to turn off? They have climbed so high that when they fall, they crash – and alcohol’s a perfect way to crash.’

A recent British survey confirmed her observations, with 81 per cent of women who admitted they drank above the safety guidelines every week saying they did so ‘to wind down from a stressful day’.

‘This is an epidemic. High-functioning, intelligent women are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to take the edge off and stop their brain going at 300 miles an hour,’ explains Sarah Turner, co-author of The Sober Revolution and owner of the Harrogate Sanctuary for middle-aged, middle-class women who drink too much.

While relaxing after a hard day with a drink is nothing new, it’s the scale and sudden increase in the problem that has now worried experts. Thanks to the recession and an uncertain job market, more than half of 35 to 54-year-old women say they are more stressed than they were in 2008 – and many are relying on drink on a daily basis to help.

Oblivion drinking is insidious. ‘It’s now seen as acceptable to knock back two or three glasses of wine a night, but if they’re large ones, then that’s a whole bottle,’ says Sarah Turner, who regularly sees clients at Harrogate Sanctuary who have been drinking one or two bottles a night.

The article doesn’t link to the recent British survey so it is difficult to assess the quality and size of the sample group to ascertain it’s credibility unfortunately but as a eye ball grabbing headline statistic it certainly got my attention!  81% is a truly shocking statistic.
What I find equally puzzling is all of us out here felt alone at the beginning and know nobody sober in our real lives and yet this statistic suggests we are absolutely not alone in sharing the same issue.  It makes me wonder how many others are out there struggling with this even within our own groups of friends and acquaintances?  If it is 8 out of the 10 females we each know then that is staggering ……
26 days to go


Follow through on alcohol policy UK Govt!

An All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse (APPG) manifesto has been released, urging political parties to adopt ten key alcohol measures ahead of the 2015 election. See reports from the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and Alcohol Concern, who researched the report.

Last year a coalition of over 70 health organisations from across the UK released an independent alcohol strategy with similar recommendations.

Earlier this year it was reported a Labour Government elected in 2015 would implement some of the same measures, including minimum unit pricing and ending sports sponsorship by alcohol companies, according to leaked documents.

These are the full ten recommendations in the report are:

1. Make reducing alcohol harms the responsibility of a single government minister with clear accountability

2. Introduce a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks

3. Introduce public health as a fifth licensing objective, enabling local authorities to make licensing decisions based on local population health need and the density of existing outlets

4. Strengthen regulation of alcohol marketing to protect children and young people

5. Increase funding for treatment and raise access levels from 6% to 15% of problem drinkers

6. Commissioners should prioritise the delivery of Identification and Brief Advice. Identification and Brief Advice should be delivered in a wide range of different settings including health care, involving GPs routinely asking questions, and in-workplace programmes

7. Include a health warning on all alcohol labels and deliver a government-funded national public awareness campaign on alcohol-related health issues

8. For all social workers, midwives and healthcare professionals, introduce mandatory training on parental substance misuse, foetal alcohol syndrome disorder and alcohol-related domestic violence

9. Reduce the blood alcohol limit for driving in England and Wales to 50mg/100ml, starting with drivers under the age of 21

10. Introduce the widespread use of sobriety orders to break the cycle of alcohol and crime, antisocial behaviour and domestic violence

I would agree with every single one of these suggestions and add one of my own:
For the NHS to introduce and fund on an ongoing basis an Alcohol Free Service to support people who would like to reduce the amount they drink or stop completely with wider access to supportive medication, information, text messages, emails and phone calls and one on one support via a GP surgery, just like that which is available to you currently if you decide to stop smoking.  Plus for QOF payments to be available to GP practices who support and provide this service.

27 days to go

Alcohol industry sponsorship and hazardous drinking

This was a piece of research published recently in Addiction that looked at alcohol industry sponsorship and hazardous drinking in UK university students who play sport.

The aim of the study  was to examine whether receipt of alcohol industry sponsorship is associated with problematic drinking in UK university students who play sport and looked at 2450 students, so a good sample size, with a response rate of 83%.  Alcohol industry sponsorship was reported by 36% of the sample.

The abstract details of the methods and results you can find here but the conclusion was pretty clear:

University students in the United Kingdom who play sport and who personally receive alcohol industry sponsorship or whose club or team receives alcohol industry sponsorship appear to have more problematic drinking behaviour than UK university students who play sport and receive no alcohol industry sponsorship. Policy to reduce or cease such sponsorship should be considered.

O’Brien, K. S., Ferris, J., Greenlees, I., Jowett, S., Rhind, D., Cook, P. A. and Kypri, K. (2014), Alcohol industry sponsorship and hazardous drinking in UK university students who play sport. Addiction. doi: 10.1111/add.12604

I’m beginning to feel like a bit of a stuck record about this but the industry needs reigning in and challenging by our illustrious leaders in Govt and Public Health England need to grow some teeth and balls ……… Oh and these students are mostly under 21 which ties in with the post yesterday about forming dependence to alcohol in adolescence :(

28 days to go



Chunking and addiction formation in adolescents

Amy, a US public health nurse and I were discussing after the PHE and alcohol (2) post the issue of catching addiction in adolescents before it became entrenched.  I said in the comments  A great deal of research has been done between smoking cannabis at a young age and the pruning of the neural network that happens at that time in adolescents and how it pretty much locks in the addiction but the same has not been done with drinking. I’d be interested in that as I think many of us started drinking at this young age and I wonder if the same neural network pruning also happens around booze.

Well low and behold if later that day I didn’t read an article discussing exactly that!! I love it when that happens :)   The piece by Aeon Magazine was shared on FB and is a debate about the 12 step approach which I am going to side-step and focus on these bits that I found interesting:

Her multiple relapses, according to recent science, are no ethical or moral failing – no failure of will. Instead, they are the brain reigniting the neurological and chemical pathways of addiction. Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US, told me that, once the circuitry of habituation is in place, it cannot be destroyed or fully overwritten. ‘The brain will never go back to a pristine, naïve, drug-free state,’ Baler said. It would be like reversing time itself.

This permanence is the result of a process that researchers call ‘chunking’: a person using drugs or alcohol experiences a burst of the activating neurotransmitter, dopamine, encoding memories and stimuli associated with that high in the brain. As substance use turns chronic, that same networks in the brain are increasingly engaged, and eventually the habit becomes automatic. Baler likens it to riding a bicycle – once the brain knows what to do with the pedals, brakes and handlebars, the action is inevitable. When any part of this chain, or chunking, is triggered – maybe it’s a visit from an addict friend, or the sight of a McDonald’s where you once got high in the bathroom – it can lead to a full-blown relapse. That’s why lifelong abstinence can be such an impossible goal for even the most committed of recovering addicts.

Research describes a powerful chemical inertia that can begin early in life. In 96.5 per cent of cases, addiction risk is tied to age; using a substance before the age of 21 is highly predictive of dependence because of the brain’s vulnerability during development. And childhood trauma drives substance use in adolescence. A study of 8,400 adults, published in 2006 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that enduring one of several adverse childhood experiences led to a two- to three-fold increase in the likelihood of drinking by age 14.

Bingo! – this was exactly what we were discussing.  So if you started drinking around the age of 14/15 when your brain is undergoing an extensive growth phase with increased plasticity then it will literally hard wire in the dependence.  And this is what is so worrying as so many young are drinking before 18 and the industry encourages it with their brightly coloured spirit based alco-pops.  They are creating dependence at adolescence.  This is going to sound like a retrograde step but I would encourage the increasing of the age that you can drink in this country to be like the US where it is 21.  I appreciate there are ways round this with false ID’s, I did it too, but it would go some way to protecting the brain during this highly developing stage.  God the more I read and learn the more afraid I become for my children and the greater the urgency feels to do something about this before they reach adolescence ……

29 days to go

Once-a-day pill to beat alcoholism gains backing from health officials

The Independent recently had a news article discussing a once-a-day pill to help alcoholics quit drinking that has won the backing of health officials in England.

It reads:

Nalmefene, which is already used in Scotland, helps people cope with the craving for alcohol by reducing the “buzz” they get from drinking.

Nearly 600,000 people could benefit from the drug, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which said in draft guidance published today that nalmefene should be available as an option. Treating that number of people would cost about £600m a year.

Professor Carole Longson, of NICE, said: “Alcohol addiction is a serious issue for so many. Those who could be prescribed nalmefene have already taken the first big steps in their fight against their addiction by visiting their doctor and taking part in therapy programmes.”

She added: “When used alongside psychosocial interventions, nalmefene is clinically and cost effective for the NHS compared with psychosocial interventions alone.”

NICE said nalmefene “should only be prescribed in conjunction with continuous psychosocial support”.

A consultation period on the idea of offering nalmefene on the NHS is now open and the final guidance is expected in November. A separate decision will be taken by the authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scotland became the first European country to prescribe nalmefene in October last year after trials showed some success. Men who usually drank eight units a day and women who drank six a day cut those amounts by half while taking the drug over six months.

However, Dr Des Spence, a GP in Glasgow, wrote an article in the British Medical Journal in February criticising the decision to give nalmefene on the NHS in Scotland at a cost of £84 a month per patient and casting doubt on the significance of the trial findings.

“Surely these resources would be better spent improving alcohol counselling services?” he wrote. “The drugs in alcohol addiction have tiny benefits and are a distraction from the real challenges of limiting the availability and increasing the cost of alcohol. This bad medicine is all too familiar.”

This is a welcome development in that NICE are looking at this as an option but I would have to agree that, similar to using pharmaceuticals to manage heroin addiction as discussed in the last post, this is a quick, easy and inexpensive option compared to dealing with the real issues of addiction and alcoholism.  I would worry that these would be handed out without psychosocial support in place.  Plus the pharmaceutical industry would gain without the  alcohol industry having to engage with the Govt to look at pricing and availability issues, thus saving the Govt any pain either.  So the corporatocracy win again at the expense of health and the general public.

30 days to go

Addiction to Recovery

The quote I used in the post about Living Sober (here) by Russell Brand was taken from this programme.

This is a fascinating documentary that was filmed back in 2012.  It does focus on drug more than alcohol addiction and features the well-known rehab centre, Focus 12, which is very close to where I live and where he got clean and sober in 2002.  So it was surreal seeing the town that I have worked in for many years and a building that I have driven past countless times on the screen!

He is so good at challenging perceived wisdom and current drug policy within this country which is as out of whack as the alcohol policy is to be honest.  Here in the UK methadone is the gold standard treatment for heroin addiction not rehab and abstinence based programmes.  Cynically, probably because it’s easier and cheaper.

They visit prisoners and talk to those on the abstinence and rehab programme run by the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners trust (RAPt) which has a 50% success rate of abstinence on release from prison.  80% of the prison population have a substance misuse issue so the potential to improve personal outcomes and reduce crime are huge.    The show also visits Brighton, the drugs death capital of the UK, where 80% of the crime is acquisitive – so things are stolen to fund a substance addiction.   Here they use the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI) to treat addicted criminals rather than sending them to prison.  This is also another place that I used to live and work – hmm there’s a bit of a theme developing here ;)

Only 10% of the population with addiction are able to access rehab in this country and there are 10% of the population with a substance abuse issue.   So population of 63 million, minus 10 million children, means 530,000 have an addiction issue that require rehab and only 53,000 can access it.   So only 0.1%.  Shocking.

He talks eloquently about the need to escape ‘A life defined by acquiring and using drugs’.  That sums up how it feels to give up alcohol, even if my drug was legal and freely available at every corner shop and village store.  Oh and peddled in the media as something that everyone is doing and would only add to the quality of my life.  Which is what makes it so much more dangerous and drives my frustration at our lead public health agencies apparent lack of interest and inaction on the matter.

Russell believes in those with an addiction being shown ‘pragmatism, altruism and compassion in all areas of the condition’.  He discusses with a person considering rehab, the impact of reducing their methadone script and that they would experience an escalation in their feelings.  He acknowledges that there is a direct relationship between taking drugs and not feeling emotions and not taking drugs and feeling emotions and this drive is why so many of us use substances.   He espouses that this makes love and compassion the only appropriate response to addiction.

If only Russell could talk to Public Health England and them listen.  We would have a whole different world and a whole different conversation and future ahead of us in this country when looking at the issue of addiction.  I can’t wait for A Royal Hangover to premier!

1 month to go!!

PS If you have found my blog helpful and would like to say thank you my sponsorship page is still open at and will be until my one year hangover free birthday on the 21st September.  All monies raised is going directly to  Alcohol Concern, the leading UK national charity working on alcohol issues. Their goal is to improve people’s lives through reducing the harm caused by alcohol. They have an ambitious long-term aim to change the drinking culture in this country.:)

Thinking vs feeling

So I’ve been having a bit of a wobble again and it wasn’t anticipated so that always shakes me up more than usual.  It might just be PAWS again and I’m going to start keeping a record, as Prim suggested, but it might be something else and I need to learn from it to be better prepared next time.

When we’re coming up to big sober first events, such as birthday’s, parties and holidays we can anticipate, plan and prepare.  I even wrote a series of posts on relapse and failed to take my own advice in this instance!

What triggered my monumental wobble?  A job interview.  Why?  Because one of the reasons I drank was anxiety and managing it (I know I know, it makes it worse, rebound anxiety and all).  The job interview itself went well but it is the peaks in anxiety both before the interview – what if I say the wrong thing?  and afterwards – what if I said the wrong thing?  that feed my anxiety and this awakens the inner critic.  This quickly spiralled into vanishing self-compassion and positive feelings of self care towards myself and in a desire to drown out the negative chatter I wanted to reach for a drink to make it stop, albeit temporarily.

Perceived wisdom has it that you shouldn’t change anything major in the first year of recovery, and preferably even in the second year, as this can destabilise your fledgling sobriety.  Oh how right that wisdom is and how I should have listened rather than thinking that I was (a) different or (b) stronger than that.  The wisdom is there for a reason and it should be listened to and respected.

Why? Because although you can think about this stuff rationally, in terms of it’s a job interview and I have the skills and competence to deal with this and successfully secure the position, it will not necessarily help you in managing how you feel about the job interview process and putting yourself in situations that trigger your own insecurities in terms of anxiety and stress.

Lesson learned for next time which happens to be today as I have the second round of the interview process this afternoon.  Let’s hope I handle it better than last time! ;)

32 days to go

Addiction and Recovery Movies

Thanks to LadyHaggisMcBaggis for triggering this idea! :)

So if you’ve read lots of sober blogs and read lots of addiction and recovery books you might be looking for a way to support your recovery in a more visual way.  As you would suspect there are many films out there to cater for your needs.  I’m going to focus on films about alcohol addiction and recovery predominantly but equally there are many films about drug addiction and recovery too.

There are so many I’m going to order them chronologically from newest first then you can chose according to age and generational appeal.

The Anonymous People (2014) launched earlier this year and a must see documentary film in my opinion

Home Run (2013) Story of pro-baseball player who enters recovery following alcohol addiction

Lipstick and Liquor (2012) which I covered in an earlier post and watched earlier this year.  Includes the founder of Sober is Sexy.

Everything Must Go (2010) Will Ferrell comedy drama about an alcoholic and based on the Raymond Carver short story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’

Crazy Heart (2009) I saw this recently and really enjoyed it.  Gotta love me a bit of Jeff Bridges (the Dude) and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Factotum (2005) Tom Hanks as an alcoholic and writer.

28 days (2000) watched this recently and this is what started the post idea.  Really enjoyed and had a good old howl.

Smoke Signals (1998) Victor and Thomas are brought together through Victor’s father, Arnold.   Arnold rescued Thomas as an infant from a house fire that killed his parents. Because of this, Thomas considers him a hero. On the other hand, Victor, who endures Arnold’s alcoholism, domestic violence and eventual child abandonment, regards his father with both deep love and bitter resentment.

Drunks (1995) Film that portrays an AA meeting and follows the troubled time of one member who leaves and relapses.  Stellar cast including Faye Dunaway, Dianne Wiest and Calista Flockhart.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995) This film is etched on my brain following seeing it.  Nicholas Cage is just superb as the suicidal alcoholic.  It won him an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his performance.

When A Man Loves a Woman (1994).  I watched this one at the time and is one of the most well known for me.  Probably as it starred Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia who I love.

My Name is Bill W (1989)  It received a huge number of nominations for Emmy’s and Golden Globes and James Wood won the Outstanding Actor award at the Emmy’s.

Clean and Sober (1988) Michael Keaton as a cocaine addicted alcoholic who goes into rehab

Barfly (1987) Again I watched this at the time as I loved Mickey Rourke back in the day.

Shattered Spirits (1986) Martin Sheen as an alcoholic father and the impact on his family

Under the Volcano (1984) Written by Malcolm Lowry and believed to be autobiographical.  The film tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic former British Consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac (recognizably Cuernavaca) on the Day of the Dead in 1938.

Tender Mercies (1983) Robert Duvall stars as a a recovering alcoholic country music singer who seeks to turn his life around through his relationship with a young widow and her son

The Rose (1979) Bette Midler playing Rose an insecure alcoholic and former drug user who seems to crave approval in her life and who is a famous rock’n’roll diva.

The Cracker Factory (1977) Natalie Wood plays alcoholic housewife Cassie Barrett is institutionalized in a psychiatric ward after experiencing a nervous breakdown in the supermarket. We learn this is the latest in a series of hospitalizations from which Cassie emerges supposedly in control of her life but actually still teetering on the edge. During this latest stay, she develops a romantic crush on psychiatrist Edwin Alexander and a close relationship with night supervisor Tinkerbell, both of whom help her take steps toward facing her inner demons and learning to live with sobriety

Days of Wine and Roses (1962) Again received huge number of nominations for Oscar’s, Golden Globes and BAFTA’s at the time.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.  What’s not to like and remember watching this many many years ago.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) Susan Haywood received an Oscar nomination for her role as Lillian Roth, a Broadway star who rebels against the pressure of her domineering mother and reacts to the death of her fiancé by becoming an alcoholic

The Lost Weekend (1945) Another film to receive and win many Oscars (nominated for 7, won 4)

And in the UK we are eagerly awaiting A Royal Hangover which is due for release in October.

Just a word of warning that some of these films may be quite triggery depending on where you are in your recovery journey so take care and proceed with caution.  Maybe start with one’s about recovery first and leave the still drinking dramas till the end when you are feeling stronger?  Just a suggestion :)

33 days to go

And here’s one I made earlier …..

So we’re back a day earlier than planned and I can’t keep away!  Both HOF Jnr’s got sick, with my daughter starting at 5am on Sunday morning.  We thought she’d overdosed on chocolate the night before, while watching Bugsy Malone, but then my son was sick at 3pm Sunday afternoon.  Festivals, camper-vans and vomiting children are not a good mix and so we headed home to give them a bath and the luxury of their own beds.

We had a fabulous time and I would really recommend this festival to anyone who is looking for something to do with their kids in the summer holidays in the UK.  It’s held in the grounds of a beautiful stately home in Cheshire and there is live music, art, games, circus, team games, open air cinema, campfire stories and songs and much much more.  We made fairy headdresses, we made a paper lantern for the lantern parade.  If you think I’m joking here it is!

lantern photo

We made paper boats and wrote letters, met the Gruffalo in the Spellbound Forest, danced and sang and chanted and watched great films under the stars.  And we didn’t drink.

I think it was Catlady who suggested that I share the things that I do now that I don’t drink and believe me this time last year you would not have got me near this event.  It would have got in the way of me getting my holiday party on with drink and I wouldn’t have had the patience or been interested in doing such things.  Everything revolved around booze but I just didn’t see it that way then.  I couldn’t see how much control it had over my life.

Yes there were bars at the event, small discreet ones, and yes there were people drinking booze – but the bars were outnumbered by smoothie, coffee, tea and milkshake stands.  There was one moment of missing and craving at about 4pm on Saturday while we were listening to a live band.  Lots of people around me were drinking and I felt left out.  My kids had been trying and I wanted to zone out.  I was having a moment of euphoric recall for all those festivals past where I would have been sinking a cold one.  But it passed and I had a piece of chocolate instead.  It used to be the main attraction and focus of activity and now it was neither.   For the second time this year my kid got sick in the night and I could deal with it because I wasn’t pissed or hungover.

I guess this post is about how differently I do things now and how that is a good thing.  It is about how I thought I would never be able to holiday without a drink in my hand, and certainly consider a festival as sober territory, and that I wouldn’t be able to have fun if I didn’t drink and that doing kids stuff was boring.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you are reading this and drinking and wishing your life could be different – it so absolutely can be if you put down the drink.  I didn’t think it was possible either and I was wrong – so wrong.  The more time passes the less afraid of doing anything I become.  If booze had become as central to your life as it was in mine and you walk away from it – man sometimes I feel f**king invincible.  And I miss it less with each day as another sober first gets bested ;)

37 – 36 – 35 – 34 days to go