Monthly Archives: July 2014

Court of Appeal application in foetal alcohol case

Reposted from Birthrights blog which you can find here:

A forthcoming court case on criminal injuries compensation for a child whose mother drank during pregnancy could pave the way to the criminalisation of pregnant women’s behaviour, Birthrights and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) warned today.

We have applied with bpas to address the court on the case, which we believe could seriously undermine women’s autonomy while pregnant and their freedom to make decisions for themselves.

A council in the North-West of England is seeking to prove that the mother of a six-year-old girl born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) committed a crime under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 by drinking during pregnancy. If the court were to interpret the law as requested by the council, it would establish a legal precedent which could be used to prosecute women who drink while pregnant. Similar developments in the US have resulted in the incarceration of women. The case is due to be heard at the Court of Appeal later this year.

Pregnant women with addiction problems need rapid access to specialist support services, as do children born with disability caused by drug or alcohol abuse. Birthrights and bpas do not believe that mothers and their babies will be best served by treating pregnant women who need help as criminals.

Viewing these cases as potentially criminal offences will do nothing for the health of women or their babies. As well as undermining women’s ability to make their own choices while pregnant, it is likely to deter those women who do need support from seeking it and put health professionals under pressure to report women to the police. Both the immediate and broader implications of this case are troubling. We should take very seriously any legal developments which call into question the autonomy of pregnant women and right to make their own decisions. Pregnant women deserve support and respect, not the prospect of criminal sanction for behaviour which would not be illegal for anyone else.

If the booze that the pregnant woman drinks carries no explicit warning about the risk to the unborn foetus of drinking alcohol during pregnancy is she responsible or is the manufacturer/supplier?

52 days to go

Room 101

So while I was on my retro holiday – no technology, 20 year old camper-van, first holiday in 30 years without a drink.  I read a book I should have read when I was 15 as the title of the book was that year – George Orwell’s 1984.  What a great book and in a Penguin orange jacket too 🙂

So many eerie thoughts as I read it.  How in 1984’s Oceania there was ‘nothing cheap and plentiful except synthetic gin‘.  How after Winston faces O’Brien in the Ministry of Love and survives Room 101 there is a passage which reads ‘The stuff grew not less but more horrible with every mouthful he drank.  But it had become the element he swam in.  It was his life, his death and his resurrection.  It was gin that sank him into stupor every night, and gin that revived him every morning.’

I have been thinking about Room 101 as there is a great tv programme here in the UK with the same name but I am recalling it when Paul Merton was the host.  In that format each (celebrity) guest would nominate 3 things to be put into Room 101.  Consignment of the nominated items, persons or concepts (theoretically banishing it from the world forever) was the decision of the host, sometimes after soliciting the opinion of the studio audience.

So what would I send to Room 101?

  1. Mosquitoes.  If you were going to torture me in a Room 101 way then these would do it.  They love me and on the first night of camping one got into the van and made a complete meal of me – over 10 bites, which I react really badly to and have to take anti-histamines for a mild anaphylactic reaction!  Not only would it help me but it would rid the world of the number one killer animal and it’s disease – malaria.

  2. Shame.  I carry a great deal of shame even now but it is slowly disappearing.  Drinking allowed me to create shame in myself on a daily ongoing basis.  Shame as an emotion serves no positive purpose unlike guilt which can stimulate remorse and apology.  I feel that if shame wasn’t around there would be a great deal less drinking as shame was a major trigger to me drinking even before I added drinking shame to the list of reasons to drink.

  3. Alcohol.  Now I don’t mean this in some prohibition temperance movement kind of way.  I think if booze didn’t exist us creative humans would find some other way or substance to create all the perceived benefits of booze.  And of all the substances you can become addicted to booze is the only one that has the potential to kill you as part of the withdrawal process.  Coming off heroin isn’t pleasant – but stopping it won’t kill you.   Giving up a bottle a day habit of vodka just might and that is a good enough reason to me for this toxic substance to be banished from the world forever.

What would you send to Room 101?

53 days to go.

Edited to add: this arrived in my inbox today! Drink less alcohol to keep mosquitoes away!!

Turns out mosquitoes like getting a little tipsy, because after just one beer, there was a significant increase in mosquito landings. They haven’t determined what it is exactly about the drink that mosquitoes find so tantalizing, but if you’re prone to bites, imbibing at your backyard barbecue could up your chances.

May explain their like of me in the past but I promise nothing alcoholic touched my lips on Friday night when the little blighter decided to feast!



Left my soul there, down by the sea

lost control there, living free …..  These are the lyrics to one of my favourite tunes by Morcheeba which you can listen to here 🙂

So hello all back once more refreshed from a break but wishing it had been longer.  This is what I wrote in my journal last night ‘4 days away from you and a change in mood.  Just back from 4 days at Waxham Sands.  Weather was kind, 4 of us in the confined space of the camper-van was testing at times.  Did well in staying present only slipping away into sleep, reading my book and leaving the beach 30 mins early to eat an ice-cream in peace.   Nice site, nice beach, booze wasn’t really missed or a concern’.

So no drinking occurred.  I watched other people drinking and how they drank but in a distant kind of intellectual way.  There was no emotion attached, no craving.  The last night I wanted a drink but it wasn’t a craving for the substance more a desire to switch off and soften the reality of camping life.  Prim as great as a camper-van sounds – yes it sleeps 4, has a sink, fridge, two ring hob and DVD player (and we love Ringo!) living on top of each other for an extended period of time is bloody hard particularly if you are a bit of a neat-freak like me!  The kids just love it, but me and MrHOF fantasized about checking into a hotel 😉

The beach was glorious and the weather was beyond kind.  It was easy to stay present lying on a golden sandy beach with the lapping of the waves as my soundtrack and with the sun warming my skin while the kids played in the sand-dunes and surf.  But all that not drinking and not writing about not drinking stirred up some stuff.  I have reflexively, since day 37, showed up here every day as a commitment to not drinking.  The drinking is now less of an issue and the pause in it all had me reflecting on the value of what I do here.

I love the sea and the vastness of it all and it has always been my go to place if I have big things to think about and need some perspective.  This time was no different and I found myself thinking about the blog and whether I wanted to continue with it all.  I know, I know a complete about face on what I typed less than a week ago but that’s the thing you see – I’m in this no man’s land between my old life and my new life and it could all so easily just not happen if I change my mind.  I’m just some faceless blogger on the internet and if I disappeared would it really matter?  I’m not saying I’m going back to drinking – that feels suicidal to me now, but once I get to my one year soberversary I could just shut up shop and leave the store window open as a resource but move on with life without this being such a big part of it.  I sense that this is fear speaking and in my old life I’d have drowned it out with booze, but I don’t do that any more, so now I do what I do and type it here and see what words of kindness and wisdom come back 🙂

57 – 56 – 55 – 54 days to go


Sun, sea, sand and sober

waxham sands

Well now that the summer holidays are finally here it is time to take a break.  Me, MrHOF and the kids are heading to the beach for a long week-end in our camper-van so I won’t be about for the next few days.  The final ‘first’ in my sober repertoire that needs to be nailed.

As well as it being a holiday away from home I’ve decided to make it a cyber holiday too.  So no internet, mobile phones or other technology.  Just my family and me and the great outdoors and hopefully good British weather!!  Yes I could have scheduled posts to go up while I’m away but I would have been fretting about replying to comments so the safest thing to do is just go cold turkey.

As blogging has been my biggest coping strategy since giving up the booze I’m interested to see how I get on when I’m not thinking about drinking or thinking about writing about drinking and recovery!  Time to give my brain a well earned rest and to be totally present for my family with no distractions.  I have worried in the past 10 months if blogging has become a bit of a cross-addiction for me, replacing the drinking thing, so this will be a good test 🙂

I’ll be back to posting and responding to any comments on the 29th so see you then 😉

I’ll miss you of that I’m sure …..

58 days to go

Destination unknown

The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better today.

Another fabulous Simon Sinek quote which I so agree with.

This isn’t about doing sobriety perfectly – is there such a thing?  It is about starting on the journey without knowing where it will lead.

If you had told me 10 months ago that this is where I would be and these would be the things that I would have achieved I would not have believed you or believed that I was capable of such things:

  • The increased happiness overall
  • The increased joy in the moment that isn’t dependent on me having a drink in my hand
  • The improved relationships with my husband and children
  • The radically improved health and steadily increasing fitness
  • The glorious sleep I now have and energy I have to want to get out of bed
  • The savings of £3,500 (that’s me and Mr HOF combined)
  • The decision to shake up my working life
  • The offer of a place to do a Masters
  • The 10lb weight loss
  • The recognition that my diet now needs some serious work next because my taste buds feel alive in a way that they’ve never done before and shite tastes well – shit
  • I could go on and on but I don’t want to bore you or for you to feel like I’m bragging or rubbing anyone’s nose in it.

The single change of stopping drinking has lead to all of these things and not only that but I have met some of the most amazingly supportive people both in real life and here on the interweb.  Without you this would not have been sustainable for this amount of time of that I am absolutely sure.

If you could change one thing to make your life better today, without knowing the destination or end result, what would it be?  Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just trust in yourself 🙂

59 days to go

Changing it up

So today is the last day of school summer term here in the UK and the last day of my job.  Like a fair few other sober bloggers who have been on this journey with me removing the booze has initiated some fairly spectacular re-evaluations of happiness, life and it’s future trajectory.

So I have the summer off with the kids and then come my 1st year soberversary a new life begins.  I’m starting a Masters at the University of Cambridge, have reduced my NHS public health nursing hours and plan to spend more time here developing this part of my life on the blog side of things.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how our health care system manages alcohol issues and to be frank it’s not great.  Partly because the Govt fails to recognise it as an issue and what funding exists to support substance abuse is quietly being whittled away.  Even within the realms of substance abuse services alcohol is the poor cousin when compared to drugs.  This blatantly ignores the fact that 1 in 4 people in this country are believed to have a problem with alcohol.  So you can get support from your GP or practice nurse through an Alcohol IBA and then until you end up with a physical dependency issue, and require specialist substance abuse services, there isn’t much out there.  Comic Relief have recently released an Alcohol Hidden Harm Toolkit to support managers, commissioners and practitioners involved in designing, assessing or improving Alcohol Hidden Harm services for children and families which is encouraging.  Outside of the NHS you have again two extremes of expensive private rehab, such as The Priory, or you have AA.  Soberistas are doing a brilliant job of providing an alternative community to AA but from a healthcare perspective it is very thin pickings.

I’m working on that though and will be sharing soon some plans that I have to help you if you’re reading this and would like some support from a healthcare professional who, through personal experience, knows how difficult managing your drinking or giving up booze can be.  Who knew that changing your drinking life could change your life completely?!

Watch this space! 🙂

60 days to go

Nick is not drinking – response from Nick

Hello. As what I wrote and said is the subject of your blog post and subsequent discussion I hope you don’t mind me contributing.

I have always drunk a lot. My best man used to run a website called Will’s Pub Guide. When I was 15 I used to go drinking in an Army pub at JHQ Rheindahlen in Germany called The Queens Head where Heineken was the equivalent of 30p a pint. In my student days, I basically lived in the union. We drank far too much. It was the best fun.

Before I started dating Mrs Wallis, I lived with some wonderful, intelligent and stone cold hilarious people. They would drink one or two cans of Special Brew an evening and four at the weekend. I tried but could never match them. I stuck to my Kronenbourg. I guess for the last 25 years or so I’ve been your standard binge drinker, sober during the week, but drinking as a hobby with friends when I’ve got “nothing” to do the next day.

Fatherhood changes all that. Suddenly you never have “nothing” to do all day. You have to maintain shared responsibility 24/7 for one, two then three little nippas. Over the last 9 years drinking on the sort of epic (and I appreciate everything is relative, epic for me would be eight or nine pints of session lager) scale I used to in my twenties was simply no longer viable.

In the run up to giving up my drinking pattern was smaller amounts, taken more frequently. This would irritate me because I would plan things around when and if I would be likely to have a drink – ie if I went over to my in-laws I knew I’d probably be offered a drink. If that were the case then I would have to think about whether it was fair to ask Mrs Wallis to drive etc. It all just became a bit tedious.

Anyway, the upshot was, I felt that although I wasn’t drinking a huge amount I seemed to be thinking about it a lot, and it was becoming reflexive. Why was I having a drink? Because I could.

When you start thinking about something a lot, you naturally end up wanting to find out why you might be doing so. I did, I admit, have thoughts about writing a book on the subject. I felt that giving up for a year might a) provide me with some decent material and b) free up the time I need to research the subject properly.

I have tried to give up for long periods before and always failed because a drinking buddy was coming to stay, or there was a big social event coming up. I felt that this time I could succeed because I was fed up with drinking at social occasions (being a parent is incredibly fatiguing and there’s just too much to think about logistically nowadays!) and my drinking buddies could, I’m sure, wait a year for me.

Just to make sure I was committed to this I came up with the idea of blogging it and just to make sure I was bound into it I started requesting sponsorship as a form of bet. The formal intention was to explore why alcohol meant so much to me and society in general, the informal intention was to do it as a personal achievement and raise a bit of money for some good causes along the way.

I’ve certainly learned a lot. A vast amount, in fact. If I had to recommend a book which lays the facts out in as scientific a manner as possible, I’d point you in the direction of The Diseases of Alcohol by Dr David Marjot. I think I must have had a galleys copy because some of it is really badly edited, but Dr Marjot’s lifetime of experience and understanding in the field of alcohol addiction is all there in one book. His approach is very interesting too – part medical, part psychiatric.

The main thing I would like you to remember about the way you read the posts in my blog and the panel discussion I had on London Live was that you were seeing me articulate the way I felt at a particular moment in time. A blog/discussion is a work in progress, a way of sharing and debating positions and ideas. I haven’t got the solution. I don’t pretend to. I’m sorry people find some of my opinions unhelpful. I was being honest. Perhaps you’d rather I lie or not express them at all? That, to me, would be unhelpful.

Would I write what I’ve written in the past knowing what I know now? No, probably not. My blog post at the 6 months sober stage marks a significant shift in thinking. Will my position change again? Probably. I’ve just finished Allen Carr’s book “How to Control Your Drinking”. He is an infuriating sophist, but he gets under your skin and makes some very good arguments for never drinking again. I want to write about that, when I get the time.

To address some points raised above:

1. I am not getting paid for this. It’s a hobby. Drinking was my hobby. This year, Not Drinking is my hobby. If someone does want to pay me to write a book about it, I’m all ears.

2. Childcare can be boring. Children are charming, delightful, lovely individuals (especially mine), but when they are young and they’re been particularly difficult, and you’re tired, it’s a drudge. There was one very specific occasion where the urge to have a drink after I’d got them all to bed was overwhelming. Instead I found myself pouring my dad a beer whilst he watched the football and I tidied the kitchen. I did wonder what I thought I trying to prove by not drinking, because the whole exercise at that stage did seem a little pointless.

3. People who say they’re bored are boring. There’s a logical inconsistency there. People who are bored can be fascinating. People who are engaged and interested can also be incredibly dull. If, by saying I was bored, I made you bored too, then I apologise.

4. Do I have a problem? Alcohol is an addictive substance. It’s just a question of dose over time. Too much too soon and you can become addicted. I have had a lot to drink over the last twenty years and I was concerned I was starting to think like an addict. Over the course of the last (nearly) seven months, my outlook has changed, my thinking has changed and the urges to drink which left me down when I couldn’t fulfil them, have gone. Completely. It took around five and a half months, though. The last six or seven weeks? Fine.

Do I still have a problem? Will I always have a problem? Anyone who drinks has a problem – they may not know it, the may refuse to acknowledge it, they may be trying to manage it, they may be well on top of it, but all of us who drink have a problem, which is that you are coming into contact with a highly damaging, highly addictive substance for purely hedonistic reasons. Anyone who doesn’t tread carefully could be setting themselves up for difficulty in the future.

Why take the risk? Why skydive? Why pothole? Why horse ride? The thrill, for some, is worth chasing. For others, not so much. Those who don’t drink don’t have a problem. Simples.

All I would say is, for the “he doth protest too much” “he’s in denial” “he’s not being honest with himself” brigade – a) you might be right b) be careful you are not projecting the value system that worked for you onto someone else in order to re-inforce your own prejudices. It might be helpful to you. It might not be helpful to other people. For some people God is the answer, for some people it’s physics. For some it’s both.

5. Responsibility. I don’t think anyone should be under any illusions about the difficulty of giving up drinking. Clarity comes some way down the line. At first it’s a struggle. Being honest about that is better than lying or omitting to mention it. Lying about it makes it look easy and sets people up for failure. The psychoactive effect of alcohol is, for many, a very interesting and intriguing place to put yourself. Its capacity to destroy awareness of time, the pleasure it adds to music, the flowing connections it makes between people sharing the drug are all, when you first abstain for a long period, missed. I was invited to sit on the London Live panel to speak from personal experience and I called it as I saw it at that time in my non-drinking cycle. You may take the view there is no such thing as responsible drinking. At the moment I think there is. You can’t call me irresponsible for articulating that view. Well, you can, but I will disagree with you.

Anyway, I have to go to the gym. Reading your blog post and the thoughtful responses has been exactly the sort of thing I need to get the neurons firing. It has also allowed me to continue to explore the strength or otherwise of my own position and thinking in this debate. Thank you.

My reply to Nick in the comments section:

Nick thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. Would you mind if I posted your reply as a separate blog post because it’s length and detail should be more central than being buried in the comments section? As you say we can only see the issue from our own perspective and no one can tell or diagnose if anyone else has a drink problem, it is as much about our thinking around drinking as it is in the act of drinking itself. Of course I would not wish you to lie about your experience but someone watching the panel discussion may not appreciate the ‘snapshot in time’ nature of your expressed feeling and therefore interpret that as how not drinking is generally.  Thank you for responding and I hope that, although we disagree, the discussion has been constructive and respectful as I certainly think it has :)

61 days to go


People are not their disease



This is a fabulous TEDx talk from Jacki Hillios called Transcending Addiction and Redefining Recovery.   I saw it on Soberistas and was so impressed with that I thought I’d share it here.

The message is so strong and so powerful – that people are not their disease and that we shouldn’t be defined by where we have come from, but for who we are now and who we can become now we’ve put down the drink.

I wish we had something similar to Phoenix Multisport here in the UK because I would join in a heartbeat.  If I could find a sober active community like this filled with like-minded people who understood addiction but who are busy living life in recovery, who enjoyed running, cycling, yoga – what a gift that would be.

Their success rate compared to traditional rehabilitation is better (75% vs 50%) and even if people do relapse over 90% said they would come back, and without feelings of shame or guilt or worry.  This is amazing because addiction is a chronic relapsing condition so re-engagement is key to help people move forward.  The community also reports increases of 93% in physical health, 91% in mental health and 91% in quality of life.

The key messages from their experience is that:

  1. People matter – recovery on your own is hard and community is key
  2. Fun matters – if you have no joy today you have no hope for tomorrow
  3. Tomorrow matters – because if we have hope for our future then it makes dealing with the difficulties of today easier

Such an inspiration and I hope you enjoy as much as I did 🙂

62 days to go

Edited to add: found this heroes tribute on CNN about Scott Strode, the founder of Phoenix Multisport.

Nick is not drinking

As part of a recent Independent news piece about key GP questions to aid identification of alcohol issues was a London Live discussion about Alcohol Abuse where they interviewed a panel including a journalist who has given up alcohol for the year.  It was an interesting discussion but I found myself becoming quite annoyed as Nick Wallis (said journalist) described not drinking as boring.  He’s writing a blog for the year recording his experience and this passage is taken from a recent entry:

The overriding sensation I have experienced through staying dry over the last six months is one of boredom. People said I would feel much better. I don’t feel any better. I don’t feel any worse. That’s what teetotalism does – iron out the extremes of experience so that the best you feel is okay, or possibly chipper.

He goes on to say:

I have to be careful here, because there are people reading this blog who have been through the mill with alcohol, and feeling “okay” or “chipper” is akin to a state of grace. If alcohol was such a problem that abstention is the only answer – more power to you.

Now I appreciate that this is his opinion but it feels really unhelpful.  If not drinking is viewed and expressed this way in the media then it runs counter to my experience and wouldn’t encourage me to even try it as an option if I heard it and was still drinking.

What’s your thoughts?

63 days to go


Two key questions for GP to identify a drink problem

There was an article in The Independent recently that stated that:

Two questions is all it could take to establish whether a person currently suffers from or is at risk of a drink problem, a study for GPs says.

‘How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?’ and ‘as a result of your drinking or drug use, did anything happen in the last year that you wish didn’t happen?’ are the two enquiries a GP could make to detect hidden alcohol abuse, it claims.

Scientists from the University of Leicester, led by consultant in psycho-oncology Alex Mitchell, looked at 17 previous alcohol studies spanning 5,646 people to see whether simple preliminary screening using one or two questions could provide an accurate foundation for intervention.

The team found that the “optimal approach appears to be two questions” followed by a possible four more.

If this was completed then it “achieved an overall accuracy of 90.9 per cent and required only 3.3 questions per attendee.”

The study was published today in the British Journal of General Practice.

I really like this idea and think it should be implemented across all GP practices immediately.  I suspect it won’t be though because firstly the Govt don’t want to see we have a problem as then resources would need to be allocated to manage and resolve it. Secondly being a GP does not make you exempt from being a person who potential has a drink problem.  Asking this question of others makes it uncomfortable on yourself and denial being as powerful as it is I could see resistance to their use being expressed and experienced.  I hope I’m wrong and if you’d been asked these questions would you have answered them honestly?  I’m not sure I would have …….


64 days to go