It’s with the utmost thanks that The Sanctuary is now able to bring, monthly, a blog from one of it’s clients. These represent women who will change attitudes, through their honest and brave stories of how it once was, and how it now is. I would love to hear from any one who could ever argue that being free of the ugly juice could ever be lame or boring!!

Thank you to Claire, for this, the first of the series.

Claire’s Story

In order to understand where I am now, I need to convey where I was and perhaps why. I am a 43 (very nearly 44) year old British born expat who left Blighys shores near on 17 years ago. It was by pure accident that a month long visit to see my father in the war torn Balkans turned into a new career path, working with humanitarian aid agencies. It felt worthwhile, exciting and fulfilling. At that time I didn’t have a drink problem. I met my husband, had two kids and stop working. This is when the trouble ensued, and 10 years later led me to Sarah’s door.  What appeared to be a charmed expat life was in reality a golden prison in which I would sit and booze….and booze. I boozed my way around Africa, South East Asia and even the Middle East. I have tried to pin point exactly when the girly expat “oh let’s have a cold glass …it is toddler club after all!” became swigging from Martini bottles at 9 in the morning.   I often thought that maybe it’s because as expats we sometimes feel that we can live outside the normally perceived rules, and that drinking any time of the day was somehow “free” and “rebellious”.  Whereas, I can look back with fond memories of downing a grubby dirt smeared glass of slivovitz with Serbian refugees in a cow shed at dawn to keep warm! , over the 10 years that followed, Alcohol insidiously took its grip on me. Add to the mix complicated feelings and fears of letting go of my career, and becoming a “dependent” (which I loathe as a term for family members), led me into what can only be described as the drunken wilderness. I knew I had an issue but couldn’t get out of the mess. I read endless self-help books and undertook the “do you have a drinking problem tests” on google….er yes, I bloody do.  I tried online self-help, which I believe works for many, but not for me.

At the end of it all I was drinking a mind boggling 150 units a week. My life was consumed by booze. I was in this crazy charade of getting the kids to school, going back to bed with “flu”, getting up, feeling deeply resentful of everyone, (particularly my husband), sourcing booze to restock the whisky bottles I had decimated so my husband wouldn’t notice, having a couple of large glasses before tackling homework time, knocking it back as I prepared supper…..then tuning out completely, going to bed at the same time as the kids, waking up at 3 nervous, sweating and anxious. It was a depressing nightmare and I felt very alone, hugely misunderstood and isolated. I dare say I was also very self-consumed.

I was very lucky to not only find Sarah but that quite unbelievably I wasn’t physically dependent on booze, but oh my, I was completely emotionally dependent. COMPLETELY.   So, 4 months down the road of ditching the booze, I find myself in a different situation.  Health wise, my kidneys no longer ache, my reflux has “miraculously” disappeared, my skin has improved, my eyes have a little sparkle again and I don’t wince so much when I look in the mirror.  Other ways in which my life have changed are subtle, but the most meaningful to me. Perhaps the most significant area has been the change in my relationship with my husband and kids. Our daily family life has not changed , same house, same school, same job etc but after the initial period of not drinking (which did feel like scratching nails down a chalk board because I SO WANTED A DRINK), I find myself now a great deal less irritated and willing to engage with them all. Life trundles along much more smoothly without the emotional booze fuelled daily dramas, and I feel generally a great deal less perplexed by family life.  My husband now talks to me about many things that I had wished for years that he would talk to me about, and in many ways it feels like we are getting to know each other again. Not long back he actually asked me not to drink again and only last week said that he really prefers the booze free me. That to me means he actually likes me, the real me!. I have figured out that I am indeed not wonder women, and nor did anyone wish me to be.  That was a self-imposed standard that also fuelled my boozing. The house will get dirty, it’s ok to eat on our laps in front of the TV sometimes and it’s ok to take time for myself. The kids will still spill juice endlessly, dump wet towels on the floor and walk horse manure through the house, but the world will not come crashing down around me ,and it is certainly not improved by alcohol.    I am also learning to quieten the little OCD monster that lurks inside who was also fond of a tipple.

So how can we address the stigma of giving up the booze? In all honesty, I do feel pretty vulnerable writing this now, but I also feel strongly that unless more women actually let others know that they have an issue with alcohol and how bloody marvellous it is when you give it up, nothing will change. I have started talking to a few women I know about ditching the booze, and I hope that my meagre story will make a difference.  I honesty regret that I didn’t get myself together years ago and stop drinking, but alas, I didn’t.  I now notice, and am aware of, how wine has become part of the language of our “sisterhood”. It’s a currency that we can exchange and makes us somehow “ok” with each other. I hear the “ha ha, come on lets open a bottle……Facebook full of friends raising glasses of bubbly”. I am no longer a member of that club and feel slightly lonely, but in reality, I never was one to toe the line. I would hate to appear sanctimonious but I do feel that I have a new life , and more importantly a future, and that I can see beyond next week.    As I say to my eldest daughter when she has been teased at school, who wants to be like everyone else anyway? Be yourself, everyone else it taken. Surely living a life that is in the raw is a life worth living? I think so. With Sarah’s words echoing in my ears, what’s the worst that can happen? Surely nothing but freedom.

The Pioneers view on Losses & Gains

Pioneering women

There is a lot to the language of coming to the conclusion that it’s time to call time on wine o’clock.

Most popular seems to be that we are giving up alcohol. Giving in to it perhaps is more appropriate. By saying we are giving in or up seems to indicate that we have either failed or somehow become so very weak, that we are no longer able to be part of the ‘in crowd’, rather than strong and courageous. There is a huge majority that consider us seeped in failure and hardship that we are missing out. Somehow we have become dull and boring, and much worse to use the modern lingo, DRY.
It sounds dreadful.
Alcohol is a drug, no two ways about it, but such a well marketed, legal one, that it has become the social salve of the last thirty years, wine most especially being the cure all for most women over the age of 35 with children. It’s not seen as a sin, or a weakness, but more of a badge of honour among the huge social media set of yummy mummies who cannot possibly survive the slings and arrows of motherhood without a fridge full of Pinot. Little Harry is in bed, hit the iPad and the bottle. This is a very normal, everyday story of modern day folk. The common thread is that actually they drink too much, but there are also other bonds.

Usually intelligent, funny, educated and holding down some really interesting job or doing one of the hardest jobs of all, raising children, married to an equally aspirational chap who sees his over the eight missus being the same as all of his friends OHs. I am using abbreviation from popular Mummy sites. Because everyone else does it, then it has to be ok. There has never been a more tribal time than the Wine women’s club. It’s everywhere. I do wonder how women during the wars to end all wars survived without it, when I listen to clients who seem to be so hugely stressed by daily strife now that they need to resort to at least 70 units of the stuff a week. Along with more chemical dependence dished out by their GP for depression.

There is no judgement from me, for I was once premier league in terms of alcohol misuse, just a frustration and anger that these wonderful, brilliant women are gripped by such a toxic lifestyle that is feted as being attractive and absolutely ‘the thing’ to do.
They are so captivated by this, that the thought of not using alcohol seems to be a sign that first they have a problem, which they have, and secondly that without it life would screech to a horrible halt and they would no longer be able to function or, and this is the worst bit, be accepted as a non-drinker by their peers. This was highlighted to me recently by a lady who had gone to a friend’s Birthday party and been castigated in quite a nasty way for not drinking wine to the Birthday girl’s health, being told that it was very rude not to do so.
The question I ask my clients is this. ‘What is the worst that can happen if you don’t drink alcohol?’ The first retort is usually along the lines of my social life would be over, it wouldn’t have any fun and well, I would just be different.
The opposite is true. Once wine gets going, it is the most isolating of drugs, too fearful of going out as once was the norm, but staying in with old reliable in the fridge door, and then down the hatch. Spontaneity is lost, you can’t be impulsive to new experiences or ideas if you are trollied, fun is something the kids have, whilst women suffer in silence between feelings of how did it get to this and why me. Exhaustion is in pole position and because of it no one can be arsed to do much at all except get through the day until wine time.

So yes we are different, we are pioneers. I don’t see a loss in any of the non-drinking squad, just a liberation and expectation that the best is yet to come. That has to be a gain in anyone’s book.