A Happy Ending

It’s that time of year when many of us start thinking about what we would like to achieve over the next twelve months, “New Year, New Me” and all that jazz. 2020 – a year so bad they named it twice – has been horrendously difficult for all of us, for reasons I need not go into here. Yet, as 2020 draws to a close and we choose our endeavours for the new year, this is the first year in a long time that ‘dealing with my drink problem’ doesn’t feature as the number one resolution hanging like an anvil over my head. For 2020, will for me, be remembered first and foremost as the year I finally tackled my Wine Witch and gave her the boot.

I didn’t just quit drinking in 2020, I quit drinking and thrived. As I reflect upon Christmas, I can say in all honesty that not once did I feel that I was just surviving it, getting through, putting on a happy face yet feeling deprived that I couldn’t drink. I loved Christmas, thoroughly enjoyed it and not once, not one single time did I crave a drink. In that sense, I drank as much as I wanted, the want having been eradicated. I’m as surprised, liberated and elated by this fact as anyone, so I thought I’d share how I finally arrived in booze-free Narnia…

Assuming you haven’t read any of my previous blogs, I thought firstly that it would be useful to give you a glimpse of what life used to be like for me, as a heavy drinker. In summary…it was like this: I was miserable, I was sad, I was desperate for change, as a Pub Landlady, I was surrounded by booze all day and I was surrounded by boozers, drinking was my work, my life, my bread and butter, it was the norm, I was hounded by it, shrouded by it, when I wasn’t drinking I was planning on quitting or planning on drinking more, I was secretive, always dancing the precarious beam of respectability, never too pissed in public, always too hammered on my own, I never drank in the morning, I always drank in the evening, I was always making pacts never to drink again, I was always breaking pacts never to drink again, I drank wine, I drank vodka, I drank rum, I drank the optics dry, I drank at work, I drank at home, I drank when I was out, I drank on holiday, I drank on Tuesdays, I drank on Fridays, there was no distinction between a weekday drink day or a weekend drink day, I drank when I celebrated, I drank when I was sad, I drank when I was sadder. I can’t say I drank when I was happy because I genuinely don’t think I ever was.

My drinking is epitomised in this statement: I used to drink in the evening in the shower. I couldn’t bear to be parted from a glass of wine for even the time it takes to wash your bits! I like thinking about drinking in the shower because it exposes the extent of my disillusionment about my drinking, the sham of my beliefs. In my befuddled, brainwashed, fucked up head, drinking in the shower was just part of the self-care ‘have a candle-lit bubblebath and enjoy a glass of wine’ scenarios that I so often chose to focus on. Except the image versus the reality was very different. It wasn’t a candle-lit bubble bath, it was me, wobbly, pissed and naked, stumbling dangerously around an electric-bulb-lit bathroom hiding a wine glass amongst the shower gels.

Drinking in the shower probably isn’t the most horrendous descent-into-doom drinking anecdote you have ever read, but this isn’t a competition. It may even sound like I was a mediocre piss head, and maybe I was. Drinking that much (100 units a week?) certainly makes you mediocre, it numbs you to your core, numbs everything you do into a permanent state of mediocrity where a celebration feels the same as a commiseration, where all your major life decisions are put on hold as you drink tonight and worry about it tomorrow and you end up with a very mediocre life. There’s a terrible waste of talent and deep regret and sadness in existing in that state of permanent mediocrity.

If you have endured any of my previous blogs, then you’ll know that for a long time they followed a kind of pattern. They start along the lines of the usual ‘girl discovers wine isn’t that good for her and finds her tribe, gets help and quits and lives happily ever after’ and descend into ‘girl discovers wine is terrible, she thinks she’s found her tribe but it turns out she didn’t as she believes she’s different, so let’s see how she gets on next time…’ kind of vibe. The good news is, that this one is different and I wanted to share how I transformed from a woman who couldn’t even manage a bathroom visit without a glass of wine to one who has had a fabulous Christmas and didn’t once even consider having a drink…..

In essence, I educated myself about drinking. At first that was reading, reading quit lit: inspirational stories of women who had realised Prosecco wasn’t the heal-all elixir they had been led to believe and had kicked the habit. I devoured these tales like my life depended on it, my life did depend on it, all the while still drinking and hoping that one day, the inspiration these stories provided would somehow miraculously morph into me taking action.

I learned about heavy drinking from others, immersed myself in the sobriety community. The ‘alcoholic’ community. This had a two-fold paradoxical result: I could finally identify with my tribe whilst at the same time excluding myself from my tribe as “I wasn’t as bad as these and this wasn’t really me.” The quandary of the deluded drinker. I spent a long time in negotiation with myself, trying to prove that I didn’t have a drink problem, that I could moderate, the truth being that if your life’s work is proving to yourself that you don’t have a drink problem, then you probably do. I spent a year or so coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t moderate, I didn’t want to moderate, I’d never moderated in my life and that I would have to quit completely. THAT is the hard bit. Once you have made that decision, the rest is just deciding how you will do it and importantly for me, how you will do it happily. I didn’t want tears or recriminations or endless navel gazing. What I really wanted was a silver bullet but I also knew that wasn’t an option.

I looked into every avenue of how I could tackle it. I read, I read some more, I talked to those who identified as alcoholics, I went to AA meetings, SMART Recovery meetings, I listened to Podcasts, watched YouTube quit videos, hooked up with sobriety coaches, used social media, enquired about The Sinclair Method, did a six month sober stint, started drinking again, acquired a mentor, lost a mentor, tried online Recovery Zoom meetings, worked online programs, stopped drinking again, started drinking again, stopped drinking again, started drinking again….on and on it went. I often felt like I was shoe-horning myself into someone else’s recovery strategy, squirming as I went, often wondering “what on earth am I doing here” but never, ever stopping the search, always hunting, learning, seeking until something stuck, until something rang true for me.

Even though I was still drinking, albeit at a much reduced rate, I still immersed myself in the recovery community. I quit drinking regularly, for months at a time and then spent a lot of early 2020 working on my own 5:2 diet – 5 days a week sober followed by a very committed 2 days on the piss. I still knew that I wanted to stop completely and so recovery work was a constant background noise be that on headphones or from the TV or in a book in the loo.

What I gleaned from all this research, was that when people found a method that they truly believed in, placed their faith into it’s efficacy, be that a CBT-based approach or a 12 Step method, that it worked for them. What was then left for me was to find the method in which I could place my own faith. I knew that an arbitrary method, where you just had to have faith that the process works, even when there was evidence that it had worked for others, just didn’t cut it for me. I couldn’t work on the basis that something could work if I followed it correctly, I needed solid proof of why it would work. This almost sent me into a state of permanent despair and heavy drinking. I was faced with what I saw as a mammoth task of researching the way our brain works, understanding neuroplasticity and finding a way to undo all the unconscious programming that my mind had been subjected to over the years. As much as I like a challenge, I am not a neurologist. I realised then that I didn’t have to do that, as someone I truly respected in the sobriety world, admired the work they did, had already done it all. Someone had already done the research and explained the whys and wherefores and had packaged it all very nicely in a recovery program.

That person, was Annie Grace. I had bought copies of This Naked Mind and The Alcohol Experiment a long while back and Annie was my favourite go-to YouTuber, but I’d never actually finished The Alcohol Experiment Program. I wholeheartedly trusted the process she advocates, I knew this would work for me and it was almost as if I knew that if I diligently worked the program I knew my drinking days would be over for good, but paradoxically I was scared of that, that kept me drinking for little while longer? I trusted the process, placed my faith…yet I still wasn’t quite ready.

All the reading, educating, listening to Podcasts, collecting members of the sober community around me like Pokemon lead me down multitudinous, unexpected paths. By mid-2020 I’d stopped drinking but I was still stuck in a kind of negotiation that maybe this wasn’t forever? I STILL wasn’t quite ready – and yet I wanted it! The permanent paradox of the befuddled, confused, spaghetti brain. I hung onto the sobriety community, kept learning, searching for my tribe when BINGO! I found an Instagram post about Grey Area Drinking. This was it, this was me! Finally, I’d found my people. The post lead me to an article, the article lead me to a book, the book lead me to it’s author and her website and her website lead me to a telephone conversation and a conversation lead to her becoming my sobriety coach. This was never anything I had expected but it worked. After just a few conversations my commitment to sobriety, living a life aligned with my true core values and exploring where I really want life to take me was becoming a reality.

As I had stopped drinking, but was still somewhat shaky about the decision, the first task my coach set for me was to complete The Alcohol Experiment. We’d discussed how I believed that it would work for me but hadn’t felt ready to totally commit and – well, I took the plunge, made the commitment and I’ve never looked back. The Alcohol Experiment is meant to be a thirty day program based on rewiring your cognitive associations between booze and pleasure. In reality, it took me a year to complete it. But over the last half of 2020 I really worked it. I started the program from scratch, worked the exercises diligently, watched the accompanying videos, watched the entire back catalogue of Annie Grace YouTube material, talked to my coach, listened to This Naked Mind on a never ending Audible loop, listened whilst out walking, listened when in the shower (no longer guzzling wine), read it again at night, did the exercises, did them again if I wasn’t quite sure where something was leading, filled three whole journals with notes, read the recommended associated reading….learning, learning, learning and all the while believing that, just as she promises, by the end I would not want to drink again.

The content of The Alcohol Experiment is fantastic. I’m almost evangelical about this. I share the same passion about it’s process as AA fellowship members do about their program. I like it because it WORKS. I respected the research, trusted the facts and most of all I believed that if I got to the end, without missing a single element, it would work it’s magic, and it did.

I’m not big on sobriety dates, but around 2015 I started the process of learning about how to undo myself and get well after years of caning the wine. My ‘journey’ has taken me about five years: four and a half years of just reading about it and a year and a half of actually taking action – with the final half year finally loving a life of abstinence from alcohol. I drink as much as I want to, the want has gone. One thing all this learning has taught me, is that just quitting, without a program, is bloody difficult; quitting is just the start and to get on and enjoy what’s on the other side takes work. It is not a straight path from realisation to enlightenment, it can be a rocky road, but it’s worth it. What I learned is that it doesn’t matter which program or path you take, the key elements are the same: believe in the process, find your tribe, find your people and engage actively in that community. The best part of this is the community, I’ve found my people and I love writing and talking about this stuff especially in the hope that it helps a newcomer.

If you have followed me for a while – and if you’re still reading this (it’s been far longer than I ever intended!) – then well done – and a quick farewell from Booze-Free-Betty. I’m going to be hanging up my pen for a while, my blog work is done, for now at least. It’s time to focus on new projects, my own “New Year, New Me” project….and if you have followed my blogs then you’ll know that I have a giant arse to contend with – that’s the new challenge!

Happy New Year

The Queen of Quality Street


Let’s get something straight from the off: I’m not interested in just ‘surviving’ this Christmas with my sobriety intact at the end of it, dragging myself through it, kicking and screaming,  feeling hard done by, drowning in FOMO.  An alcohol-free Christmas is not a punishment for some imagined wrong-doing, it’s a choice.  A choice that makes me and everyone I love, feel better for it.  I don’t want to survive this Christmas, I want to thrive, confident that I have the tools to enjoy it, to love it. To love it like an eight year old loves it, for the sheer fact that it’s Christmas and it can be a special time of year. 

That said, let’s also get something else straight from the off: Christmas can be difficult at the best of times, especially when, if like me, this will be your first sober festive period – not exactly my first, I was definitely a sober toddler, but probably my first without getting drunk at some point since I was about fifteen.  Not drinking in general can be difficult at the best of times but especially so when we’re bombarded by marketing messages that Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Baileys in constant accompaniment. 

With these things in mind and the fact that 2020 has already been a terrible year without me adding a hangover-ridden December to round it off, I thought I’d compile some top tips. Things I’m actually going to do, to enjoy the festivities without alcohol.  If you are reading this and about to embark on an AF Christmas yourself, pat yourself on the back, for if you are reading this, it is because you value your own sobriety and remaining AF at this time of year is clearly important to you.  So what can we do to make sure we enjoy ourselves whilst all the time being armed against The Wine Witch?

  1. The Decision: Remaining AF throughout Christmas is my absolute non-negotiable:

When you quit drinking you can experience a sense of euphoria and your self-belief can sky-rocket.  Suddenly your life is full of possibilities and we tend to embark on a host of self-improvements with the new found confidence that we can achieve things: stop eating chocolate, quit sugar, train for a marathon, lose weight, get fit, anything seems possible, and anything is possible, quitting the booze is proof.  

The danger over the festive period, especially when our routines are upended, is that if we slip up in our ‘Get Fit’ or ‘Sugar Free’ endeavours, that we punish ourselves; we descend back into that ‘I’m a failure’ mode just because we’ve blown a tyre by eating some cake.  But, just because you blow a tyre on your car, doesn’t mean you have to then slash the other three.  Just because you have not worked out for a few days doesn’t mean you have to blow everything and push the ‘F-it’ button.  I’m as guilty of this kind of thinking as anyone, it’s classic all-or-nothing behaviour – the same behaviour that drove my drinking in the first place.  For me, not drinking has to be my absolute non-negotiable, even if that means I renege on other self-improvements I’ve made this year.  My priority is to enter January with my sobriety firmly intact (even if that means I have a stone to lose). 

So I CAN eat a whole tin of Celebrations, so long as I don’t drink, I can lie for three straight days on the sofa in a Netflix-induced stupor, eat an entire Christmas cake, scoff three Selection Boxes for breakfast, watch an entire afternoon of Channel 5’s Shittest Christmas Movies ever….all guilt free…so long as I DON’T DRINK. That’s my deal with myself. 

The reason I am saying this is guilt free, is that I’ve done some maths, some calculations to justify why I can become Queen of Quality Street this Christmas.  Here are three comparison stats based on what I would normally have consumed during a Christmas booze binge:*

*I would have consumed one of these stats on a binge, I never, that I recall, drank 2 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of Prosecco and 6 pints all in one session, my 40-something year old bladder would have given out way before my liver.

2 bottles of wine = 1250 calories // £20

6 pints of lager = 1300 calories  //  £24

2 bottles of Prosecco = 1150 calories  // £25

You don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that this is generally £22 per session and 1200 calories.  As food tends to be my booze exchange treat at Christmas, to give you some perspective, over the 12 days of Christmas, I could treat myself to sober gifts to the tune of £264 (and I will), or eat the calorific booze equivalent of 151 Freddo Frogs, or 13 per day (my chocolate of choice).  

No alcohol = my non negotiable. Choosing to spend the calorific or cash equivalent of my normal Christmas booze consumption on Freddos?…..at least I can make an informed, sober choice. 

2. I worry I won’t really enjoy myself without a drink, that Christmas is stressful and I will deserve a drink to help me relax and enjoy the festivities:

Will a drink help you to enjoy yourself?  Really?  If you have battled with your drink demon for long enough you know that the heady days of drinking without any consequence have gone forever.  You can never return to a cavalier attitude of thinking that you will just pick up your sobriety again in January as we all know it isn’t as easy as that.

When you think this way, that you can’t really enjoy yourself without a drink, I think it is merely your brain picking up on a myriad of marketing messages and false memories of glorious drunken Christmases that never, ever in reality existed.  What will happen is regret that you drank, sleepless nights, hangovers and a chip off your self worth.  A hell of a trade-off for a falsely romantic notion of a whisky by the fire.  

3. Schedule 10 minutes of battle time with your Wine Witch/Beer Monster/Drink Demon every morning:

I LOVE doing this.  Love it.

I like to personify my Wine Witch.  ‘She’ is a woman, She has wiry black hair, steely pale blue eyes, is a bit grubby and dishevelled and has a kind of mad stare (stay with me here guys…), however at the moment, She knows She is very much under threat and has slinked into some kind of sexy-Santa-Elf-Lady get-up and combed her barnet, and She quite alluringly tries to whisper sweet nothings about wine into my ear and tries to convince me I should be drinking at Christmas.  

Here is how I tackle her:

Each morning I schedule 10 minutes battle time.  Firstly, She is surprised that I have knocked for her rather than the usual other way around, She then appears and acts as both a bully and defence of wine counsel all at the same time.  I calmly dismantle her arguments and always, without exception, win the argument.  

Like all spineless bullies, The Wine Witch rarely hunts alone, She’s in cahoots with Worry Woman so I have a few minutes with her too, she tries to slay me with my worries but I think them through, prioritise anything I can actively change and discard the rest.  When Wine Witch and Worry Woman come-a-calling later in the day, they are quite easily disposed of: we’ve had our arguments today, I know the answers and I can confidently tell us all that I don’t have time for this now, I’ll see you again tomorrow.

The imaginary battles between myself and a wild haired witch currently dressed as a Coca Cola foxy poster girl may sound borderline insane, but try this, it works.   Have 10 minutes ‘Worry time’ each day, it leaves no room for negotiation later in the day as the arguments have already been debated. 

4. Use Coronavirus to your advantage:

Now, firstly, I’m a LOOOOOONG way off suggesting that anything positive can be gained from the pandemic.  But….

But, if you have been invited to an event, a gathering, a party and you really don’t want to go as you’re worried it could be too much of a test of your sobriety then there is currently a perfectly legitimate response: 

“As a responsible citizen of the world, I will not be attending your ‘do’ as it contravenes the rules of Tier 1/2/3…” (delete as appropriate)


“I will not be attending your ‘do’ as I am self-isolating” (you don’t have to lie and say you’re isolating due to Covid, just because the host has inadvertently deduced that conclusion, isn’t your problem). 

5. Feeling sorry for myself is a no-no: embrace your inner eight year old*.

I had a conversation this morning with my eight year old niece.  She’s dairy intolerant meaning that chocolate is a no-no for her.  Did she once mention that she’s sad that she can’t eat chocolate at Christmas?  Did she once mention that she looks longingly at her little brother’s advent calendar every morning, filled with disappointment and sorrow?  Does she worry that she’ll be forced to go a to Christmas party where there is chocolate so she avoids those events at all costs?  Does she need her mum monitoring her every move in case she surreptitiously troughs a bag of Maltesers? Of course not!  Never once has she moaned about it.  If anything she wears it as a badge of honour, celebrates her difference, and I love the way her friends rally around her in protection whenever chocolate is introduced to a room.  She is beyond excited of course, because it is Christmas, and she instinctively knows that Christmas is about more than just chocolate. 

*Disclaimer, I said ‘embrace your INNER eight year old, do not embrace an eight year old, especially if you don’t know them, aside of Covid risk it could land you in all kinds of trouble.

6. Make some special AF drinks:

The debate rages amongst problem drinkers over the use of AF ‘drinks’ with often used phrases popping up such as “Non-alcoholic drinks are for non-alcoholics”, well the truth is that only you can make the decision whether they are for you or not.  For some they are a trigger so steer clear, but for me, they are a must.  

I’ve invested in a range of AF ‘spirits’ and some new fancy glassware.  For me, it was often the anticipation of drinking rather than the actual act of drinking that excited me: the ritual of choosing a wine, using a nice glass, feeling like it was special.  For me, a craving can be satisfied with a special AF beverage served with ice, fruit and nibbles.  There are loads of recipes out there for you to try if you think this is for you.  Only you can decide.

7. Keep a Gratitude List:

OK, confession: Gratitude Lists were for me, a bit of what I interpreted as the ‘namby pamby’ part of sobriety, I never really understood why they would work or why anyone would bother.  The likelihood of me committing to ‘doing gratitude’ was about as likely as me becoming a Vegan. Until I did some investigation….and started doing them:

When you are trapped in the cycle of drinking (or even worse, the cycle of moderation), you have this constant jukebox of negativity playing on a loop in your head.  The negative thoughts can come with all the predictability of a well-played album:

Track One: You’re a Loser

Track Two: You’ll never succeed at this

Track Three: You’ll never be good at anything

…and on it plays

I started to practice gratitude under the umbrella of ‘Things I’ve Heard Other People Do That Are Good For Them’ and ended up changing it slightly, to less of a gratitude list, than ‘3 Things I’ve Done Well Today’.  When the head jukebox has only ever stocked negative tunes, these start to inject some positive thoughts and self-congratulation into your membranes.  It starts to undo the constant negativity by reprogramming the brain in positivity.  Try it.  It works. 

8. Become a Christmas Girl Guide/Scout: Be Prepared for Anything:

Like every good Girl Guide, be prepared.  I’d say be prepared for anything during any Christmas, but your first sober, Covid Christmas?  Be prepared….FOR ANYTHING!

Be prepared for events that you CHOOSE to attend: if you have to go to a boozy event, feel free to take your own drinks.  If the get together is at a pub, call them in advance and ask what AF drinks they have.  Trust me on this one, any publican worth their salt will nowadays have a decent range of AF drinks.  

Use visualisation: your brain, for all it’s amazingly wonderful complexity, is easily fooled.  It can struggle to differentiate between a real memory and a powerful visualisation (I recently watched a documentary about recalled accounts of people during the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks, people totally convinced they had witnessed the event and who recounted minute details of what they had seen, yet their actual physical location at the time of the attack would have made those memories impossible.  The brain had mish-mashed news reports alongside their lived experience to construct actual memories).  If I have to attend a boozy event, I visualise everything, from what I’m wearing, to who will be there, who will be most likely to encourage me to drink, what I will say….and in my visualisation, as in real life, if it gets too much, I leave, in my car (which in my visualisation is an Aston Martin….I didn’t say you can’t have fun with this technique). 

Be Realistic: be realistic about what you can and can’t do and be prepared.  Sad as it sounds, at the moment I can’t enjoy listening to music, as it has a tendency to create some mad party scene in my head which then leads to me craving a drink.  I hope things will change soon where this is concerned.  I also know that when I have an AF drink, in a fancy glass, I struggle with any glass that has a stem, again this can act as a trigger, so I have invested in alternative glassware, I’m prepared.  Nowadays I’m all about the crystal tumbler.  

Be prepared for cravings: I expect to get a craving at some point over Christmas.  But I now see cravings in a different light: I find a craving is just an invocation of a memory, a false memory of some imagined idyllic Christmas past.  My 25 year boozy Christmas subconscious bombarding me with very selective falsities.  I’ve learned however, that cravings are like waves, they build and build but they inevitably, without exception, always crash.  The trick is learning to surf them, witness them for what they are and ride them out.  A craving is just a thought, and a thought can not, by its own volition, prepare a Mulled Wine and force it down your gullet.  A craving is never satisfied with a drink, a drink just creates another craving for another drink. 

Above all, be prepared to enjoy yourself.  Without guilt.  A sober Christmas is not a punishment, it’s an opportunity but you’ll only achieve that if you genuinely believe it.  Invest in the power of belief, retrain your thoughts, create your own Christmas bible….belief in Jesus is what has kept this whole Christmas thing going for the last 2000 years….just sayin’ 

Happy Christmas x



As someone who has quit drinking alcohol, someone who thought for a long time that drinking was an essential part of my character, I can occasionally become bereft with the fear that my ballroom days are over, the disco lights have been turned out and the fun police have arrested me for permanent drunk and disorderly.  All the ‘great things’ my beloved poison brought are gone and I get sad: grieving over what I perceive I’m missing out on.  But. But…what if the disco wasn’t that great anyway and all those things I believed alcohol contributed to my life for my ballroom years were not true?  What if I remove the Rose-tinted glasses and examine the facts behind the beliefs?

A fundamental tool in undoing our relationship with booze and breaking down our cognitive dissonance – that uncomfortable disagreement between our conscious and unconscious mind – is exposing our beliefs to the light and debunking our own myths.  When your head can feel like a bomb where the red wire and the green wire are currently mixed up, sending the wrong messages, stripping down the reality of what you believe, is a great tool to diffuse it.

I thought I’d do some work in debunking my own myths, beliefs and thought patterns: the ‘reasoning’ behind the choices we make in using alcohol.  I’ve been absolutely honest here, to the point of embarrassment considering I’m putting this list ‘out there’ and you, reader, may well think “what the hell was she thinking?” I thought alcohol made me funnier, more confident, relaxed me, made me more creative, was cool to drink, was part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle and was fundamentally THE only way to enjoy myself, to name but a few.  I’ve broken the thinking behind the drinking into more detail and stripped back the myth to reveal the reality.  It’s a useful exercise. 

Myth 1: Drinking is part of a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle.  

Details: Think chic French women on the Cote D’Azur, think cobbled Spanish squares with olive-skinned beauties sipping Rioja at lunchtime delicately nibbling a side dish of calamari…this is who I am!  I’m just a normal European lady.

The Truth: The only part of the Mediterranean that my drinking could resemble was a bar crawl around some Brit holiday hotspot like Magaluf, where it was not so much quality Rioja sipped at leisure, but neck as many units as you can before the bus leaves for the sunrise beach party.  I didn’t drink on sunkissed cobbled streets or chic French brasseries, I drank like I was on a permanent all-inclusive Club 18-30 holiday, where I was aged 29 and three quarters, trying to pack in as much as I could before hitting 30.  I never drank red wine or continental beer (the usual Med lifestyle go-tos) because I’m not that sophisticated, I drank for volume and get-pissed-quick factor.  To compound this, my own particular brand of Med lifestyle, I could often be found at the end of an evening eating Greek doner kebab, pork gyros or cheesy garlic bread.

Conclusion: Not very chic, not very Mediterranean, not very healthy.  Myth Debunked!

Myth 2: Having a few glasses of wine when cooking dinner is just part of a lovely middle class lifestyle.  It’s what women of my age do.

Details: think Agas, think John Lewis wine glasses with a mere tot of Merlot in the base, think cooking from scratch from a Nigella cookbook.

The Truth: Firstly, this image of Agas and Nigella are soooooooo far removed from the reality of my life that I don’t even know where to start.  As a pub landlady I was to be found 5 days out of 7 eating dinner in my own restaurant, eating the dishes that hadn’t sold and were about to go out of date or grabbing handfuls of chips in the catering kitchen followed by another handful of the chocolate mints we use to accompany coffees, as my dessert.  Zero cooking involved, but of course, there was the wine.  

Secondly, using the word ‘middle class’ actually makes me puke a little with the thought that anyone would want to aspire to this defunct and non-sensical terminology.  They used to measure your ‘middle-class-ness’ according to which newspaper you read.  I read The Sun, so that gives you an idea of my rating on that particular barometer.  Yet, I did for a long time justify my drinking wine as part of this kind of lifestyle and every time I heard desperate stories of alcoholism from drinkers who had slid into the oblivion, I used this vision of myself, sipping wine, cooking dinner to strengthen the chains in my middle-class armour of ‘that isn’t me.’ 

Conclusion: As someone who has only ever cooked a meal from a cookbook maybe ten times in my life and who during those occasions would have drunk a bottle or two of wine…this myth is debunked!

Myth 3: I like the taste of wine

The Truth: This is an easy one.  Wine does not taste nice.  When I think I like the taste of wine, I always think back to an episode of Peep Show: Jeremy is on a date with some pompous girl who is getting pretentious over the bouquet of a wine, Jeremy is a simple, honest man and looks to camera in disbelief: “wine isn’t really nice is it? Not like hot chocolate or coca cola is nice” – I rest my case. 

Conclusion: Wine is no Pepsi.

Myth 5: Drinking helps me relax

Details: Of course drinking helps you to relax!  That message is literally everywhere!  In every TV show, ad, movie and book.  It’s common knowledge that when you’re stressed, had a hard day at work, you kick back and relax with a drink! Durr! Who doesn’t know that?

The Truth: Drinking doesn’t relax me.  I certainly don’t feel relaxed at 3am when I wake up full of regret, recrimination, anxiety, self-loathing, disgust, dry mouth, full bladder….no, definitely nothing relaxing about that.  Anyhow, what do I really need to relax so badly from that I need an artificial relaxant?  My job?  I don’t think so, not really, it’s not like I’m working in bomb disposal or finding Covid cures, my job, fundamentally, is selling beer and burgers.  Fundamentally, NOT that stressful.  Not so stressful that I donate my liver and sense of wellbeing in exchange. 

Conclusion: Hot baths, meditation, talking to friends, facials, self-care: these are the tools that REALLY promote my relaxation. 

This is a useful exercise in getting to the root of your real thoughts about the way in which you use alcohol.  These are just a few of my examples, try creating your own list?  The big two myths for me are that alcohol relieves my boredom and that I can’t really enjoy myself on a night out without it: these are big topics, which I’ll explore on my next blog (I hear your bated breath from here…

TPL xx

Banana Charter

This Post is for YOU

This post is for anyone experiencing or considering day one of freedom from alcohol (or the early days at least).

When I say day one, what I really mean is your millionth day one (or at least it feels like your millionth and probably is your 100th at least).  This post is for those of us who want to leave behind nightly interrupted sleep, leave behind waking up in the morning to feel just guilt and remorse for drinking what may have been just a glass or so the prior evening, those of us who still get up for work and carry on as normal, who go shopping for groceries, collect kids from school, lead ostensibly ‘normal’ lives, but for whom something isn’t quite right.  

This is for those of us who already know that an ‘alcoholic’ isn’t necessarily a tramp on a park bench or a celebrity checking into rehab, those of us who even question the term ‘alcoholic’, those of us who wouldn’t dream of cracking open the wine before 6pm, who have never lost a job over booze, never pee’d in public, driven under the influence, had a drunken fist fight, stolen the Christmas club money to pay for sherry, punched a cat or (knowingly) had a threesome when drunk.  This is for those of us who can do wild and mad things when drunk – and we do get drunk – but who turn those escapades into anecdotes to retell our friends, because that’s just who we are, who we’ve always been, what we do, the way we roll.  

This is aimed at those of us who may have done a booze free stint before, are educated in what is required. Those of us who know who the sobriety world ‘celebs’ are and have read the ‘set texts’, who are so familiar with the works of Annie Grace, Allen Carr and Jason Vale that we could tackle it as our specialist subject on Mastermind.

 We may even have been to an AA meeting before but we felt like a fraud as we are nowhere near ‘that bad’ (whatever ‘that bad’ is) and who upon hearing the tales of true desperation and hardship from world weary alcoholics, notched another chink in our armour of “that’s not me.” Those of us for whom the world of AA is a million miles from our public lives, who can’t go to meetings as we’ve jobs with irregular hours, partners who won’t entertain we have a problem, kids needing help with homework – oh, and a pandemic to contend with.  Those of us for whom sharing our battle with the booze, sitting at home, on a video exchange, exposed to the ears of our loved ones, would leave us so desperate to drown in our own pool of cringe and embarrassment that it’s not even an option.  It’s for those of us who quite possibly aren’t ever going to be ready to admit our problem “out loud” as things on the outside just don’t seem that bad and our family and friends would if anything, be a bit bemused by our decision to quit drinking.  

This post is for those of us who understand that we are not physically addicted to our poison of choice but that for whatever reason, we still have a psychological affiliation.

If you’ve ever made a “Drinking Charter” that looks something like this:

  • Don’t Drink on a work night
  • Don’t drink to get drunk
  • No more than two drinks in any session
  • Don’t drink before 5pm
  • Don’t drink alone

If you’ve ever made deals with yourself that look that this, then this post is for you, because let’s face it, if you were setting rules around consuming anything other than alcohol in that way – let’s say bananas for example, you’d question your banana relationship (and possibly check yourself into banana counselling).  

If you have spent the last days, weeks, months, years even, thinking about your relationship with booze, have the shelves full of sobriety reads, have the sober contacts collecting like Pokemon in your phone, have the anecdotes, have the sleepless nights, have the slow, dawning realisation that time is slipping away and the youth that you thought would shield you from danger and give you time is ebbing away, have the missed opportunities and the stagnant career, the inertia to change your life and soul-destroying constant theme tune of danger of a wasted life playing endlessly in your mind….this post is for you. 

Let me make something clear, I am not on day one or even week or month one (to clarify, I’m a couple of months in) but I am still all of the above.  I am not an expert in addiction, just someone who has experienced the discomfort of using alcohol inappropriately. After reading something today and getting a ton of feedback I see that there are lots of us in this situation: carrying on the battle each day, reading the literature and seeing how it can work – but possibly not actually doing the work.  What I intend to do over the next few weeks is share my own work and if that helps – then those posts will be for you. 


Sometime in the early 1990s:

Dear diary,

When a man sat next to me on the bus today, smelling of Lynx Africa, I became so overwhelmed with sadness and longing for Jamie Barton that I cried.  I love Jamie so much, why, why, why did he have to dump me? He was my reason for being, the love of my life.  Things will never be the same…

September 2020:

WhatsApp message to friend:

A customer came to the bar today reeking of Lynx Africa. That stench still to this day reminds me of that two-timing-twat Jamie Barton…

A smell, a song, a place.  They can evoke powerful responses rooted deep in our psyche.  As soon as we sense a scent or hear a melody we can be transported to a different place and time.  That, essentially, is our subconscious at work. We can’t do much about it, we don’t control it.  If you think of your mind as an iceberg, around 90% is below the surface, the subconscious, and in those icy depths are our beliefs and our emotions, formed over the course of our lives. What we can manipulate is the 10% glistening above the water: that is our logical and critical thinking which influences our responses and our reactions and we do this through educating ourselves.

A sniff of Lynx Africa still reminds me of Jamie Barton, I’ll probably never be able to change that.  What has changed over time however is my response.  At 17 I thought Jamie Barton was the love of my life and when I caught a whiff of his Lynx scent, I was reminded of him and how he’d left me and that made me sad.  But over the next few weeks and months I became educated in the realities of Jamie Barton and learned that he was far from being the love of my life never mind my reason for being.  For me, he was putting on an Oscar-winning role as the perfect boyfriend and I fell for the performance.  What I learned over the next few weeks and months however, was that he was a two-timing shit who had snogged half of my friends, and the more I learned, the more I became indifferent to the point of dislike of him.  So, although a sniff of Lynx Africa still reminds me of Jamie Barton my reaction in 2020 is totally different to that of teenage me.

What I’m attempting (probably very badly), to convey in this analogy is that for me, Jamie Barton is like wine and Lynx Africa is….well….for me….it’s anything I want it to be: a day with a ‘d’ in it, 5pm ‘wine o’clock’, friends turning up, a night out, a holiday.  They’re all things that trigger a ‘Jamie’ response.  I’m reminded that this is wine time.  The ‘Lynx event’ is so deeply ingrained with association with wine and drinking that it’s hard to shake off.  But, what I have learned, through using the Jamie Barton example, is that we can educate ourselves in the realities of what you perceived to be true.  In the wine case, that wine is a depressant doing an Oscar-winning role as a relaxant and go-to fun potion.  The reality is…it’s not. 

It’s a bit like birthday cake.  When you’re a kid, you can’t imagine a birthday without cake!  You’d feel deprived and hard-done-by if you didn’t get one.  But, as you grow up, you realise that cake ain’t the be all and end all of a birthday, you grow up and you’re not bothered. Things change, our association between birthdays and cake change.  What we have to work on now, is understanding that wine or alcohol isn’t a necessary accompaniment to the events we thought it was.  We’re not children, it’s time to grow.  

The good news is, that you can do it.  ‘Neuroplasticity’ is a real thing and we can train our brains to develop different responses to stimuli.  You can shift your subconscious beliefs.  This has happened on a collective level when it comes to smoking.  Many of us used to smoke in the ‘olden days’ before we understood the consequences to our health and it became the social no-no that it is now.  The perils of smoking are now so ingrained in our collective psyche that it is impossible to just light up with a cavalier attitude when you know all the risks.  Our collective and our individual subconscious and conscious minds have shifted, education has transformed our responses.  The problem with drinking and our collective psyche is that most people haven’t caught on to the dangers yet, so we have to be the pioneers, the mavericks, the path forgers.  

Why am I banging on about Lynx Africa and smoking?  As part of my commitment to my sobriety this October I intend on doing some hardcore work on shifting my subconscious beliefs and cementing my attitude towards what I thought were drinking ‘events.’

That is the next task for any of you interested in doing this with me: to start to list your beliefs about drinking, what you believe about it, what you believe it contributes to you…and then we can do the interesting part, revealing ‘the truth.’  I shall be posting my own beliefs over the next day or so.


Names have been changed, not to protect the two-timing shit that is Jamie Barton, don’t worry about him, karma had it’s day with that bastard, I saw him recently and he looked like an old giffer and had a front tooth missing – which I can only hope was sucked clean out of his head by one of mates he snogged. 

Actual, proper disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be an expert in neuroplasticity, conscious and subconscious beliefs or an expert in anything really…I’m just somebody who has used alcohol in an abusive way, abusive only to myself, and I want to do some work on undoing any positive associations I have with wine and if you think this helps and want to do the same then feel free to join me. You can even send me your own lists of beliefs if it helps…I’m not saying I’ll read them but….

A Fairytale: The Arse, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Once upon a time there was little girl.  Well, she wasn’t that little, she was about 16.  She was popular and clever and witty and had a decent face.  She had a big arse but she was learning to live with that.  She had a loving family and friends, had never been bullied or abused or even name-called and to top it all she lived in the glorious city of Manchester.  She had the world at her feet.  She was a very lucky girl indeed.  

One day, as the girl was getting ready to go out with her many friends, a witch called.  She didn’t look like a witch, she was blonde and wore a big dress (think Glenda from Wizard of Oz), she was kind and looked upon the girl and said:

“Well, haven’t you just got it all? You are a lucky girl.  I can help you make all of this even better, I can make you even more popular, even more funny and more confident, like you’ve not a care in the world*”

*she also added,“I can’t do anything about the giant arse I’m afraid, I’m a mere witch, but in time, big arses will become popular, there’s another witch on the way called Kim Kardashian.”

And with those words she left a potion in a little whisky shaped bottle.  The potion was called


and there was a little tag around the neck of the bottle with ‘DRINK ME’ written in spidery letters.

The girl was good and obedient and who wouldn’t want to make all that she had even better?  She had been educated since being a nipper in the wonders that alcohol brought to the adult world.  She tasted the Watermelon 13% nectar and she liked it.  She went out with her friends and the words the witch had said were true, the girl giggled more and was confident (she puked Mad Dog 2020 Watermelon 13% too, but she quickly forgot that bit) and she was hooked.  Right there, from the beginning, she was hooked.

From that night on the girl never went out without her beloved potion.  She’d discovered that the witch had branches everywhere called “Bargain Booze” and you could get the potion for a couple of quid.  

“The witch was right!” the girl exclaimed.  

“This potion is the dogs’ bollocks, I can’t ever imagine life without it.”  

The girl loved it, with every bone of her body and she couldn’t get enough of it or how it made her feel and loved what it could do. It was magical, it could turn frogs into princes at the drop of hat and gave her the confidence to kiss a few of them.

To cut a long fairytale short, over the next 30 years the girl turned into a woman.  She still had her beloved potion by her side but she had learned that Mad Dog was for kids and she had progressed to wine (as that was good for you, they said so on the telly).  She had ditched Bargain Booze and had invested in her own alcohol emporium and worked alongside the potions every day and night where there was a magical, never ending supply and nobody to question her when she drank it because as owner of the emporium, the elves who worked there were a bit scared of her.  

Drinking the odd potion had progressed to drinking wine every night.  A small glass of potion had turned into two or even three whole bottles of wine, every night.  As the woman’s friends were jettisoned one by one as they couldn’t take the pace, the woman found herself befriended only by the witch.  The witch was now her only ally.  She had noticed that the witch didn’t look at all like Glenda-from-The-Wizard-of-Oz anymore, she was gnarly and ugly and tended only to call on the woman at 3am.  The woman assumed the witch lived in her bedroom wardrobe during the day.

After years of being woken by the witch at 3am the woman decided enough was enough.  She had slowly discovered that the magical wine elixir wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be and she was turning into a fearful, anxiety-ridden, tired, emotional, snappy, even-bigger-arsed witch herself.   She banged on the wardrobe door and said:

Come out witch, pack your bags and fuck off.”

The woman however was a realist, she understood that she still had to live and work in the alcohol emporium.  She was like Willy Wonka trying to give up chocolate: chocolate was all she knew and she liked the Oompah Loompahs and the chocolate sales gave her a good living (and she also found herself in the midst of a pandemic where it became illegal to buy chocolate after 10pm and so there was no way people were buying as much chocolate as they used to, never mind chocolate factories, so financially she was a bit glued to the emporium)  but she was determined to find a way.  She had educated herself in the realities of expunging the power of the potion from the kingdom of her subconscious and knew it would be difficult but…. she would do everything she could to free herself of the power of the potion and if she could, there, in the emporium, then surely, anyone could.

To be continued…

Pokemon Spongebob

It’s Sunday evening.  I’ve just finished a long day, part of a long week at work.  It’s been difficult: staff have resigned, it has been insanely busy considering we are smack in the middle of a social-distance-inducing pandemic, and I’m shattered.  Shattered, but sober.  What I really want to do is climb into bed but this short blog has just burst out of me like something from a sci-fi movie.  On my last blog I said how I wanted to do “the work” required to maintain long term sobriety, so here I am, tired and weary but so willing to find my way, to do the work.

It’s been a very constructive week.  The long working hours and difficulties with the pub would, in the past, have induced me to push the “fuck it” button and I’d have ‘rewarded’ my woes with wine. But not this week.  I’ve accepted that I have a drink problem and that once I start drinking, the Pringle factor is just too strong, once I start I can’t stop.  The relief this self-admission has provided is immense.  Too immense to describe in this short space so all I would say is this: it’s easy to understand that you need to accept your problem. As heavy drinkers trying to find sobriety we are not idiots, we are often booze-educated, we understand the concepts, the jargon and the winning formulas.  But, you can’t force it.  When it happens, it happens.  It takes test after test after test for most of us, until the tests just become too hard and the penny drops that this isn’t worth it.  The penny has clanged with a rewarding ‘thud’ for me.

Things feel different, easier than before when I’ve quit drinking, but I’m not resting as I know what can lurk around the corner so I’ve committed to doing “the work” to maintain this long term.  I’ve committed so long term, that this week I’ve cancelled a university course I was due to start in October.  I love my studies, but I want to love the sober life more, so I’m here, punching this keyboard with what I hope to be my work over the next year or so, making my obstacle my way forward.  I want to write a book about sobriety and am using these blogs as my aide memoir.  I want to write the book that I’d like to read; not necessarily just a story of finding sobriety but hard tips on how to find it.  Not so much a “do as I do” as “this is how I did…”

Anyway…Pokemon?  Chatting with Pikachu and friends this week has been my first piece of work.  What do I mean?  In her recent book “Glorious Rock Bottom”, Bryony Gordon talks of how, as part of her sobriety toolbox, she gathered soberites around her “like Pokemon”.  With that in mind, this week I dusted off my own set of Pokemon cards and set to work.  I’ve chatted and text with my own sober community, people in all stages of sobriety: those with years under their belt, a year or so and those starting out and struggling.  I want to become part of the sober world, engage with “my people’, it’s important.  Now I’m not learning at university I want to study at the feet of those who’ve cracked it.  I’ll be a good student.  I’m willing and I’m happy to absorb anything they can give me.  I’m soaking up top tips like a sponge.  I’m Spongebob Swat-pants. 

So that’s it.  A short entry but an important one.  This week I’ve spoken with people who are lost and people who’ve recovered themselves.  Sometimes we just need some structure, so here’s my own Step 1: find your tribe, your people, your Pokemon and soak ’em up like a sponge(bob)!

The Saga of a Serial Relapsing Maverick Lunatic: Chapter 1

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – you are the easiest person to fool” (RICHARD FEYNMAN)

You’d think the fact that I had a shelf full of well-thumbed sobriety books should have screamed to me that I have a drink problem.  

You’d think the fact that I know what acronyms like AA, SMART and ODAAT mean, should have screamed to me that I have a drink problem. 

You’d think the fact that I’ve attended AA meetings in the past should have screamed to me that I have a drink problem.   Unless you’re a vicar who has taken a wrong turn in the church hall, that doesn’t happen by accident.

You’d think the fact that all I think about is my relationship with booze should have screamed to me that I have drink problem.

But nothing screamed loud enough.  

If anything, especially the AA visits, they screamed that I must devote myself to proving that absolute opposite, that “I’m not one of these guys”.  My number one rule was that I’m not an “alcoholic”.  My number two rule was that we don’t even use the “A word”.  From what I could work out, these ‘A-people’ lived in a state of constant negotiation with the drink-devil and had swapped actually drinking every night to just talking about actually drinking every night.  I thought no thanks, instead, I’ll prove to myself and everyone around me that I’m not one of them (which, incidentally, I actually did every night). 

Lunatic thinking number one: if your life’s work is proving to yourself and everyone around you that you’re not a problem drinker then chances are, you probably are.  But, I kept trying to prove it anyway. Each time I have had a drink over the last 8 months has been an exercise for me in proving the validity of my relationship with the stuff.  Every time, I failed.  Correction: not every time, there were probably two occasions when I did drink “normally” and the whole thing didn’t descend into the usual chaos, but, if anything, these two occasions were more dangerous than all the others put together.  Why?  Because in my skewed mind, they were proof that I could be OK.  Their memories screamed louder than all the other occasions put together – the occasions that actually represented the reality of my drinking.  

I like proof, I like evidence, it’s the historian in me.  Why am I talking about being an historian?  Because, when I eventually got my degree, in History, it was my third attempt.  I had dropped out of two universities and finally achieved it through The Open University at home.  I got a first.  I never attended a single online lecture or ever spoke in person with a tutor.  This was evidence (to me) that I’m smart*, I’m an auto-didact, I teach myself and do things my way.  I applied all these same tactics to my drinking education.  I didn’t want to follow the traditional path, I wanted to teach myself.  I’ve done things ‘my way’ before, the ‘evidence’ is there.  

*Please do not see this statement as evidence of arrogance.  I may be smart but I’m also a bloody idiot.

I’ve also lost a lot of weight before.  By a lot of weight, I mean a lot.  30lbs.  Did I attend a slimming group?  Of course not, I’m a maverick, I do things my way.  I taught myself what to eat and I taught myself to cook healthy meals.  Incidentally, I lost all that weight when I stopped drinking for 8 months last year, did I correlate the two?  Of course not.  It was all because I’d done it my way!  Didn’t I tell you, I’m a maverick?  

So when it came to drinking, I wanted to do things my way.  I didn’t believe that a program for life or to do things the traditional way was for me (despite the evidence that my own program for life wasn’t going that well).  The truth is I thought I was bit too smart for a program.  I realise now that I’m anything but. With all the predictability that proceeds a statement like “I’m a smart-arsed maverick, I do things my way,” I failed.  Yet…I’ve never given up.  That’s the important part.  I’m here, again, putting it all out there for all to see.  It’s much like getting my degree or losing weight, just because you don’t follow the traditional methods or achieve your aim first time around doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  You keep trying. 

Because I have educated myself in the narrative of sobriety and because I know what ODAAT and SMART stands for, I am also aware that I’m literally drowning in confirmation bias.  I cherry pick occasions that are evidential to me that I can do things my own way and that I’m not like everyone else.  Last year I gave up drinking for eight months.  Of course I didn’t follow a program or do anything else my fellow soberists engaged in.  They all told me I was doomed to fail long term, I didn’t believe them. Out of sheer bloody mindedness I lasted the eight months but they were right, I was doomed to fail as despite all the sobriety speak, I fundamentally believed that I was different, that my circumstances were different and that I could prove them all wrong by demonstrating how different I was by becoming master of the beast.  I would become the elusive normal drinker.  

Again, with all the predictability of a self proclaimed ‘individual-nobody-is quite-like-me-maverick’, I failed!  I can laugh about it now, the audacity and arrogance of what I set out to prove.  People in recovery talk a lot about ego, I trashed this talk as part of what I interpreted as the ‘namby pamby’ element of sobering up.  The meetings, the strangers trying to hug you, it all made me feel a bit queasy.  What I wanted was a hard, fast solution.  I wanted a magic bullet.  What I really wanted was to drink as much as I like whenever I like, the magic bullet having eradicated the want.  What my smart, egotistical brain drastically failed to register was that there is no bullet, you have to do the work, the graft, and part of that is understanding and engaging in the namby pamby. 

Maverick, egotistical idiot, arrogant cow, serial relapser, problem drinker, alcoholic – who cares how we term it?  I prefer bloody lunatic.  But then that’s me, talking about me, I get all uppity about terminology yet have no problem referring to myself in anything but a derogative term.  I’d never talk to anyone else that way, but we’re allowed to do it to ourselves.  That’s the rule. But, one thing I am not is a quitter.  I will never give up trying and I will get there in the end.  

I’m a fan of Stoicism (bet you never saw that coming); Ryan Holiday, in his book of the same name, talks of The Obstacle Is The Way: embrace your obstacle and make it your life work.  The penny has finally dropped for me, I have a problem and I’ve reached exhaustion point in trying to prove otherwise.  So I embrace it.  I’m going to make The Obstacle my life work and I’m going to document it.  When you read as many sobriety memoirs as I have, you kind of get to know what the ending is before you even begin: girl starts drinking, likes it too much, sees the light, has never looked back.  The reason I’m going to document my sobriety here is that who knows the end?  This is a real time record and its for me and for all of us serial relapsing maverick lunatics who will never give up on giving up.  

This is the first chapter in my new Saga of a Lunatic.  The work starts now.  I’ll keep you posted.  

COVID Camino

They say “The Camino finds You.” If you’ve never heard of The Camino de Santiago, it’s essentially a traditional pilgrimage across northern Spain, spanning anything from 100km, to the destination of the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. Walking The Camino Frances (800km) has been an ambition of mine for many years, long before it was made popular in the movie ‘The Way’, I’d been aware of the pilgrimage since my teenage years as a Medieval history student.

Over the last year or so I’d been sought by the Camino, hooked into the idea of doing it, not so much for the historical pilgrimage, the places of interest, the camaraderie and meeting new people (and certainly not for the ‘challenge’ of sleeping in communal albergue dorms), but for the opportunity I thought it offered at decluttering my mind. To spend time in pure solitude, perhaps enduring discomfort, both mental and physical, ultimately to see how I ‘came out at the other side.’ I had struggled on and off with whether or not I was an alcoholic, a problem drinker at the least, and I had planned on walking at least part of The Camino in autumn 2020. I saw it as an opportunity to indulge myself purely in thought, to finally ‘think out’ all the jumble tumble of thoughts whirring around my mind. The plan was to put the internal dialogues out there and literally walk/wear them out. Or at least discover where my opinions stand.

When the Coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020 I quickly realised that any plans for travel for the remains of the year were pretty unlikely. My Camino plans were trashed for the time being, as were any plans…for anything really, as it turns out that as UK went into lockdown, even a trip to Tesco became something of an expedition. My daily existence was frozen. I couldn’t go out, I was off work and in a kind of limbo as what to do.* I’m incredibly fortunate that my own pub business is in good shape and if any pub was going to survive long term, we were in as good a position as we could be to be one of them. When Boris Johnson announced that pubs wouldn’t be re-opening until at least July 4th I also then knew that I had a rough time frame to work with.

*I would at this point mention that I really wasn’t and am not, moaning about this. There were and are people out there FAR worse off than I, having to go out on the Covid front line every day. I had it easy.

So with a rough date for re-opening and having done all the jobs many of us have used our lock down time doing – painting rooms, renovating furniture, my sock drawer is a work of Japanese contemporary art nowadays FFS – contradictorily, lockdown meant I suddenly was confronted with a strange kind of imposed freedom. I knew I had around five weeks to occupy before I’d have to start on the intricacies of re-opening the pub. Each day I found myself thinking “What would you really LIKE to do today?” and, albeit within the restrictions of lockdown, I kept getting the same answer: “I’d like to walk my Camino. I want to walk. I want to clear out ALL these myriad thoughts in my head and, ultimately, decide where I stand on my drinking”. Oh Ok, that’s easy enough. Off you go.

So that’s what I did.

For five weeks I walked. I walked every day. No music, no audio books, no podcasts. No distractions. Just me, my feet – and my scary head.

Now, please don’t think of this as either:

  1. I’ve morphed into Forrest Gump.
  2. I did a strange, Medieval-style pilgrimage, barefoot and living off berries, rain water and the kindness of strangers/monks. That would be a bizarre thing to do around suburban Manchester at the best of times.
  3. – because I haven’t and it wasn’t.

In fact, especially for those of you that may have actually walked The Camino then you may be wondering how on earth I can compare what I did to that challenge. So I invite you to make your own conclusion:

  1. In total, over five weeks, I walked a total of 543km. The Camino Frances is 800km, usually walked over 4 weeks, but, bear in mind I am a not-particularly-physically-fit 45 year old, generously-arsed woman.
  2. The scenery I encountered can only be described as “same-ish” and “suburban” in that walking consisted daily of being dropped off at a location usually around 15-20km from home and I walked back. NOTE: there was the odd exception to this when I would drive out to a local walking trail or beauty spot, these included sections of the Cheshire Sandstone Trail and parts of the Peak District, but as we were under various stages of lockdown, these were only a handful of occasions.
  3. Even if I had stumbled across something interesting, I wouldn’t have been able to explore anyway as, because I chose to do this walking challenge during lockdown, everything was…locked. Closed. That includes local churches and places of historical interest. NOTE: When I say everything was closed, I mean everything. That included public toilets which meant that my walks were mainly limited to around 15km per session as I quickly learned that was about the limit at which my 45 year old bladder could hold out, walking mainly on pathways, lanes, avenues and alleyways (song anyone?), meant there was no way I could just ‘go behind a bush’ as said bush would invariably be in someone’s garden. I did however, on a number of occasions, walk home, use loo and the ever-compliant Landlord would then drop me off again to continue some daily mileage. In fact, the Landlord was always happy to drop me off at some remote location any time of day, anyone could be mistaken for thinking he preferred me not being at home? Yes, he was very helpful. The only task he was not so keen on, in fact flatly refused to do, was bathe my feet, despite the fact that I repeatedly told him that this was a standard offer for a walk-weary pilgrim. My requests were met with a raised eyebrow at best and “I aint going anywhere near your sweaty trotters” at worst.
  4. I didn’t speak to anyone when out walking. By comparison, The Camino can be a jostled route, busy with pilgrims comparing rucksack weights and comparing blisters (I imagine, having never actually walked it). I was certainly never asked such questions, I didn’t speak to anyone, aside of tiny chit-chat with the whipper-snappers who worked in local shops when paying for bottles of water. Incidentally, to add insult to mundanity, it was often the same shop.
  5. The Camino strips life down to it’s basics: you rise, breakfast, walk, eat, sleep. That’s pretty much what I did each day. Whilst I often didn’t walk the requirements to hit 800km in 4 weeks, I was constrained, as mentioned, by the limited capability of my bladder and the fact that we were under lockdown, I walked usually for around 4 hours each day. To add to the experience however, I barely watched any TV, no social media, no contact with friends and family (aside of the very basics and one particular Saturday around one week in when I frantically messaged just about everyone I know), and spent my evenings painting (portraits, pretty pictures) and reading. It was life about as basic as I could make it under the circumstances.

Now, I’m aware that this may all sound very odd. It probably was. At the time however, it felt right. It actually felt pretty hardcore. I spent one whole afternoon selling myself the idea that this was the Vipassana Meditation version of Camino. Vipassana is an ultra-orthodox, stripped down, intensive Buddhist meditation technique. Remove the decorated temples, fancy bells and meditative mantras, Vipassana is the practice of just sitting and purely regarding your mind, witnessing your thoughts and their patterns but allowing nothing to remove you from your seat. I sold myself the idea that I was doing a similar thing, I was walking The Camino without the nice bits, no lovely scenery, no camaraderie, no Spanish sunshine, it was just the walking. Purely putting one foot in front of the other each day and often enduring the physical discomfort of your bones not to mention the mental wrestling with your thoughts. I leave you to make your judgement on that somewhat far fetched comparison.

On the subject of thoughts, that was always the goal of my Camino. To see what came out of the other side. To untangle the intricate web of thoughts and iron it all out. Expose it all. Well, here’s the thing, prepare to be underwhelmed, the conclusion was: I am not nearly as thought-heavy and interesting as I thought I was. The constant jumble of thoughts it turns out, is actually more resonant of a juke box playing the same old tracks over and over. It got to the point where I thought “here we go, I know this one…ooh, yeah, no change in that then, yep, and here goes track two…” as the thoughts came out day after day almost in the same order like a never ending well played album where you find yourself humming the next song whilst the current one is still playing. After a couple of weeks just thinking the same crap every day (and you quickly break down that it is mainly crap), it almost breaks you. You think to yourself “Jeez, is this it? Is this REALLY all you have going around your head?” It’s almost funny if it wasn’t so disappointing.


  1. Maybe to others who have walked Camino de Santiago, I have audacity in using it as a comparison to what I did. I literally just covered (some of) the mileage and I’m totally missing the point. The Camino is about the whole experience, be that spiritual, historical, physical or other, it is about the relative companionship of others undergoing the same journey to the same destination. Who knows, I haven’t actually done it. BUT, I would stress that the whole point of Camino is to experience it your own way.
  2. Walking and enforced solitude is a fabulous meditative therapy. NOTE: so long as said solitude is self-enforced, voluntary, I’m not talking false imprisonment or solitary confinement here.
  3. I’m not nearly as interesting as thought I was. Neither am as broken as I thought.
  4. In relation to the ever-present “Am I an alcoholic? A problem drinker? Do I need to abstain?” the truth is that I’m none-the-wiser. What I did learn is that comparison is the thief of joy. You can compare yourself to a thousand other recovery stories (and if you are a connoisseur of the sobriety memoir like I am then you may have done this), but it doesn’t mean that that is you. You have to find your own way and be comfortable living with it. It is a highly personal process. Today I am happy not drinking, who knows what will happen tomorrow. We are what we are today only, our lives are a current event, not a tangible object. We will only know if we ‘were truly happy’ on our death bed as that is the only day that we can objectively look back. If you’re comfortable with your decisions today and they do you no harm then go with it.

On that happy thought…Buen Camino 🙂

Last thought…I opened this with “they say that The Camino finds you”. Maybe it did find me. I will definitely walk the actual route. I’ve just remembered something else I heard… “ayahuasca finds you” – as I’m so obviously uninteresting on this plane of consciousness, I’m wondering if it should seek me out…

Dates and Numbers

April 29th 2019

At 9:30pm, feeling desperate, lonely and scared I tweeted the following:

“Day 1.  I’ve chosen not to drink.  This has been a long time coming.  25 years hard drinking virtually every night with no break longer than 3 weeks.  Thing have to change.  I’ll need help.  I’m a Pub Landlady.”

That was a year ago today.  A year since my first serious attempt at giving up my ‘beloved’ wine.  The day when I turned months, if not years, of intentions into action.  Today I should be celebrating a whole year without booze! I’m not.  Before you go any further, this is not a total success story epitomised in a picture of me, like some competition weight loss winner finally standing in one leg of her old jeans, holding out the waistband for all to see how far she’s come.  But…I am celebrating, because I have come so far and in truth am a completely different person to last year.

I see lots of inspiring posts talking about numbers: 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, since a last drink, it’s brilliant stuff.  When I first seriously quit I loved counting the days ticking them off feeling, rightly so, proud of myself.  But as the days mounted, so did the pressure and just counting days wasn’t enough.  Giving up drinking is the start and I wasn’t becoming the contented, rounded individual I’d envisaged.  Where would it all end anyway?….“Here Lieth Nikki, she didn’t drink for 14,327 days”. That smacked too much of having a life denoted only by alcoholism and I didn’t like that, didn’t like that at all.  We are so much more than just an alcoholic, we are defined by lots of different things, at different times of our life and to different people. 

Following a particularly heavy boozing weekend at a wedding (heavy even for my standards) I made a decision.  I was desperate, hungover, worried, anxious and above all I was tired.  Not just physically, but mentally exhausted.  Tired of the constant internal dialogue of should I drink, shouldn’t I drink, what should I drink.  Relentless.  I stopped completely for six months.  

But the old nagging doubts started to creep back in.  The Wine Witch came calling regularly, filling my head with negativity about my decision to this “FOREVER?  Like really?  Forever?”  The Wine Witch is akin to an abusive partner, one who seems to promise fun and release from boredom, and who does to an extent, but there is a HUGE caveat: he also fills you with self-loathing, regret and anxiety.  The thing about this relationship is that you start as the exciting prospect yet by the end you are the desperate and needy one. Nothing attractive about that.  When I started drinking again I had forgotten all ‘his’ bad sides and fell for the promise of one last fling, that all would be different this time.  What I learned was, ‘he’ hadn’t changed a bit.  

So, April 29th, not necessarily my sober date, in all honesty I can’t remember the date of my last drink.  It was sometime in March.  When the reality of Covid 19 and prospect of losing my livelihood hit home I hit the bottle. But it wasn’t carnage.  I didn’t even enjoy it.  I’m happy that I can’t remember the actual date as it removes the pressure of the numbers, but April 29th is always etched in my memory as my sobriety journey date.  It was when my serious attempt to quit started and I reckon I have had more than 320 sober days out of the last 366 (it’s been a leap year, alcohol didn’t befuddle my brain so much that I don’t know how many days are in a year).  One thing that has happened is that since being off work due to Covid, I have not even thought about drinking.  They say that drinking is a symptom of the thinking and most of my drinking was done at work.  Come to think of it, I rarely used to drink on days off as I didn’t want to waste them.

April 29th 2019, outwardly I appeared to have a decent life: 44, nice partner, nice home, ran a successful business that afforded me time to do my own things and allowed me to indulge my passion for travel with a good half dozen trips around the globe each year.  But, inwardly was totally different, I hated my job and the six trips abroad each year which I saw as “escape” from my daily life still left 44 weeks annually living my ‘real life’.  What Covid has done is remove the root cause of the drinking and so the symptom has gone.  A year of trying everything from attending AA, working The Steps, getting help, getting a mentor… Covid has serendipitously been the revelation and the remedy to one woman’s battle with the Wine Witch.  As I sat there this day last year pondering how I was going to armour myself, I would never have seen that coming.

This blog has been rushed.  I had so many plans to tell you about what I have discovered over the last year and ALL of those changed today as I sat to write this as sometimes you just make self-discoveries as you write.  It is an organic process.  I would say that my sober journey this year has also been an organic process and the person writing this now is ultimately far happier than the one writing that tweet this time last year.  This is not the traditional story of “Woman discovers wine actually isn’t very good for her, she gives up, it’s hard but she manages it and has never looked back, happy ever after” but I would say that this is a story of “happier ever after” and what I really want to get across is NEVER give up on giving up, it may not be straightforward, you may not know or count the days, but what you definitely don’t know is what lies ahead, so go with it, you CAN get there, your own way.