Suicide: the stats are lying to us

One of my worries when I decided to stop drinking was whether I’d become boring without alcohol. As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety, the odd glass (or three) of wine always gave me confidence and brought me out of my introverted self; how will I do that now? Will friends and family want to spend time with me if they’re drinking and I’m not? Will sober Kit be dull-as-shit Kit?

David and I haven’t been out socialising since Joe died. We haven’t travelled (apart from a few peaceful days in Cornwall and Devon), we haven’t been anywhere new or done anything worth talking about. Our lives are centred around our house, the children, talking about Joe, reading and listening to music (David has brought Alexa into our home and while I love the music on demand, she can also be an annoying fucker).

Anyhoo, last night I went to bed at 8.30pm ON A FRIDAY. Me: “Do you know what I’m really looking forward to?” David (despairingly): “It’s going to bed, isn’t it?” Yes sir, that’s right! Friday night and I was looking forward to filling a hot water bottle and snuggling under the duvet – the same way I used to look forward to 20% off 6 bottles of wine at Sainsbury’s.

But aside from the boring arse I’ve become, one of the positives of a booze-free mind is an increased level of focus, which is welcome for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve started a permanent job after years of contracting so need to get my head into a corporate mindset. Write a Personal Development Plan you say? Crikey. My personal development plan for the past few years has been solely concerned with where the next contract is coming from. So quite a shift but, so far, a wholly positive one (plus I get paid for bank holidays again – hurrah!)
  2. I need to have my wits about me to deal with the Exeter and Greater Devon coroner service…

Joel on a boat

My sincere hope is that no-one I know – or don’t know for that matter – ever has to go through the pain, shock and disbelief of losing a child to suicide (but as it’s the biggest killer of young people between the ages of 10 and 34 in the UK, I’m afraid I will).

I had no idea what to expect after two very sombre police officers knocked on our door and delivered the news that no parent should ever have to hear…

I didn’t know how I would cope once the utterly overwhelming shock wore off. I didn’t know how to look after David, who was screaming and punching the walls. And I didn’t know what lay ahead: Connor and Claudia’s grief at losing their little brother; funeral planning; choosing a coffin; talking to the police; vicars and chaplains sitting in my living room offering prayers; countless visitors; flowers; cards…

And an inquest. I had no idea there would be an inquest. Joe took his life; we were in no doubt. But any unnatural death in the UK has to be reported to the coroner and so this new, unfamiliar and unpleasant journey began.

We were told that an inquest is usually held within six months of death, so we had December in our minds. We made statements and we asked questions: Yes, the inquest is held in a public court; Yes, the press can attend and report on whatever they hear; Yes, you can see all the evidence beforehand; No, you don’t have to attend; Yes, the coroner will determine what Joe’s death will be ruled as.

Wait. What it will be ruled as? Joe took his life, so it’ll be ruled as suicide, won’t it? Not necessarily. Because coroners have to apply the criminal standard of proof, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ when determining the cause of death in suicide, many are recorded as undetermined. So, suicide is already the leading cause of death among young people, but not all suicide is even recorded as such. Can you imagine the statistics if all suicide was actually recorded as suicide? It’s shocking, it’s not right and it’s a law that I’ll be helping PAPYRUS campaign to have changed.*

David and the kids (first pic I ever saw!)

It’s now March – nine months since Joe died – and we still don’t have a date for his inquest. The latest we’ve been told is that the coroner is retiring (a fact which surely must have been known for some time?) and her replacement won’t start looking at ‘cases’ until early April. So we’re possibly looking at an inquest date in June to coincide with what have been Joe’s 21st birthday and is also the first anniversary of his death. Great. That will do us all the world of good. A jolly trip down to Exeter to hear details of Joe’s life and illness discussed in a public court. Shall we throw Claudia’s university exams into the mix as well – why not!

Becoming ever more frustrated with the lack of information, I contacted PAPYRUS and received a call from their Chief Executive, Ged Flynn. He was very supportive and sympathetic but explained that this sort of delay is, sadly, very common. Coroner services have had their budgets severely cut in recent years, along with so many other public services, and they do the best they can with the limited resources they have. He also told me of families who have only found out about their loved one’s inquest date by finding it on the coroner’s website, which is unforgivable. And so, we wait.

Dull, boring and sober, but ready to take on the system in memory of Joe.

* You can read more in this Guardian article by PAPYRUS Chairman, Stephen Habgood.


Regret, tolerance and porridge

It’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks at work so this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write something that isn’t related to net debt, EBITDA and share prices. Praise the lord. It’s early on Saturday morning, Abigail (cat) and I are in the study. She’s washing after a particularly satisfying chicken breakfast and I’m mainlining tea. This is my favourite time of day, when David and Claudia are sleeping upstairs, the house is quiet, the sun is coming up and, for a short time, life seems calm and manageable.

Most of the time it feels as though losing Joe has sucked all the joy out of life and replaced it with dull, sad, monotony. But on mornings like this, and increasingly at random times throughout the day, a chink of light gets through and I remember there’s much to be grateful for. It’s the simple things that strike me; the things that money can’t buy. Yesterday, I was grateful for the trains that ran on time, my fabulously supportive colleagues, the hug I got from Claudia when I met her at the station, and porridge. You’ve gotta love porridge.


The difference now is that I stop to appreciate these things instead of bowling through my day at a million miles an hour, head down, always thinking about the next thing, the next thing, the next thing… Now I don’t care what ‘stuff’ I have because I know I’d give it all up in an instant to have Joe back, so it becomes insignificant. (I can almost hear my friends yelling – “I bet you couldn’t give up candles!”)

I’m also more tolerant. On my commute, I used to be quick to get cross with people who invaded my space, had the nerve to sit next to me or played their music too loud. But now I think: ‘I don’t know what you’re going through’. If you saw me on the train, you wouldn’t know I was grieving – except maybe when I’m having a quiet cry – so by the same token, I don’t know what anyone else is going through.

Maybe they’re playing their music loud because they’re trying to block something out, maybe they’re sitting next to me, despite there being lots of empty seats, because they need the silent companionship of a stranger. And maybe they’re sniffing repeatedly because…no! That’s the one thing I still can’t abide – I don’t care what you’re going through, get a tissue!

Still a little way to go on the tolerance thing perhaps…

I wish I could turn back time (cue Cher) to when Joe was here so I could be more tolerant with him. I talk to him all the time, telling him how sorry I am for all the nagging and the arguments. Telling him that if I’d known how much he was suffering, I would have driven to Exeter, manhandled him into the car, brought him home and looked after him for as long as he needed me to. But I can’t, and it breaks my heart every single day.

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I miss Joe. I miss his voice, his laugh, and the perfect ability only he had to wind me up. I miss his joy in messing with my very ordered, slightly OCD brain, by subtly moving something and watching with glee until I noticed it. I miss his crazy mind, so full of ideas and thoughts and questions.

I miss the times we used to spend on our own together, when we weren’t stepmum and stepson, we were just Joe and Kit. We’d watch Masterchef, cook, discuss the universe and yell ‘Fish Skin!’ at each other (don’t ask). I miss hearing him play the flute. I miss his smile, his frown, his unfailing generosity and his joy at spending hours fussing a purring and dribbling Abigail. And I miss his future. I miss seeing what he would have done with his life; all that potential…

I read a tweet from Alison Moyet that really struck me: “People. Stop dying before your time. Don’t opt out. Your world will change its shape so many times. What is bleak today becomes wondrous and stupid and brilliant. All these things. Wait and see.”

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The problem with depression is that it can give you such a warped sense of reality that you just don’t believe this. You don’t believe that life can ever get better. Feeling suicidal is considered a medical emergency. Not a cry for help, an emotion or a feeling – A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Depression kills people, it robs them of their light and their hope. It killed Joe, the brightest of them all, and we have to do everything we can to stop it killing more people, young and old, male and female.

Gosh, I’ve just realised that in a blog about giving up alcohol, I haven’t mentioned it once. I’m 54 days sans booze and feeling pretty good about it. I was given a bottle of wine at work this week and promptly gave it to a colleague, I shared a lift with a drunk person on Wednesday night and felt very smug that I could walk in a straight line, and I helped to deliver a cracking set of financial results at work without the need to self-medicate with Sauvignon Blanc.

As I said, it’s the simple things…

Don’t order the wine!

41 days with no alcohol. Hurrah!

I think I may have finally broken the habit that characterised my relationship with white wine. My stepdaughter, Claudia, was home from uni last weekend and we drove to Reading to meet up with my stepson, Connor, and have a family lunch. Sunday lunches for me would always – without fail – include as many large glasses of Sauvignon as I could justify, but I now realise I was on auto-pilot. I drank wine, it’s what I did. Everyone would expect Kit to go straight to the wine menu, find the New Zealand Sauvignon, complain if there wasn’t one, and then proceed to drink the best part of a bottle.

But now I’m THINKING. So effing simple but something I just hadn’t beunnameden doing where alcohol was concerned. I ordered wine, I bought wine, I drank wine. And now I don’t. I order sparkling water, alcohol free lager or tea. Yup, instead of my usual glass of wine for dessert, I now have tea (pictured, vying for attention with Claudia’s picture-hogging G&T). And I drive home so my partner can rest his eyes and not spend the weekend driving his tipsy girlfriend around when he drives so much during the week.

Do I find it hard? Sure I do. I miss the taste of a good white wine and that lovely fuzzy feeling you get after a glass or two. But I don’t miss the bad sleep, the alcohol-fuelled anxiety and the lethargy. The only time I felt like reaching for a bottle during lunch was when the children (24 and 21, but still children to me) started pestering David and I to get married…

Grief is different without alcohol as well. Oddly, I’m feeling more emotional despite being calmer and less anxious. The calmness is probably down to the fact that my anti-depressants are working more effectively without having to battle for bloodstream space with a very pushy Sauv Blanc, but I had thought giving up the booze might help me control my emotions. Apparently not. I suppose it was a big ask and that my grief wasn’t going to disappear along with my hangovers, but not being able to numb the emptiness, the loss, the regret and the despair with a few drinks is definitely one of the things I miss. Reality, sober, is a bitch.

On the flipside, I’m able to be more present for David, Connor and Claudia who all need sober Kit to help them navigate their grief. A lot of people tell us we’re coping really well but I think we’ve just learned how to keep the mask up for longer at work or when we’re going about our days. What people don’t see is the sadness that envelops us so often. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still able to laugh and joke, but we just need to be together – a lot – talking, hugging, crying and remembering.

Anyhoo, 41 days with no booze and I’m more than a little chuffed with myself.

I’m pretty sure Joe would be too.

Friendship, sleep and books (these are a few of my favourite things, la la la…)

I read that when you give up alcohol, you sleep better than you have in years but you’re also more tired as well. Well hello! I practically leap up to bed every night, excited to snuggle under the covers and read before succumbing to the cosiness. AND THEN I DON’T WAKE UP UNTIL MY ALARM GOES OFF. Unheard of. I was always a classic 3am worrier, lying in bed and catastrophising over every element of my life, heart racing, until I nodded off approximately 20 minutes before I had to get up. And that would happen whether I’d had wine or not (although I usually had…)

So great, the sleep is brilliant. But I’m yawning all day long and fantasising about bed until I can justify heading upstairs. Is 8pm too early for a 40-something to be hitting the hay? No? Good. I guess my body and mind are re-adjusting to their new alcohol-free state and that’s fine by me, even if it does mean I’m surreptitiously yawning in meetings, on the train, during presentations, when I’m writing my blog…

Oddly, and in spite of the yawning, my concentration is much improved. I’ve always been an avid reader – once working my through 17 books on a two-week holiday, boom! – but after Joe died I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds. My brain was flitting all over the place and if I tried to sit down with a book, I’d get flustered and shaky and have to get up and DO something.

I was drinking a lot at that point, and not really eating. It felt as though there was a huge lump in my throat and my stomach for months and the only thing that slipped down easily, was my trusty Sauvignon Blanc. Wine numbed me and I wandered around in a daze for much of the time. I was functioning, but always felt one step removed from reality, which was exactly what I needed because reality was too overwhelming to comprehend.

Now, with no alcohol in my system, I’ve started reading again. I can highly recommend Blackout by Sarah Hepola and The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley. These women’s honesty is staggering and their journeys to sobriety are hilarious, heartbreaking and enormously inspiring. If you’re considering giving up, or just taking a break from alcohol a few days a week, do read them. They aren’t at all preachy, just incredibly enlightening.


I also have to recommend another book, unrelated to finding sobriety. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa was a gift from my dear friend Lizzie when I lost my precious 12-year-old cat, Luka, in November. It’s a beautifully written tale (pun intended) about friendship, love, memory and loss, narrated by a cat called Nana as he travels around Japan with his human. An absolute delight and a book I’ll always treasure. Thank you, Lizzie.

Talking of friendship, I had the most wonderful treat last weekend when I arrived for dinner with my darling friend Claire, only to find three of my other closest friends waiting for us at the restaurant for a surprise birthday dinner. I was beyond happy that night, surrounded by my inner circle. These incredible women who are all so different and yet who all have such huge hearts and generous spirits. They have wrapped their arms around us since we lost Joe and it may be a cliché, but I honestly don’t know what I would do without them. So we sat over dinner, laughing, crying and remembering, while they drank wine and I sipped Perrier. Happy? You betcha.



Getting my social on…

This week has been all about spreading the word and getting some good ol’ social media coverage for my challenge. Plus I’ve discovered a perfectly acceptable de-alcoholised wine and slept better than I have in years – result!

First to social. The wonderfully supportive team at PAPYRUS featured me on Instagram as part of #CharityTuesday last week – thanks guys! It’s really good to share our story and connect with other people in a similar situation. We also received some fab running vests and t-shirts from the lovely Toni at PAPYRUS so look out for a couple of purple-clad runners* as David and I take to the streets of Hertfordshire in a bid to become fitter and also raise money by taking on some 5k and 10k runs later in the year.


Tottenham fans may have read about my challenge if they follow former Spurs player and England International Darren Anderton on Twitter, as he’s retweeted my JustGiving page to his 30,000 followers. Darren and I go way back and he’s given me even more motivation to succeed by suggesting I’ll never make it through a year without a drink. The cheek! To be fair, it’s not often he’s seen me without a drink in my hand so I understand him being dubious, although I reckon he might be pulling some weird reverse sports psychology crap and only telling me I won’t do it because he wants me to prove him wrong. Either way, I WILL prove him wrong!

Thanks to yet more very generous donations the fundraising total stands at £1340, and with my company – Anglo American – pledging an additional £1000, that means a combined total of £2340! The money will help PAPYRUS support young people at risk of suicide as well as their families, schools and communities. You can find out more about how PAPYRUS spends their money here. There really is no worse pain than finding out your child/stepchild didn’t feel they could carry on with life and ANYTHING we can do to prevent young suicide happening at the alarming rate it is in the UK, is crucial.

A bit of a short post this week as I’m full of cold and just want my bed, but I will say that I’m thrilled to have managed another week alcohol-free. And while I may have the odd 0% lager or glass of de-alcoholised wine (Torres Natureo Muscat, you’re welcome), I genuinely don’t miss alcohol. In fact, I feel calmer, more in control and less anxious than I have in a very long time. Lord knows how I’ll feel next week though! One day at a time…

*David runs, I flail.


Sparkling grape juice and I are not going to get on…

Wow! Eight days into my challenge and I’ve already raised £1270 for PAPYRUS thanks to lovely friends, colleagues and strangers who’ve donated so generously. Add £1000 from my company, Anglo American, and we’re smashing it! Brilliant progress and I hope it continues as I plough on through my year of sobriety.

A big shout out to the fantastic team and fellow challengers at One Year No Beer (OYNB) who have blown me away with their support, insights and honesty over the past week. I know this challenge is going to be hard – otherwise it isn’t a challenge, right?! – but I know it would be infinitely harder without OYNB. So thank you. And if anyone else is thinking of taking a break from alcohol, I can recommend signing up with them; I’m not sure I’d be at Day 8 with such a smile on my face without their support.

So, what have the past 8 days been like? Well, oddly ok actually. I’m worried that the lingering effects of laryngitis have helped me not really want a drink and that now I’m feeling better, the old wine witch will reappear with a vengeance but so far, so good. That said I have been testing some alcohol free (AF) alternatives, all in the name of research you understand…

img_7964.jpgWe had dinner on Saturday at one of my favourite local restaurants, Lussmann’s in Harpenden. I would usually spend £31 on a bottle of their delicious New Zealand Sauvignon, but instead opted for a Bitburger 0% at a fraction of the price and  was pleasantly surprised.

I’m not much of a lager drinker but genuinely couldn’t tell the difference between this and the real thing. Happy days!

It felt strange not having wine with dinner – I can’t remember the last time I didn’t – but it was a lovely meal with great company so not having wine didn’t really bother me. One meal down, many more to go…

On Sunday we had a trip to Ronnie Scott’s to meet my brother and his girlfriend for a spot of lunchtime jazz. Again – and there’s a pattern emerging here – I would usually have a bottle of Ronnie’s finest NZ Sauvignon but had already looked at the drinks menu online so knew what I was going to order instead (a fab tip from OYNB – be prepared!) and enjoyed two Nojitos (mint, lime and cloudy apple juice) instead. Perfectly delicious, perfectly refreshing and £10 the pair!

Which brings me on to sparkling grape juice. As it’s my birthday today and I would usually have a glass of fizz (or several), I was drawn to the AF display in M&S which had a sparkling grape juice in a bottle with a cage and a cork so it looked like proper fizz. I caved. I bought some. I cracked it open to have with a piece of cake and realised that I just have to accept that I DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL ANYMORE AND THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO CHAMPAGNE. It looked like apple juice for god’s sake.

So, I’m back on the tea and wondering whether it’s ok to hibernate until next January…

Goodbye 2017

Hello. I’ve set up this blog to chart my journey through a sober 2018.

I’m sitting here, on New Year’s Eve, contemplating the hell that has been 2017 and looking forward to seeing the back of it at midnight. But then tomorrow is just another day. My lovely stepson Joe will still be gone and the pain won’t have eased, there’ll just be a different number at the end of the year.

But I want something to change which is why, as of midnight (if I make it that far with the crappy laryngitis I’ve got), I will be stopping drinking for the rest of 2018. I don’t want to slip into the new year doing the same things I’ve always done, so I’m determined to make a big change, raising money along the way for an important charity.

There has been a lot of self-reflection in the six months since Joe died. The shock of losing him has been life-changing and to not try to make myself a better person – and live my life in a better way – feels disrespectful to him and his memory.

I’m very lucky to have the support of amazing family and friends. My partner David is going to do Dry January to support me during the first few weeks and my parents always do it, so I’m sure they’ll impart their wisdom.

The first hurdle will be my birthday on 8th Jan and a trip to Ronnie Scott’s in London on the 7th. Luckily we’re going with my brother who doesn’t drink – and I also happen to know they have a fabulous mocktail menu – so we should be all good!

I’ll aim to share an update every week and hope you’ll share your thoughts and comments with me – I know I’ll need them to keep me going.

A huge thank you to everyone who has already donated – your belief in me is scary but much appreciated.

Happy New Year.