The ripple effect

There’s been a lot of talk on social media this week about mental health and suicide thanks to Zoe Ball’s Sport Relief challenge in memory of her partner Billy Yates. Hardest Road Home was difficult to watch but also incredibly inspiring and the money donated will go a huge way to supporting those at risk of suicide. Good job Zoe.

One of the things mentioned in the programme was the ripple effect of suicide and the impact it has on so many people. In the days, weeks and months after Joe died, this effect was palpable. Family, friends and strangers all impacted by the loss of our brilliant boy, visited, called, wrote and texted; we had a house full of people sharing stories, grieving, supporting… And now, nine months on when the visitors have gone and life ploughs on, the impact on those closest to Joe continues.unnamed

Grief can often lead to depression and it breaks my heart that this cruel, shitty, bastard of an illness has now taken hold of Claudia. My sweet, bright, hilarious, and determined girl is struggling and I desperately want to take the pain away. I couldn’t help Joe because he kept his illness to himself, although in his last week of life when we did know something was wrong, we didn’t take it seriously enough. The regret of not driving to Exeter, forcing him into the car and bringing him home, haunts me every day.

But I can do something to help Claudia. I understand depression much better now. I understand what it can do and that it can lead to feelings of such darkness and despair that death seems like the only answer.

The dynamic of Claudia’s life has shifted. She misses Joe so much and sometimes can’t see the point of a life without him in it. She was the middle child and had two brothers; now she’s the youngest and has lost her partner in crime, despite still being close to Connor. Their shared history, their childhood, school, university, their whole lives are intertwined. The stories that only Joe and Claudia knew, the memories only they shared, the love that only they had for each other has gone, and she’s really struggling to make sense of it.

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The two of them fought like cat and dog when they were younger but in the past few years, since they’d both moved away to university, they’d become incredibly close. Joe was often the first person Claudia would turn to when she needed to talk. He was always her baby brother and the smart arse who knew the answer to everything, but their relationship was maturing, and it was lovely to see.

19029314_10209755559389108_2162738293857643448_nThe stories they used to tell were hilarious: Joe standing in the ladies’ toilet of a bar with a drunk Claudia who needed to go home, telling all the girls – “Back off bitches, this is my sister” with a phone in each hand trying to get hold of David on one of them and me on the other; the two of them owning the dancefloor at a club; the hours spent at Top Golf; the car journeys; the Facetime chats…

And so, our girl is back home. Maybe for good and maybe just until she gets better and can finish her degree. She’s done all the right things – she’s gone to her GP, she’s talked about how she’s feeling and she’s been referred to the mental health crisis team in Nottingham. She has given her consent for them to talk to me and David about the things she finds difficult to say, and we’re in contact with them until we can get her moved to the outpatient care of our local mental health trust.

It’s hard, it’s shit and I’m scared. But she’s talking to us, to her friends – who are amazing – to her GP and to the mental health team. And talking about it has meant the difference between struggling in silence and having us put our arms around her, bring her home, listen and try to help. She’s worried because coming home and taking a break from uni wasn’t in her plan. I’ve told her we just need a new plan.19030767_10209755558909096_506762968273621912_n

Everything changed on that day in June when Joe decided that enough was enough, and Claudia’s plan now needs to be focused on getting better and not thinking too far ahead. My plan, David’s plan, our plan for this family changes every day so we’ve learned not to think about next month, the next six months, the next year… We just think about today, tomorrow, the manageable, the achievable, the here and now.

Amidst all the anxiety, the stress and the worry of the past couple of weeks, our family’s dark humour continues to shine through. Claudia found it hilarious that, while waiting for an appointment at the mental health hospital, this was the song they had blaring across the waiting room…

I’ll leave you on that note and carry on bobbing about in the ripples…

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Cravings, triggers and weight loss

It’s 76 days since I had alcohol, so what’s changed?

Well I’m definitely lighter. The scales tell me I’ve lost 11 lbs, which I love them for. I can get back into a beloved pair of jeans that last year I’d put in a pile of random purchases or outgrown items that I mourn and then give to charity. But I’ve resurrected them and they’re now back in the wardrobe where they belong.

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Hello, you beauties

I’ve also had to buy some new clothes to fit my booze-free frame and while some people probably jump for the joy at the thought of shopping, I’m not one of them. I hate it and resolutely do 99% of it online so I don’t have to deal with other shoppers, irritating sales assistants and changing rooms. Our dear retired neighbours have set up a collection office in their living room for all my deliveries and I pop round after work to pick up my parcels and have a chat by their roaring fire. So great, I needed to shift a few pounds and if it was all Sauvignon Blanc-related heft then I’m glad to be shot of it.

My eating habits have changed for the better as well. I always knew that wine was chock full of calories so I’d justify drinking it by reducing the amount of food I consumed. Boom! Forego nutrients for a hangover, nice one Kit. It’s amazing what dependence on something can make you rationalise. I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent individual so why would I choose wine over food? It seems crazy now but after a couple of glasses, my appetite would vanish and in my head it made sense to finish the bottle instead of having a meal.

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Better than a burger

We get free breakfast and lunch at work (utterly spoiled, I know) and I would always go for toast and butter in the mornings and, more often than not, the stodgy, comforting option at lunchtime, bypassing the healthy choices to dive straight into the cheese-laden lasagne or legendary curly fries. But since January, I’ve had porridge every morning and made friends with the salad bar because my body isn’t craving carbs in the way it was. And I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself or dieting, I’m just reacting to what my body wants and without alcohol, it wants salad. Who knew?! It also seems to want more chocolate and cake, but you can’t have everything…

So, I’m physically lighter without alcohol, but I’m psychologically lighter as well. I realise how much time I spent thinking about alcohol. Is there enough wine in the fridge? Will I miss my train if I pop into the shop to pick up some wine? Drinking had become habitual. Get home from work, pour a glass of wine. Did I even really want a glass? Not always, but it was what I did and I felt like I deserved it as a reward for a day at work. Really? You need to reward yourself for getting up, going to work and coming home again? Well done Kit, you’re an incredible human being! You did all that by yourself, have a gallon of the finest Sauvignon!

I also justified wine if there was something to celebrate, which meant I turned everyday activities into occasions: It’s Saturday, best have some wine! I’m having a bath, ooh, wine! I’m cooking, come here Mr Sauvignon!

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Who knew?

I could find a reason to drink wine when I did pretty much anything. So what do I do now? Is it all Elderflower cordial and cups of tea? Yes and no. My trusty Torres de-alcoholised Muscat and the perfectly palatable Bitburger 0% lager are playing a role when I want to feel as though I’m still partaking in a ‘proper’ drink, but I’m also drinking more tea and loads of water. I’m not mad keen on squashes and cordials – I’d rather get my sugar from cake – but I’ve found a couple that I quite like. And I tend to put whatever I drink into a wine glass or a proper lager glass (apart from tea because that would be silly) so I still have the sensation of drinking booze.

And I do get cravings. Just yesterday David and I went to visit Claudia in Nottingham because she needed a hug and, quite frankly, we needed one too. We went for lunch at a French bistro we like and I was overwhelmed with the desire for a glass of wine. It’s not because Claudia drives me to drink – it was the jazz, the wonderfully atmospheric trumpet jazz they were playing. It was the lighting, the dark skies and snow falling outside, the delicious hum of fellow diners chatting away, the chalkboard that so beautifully described the Picpoul Sauvignon. It was heady – we could have been in Paris or New York – and the only thing missing for me was a glass of wine.

Don’t panic, reader! I had a Becks Blue. I didn’t succumb and I won’t succumb, but sometimes the desire is very real and it’s interesting to understand what my triggers are. French bistros and jazz apparently…

Another positive of giving up alcohol is the effect it’s had on the people around me. David often now opts for a non-alcoholic beer over a regular one and several people have told me they’re trying to cut down after seeing the change in me, which is brilliant. My mission when doing this challenge was never to become preachy or holier than thou about alcohol. It was only ever to honour Joe’s memory and to raise awareness and support for the prevention of young suicide, but if it also makes people stop and think about their relationship with alcohol, that’s a bonus.

And if you’re really serious about taking a break from the booze, then now is the perfect time. The brilliant writer, Catherine Gray, whose book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober is an honest, painful and hilarious read about her relationship with alcohol, is setting up Sober Spring. From March 20th to June 21st you basically don’t drink alcohol. Simples. 93 days without booze. An entire season. I’m doing it (obvs) and I reckon you could do it too.

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Follow Catherine on Twitter @cathgraywrites and on Instagram @unexpectedjoyof and @cathgraywrites

So you now have two days to drink every drop of alcohol in your house – you’d best get going.

#SoberSpring

#I’mOnlyKiddingYouDon’tHaveTo

Life lessons from my Mama

Today I’m celebrating being 69 days alcohol-free (get in!) but more importantly, I’m celebrating my mum. We don’t usually go in for the ‘Hallmark holidays’ (something about being northern, I reckon) but this year, I hope she’ll forgive me if I jump on the Mother’s Day bandwagon…

Kate Anderson, Titch, Katie-noodle, Mama. My mum grew up in the north of England and escaped down south as soon as her independent streak kicked in and my Gran would let her. She lived in London and worked at the BBC before meeting my dad – a fellow northerner – at a party where he was drinking beer from a vase (legend). They were married 6 months later and are celebrating 50 years of marriage in October. Boom!

My mum has been a strong and loving constant for me, and my brother, through our best and worst times. My dad travelled a lot for work when we were growing up so mum was often on her own – a long way from her own mum and family – with two young children who could turn arguing into an art form. She made the best chocolate crispy cakes and created a safe, warm, happy home that I’ll always treasure.

My parents have never been judgmental or placed any expectations on my brother and I, aside from wanting us to do our best and be happy. There’s been no pressure on either of us to have children (phew) and we’ve been raised to be independent and to live the lives we choose. I saw a mug the other day that said: “The best mothers are promoted to grandmothers” WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? The best mothers nurture their children and don’t place emotional pressure on them to procreate just so they can call themselves Grandma. In my humble opinion…

In the past 6 years – since David, the children and I moved in together – I’ve apologised to my mum and thanked her A LOT. Living with teenagers is hard, really effing hard, and I know I didn’t navigate my stepchildren’s teenage years with half as much grace, understanding and patience as my own mum did with me and my brother.

The looks of pure disdain, the frequent requests for money, the endless lifts, the hormones, the mess (teens) and of course the crying, the slamming of doors and the gallons of wine (me). So again, mum, thank you for the teenage years and for so much more…

My mum and dad once did an 8-hour round trip from their home in North Yorkshire to give me a hug when I’d had my heart broken. They celebrated with me when I got married at 26 – and picked up the pieces when I got divorced two years later. They pretended not to mind when I flew to Australia instead of going to my graduation. They listened patiently as I questioned their choice of education for me through a haze of cigarette smoke when I was 19; a choice I now thank and respect them for enormously.

And I’ll never forget the day, after years of pestering, that mum gave in as I announced, once and for all, that I was giving up meat. I was 12. She cooked more lentils during those years than anyone should have to. She also didn’t remove any of the photos of dying battery hens I used to pin to our fridge in an attempt to shame my parents and brother into going veggie…

And she’s done all of this at the same time as losing her parents and her brother, helping to look after her often cantankerous father-in-law, studying for a degree and graduating in her 50s, living alone when my dad moved to the States for work and supporting my brother through years of addiction.

And I’m sure there are a whole heap of things I don’t know about because she’s protected me from them. I remember being a bit taken aback once when she told me, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mum”, but now I know exactly what she meant; she protects me, not burdens me. Plus we don’t talk about sex. EVER.

Our shared love of New Zealand Sauvignon (gosh, I miss it), Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and reading have characterised our relationship more recently and I love doing mix CDs for mum of my latest music finds. When life gets too much, my parents’ house is the first place I want to escape to and I’m heading up in a few weeks for some much needed mum (and dad) cooking and hugs.

I’ve been unlucky enough to experience some incredibly unpleasant and bizarre behaviour from my stepchildren’s mother over the past few years – which I know isn’t normal or typical – but I suspect isn’t unique either, and that breaks my heart. My experience of motherhood – having the mum I have and watching my friends as mothers – is positive, warm, loving, caring, selfless and strong. Yes there are frustrations and irritations but that protectiveness and love is always there.

I hate that Connor and Claudia don’t have that, especially now, when they need it most as they grieve for Joe. Their mother’s frequent absences, incessant dishonesty and brazen self-centredness were confusing for them when they were younger, but as they grow up, they realise it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with her. They are safe in the knowledge that David and I will always give them unconditional love, emotional support and as much time as we possibly can.

I’ve learned the importance of that from my mum and while some may say it’s different when the children aren’t biologically you’re own, for me it’s no different at all. Love is love.

Ma and Pa

I know how hard it is for my mum and dad to see me, David and the children in so much pain since losing Joe. I know they wish they were closer and could see us all more often and I know mum lies awake worrying about us. All I can say, mum, is that you raised me, so stop worrying. You and dad made me the strong, independent and resilient woman I am, along with the whacking great dollop of cynicism, sarcasm, anxiety and humour you threw in there for good measure.

I’ll be fine, and I’ll make sure my family are fine as well. Better than fine, in fact, it’ll just take some time. The axes of our lives have permanently shifted, but we’ll find new paths and Joe will be with us, laughing at our choices, along the way.

So today, and every day, I raise a glass of non-alcoholic fizz to my mama, and to all the incredible women in my life. Thank you.

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.

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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.

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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.

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