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Today in the Sydney Morning Herald, Sarah Berry wrote a piece about a guy with a famous name and his story of recovery.

Seeing the subject matter of course made me want to read it. Seeing the Kennedy name can prompt different reactions though; sometimes it makes the article or piece more appealing, such as when talking about Jackie’s fabulous hats (I think!). Other times, such as when hearing what has gone wrong with another one’s life, can initially be a turn-off. It is easy to dismiss ‘celebrity’ experience, advice and opinion. We put it down to availability and affordability. But, as this article points out, addition absolutely crosses socio-economic divides.

It is about self-esteem, confidence and the ability to ask for help. Apologies if this is repetitive. I don’t think it can be emphasised enough how important it is to build bonds, strong ones that say to both the addict and the support person, you are worth this, I am with you, I will stay here for as long as I need to.

The genetic piece is interesting I think. At one point, desperate to try a ‘soft’ approach to recovery, I consulted a team of health advisors who consist of a geneticist and a nutritionist. The idea is that you part with an awful lot of blood (not all at once), accompanied by vast sums of money (immediately) and they go away and test it for all sorts of things you didn’t know were possible then reward you with a folder of unintelligible reports and lots and lots of vitamins. The dosage on the vitamins was handwritten and as unintelligible as the science they went with so I admired the pretty graphs in the folder and for the next few weeks took as many pills as I could stomach with my orange juice on the days I that I remembered.

Not exactly a solution. (I kept drinking.) But I did clock one thing as the science man (dry as a biscuit ) flew through the results; the tests had shown that I am NOT genetically predisposed to addiction. If you click through to the link in Sarah Berry’s article you will get to a page of info on this which, to my admittedly totally unscientific mind, seems all to be rather desperate when citing a definite genetic link. The reasons people, we, I, drink are many and complex. I think the management side is so much more important.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the science stuff, do try to make time to watch this Ted talk by Johann Hari.

Though he is talking primarily about drugs, the concept can be applied to all addicts and actually I think, to anyone who is suffering from a mental illness too.





I am loving feeling ultra connected at the moment. Connected to life without a filter warping the view. Connected to people without the burden of expectations. Connected to myself without the pain of guilt and regret.

All of this I put down to sobriety. It turns out that for me, the short term high of drinking gave way to a mighty long-lasting, almost constant, low. The trouble is, being in that time, in the cycle, it is incredibly difficult to imagine getting out of it, even when realise you want to.

So the challenge of the how comes to define the why – or rather why not –  to a degree. At least it did for me. The low is like a background hum that changes pitch only after a particularly extravagant bender, dropping you into a deep well, with slippery, vertical sides, the light such a long way up. The easiest option is to opt back in, quickly. Until the opting in stops being optional.

Understanding and admitting this, connecting honestly with myself is central to moving forward. But so too are connections with others. If felt as though the universe was colluding in this theory last week as every day saw another meaningful conversation.

Some could have been challenging; the first meeting with someone since I began ‘owning up’ always contains an element of anxiety for me. But the love, the warmth, the unequivocal support I’ve received is far and away the best silver lining of this decision.

I have enjoyed planned walks, impromptu phone calls, delicious coffees, unexpected live messaging on FB and snatched intense ten minute chats on the corner of the street. Without exception, my heart has felt gladdened each time, my soul uplifted, my determination strengthened.

These soul-nourishing interactions have reminded me that we are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for, if only we have connections to anchor us, people to shore us up when we need it and, so importantly, the courage to reach out.

Now I have three weeks of reconnection in the UK. I have day trips and nights out planned, long overdue meetings with friends, our partners and offspring and of course family. I can’t wait. Without connection what is there?


Standing vigil

Standing vigil

Where you are may be uncomfortable but sometimes there is simply no choice.

I am trying really really hard to make this time, this sobering, challenging time, as easy as I can for my family. In the early days of my decision, when I was inwardly crumbling, I was offered a spot in rehab. I declined not because I didn’t think I needed it, but because I didn’t want to feel any more of a failure than I already did.

In future years they may come to realise the magnitude, but at the moment my sons are deliciously naive of what I am going through thank god. It means the drama is all mine though.

Early on, sobriety for me meant that it felt somehow crucial to maintain mundanity. How could I have gone anywhere when so much needed done? Keeping up with the washing (which sat about in buckets, unsorted but clean at least), making sure bellies were full (so what if a few more meals were from the freezer section?) and children were present at school (skidding in as the bell rang) was achievement then.

In between the chores I tried to exude positivity, posting on Instagram with #gratitude, #sobriety, #livingwell. The only cringeworthy hashtag I have yet to employ is #carpediem. At the time of posting I do mean it, I am seizing the moment, shouting hooray for me, look at what I can do!

But there is the fall, the reversal. Recently I have just felt so bloody bored of being positive, of celebrating this thing I know and accept is necessary but sometimes is also just really fucking hard.

And then there is the weekend sigh. The collective exhale as time slows and Monday feels a long way off. From the promise of that Friday night deserved wine, to the friends coming over for Sunday lunch, the weekend is there for the drinking. Not be a part of that is sometimes more than I think I can bear.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has a much-used phrase called ‘distress tolerance’. Even the fact there is a name to describe how I’m feeling can sometimes be a comfort; so many people have been here, where I am, for them to have thought up a name for it, how brilliant!

I have been working through distress tolerance for months, long before I gave up drinking for good this time. (It is never wise, I realise now, to utter the words ‘for good’.) I need to understand that the risk will always be there, dimmed, more subtle, easier to navigate but present nonetheless.

There are three mindsets that come into discussions in distress tolerance. Addict mind, clean mind, and clear mind. This latter ‘mind’ is the aim. Fully committed to the cause but not so obsessed by  positivity as to be blind to danger lurking in the tiredness, the sadness, the celebration, the reward.


I must then stand vigil for my values, my decision; I am the soldier on the gate. There must, by necessity, be a shift-change, new energy brought in, new tactics. The common goal holds firm though, batting away the temptations, the desires, the cunning, wheedling voices carried on the wind.

Self-awareness is tough, confronting (and bloody boring often if it’s not your own, let’s be honest!), but somehow the mere act of removing the wine, the means of escape, that deceitful old ally, leaves no choice. I am by necessity present all the time.

Every conversation, interaction, raised voice, loving word, is authentic because there is no filter, no mediating substance to allow for future doubt. I will stand vigil, being watchful through the challenge, trusting others have done the same.


Thanks Drew!

Thanks Drew!


drew barrymore regret quote

I remember years ago when I first read the above quote by Drew Barrymore. I’m guessing it must have been the response to a question which inferred that she ought to;  that a history as colourful as hers could be a cause for shame. I decided on the spot that I too was going to live regret-free. Sod everyone, I thought, I will do what I like, be who I like and eschew apology.

It doesn’t quite work like that though. I think, unless you truly believe in yourself and the road you are travelling regret is impossible to shake off. Back then, I was still partying hard, as I believed all self-respecting twenty-somethings should (and of course did in the circles in which i found/put myself). I  was unhappy with my weight, figure, boyfriend, lack of boyfriend, job, state of unemployment etc. The world, life, was not working out as I thought it would or should.

A low point was my wonderful flatmate having to walk a disheveled and hungover me to the hairdressers to fix my self-shorn locks after a break-up. To this day I cannot listen to The Corrs without turning the colour of a beet (or type it!). Mega cringe worthy (and expensive). With binge drinking there will always be such stories. Sometimes they might even seem funny. For a while.

Fast forward a few years: family life is well and truly bedded in, pretty much every day begins and ends with the mayhem that is trying to get three brothers to do anything, be it getting to school or sports or bed. See Mummy (and Daddy) reward themselves for getting through another day of chaotic mundanity (yes it exists!) with some large glasses of wine. An acceptable two or even three is enough for one, for the other it flicks off the brakes, allows an escape, a quick volte face from responsibility to enjoyment: me time.

Living like this for years, day upon day takes its toll. Most of the time having no extreme hangover symptoms was a win. Showing up for my life was a win. To expect any kind of achievement on top of that felt greedy, I got used to enough, just enough.

I didn’t realise just how crap I felt all of the time until I felt better. I had become so used to operating and existing below par that it felt normal-ish. Then the guilts would come to call, that inexplicable morning-after anxiety would rush in and, POW!, I was felled. Those days spent ticking minutes off until I could drink the horrors away.

Through all of this I promised myself no regret, I would just start again and again and again. But I did regret. I hated it, hated the feeling of helplessness, the knowledge that I was unable to stop, to resist. For as long as I was drinking, I would regret because regret was happening, was future as well as past.

Eight weeks sober and my regrets are giving way to curiosity. Naval gazing I may be but the constellations I am finding keep surprising me, keep changing. Discovery about myself, genuine, authentic awareness without judgement means I think I finally get what Drew was getting at. Once you forgive yourself, accept yourself and are happy with the path in front, you really can let go of regret, and it’s the most liberating feeling in the world. Thanks Drew!


This just made me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Faith and hope

Faith and hope

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hope. Having hope makes us human. Gives us reason to get up in the morning, hoping that the sun is shining and that today will be a good day.

We are encouraged to hope throughout life, hoping we get this teacher or that, that we get a spot on the team, a part in a play. We go on hoping for many things: a good job, nice friends, invitations to parties, pregnancy, promotion, recognition, fame, fortune, a luxury home, a safe home, the ability to make good choices, feel comfortable in our own skin, be appreciated, be loved.

It is perhaps central to life that we have hope.  But in order to have hope we need to have the belief that our hopes might come to pass. So we need to have faith. Faith gives substance to aspirations, allows us to believe in our dreams.

Faith isn’t always placed naturally or obviously. It is hard sometimes to know where to rest your soul. When it feels as though the world is demanding more than you can give it is especially so.

Some people, perhaps enviably, have an unshakable religious faith. This certain belief in someone being there through good and bad must bring strength. And comfort when that strength falters.

Some have faith in the universe; in forces beyond the realm of understanding but perhaps present nonetheless.

Faith in our family and friends, our practices, our ideas are paramount. The knowledge that people have our back, are in our corner, are rooting gives us confidence, gives us hope.

More than anything though we need to maintain faith in ourselves. We need to believe in our value, our worth. No-one else can give us the ability to say ‘I am great, just as I am.’ (Unless you are Bridget Jones in which case Mark Darcy seems to get close.) In this digital age, no number of likes or clicks or shares can equal the moment when we hold our head high with love.

This is so often what depression robs us of – remembering that. Faith and hope can get bound-up, buried so deeply beneath a blanket of fear, memories of past failures, guilt, remorse, indecision, self-consciousness, that it becomes an endless cycle of negativity from which emergence feels impossible.

But there are moments when the impossible recedes, the fog clears and our eyes are bright. These are the moments to hang on to, to file away and revisit. They form a kind of internal library and if we cherish them they can become building blocks, a staircase by which to haul ourselves out.

step ladder

Thank you to my wonderful friend Heidi for sending this picture featuring the amazing work of Nathan Sawaya. She knows me well. (I wish I’d been there to view it with you.) The caption reads:   ‘Sometimes when you’re looking for a step-up you don’t have to look any further than yourself. We’re all capable of more than we think.’

First Step


one step

In taking on Dry July this year I thought I would give myself an easy intro to change. The idea was that by making myself accountable to others my path to sobriety would be smooth (ish). I chose not to tell people that the month was just the beginning of a longer term plan, a pretty radical plan to alter my lifestyle in a big way.

What I perhaps misjudged about Dry July was the obvious – there was an end point. That I haven’t been guzzling wine in celebration of the month of August seems to have surprised some people.

In an important way the first month helped; it reminded I can do it, I am strong. But I have been here before (not least for three pregnancies) and it has never taken long for the sensible couple of glasses I have gradually allowed myself to creep up to being too much, too often.

I have long known that the medication I take for mental health was negated by alcohol consumption. It has felt like a chicken and egg scenario for the last couple of years, my moods lurching between highs and lows often depending on chemistry. This has affected every element of my life, little, or none of it, positive.

I need to try and create a blank slate where I can rest easy in the knowledge that I am doing my best for me, my family and my future.

The last week has been tough. I haven’t had the safety net of Dry July to catch me; I have understood the concept of ‘one day at a time’. On top of dealing with this it has rained and rained, our car has broken (badly it transpires), my husband is enduring upheaval at work. It has been seriously ‘meh’. Managing cravings while looking after children is hard work. It hasn’t been pretty. But we’re through it. I’m looking forward to next week.

Yesterday, for the first time I admitted that I have ‘management issues’ with alcohol to a friend I haven’t seen for ages. Her beautiful reaction has given me encouragement to be honest, to own and accept this part of myself that I am beginning to realise I am stuck with.

For a long time I felt like I was waiting to hit rock bottom when in reality I was already scraping along it. I am grateful to have the support and resources to embark on the upward journey.

dandelion stages

Self-preservation. Motivation. Determination.


it is what it is

I have written before about the difficulty I have with change. Actually, my difficulty lies more in the prospect of change. When it happens and I have no choice but to adapt I am quite good at it. I like to put my ‘get on with it’ attitude down to the example and advice of my mum, one of the strongest and compassionate women I know.

Life just now is tumultuous. My two closest friends, with whom I shared kids suppers, gossip, glasses of wine and advice have both recently moved away. This is the reality of living in an expat community. We ‘outsiders’ tend to band together but acknowledge that at any point our strong, swiftly made but tenuous bonds will be broken. I dreaded them leaving. Put off numerous tasks as I tried to prepare. Drank far more wine than I ought to have to dull the reality.

But now I’m here and, rather than wallowing and wrapping myself away I am turning outward, facing what might come next. I am taking a long break from reliance on wine, setting foundations down in yoga, healthy choices, compassion towards myself instead.

We all have an image, a reputation. Sometimes they are hard won, the result of dedicated practice towards a chosen goal. Sometimes they are simply the result of non-decision. Of going with the flow of bad habits ingrained for decades. The work begins in choosing the former over the latter. Oftentimes the decision is obvious; to the outside world it might be a ‘finally’ she got there. Other times though the world might not be aware of quite how much of a struggle has gone into committing to the decision in the first place.

How much we share can affect our motivation. And how determined we are can be driven by sticks and carrots. Positive reinforcement is paramount. Enjoying our decision is crucial in order to maintain the new habit.

Through yoga I am meeting inspirational people who I know are going to positively influence my life. I sometimes wonder why I didn’t get here sooner. I make sure to remind myself it’s all a journey. As one of my lovely friends puts it, sometimes a situation “is what it is” and we simply have to embrace the next step on the path. Employing self-preservation, motivation and determination.

I can

If in doubt, read.


reading cartoonFor as long as I can remember I have had a book in my hand. I got into trouble at my first school (which I left when I was seven) for refusing to come inside after break time because I was adamant that the book I was reading was more beneficial than the lesson to which I was being sent. (I agree, what a precocious little shit I sound!)

So I moved school and the wonderful Mr Maxwell agreed that books probably superseded the requirement for another felt-covered calendar and homemade pompom. I remember us reading 101 Dalmatians in class and my adoration was established.

I would class reading as my first love and it is my enduring solace to this day. I have read for work and pleasure, racking up mountainous bills in book shops along the way. A friend of mine recently suggested that I become the founding member of ‘Book-buyers anonymous,’ such is the seriousness of my habit. I admit, I have probably only read two thirds of the books I own. What a dreadful admission but I see a book and worry that if I don’t buy it to read in the future I’ll forget it and perhaps never come across it again and my life would be much the worse for it.

I do use the library, but the librarians in my local one are so grim and grumpy I can’t bear it. Even when they are issuing me with a stonking great fine they don’t so much as smirk. I don’t understand it, if I was surrounded by books all day I don’t think I could help but be happy and they mope around as it the world is ending and all the visitors are simply a nuisance.

We moved house recently. It has taken weeks and weeks for us to get even half sorted out. My feelings when getting back after being out were apathetic verging on the downright miserable. So I unpacked some books. I feel better just for walking into the room and seeing them there. Knowing escape is possible. I find whatever else might be happening, if I am in need of succour, laughter or just plain and simple distraction, I will find it on my shelves – or for now the floor, but who cares where they are kept, just so long as they are there.

My best comfort reads – not all are necessarily happy, warm or fuzzy but all of these have the ability to utterly absorb me, which is what I deem as comfort from books.

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows (just the most uplifting and gorgeously pitched book, love love love)
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamond Pilcher (If I tell my mum I am re-reading this she asks what’s happened…)
  • The Dust that Falls from Dreams – Louis de Bernieres (longing for the next in the series, such characters)
  • How to break your own Heart – Maggie Alderson (just for the wonderful friend Amelia makes when she goes it alone)
  • The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit – J R R Tolkein (if you want to escape you can’t beat this journey)
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (near perfect writing, near perfect characterisation, devastating story)
  • Atonement – Ian McEwen (ditto)
  • The Hand that First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (I love O’Farrell, her characters are just so so real)
  • A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (one of my earliest favourites)
  • Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian (possibly favourite children’s book, I could read this 100 times and still enjoy it)
  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (oh that scene with the window….)
  • The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins (engrosses me every time even though I know the twists and turns)
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy (nothing like reading about someone whose life really is utterly doomed to make you feel a bit better!
  • Inspector Rebus books – Ian Rankin (though these can have the opposite effect in eliciting homesickness)

reading quote


Stop the ride, I want to get off.



Do you ever wish you could press the pause button on time? We are all familiar with the pace of life increasing, the distractions becoming more intense, insistent. Especially at a junction in the road, a new beginning, to have some breathing space would be wonderful.

I’m not good with change. I used to be known when I was little for going into a ‘dwam’ in difficult situations. The closest equivalent meaning of this old Scots word is daydream but it is more often employed to describe inertia caused by the pain of indecision.  Like a metaphorical pulling of the duvet over your head in fear of being found out as a failure or fraud.

Having children means not having the luxury of this sort of checking out. However tricky things get food still need to be provided, little bodies and clothes washed.

Arriving at a significant milestone in the family journey presents a major challenge; my head longs to escape but my hands must stay busy. My youngest will start school in less than a month. There is no question of readiness or age-appropriateness; he will be six in April. His two brothers are four and two years ahead of him, he has been in and out of the school for as long as he can remember and will be starting with other younger siblings in the same position. He is bright and inquisitive, confident and kind, qualities that will stand him in great stead in the classroom and playground.

Despite knowing all of this I am dreading it. I will miss him. More than that, I will miss the stage of my life that has seen me more sleep-deprived than a student cramming for finals, less concerned than I have ever been in terms of my appearance. I I’m sure I have said it before and it’s perhaps no more pc now than it was then but I like being defined by my role of Mum. I enjoy being needed. Motherhood is the most challenging and rewarding occupation I have ever found myself lucky to be in. It brings with it soul-searing responsibility and often a feeling of utter terror about the world and the minefield of hazards our little ones will have to negotiate but I wouldn’t chance it for anything.

My oldest is experimenting with a new attitude attitude, trying the bolshy pre-teen exterior on for size. This of course is massively exaggerated with in the company of his peers and I mourn the loss of the innocence, the uncomplicated way of seeing the world when ‘owies’ could be fixed with a chocolate button and everyone was a friend. It will of course be only a matter of time before his little brother feels the same and knowing this sets up a kind of mourning for that which I am yet to lose.

My youngest has always been tactile and cuddly and still is for now. He is possessed of a wicked little sense of humour, seeing the world in a whacky and refreshing way; is happily dancing his way through life. With exactly three weeks until school I plan to dance the steps with him, spend as much time bolstering his precious personality and engaging with his wonder as I can for before you can say ‘uniform’, as people have said to me, I won’t know myself.


Painfully precious times

Try a seven year old...

Try a seven year old…

You assume you will remember every moment because it just seems impossible that you won’t. Each night when you watch them sleeping it feels as though you have never seen anything more perfect, marvelling again at their nails, eyelashes, breaths. This doesn’t seem to diminish; I am as incredulous when I look at my nine year old sleeping as I was when he was a newborn.

Knowing that one day it will be unseemly and probably inappropriate to stand and stare at them as they sleep I wonder if I should take some pictures. There is no hesitation after all when they are babies; they are snapped in our every idea of a compromising position – legs akimbo in the bathtub, messily slurping spaghetti, wearing a fetching cardboard box as a hat- you name the activity I’ll bet it’s been set down in digital history.

This morning I looked at my littlest lying top to tail with my husband and mourned the fact that one day he would be as big, as hairy, as manly as his dad.

Going by the fact that my love is as strong as it ever was I suppose it is safe to assume it will always be so. So perhaps it is grieving the lessening dependence on me. The way my suggestions of outfit, news topic or game are rebuffed, rebuked even.

My nine year old now casually comes up sideways on and leans into me, his body language belying his coolness. It is all he allows himself, but it is something. My middle one enjoys the game we play at school drop off when I try to catch him for a kiss and he skips out of reach. I have learnt to enjoy the game itself though for it’s own intimate joke between us. He though appears every night in our bed, climbing in so stealthily that we fail to wake, until he belts one of us in the tummy with his starfish ways.

Sam de Brito, whose column was a highlight of my weekend, wrote last weekend on co-sleeping ( Though sleep quality would no doubt improve and cricked necks would be fewer, it will pain me beyond belief when my boys truly grow out of coming to snuggle in our bed. To echo a fantastic journalist lost too soon, especially for his little girl, I find the semi-wakeful cuddle is when I feel more a mother, “more human, than any other time in my day.” Cherish these precious times, live fully in the present, live well. RIP Sam de Brito.