Parting Ways with the Prosecco Sisterhood

Even in my clear headed contentment, I fall victim to the allure of packaged sophistication that is a glass of red after work or an espresso martini on a Saturday afternoon. Both seem to be romantic symbols of adulthood and reward. If I snap myself with one and post to Facebook, it will surely be an image of elegance and maturity that will attract lots of likes.

Alcohol messaging and advertising has been ringing around my head lately. Each drink means something different. The industry barely has to do any of the work anymore; consumers take the photos and post them with hashtags like #cheekydrinks #thelife #whynot. We’re doing the work of million dollar advertising firms.

HannahG89, HSM

During my two year (or was it three year?) Facebook-free stint, a few changes have occurred that are not confined to the continual irritating layout changes from the powers that be. Most notable is the shift from individual status updates to an endless stream of reposts – many of which, it must be said, are informative or amusing, but as a nosey so-and-so I preferred the days of holiday snaps (or any snaps) and ‘What I’ve been up to today’-type musings. Another change I’ve noticed is a marked increase in the celebration of alcohol – again, generally in postcard form: “One prosecco, two prosecco, three prosecco, floor”; “I went shopping for bread and came back with prosecco!” – that kind of thing. I have even read an article featuring middle class mums who enjoy a prosecco whilst socialising their toddlers. Yep, it seems prosecco is certainly popular, although I did also stumble (hic!) across a very amusing and hugely successful blog entitled ‘Hurrah for Gin’.

If you think you know where this is headed, you may be wrong. Prosecco is one of my favourite alcoholic drinks, the other being Hoegaarden, and I always used to love a gin and tonic or three at Christmas. I have no problem whatsoever with any of these posts on Facebook; it’s just that I no longer happen to be in a place (to use a cringey phrase) where I relate to their sentiments.

I was an almost daily drinker for many years. I rarely binged because of my fear of vomiting, but I drank between three and five units of alcohol per evening for a long time. This wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem if I hadn’t hated the feeling of dependency that developed. I’ve never been very good at kidding myself. No matter how many times I resolved that I’d only have a glass a night, or would only drink at the weekends, or would have a dry January every year, I still ended up chugging back that same amount almost every night.

When I did have breaks – and I had many, though they were completely sporadic – I wasted the time by wishing away the days until I could drink again. I told myself I wasn’t, but as I said, I’m no good at kidding myself. When the designated dry spell was up, I never left it just one day longer – I was straight back on the sauce that night. I even tried a dry year once. That was simply too long a spell to wish away the days and months, and I adapted well to an alcohol-free lifestyle until eight months down the line when, to quote a dear friend of mine, “the world dropped out of my bottom” and I hit the Hoegaarden with a vengeance.

Most people would not have regarded me as someone with an ‘alcohol problem’. I didn’t get drunk; I never drank at work; I could function perfectly well without alcohol and my kids were never neglected. I just couldn’t embrace being a daily drinker. I knew I was dependent, and I wanted it to change. I didn’t want to spend evenings either drinking or yearning to; didn’t want to condition my kids to think that daily alcohol consumption was an inevitability of adulthood. But I had no idea what to do about it. How do you change the nature of alcohol, a substance that has no intention of being consumed just occasionally or in tiny amounts?

Then just under a year ago I stumbled across HSM (Hello Sunday Morning), a totally brilliant social networking site with a difference. The idea is you sign up for a three month or 12 month booze-free stint, follow like-minded folks and let them follow you (if you wish), set goals and tick them off once you’ve achieved them, and use the site for moral support when the going gets tough. I don’t know what I’d expected when I signed up for a three month break, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the eloquence, perceptiveness and devastating honesty that radiated from the people I encountered. Some just wanted a healthy break from drink; others knew they would never be able to moderate and were taking life one day at a time. The warmth, empathy, compassion and support were overwhelming. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And so I finished my three months, and found to my surprise that I didn’t fancy a drink that day. I decided to leave it until the next big family do, which happened to be the christening of my beautiful nieces. After a few sips of chilled dry white, however, an unpleasant sensation seemed to whoosh through my veins. I felt slightly giddy, oddly aware of my pulse, and fuzzy in my head. I left the rest of the glass unfinished.

What had gone wrong? It took me a while – and several more ‘failed’ attempts at drinking – to realise that my experience with HSM had fundamentally reprogrammed me. The sensation I was experiencing was nothing more or less than the normal effect of alcohol: I just didn’t enjoy that sensation any more. It was as though a filter had been removed after twenty-odd years.

This should have been my eureka moment; the turning point that marked my permanent switch to alcohol-free living. Hadn’t my prayers been answered? I’d never again crave alcohol, because I no longer enjoyed it! Gratitude should have been abundant. But human beings are stupid creatures. I continued making attempts to drink, until eventually my body began once more to tolerate alcohol.

Happily, and very luckily, I seem to have achieved what I always wanted: to be able to drink occasionally (probably once a fortnight on average) without pining for it between times. It’s a slightly uneasy, cautious path to tread – I can only tolerate one or two drinks, and can’t drink for more than two consecutive days or the seeds of craving start to take root again – and I don’t enjoy alcohol as much as I used to (unless, again, I persist for more than two consecutive days … you see the catch 22 here!? I’m having my cake and eating it, but it’s a coffee cake).

The biggest plus, by several miles, is having shaken the feeling of dependence. That makes me happy on a daily basis. I like myself more because of it. I like that I can drive anywhere at any time, and I love that even as a naturally shy person I feel no need for alcohol when socialising (OK, I might choose not to socialise sometimes because I’m introverted, but that’s a different matter). I love living life on its own terms rather than applying any kind of filter or rosy glow; it feels honest, somehow. My husband, who used to drink far more than he would have done without me as a drinking buddy, has settled back into his natural quota of roughly two beers a week. The money saved ain’t too shabby either. I do feel removed from ‘the gang’ … but really, is there a gang? How old am I!?

This Christmas, unlike last, I expect I’ll be raising a glass of prosecco to my lovely family and enjoying quaffing it. Just not quite as much as I used to.



As kingfishers catch fire,
Dragonflies draw flame*
                                                                               Gerard Manley Hopkins

“I’m about to cycle into town and escape to the library while C and the boys bring in the harvest”, reads Anne’s chirpy text message.

A solo bike ride in the early autumn sunshine (virtuous and mood enhancing as well as beautiful), the luxury of even occasional moments alone to do laid back, restorative things, and a hubby who has the time, talents and inclination to tend a well-stocked allotment. Not for the first time, the thought Gaaaaaaah! I want your life!! flashes across my mind.

Anne lives where I would like to live, in a house I would like to own, with a garden that backs on to a nature reserve. She and her husband work hours that I would classify as ‘substantial part-time’. Both talented and professional musicians, their working lives consist of gigging and instrumental teaching in variable proportions. Anne also directs numerous ensembles for both adults and children, one of which used to include me squeaking away on the flute, and is currently recording her second album. This is starting to read like a biog, but I have no need to try to ‘sell’ Anne; listing the facts is enough.

“C and I decided a while ago that neither of us wanted to work full-time”, Anne once told me. Good for you, I thought, perhaps a little sourly at the time, as I considered Alex’s exhausting work schedule and severely limited time at home.

For a while I became slightly obsessive about comparing aspects of Anne’s life with my own, from her intimidatingly impressive musicianship to her well-cut clothes, and wasted a good deal of time in a state of self-pitying negativity: Huh. Why can’t my husband be home more? Why am I in such a crappy house? Why is my family not doing wholesome outdoorsy things every weekend? Why wasn’t I blessed with musicianship like that? (She dances when she conducts a jazz band. Oh yes, she does. It is very cool. When I first joined one of her ensembles I was so in awe of her I don’t think I could do more than stammer “hello” most weeks. She thought I was about 12.)

More recently, it dawned on me (probably to Anne’s relief, and that of several other good friends) that I had allowed myself to spiral into a victim mentality – with no justification whatsoever, of course. Worse than that, I had become entrenched in a bitter, entitlist mindset, continually listing my woes and doing absolutely sod all to try to improve things. It wasn’t just about Anne, either. I had begun to feel envious of other friends: those who had changed careers, built their dream house or undertaken to start their own businesses.

This simply had to stop, and it did (OK, it more or less did), but then I didn’t know where to start when it came to making changes. I felt overwhelmed. I reconsidered Anne’s comment about not wanting to work full-time, and realised it was all about priorities. Anne is superb at prioritising. She does not have everything she would like, but she ploughs her positive, sparkling energy into pursuing her top priorities.

“We’ve always had crap cars”, she says cheerfully, “because I just couldn’t give a shit. As long as they get us from A to B, that’s all I care about. And we rarely spend more than a grand on a holiday.” Conscious prioritising means Anne and her family live as well and as happily as they possibly can whilst keeping within their means. Location takes priority over having a detached house; home-grown and Lidl groceries take priority over brands; family bike rides (free, fun, healthy) take priority over excess tech (expensive and anti-social).

I realised I was actually being greedy and unrealistic, pining indiscriminately for everything. I was also being incredibly ungrateful. There is a great deal to be said for counting your blessings. That’s another thing about Anne: she is appreciative. Not just of her family, friends (even the odd, awkward friends like me) and the material things, but of life’s experiences in general. If she doesn’t always get what she wants, well, then, she is adept at following the old adage of wanting what she gets. What might be to you or me just a hurtful rebuff, or a moment of withering embarrassment, or a crushing disappointment is, to Anne, also an opportunity to reflect, learn, self-improve and move forwards. She doesn’t stew. She never stews. Seen in this light, her take on life is extremely humbling. It’s also pretty ballsy, and the brilliant thing about it is it puts her in the winning seat every time. If you can turn negatives into positives, you’re bound to radiate sunshine.

On a more spiritual level, despite openly confessing to being fiery, impatient and short-tempered, Anne is actually very good at playing the long game. My Nan used to say you should “do your best and pray the rest”, which resonates with Anne’s philosophy. If something feels right to her, she will not give up at the first hurdle, and if there is nothing more she can do to attain it there and then she will give it time and positive vibes, “leaving the way open”. When I left my job to become wholly self-employed I panicked. I set in motion a domino-like chain of mini-panics; ‘what ifs’ that would probably never materialise. It was Anne who was convinced that work would come my way (she even provided some of it!), and she turned out to be right. But I needed to seek it out and be open to the possibilities.

My current project is making my home nicer. (This is why I haven’t written anything in over a month – I’ve been busy painting. Improving my surroundings has been my priority.) Nobody else is going to do it for me. I must say, it already looks a good deal better. Now Alex and I need to decide if we want to stay here or try to move. Time to prioritise again. If we do choose to move, we will need to make compromises because our dream of a detached, four-bedroomed house in this area is out of our reach. However, a detached house further out might not be, and if we want to stay local we could stretch to a four-bedroomed semi. What are our priorities? Looking at things this way clarifies them and offers possibilities. It feels positive, even empowering, and that – for me – is new. I like it.

Maybe my next project will be picking up the flute again and rejoining the band.

Being Anne

“On work:

  • Play to your strengths; I am naturally bossy, so teaching has suited me.
  • Play to your weaknesses; I get bored easily, so teaching has suited me!
  • If you make a mistake at work, then apologise and move on.  If your colleague wants to dwell on it, then they are the pedant – not you.
  • There is nothing wrong with taking a job for the money.  However, if this becomes your permanent and only motivation, then you need to re-assess.
  • Always think about the bigger picture. Which is more valuable – time or money?

“On life:

  • Always have hopes and dreams, but be honest with yourself about where they have come from: do you really want to be a lawyer?  Or have you been checking out George Clooney’s wife and quite like her clothes?
  • You can’t have everything you want.
  • With regard to the above, you can have a lot of what you want if you think, plan, prioritise.
  • If you have been lucky enough to travel, you will know that this country is actually quite a good place to live and work.  Stop moaning.
  • Again, with regard to the above, if living where you are is too depressing, then move elsewhere.  Members of my close family have moved abroad and never regretted it.
  • It is insane to keep children indoors all day.  Unless you/they are ill, or it is actually dangerous to exit your front door, then it is always worth it.
  • It is nonsense to separate mental and physical health.
  • Exercise, preferably in green spaces, makes you feel better.  There is not a single problem I have encountered that has not been reduced or eliminated by walking …”

*This is from one of my favourite poems of all time. Aside from the dizzyingly beautiful imagery, the subject matter itself is also uplifting: all things thriving through doing what they were made to do; being what they were intended to be. Whether or not you are religious, it’s a joyous read.