Jenni’s Blog

Christmas

This Christmas I was not only AF, but I wasn’t  a dry drunk. I completed the 6 week programme at the beginning of December 2020. Every Christmas I have said “things will be different next year” and this year they are. I cannot thank Sarah enough for that, neither could my boys, my husband, my parents and the rest of my family.

I cannot put my finger on what has worked for me. I think it may take some time to reflect on that, certainly having unpicked my triggers from the past which was vital for me was a key to it.  6 weeks of no alcohol has given me immense clarity but I think the daily contact, knowing when it is all going wrong and I feel intensely overwhelmed, that Sarah is there to off load to, and respond in such an understanding, non-judgemental, knowledgeable way, very truthful and honest (my god she can be honest!!!), has supported me in a way words cannot describe.

The major changes I have come away with is the perspective of “drinking is something I used to do and I don’t do anymore, no big deal”. A behaviour that I obsessed over, was constantly trying to analyse, find answers to, excuse, change etc etc are now so trivial. I have managed 6 months AF before. The difference this time is that it barley occupies my thoughts. Before I constantly analysed it, my own and other peoples drinking.  Others can do as they please and me, well, I can’t think of a reason I would want to drink.

At the beginning, I was sceptical and doubtful that Sarah’s programme would work for me. I did not think it was possible I would be at this point today. I had contacted her nearly two years ago but decided her programme was too expensive. The reality is, I spent twice the cost in booze over that time and how can you put a price on living, really living a well and fulfilled life.

Although alcohol may have drowned some tough feelings for me, it also made the good ones, the ones that we live for disappear too. I knew life was made harder by my drinking, but I couldn’t find the power to stop on my own. I lived in fear. Fear of carrying on, and fear of how life would be if I stopped. I couldn’t cease on my own, I had tried so many times and every time I failed it just intensified my feelings of worthlessness.

In reality, the world around me is a wonderful place. Tough at times, but then easy is pretty dull right!! I am now seeing the joy that is there. I know it is not possible to feel fully joyous and happy all the time. It is the difficult feelings that come in-between I will continue to learn how to accept and manage better. Now I am well, I know that this and so many other things are possible.

Sarah must have had hundreds even thousands of clients, and somehow she has made me feel special.

If you are a woman, who is miserable from drinking alcohol, have been sucked into this black hole that so many women have been victim of, I cannot urge you enough to contact Sarah. A wonderful life is within reach. I wish all who are reading this well on your journeys, it’s really not as tough as we think it’s going to be.

Happy New Year Sarah, you have given me the opportunity to have a new start.

Jenni’s Blog

Women and Booze in the News – The Times

 Kathryn Cooper and Hannah Summers 

booze-in-the-news-2

Nearly two-thirds of women in wealthy areas drink more than the three units a day limit (James Glossop)

WEALTHY women living in Britain’s most exclusive postcodes are far more likely to have an alcohol problem than those residing in more modest addresses.

New research has found that females in places such as Knightsbridge in London, Esher in Surrey and Merchiston in Edinburgh are more than twice as likely as the national average to drink too much and suffer from mental illness or depression.

Households in these enclaves are among the richest in the country with many residents living in multimillion-pound homes and often earning six-figure sums.

Nearly two-thirds of the women in these areas drink more than the recommended limit of three units a day — higher than any other social type, according to an analysis of the country’s health and habits broken down by postcode area.

About 6.5% of men and women in these areas also suffer from anxiety and nerves, compared with a national average of 2.9%. The only social type with a higher propensity to mental illness or depression are those living in highrise flats, elderly people in social housing and young renters.

“Women in these [expensive] areas have lavish lifestyles, but without the need to work, and they are extremely socially active. It is the classic group of ladies who lunch,” said Patrick Tate, director of analytics at CACI, the firm which carried out the research.

The data will add to growing concerns among health officials about middle-class drinking, seen as a “silent epidemic” that can pose as many health problems as binge drinking.

The research has also uncovered a “footballers’ wives” effect. Four in 10 women in leafy suburbs such as Totteridge in north London, Heswall in the Wirral and Hale Barns in Altrincham, all areas that have become synonymous with wealthy footballers and their partners, drink more than three units of alcohol a day compared with 28.9% nationally.

Men in these exclusive neighbourhoods are also more likely than the national average to drink too much, but the trend is less marked than for their wives and girlfriends.

“Research has shown that middle-class drinkers may be disadvantaged by their advantage — in other words, aspects of their lifestyle which are known to promote health such as low-fat diets and exercise are able to mask symptoms related to alcohol problems,” said Lyn Brierley-Jones, research fellow at the University of Sunderland’s department of pharmacy, health and wellbeing.

Esher in Surrey is one of the affluent areas where some women drink too much (Alex Segre)

Glynis Jones, a retired academic from Nottingham, typifies the growing problem of women with relatively lavish lifestyles who have serious drinking habits. For years Jones, 62, led what she describes as a “functioning lifestyle” with a successful career, but at times she was consuming up to 10 bottles of wine a week.

“When I married for the second time my husband, who is since deceased, was fairly wealthy and we would holiday abroad regularly all over Europe. The children were out of the frame and I was not short of money. Even though I was retired, I could always go to the off-licence and buy several bottles of wine,” Jones said.

“I never went to work drunk, I never missed work . . . but I never had a sober evening and at the weekends I would drink all day.”

Jones has now been sober for three months after finding help through the Harrogate Sanctuary, an organization that specializes in gender and age specific care for alcohol dependence.  Sarah Turner who is the founder of the Sanctuary, campaigns tirelessly  for tailored care. “The work I do was the result of having been through the most desperate struggle myself to find appropriate treatment, and failing miserably “ says Sarah. She has been hailed as a One Woman Army by Eric Appleby CEO of Alcohol Concern, and Andrew Langford of the British Liver Trust.

Brierley-Jones said Jones’s attitude was not unusual. “Our research showed a common perception among some middle-class groups that regularly drinking at home, particularly wine, is safe and sensible.”

“These home drinkers don’t see their drinking pattern as problematic, but evidence suggests that such regular drinking will lead to significant health problems later in life.” she said.

Women and Booze in the News – The Times

THE NEW AGE OF PROBLEM DRINKING

middle aged drinking

Recent figures show it’s middle-class professional women aged 45-64 who are now drinking the most, not teenagers.

For Jennifer, it was a family Sunday lunch that made her realise she had a problem.
Her daughter and son-in-law were coming over with their young children. Jennifer also invited her new neighbours, another young couple with children of a similar age.
The food was good, the children were happy, conversation flowed – and so did the wine.
But while the guests stopped drinking after a couple of glasses (the drive home/work the next day/children to put to bed), Jennifer kept going.

For her, the latter part of the afternoon becomes hazy.

‘I remember freeze-frames, flashbacks,’ says Jennifer. ‘My loud voice blathering away. My daughter’s mortified face. Her husband shepherding the children out of the door.’
When Jennifer woke some hours later on the sofa, with her usual dry mouth and aching neck, her house was dark and still. Her daughter had cleared up for her and left the place tidy.‘The worst aspect was knowing that I hadn’t drunk much more than I do most days,’ Jennifer admits. ‘The only difference was that this time there were people to see it.’
At 63, Jennifer, an affluent semi-retired therapist who never touches spirits but knows her wines, may not seem like the typical ‘problem drinker’. But that’s just what she is.
Recent figures show it’s middle-class professional women aged 45-64 who are now drinking the most.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development reveals that women in the UK are twice as likely to be problem drinkers if they have a good education: one woman in five who has been to university regularly drinks too much compared with one in ten among those with lower levels of education. The problem drinker is not the teenager bingeing on shots and alcopops – it’s the professional woman respected by her peers, perhaps retired, divorced or bereaved, who drinks wine at home, after 6pm.

And overwhelmingly the drink we’re talking about here is wine. It is regarded as a socially acceptable tipple, and women now consume significantly more wine than men.
The problem drinker is not the teenager bingeing on shots and alcopops, or the lonely man with cans of Special Brew – it’s the professional woman respected by her peers, perhaps retired, divorced or bereaved, who drinks wine at home, after 6pm, which she buys online with her weekly supermarket shop.

In some senses, Jennifer is the poster girl for this phenomenon.

Divorced 15 years ago, her professional life winding down, she spends increasing chunks of time by herself. Drink has featured in the background throughout her life – with friends, colleagues and at home with her husband.

‘My mother didn’t go to university, she didn’t work outside the home and I don’t think I saw her drink more than a glass of Advocaat,’ says Jennifer.
‘I’m the generation that wanted it all – and enjoying a drink was part of that liberation.’
In recent years, though, alcohol has switched from being fun and sociable to being her company.

‘You’re alone, there’s emptiness. A glass of wine and your problems retreat – but then you feel guilty about finishing off a bottle by yourself. So you open another to stop yourself dwelling on it. I’m a therapist – I see what’s happening.’

Ann Dowsett Johnston also developed alcohol dependence in her 50s.
Now 61, the Canadian writer has charted her struggle in her bestselling book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.

‘If you’ve been a career woman, raised a family, juggled, then wine has probably helped you decompress,’ she says. ‘If you’re a sophisticated professional, you’ve come to know your wines. It has become the modern woman’s steroid.

‘You get home from work, start cooking dinner – you don’t have time to do an hour of yoga so you pour a glass of sauvignon blanc instead. For years, one glass was enough for me but my 50s were difficult. There’s a perfect storm that happens in women’s lives,’ Johnston continues.

‘There was the menopause, my son leaving home, the sense of time passing. I was divorced and had moved to another city to take on an extremely stressful job. In the evenings, one glass became two and two became three.

‘It’s how women self-medicate if they’re anxious, lonely, stressed, depressed. It’s legal, it’s everywhere and it’s way easier than going to the GP.’

This rings true for Margaret, 71, who sought help for her drinking last October with Harrogate Sanctuary. A mother of two and grandmother of three, Margaret enjoyed a fulfilling career as a nurse, midwife, and counsellor (‘There are 27 letters after my name,’ she laughs).
She founded support groups for people with HIV, set up community treatment programmes and, through it all, barely drank a drop.

‘When I watch Holby City or Casualty, they’re all drinking after work, but that never happened for me,’ she says. ‘I was too busy and had to start my shift the next morning at seven.’

Based in various hospitals in the North, Margaret and her husband moved to a village in the Yorkshire Dales for her husband’s job.

‘He loves it here,’ she says. ‘I hate the isolation, but when I was working, it didn’t matter.
‘When I stopped, I felt alone. We live in a six-bedroom house in the middle of nowhere. In the daytime, our road is deserted – everyone’s at work.

‘My daughter and son live two hours away and are busy with their own lives; they only call when they want help with the grandchildren. My husband’s happy watching TV and pottering around. I love him, but he doesn’t talk much.’

On top of this, as can happen with age, Margaret was hit by health problems.
A cartilage injury in her knee meant surgery and weekly injections. She was then diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, despite having never been overweight and always being health conscious.

‘At first, I didn’t drink at home, but I started drinking more at family parties: my 25th wedding anniversary, my daughter’s wedding.

‘I had a few more glasses than everyone else. It made me bright and bouncy like I used to be I could enjoy myself again.’

As the years passed, Margaret started drinking at home, too.

‘Alcohol took me to a different world – and when you’re lonely, you need a different world,’ Margaret says.

‘I was popping out to get petrol or post a letter and coming back with a bottle of wine. It got to the point where I was drinking every day, but instead of making me happy, it made me nasty.

‘When I’d drunk enough, I’d phone my family and give them an earful or start picking on my husband.’

Last October, when her husband warned her that her drinking was going to split up the family, Margaret picked up the phone to ask for help.
The person she called was Sarah Turner, founder of Harrogate Sanctuary, which offers a bespoke service for women drinkers.

The average age of Turner’s clients is 47 – her oldest is 73.

‘For years, they may have denied there was a problem,’ she says.
‘Then something happens – a bad fall; a horrible row with their partner; another lost Christmas where they’ve been too drunk to participate.’.

According to Turner, ‘the myth of wine’ has a lot to answer for. Whether it’s Bridget Jones, Sex and the City or Last Tango in Halifax, it’s seen as utterly benign.
‘Everyone does it on TV, in films,’ says Turner.

‘It’s about laughing and good times, it’s fun and sophisticated. You don’t even need to leave the house to buy it, you can get it delivered. It comes in pretty bottles, not out of a tin – but the outcome is the same.’

Ann Dowsett Johnston agrees. ‘I have friends who are gluten-free, they only eat organic and they’re aware of transfats, but they don’t think twice about what wine is doing to their bodies.

‘Democratically, women are equal to men, but hormonally and metabolically, we’re not.’
In truth, women drinkers are at higher risk than men.

‘The impact of alcohol on women is far worse – even if they weigh the same as a man,’ says Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and medical advisor for the charity Drinkaware.

Women have more body fat and less body water to dilute the alcohol consumed. They also have lower levels of the metabolising enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which helps eliminate alcohol from the body.

‘Women process it more slowly than men, especially as they get older.’

Liver disease sets in earlier for women than men, and drinking more than four alcoholic drinks a day quadruples a woman’s risk of dying from heart disease and increases her risk of breast cancer.

‘The increased risk of breast cancer is particularly worrying because there’s no lower limit,’ says Dr Jarvis.

‘One unit of alcohol a day increases your risk by seven to 11 per cent.’

Alcohol is also a significant risk factor in many other cancers, including colon and throat.
On top of that, for older women especially, is the danger of falls.

‘It’s one of the biggest issues,’ says Dr Jarvis.

‘One woman in three will develop osteoporosis, and alcohol is a major risk factor. You’ve had a few drinks, you’re unsteady, you fall, you fracture a bone. We focus a lot on young drinkers, but the over-55s are the greatest cost to the NHS.’

For women who do decide they have a problem, there are limited options.
‘Alcoholics Anonymous is not right for a lot of the women I see,’ says Sarah Turner.
‘Most of my clients are busy professionals – they don’t have time to go and beat themselves up in a church hall three times a week. They drink in an entirely different way to men.

‘A woman of 50 or 60 who is drinking two bottles of wine from Waitrose a day is not going to sit in a room full of people who are drinking two litres of vodka a day.’
Turner offers therapy online or face to face, for a minimum of six weeks.

‘For my clients, the fear of stopping drinking is as great as their fear of carrying on,’ she says.

‘I don’t say they have to stop for ever. They stop for the six weeks while we look at the issues behind it, reset reward patterns and find new coping mechanisms.
‘At the end of the six weeks, they have a choice.

‘Sarah cleared out a lot of clutter for me,’ says Margaret, who is also making an effort to get out and meet new people – she has joined an art class and a flower-arranging club.
Jennifer has chosen to cut down her wine consumption rather than stop completely. She is keeping at least three days a week alcohol free – and having no more than one or two glasses on other evenings.

‘There are no easy answers, but once you admit there’s a problem, you’re moving in the right direction and when you start waking in the morning with a clear head, feeling good about yourself and full of energy, you really believe that anything’s possible.’

Harrogate Sanctuary is also now offering couples therapy and believes that this will help both parties to understand the differences and issues why they have, perhaps over a long relationship developed an enabling situation.

THE NEW AGE OF PROBLEM DRINKING

Thinking Drinking

woman thinking

For the most part, the amount of time that we physically drink alcohol is usually only 2 to 3 hours a day, in the case of my clients. The witching hour comes round, bottle opened, sorting tea for children if they have them, if they don’t a sit down along with a sigh of relief, that another day is over and now is the perception that this glass is deserved, and if it could stop there, we would have all been more than relieved. But once the cork is pulled, the top unscrewed, that method is much easier, then the habit has been started, and generally doesn’t finish until the bottle is empty. Dependent on mood, what thought processes are being run through, often one bottle is not enough. This is absolutely nothing to do with fun, it is about self-medication, trying to calm the anxiety, the stress, which alcohol temporarily does, but also has caused, only to slap us in the face the next morning, or regularly around 3am in the morning, waking up in a cold sweat and wondering how on earth we got here. Sleep deprived, we then get on the merry go round again, swearing that it will not happen again the following evening.

So, during most of the remaining hours in a day, we think drink. We abhor ourselves during the morning, often sluggish, sometimes paranoid that someone will notice that work is less productive, logic kicking in but that proves difficult because although we know what causes this, most of my women are well aware of the hazards of drinking too much, in our minds we try to form a plan to avoid the same routine that following evening, denying that we have been trapped by the cycle.

Resolve in the morning, constantly buzzing in our heads, by lunchtime after perhaps a juice, tea and something to eat to mop up the low energy, the next couple of hours are reasonably manageable.

By mid-afternoon, clock watching starts, thinking only another two hours before I go home, or if retired or not working, the anxiety is starting to ramp up and adrenaline starts to flow, shall I or shan’t I, will I or won’t I? We fidget we wrestle mentally with the decision.

The exhaustion is so overwhelming, that we are vulnerable now, and the thoughts of NOT drinking that evening seem and often are, impossible. It has become routine. Most humans do like routine, most especially over 40.

When we were children, the end of school bell would ring, well in my baby boomer age group, and we would all scramble out of class as fast as possible, to enjoy playing and chatting to our mates, good tea and nowadays time on phones and Facebook. A healthy routine that is missed if there is some hiccup.

Because of all the thinking drinking, we press the destruct button, again. Always promising that it will be that one seductive glass, no more.

The point I am trying to make is drinking for those few hours, is a tiny piece of the problem, it is the all-consuming cognitive process that those hours bring for the rest of our time awake.

It envelopes every part of the day, our world revolves around it, and there is never a happy thought about it. We are like cage fighters, entrapped in this dreadful line of thought. Sadly, unless the habit is broken and alcohol is then trivialised, not normalised, this will never change.

Might be a bit of a negative blog, but I do wish that people who don’t have the problem would understand this is not just about drinking, it is the thinking that is equally as powerful.

Thinking Drinking