Breast Cancer, Mental Health and Me

About 15 years ago, excitedly getting ready for a holiday with my beloved late husband, I went for a fake tan. It was before the very quick fix of spray tans, so the lovely beautician, my life saver as it turned out had to massage the tan into my skin. We were talking, normal, random chit chat, when she went very quiet, and seemed to be concentrating intently on my left breast. I jokingly said that I didn’t think that there was enough bulk in them to take so much time, smiling, she answered and very gently said, ‘Sarah, when you get back from your holiday, please go to the doctor, there is a little lump here, and best to check it out’.

I was not at all bothered, thought it would probably go, I was sure that I was  peri menopausal, and of course with the trait of most people who have had enthusiastic careers with alcohol and other drugs, we tend to be very good at denial even though I had been off the sauce for some years, that particular attitude was still firmly in place.

So wonderful holiday and down to my husband nagging I did go to the GP after we came home. I loathe wasting time, and most especially that of the over stretched NHS, and still blindly I was thinking, it will be something or nothing, no history in the family was as fit as a fiddle, the GP examined me, and without any hesitation told me that I should see an oncologist, it might be benign but she suspected it was a cancerous lump.

Back then, there was very little connection in the press or by the clinicians that wine could be a cause of this horribly invasive disease. Even when I was doing the Q & A with the specialist, not a word about alcohol, smoking yes.

Was I frightened? No. Was I angry? Yes. I was fuming, because I did know that there was a link between alcohol and many cancers, and that merely a few drinks each evening could potentially lead to this, so my anger was that it was damned unfair, after calling time, years before that I now had this to deal with. There was the chance that I was unlucky, but I truly believe that my drinking led to this diagnosis.

My treatment was impeccable and cannot praise all the staff involved enough. I am still here scarily for some firing on all cylinders, worked through the treatment as much as I could, and even insisted that my family or friends were not involved in my visits to the hospital. I wanted to own it, I wanted my health to be my responsibility, which might seem slightly odd, but I had for many years put them through enough agony with my drinking. That is another side effect of being an alcohol dependent, habitual, call it whatever suits, even at the darkest of times we tend to isolate ourselves, even when ill with more ‘acceptable’ issues, because of the past guilt.

The reason I am writing about this now, is with all the recent press on mental health and how much devastation it causes, it has made me want to be open about the emotional effects both to my family and myself that, bottling up my feelings, pretending that no matter what I was invincible, was not the way to deal with either of the mental turmoil I went through with a toxic substance that I used to escape from life latterly, or the physical illness that I wanted to keep so private. I would have had sympathy with the cancer, but never with the alcohol, there simply was no empathy shown at all, and at that time, I did understand why my loved ones were so incandescent with my alcohol habit.  The word that sums up both was and is Stigma, and I hope that now anyone who feels alone, unable to open about their problems or fears, should, and not only to their GPs but their peers, their co-workers and loved ones. By doing so, they are not castigated or made to feel ashamed, but be supported and given appropriate care. They should be praised for their bravery, rather than act in the way I did, which was incredibly damaging to my mental health, and if I had still been drinking would more than likely ended up either six foot under or in no position to help anyone with their problems.

I told lies, I kept secrets, in my head, for all the right reasons, to protect others, but with no self-love I was badly affected by it. No one can or should be expected to carry this sort of baggage around alone. Today there is news on discrimination towards obesity, because it is visible, people do make assumptions of capability, however, even if we look fit and well on the outside I am more than sure that most of us would be so relieved to have in place an openness within society to not just gender equality, age and disability, but with problems that may have been brought on by the biggest gateway drug of all, alcohol. It seems to me to be the last bastion of stigma when we feel so frightened to be honest and open about it.

I hope that more and more employers, friends and family will try to see this honesty as courage, rather than women and men like me who took the wrong approach of an ingrained stiff upper lip.

It hurt like hell.

Breast Cancer, Mental Health and Me

N & D’s Blog

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For us our journey began with a concerned friend sending us the link to The Harrogate Sanctuary……
First thing we noticed was a program which included ‘couples’, this was our deciding factor to seek Sarah’s help. After sending the initial email to Sarah, she replied instantly.  From that moment we knew this was our new journey.
Both individually & as a professional couple in the public eye, we knew deep down in our heart of hearts, that we had hit rock bottom and become dependent on alcohol, any form to get the ‘fix’ on a daily basis, which unfortunately took more & more every day to feed the tolerance levels we were now at.  This was making a huge detrimental effect on our careers and family life, BUT the petrifying thought of an ‘AA/rehab’ type environment simply frightened the life out of us both.
So still in denial, but realising something had to change, and quick,  we made the critical first step in contacting Sarah and instantly felt at ease with her amazing human rapport. This woman not only has a personal understanding of the SAD life we were living, but instantly connected with us as a guiding light towards the journey we were about to begin, to become free of the destructive drug, that is,  ALCOHOL.
Nervously we had our initial consultation together via ‘FaceTime’… Can you imagine?? With modern technology, distance isn’t an issue, and we survived it with smiles on our faces, and so our journey began…
Sarah said she would ‘cluck’ on a daily basis, and cluck she did! This made us feel at ease and even looked forward to it! When we say ‘cluck’ this was directed in the most humorously caring way.
Our journey certainly had its peaks & troughs, but overall we can honestly say with commitment & a clear vision, that we are now free of the quagmire of doom alcohol delivers.
Sarah is now a cherished soul for us, words are inadequate to express the love we have for this amazing lady, much love always..
The first step is admitting to alcohol dependence…. Just take it from there, our love & respect to anyone about to start their journey to a brighter future… here’s to ’Team Sarah’ and here’s to YOU!

 

N & D’s Blog

B Ts Blog

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As we all hopefully are coming out of the shadows of lockdown, I have come out of my own dark place, thanks to Harrogate Sanctuary. The saying timing is everything could not be more appropriate.

I was drinking wine daily, at least a bottle a night, often more, and was desperately wanting to I thought, best case scenario, to operate controlled drinking, was far too scared to think of being alcohol free. Wine had been my ‘friend’ for 20 years, it was overwhelming to consider saying goodbye to it. But I was losing so much, at 54, my family had thrown the towel in, who can blame them, my work was getting done but I had no extra input to give and it was becoming more and more noticeable. I was constantly papering over the cracks. Being furloughed gave me an opportunity to drink when I felt like it, starting earlier and earlier in the afternoons, saving the mornings to get rid of empty bottles and buy full ones.

Then an acquaintance  found me crying in my car at the supermarket. When he asked what the matter was it came flooding out. He told me about his wife finding help from the Sanctuary, he showed such kindness and compassion plus had the empathy, rightly he said that I had nothing to lose, so I rang her. 

It was such a relief to be able to talk openly and honestly about the spiralling out of control with wine, she dealt with the background to it, and how to handle the triggers and many excuses I had for drinking too much. There was never an inconvenient time I wrote a diary every day for six weeks, Sarah responded quickly but with great care and insight. We spoke in the first week daily, I was such a mess, and so very tired. By the second week, sleep came, and although I had some excruciating cravings, Sarah could always give me a very good reason not to cave. We then got into a routine of calls, sometimes texting as well, with the diary often I would write more than one a day, each one was followed up rapidly, the 42 days of those and the responses I have printed off and put in my bedroom side table drawer, it has been quite a journey!

I have not had a drink for six weeks, and even though Sarah has been quite poorly she has still kept in touch, and been as reliable as ever. The best outcome is that I don’t want one either!

The method of the Sanctuary suited me, it fitted in with my schedule and gave me structure, I never had to wait for call backs, there were tears but much laughter too, and shall now come out of lockdown excited rather than terrified of getting out into the working world again, the new normal, without wishing the time away to getting home for the guilt fest of wine o’clock.

 

 

B Ts Blog

V Ks Blog

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I found Sarah after reading the Sober Revolution. I was sat in a bar in Spain having afternoon wine whilst my son sat on his iPad, I knew it wasn’t right and I needed help, so I emailed the Harrogate Sanctuary.
The course is 6 weeks of daily emails with weekly FaceTime. I went for a face to face chat prior to the lockdown with Sarah and I immediately clicked with her. She was so warm, understanding, empathetic, non judgmental and she made me laugh when I was in a terrible place.
Throughout the course Sarah made me think differently about I see alcohol and how I feel about myself.  I felt I could tell her anything, without being judged, she has been where I was so totally understands.
I have tried several times to stop drinking, through various different methods without success. Sarah’s methods have worked I am now AF, feel amazing, I’m happy and feel good about myself, the real me has emerged from the black hole that alcohol drags you into and for that I thank her from the bottom of my heart and I’m sure my boy does to.

V Ks Blog

Misplaced Alcohol Awareness

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In March 2007 Sir Ian Gilmore, President of  Royal College of Physicians from 2006-2010, producing a very insightful report titled “Alcohol – can the NHS afford it”, and argued that the Government’s alcohol awareness campaigns focus too much on young binge drinkers. He stressed that older people drinking at home were also at risk of the severe health consequences linked to high alcohol consumption. More adults in the UK drink at home than in any other European country. Alcoholic liver disease has increased tenfold over the last three decades.

Today, we hear and see that drinking daily has been normalised, measured always in glasses, often in bottles of wine. We never measure units at home, just how many refills we have. Two or three glasses are considered acceptable. Taking into account that most who now drink out of 250ml glasses, three of them can easily represent a bottle. In a cohort study from the 1970s, drinking more than 9 units of alcohol a week was considered to be harmful. Nine units is not even 1 bottle of wine at 14% ABV. So now perceived as normal or at least condoned, is very often 70 units a week for women.

The cost to health is being measured, but as Sir Ian pointed out, ignored by Government. The over 55s are now the biggest burden in terms of cost to the NHS with alcohol related illnesses. This of course does not take into account the human and emotional cost that has been wrought before these people become seriously ill. Figures of 3 to 4 billion spent are bandied around, as if that also is acceptable. The average cost of drinking alcohol far exceeds that figure, along with the tax that supports our healthcare service, it is a pretty penny, no matter what you earn.

To reach 55 and over, and succumb to alcohol related illness, you have to have been caning it for some time. You have most probably been parenting and working. I have asked the question so many times and been pushed to one side, that is, where does the Government think the young binge drinkers have come from? There are far fewer these days, in fact drinking by many is rejected, and expressions such as ‘Sober is the new Drunk’ is where it is at, many see it as unattractive and a waste of time and money. They have felt embarrassed by their parents drinking and not tried to copy that. They also see the damage if 1 of the 60 medical conditions to choose from related to alcohol is diagnosed.

We all know that stats are under estimated, none more so than those collected on alcohol misuse, as a once practised member of the Denial Club, I cannot count the number of times I defended my position, with as much skill as a downhill racer.

Yet the Gold Standard of 12 steps is still adhered to, even though, clearly alcohol misuse and its consequences are on the rise. Surely it is time to look at other options? Crucially, I believe, age & gender specific care, a specialist service that exists outside of the mainstream. Or is this simplistic?  Looking at my stats, that don’t lie, I think tailored care has to be the way forward, and alcohol awareness be focused on the pivotal role of parents, and grandparents in society.

Sadly the Sir Ian, nothing has changed.

 

Misplaced Alcohol Awareness

Time to Hear us Roar

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For the last few weeks, the media have been not only been constantly reporting frightening and very intensive news regarding the Coronavirus, but has also caused sheer panic. According to figures I can find, since the start of the pandemic, there has been 165,257 deaths worldwide linked to it. Meantime it is reported that 3 million people a year die from alcohol dependency, in the last 5 months that equates to 1,250,000.
I watch the comments that rage often about those who are affected with alcohol dependency have a choice, that it is a voluntary act, and their fault. That leads to more and more, most especially now isolating themselves, not seeking help, and certainly not going to hospitals for treatment. They already feel like a burden, shameful and riddled with anxiety, perhaps joining online groups but that is as far as they dare go. They are judged, dramatically so. Unlike so many other differences with people today, being hooked on alcohol, is still the last taboo. None of us who began our drinking career with a carefree, fun attitude, decided that we would become drunkards. We are wired differently, and it is a question of all or nothing for us.
If people want vent and blame, then direct your anger to Big Alcohol, when you are vulnerable and often have other mental health issues it makes you easy prey, we are not stupid and realise that our behaviour does seem insane. It is, but so is being unable to access the appropriate care and empathy for those who struggle. The marketing of alcohol as a treat and a ‘must have’ relaxant, the virtual meet ups that now have appeared on social media that are having wine time normalised around 4pm, make the failure of control even more intense.
Many of my clients are over 45, and not connected quite so much to the internet for socialising, at least in what were normal times, those over 55 simply don’t want to be sociable if they have been drinking for years, especially in the current climate, they drink home alone, and when they do have only alcohol to turn to, it is a form of brainwashing doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The best definition of insanity from Einstein. It is a disease, not a choice.
If there had been as much coverage of this dark and silent Pandemic as there has with Covid-19 , day in, day out would we have sympathy or scorn?
I have enormous respect for the NHS, and it is not their fault that there is lack of funding for help with addictions, but the Governments. Now they are trying to do their absolute best to treat those afflicted with Corona and survive themselves.  The Government is not doing enough to protect them.
We all prefer real time contact, that has now diminished and is causing agony in a strange world, with I believe an even stranger one world once the lockdown is over.
The point of this is to make it truly clear I hope that we need specialist care for alcohol dependency, not blanket coverage. Those working in this area need to come together and formulate a plan to join forces to make this happen, we all are tribal, and need to direct our experiences to those who we completely relate to, and why their circumstances have led them to their misuse.
Therapists and counsellors need to support each other, and attempt to find a solution, we are a worldwide community and rather than being stalled we should be stunned into action to and have an independent organisation that works towards one goal. We cannot be expected to come up with any cures, whilst Big Alcohol is in the driving seat there will never be one, but we must all communicate, and I know that many will be able to raise awareness via the press and news programmes. We need to make the legal drug pushers and Governments accountable and give those who are afflicted with this disease a voice and not be castigated for speaking out.

We must come together and ROAR.

 

Time to Hear us Roar

Helen’s Blog

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I was always a sociable person and had many friends. From an early age I was often invited to parties and I really enjoyed it. During my teenage years alcohol started to be a part of what I consumed at parties and I enjoyed it, but not overly so. But drink alcohol is what we Swedes do when we want to celebrate. With time I started to think that I needed alcohol to enjoy a party, even though I had always enjoyed parties as a child. My preferred tipple was Champagne and Chardonnay. That was what the beautiful women on TV consumed and I wanted to be the same.

I drank alcohol for about 25 years but for some reason I never turned into a glamorous woman portrayed on the TV. I turned into a bloated, red-faced, self-pitying person who lost control over her emotions. After my drinking sessions I suffered from guilt and anxiety since I did not remember what I had said or done. It was horrific.

I never lost my job, my marriage, my children or my house due to my drinking, but I lost my self-respect. And I knew that this was not sustainable. There are loads of drunkards in my family so I knew that things could get a lot worse if I did not pick myself up.

I did try the mainstream groups, but somehow couldn’t make the work for me and felt like a square peg in a round hole. Instead I found Harrogate Sanctuary after searching for therapy. Sarah managed to change my thinking, my drinking thinking! I am now well into my fifth month alcohol-free and I have not felt so good in years.

So what have I discovered in my journey? Quite a few things actually and some of them surprising; You do not need to drink alcohol to have fun at a party. I have now been sober on many social occasions and I am having just as much fun as I did when I was drinking. The difference is that I now remember everything that happened and I don’t get overemotional and insincere.

When you are not experiencing the ups and downs of being drunk and hung-over you get much more mental clarity. With mental clarity comes insight in how you want to spend your time.

Your patience increases tenfold. I used to try and rush my children at bedtime so I could go downstairs and drink chardonnay. Now, I am enjoying our conversations at bedtime and I feel more close to them than ever.

Intimacy with your spouse becomes different. Alcohol can sometimes make you look for sexual kicks while you are on your drunken high, but there is no intimacy in that. Just release. Now when I am initiating intercourse with my husband it is much more intimate since it is a genuine connection that is being made.

I find it easier to handle relatives and difficult situations with calm and presence. Every year there is so much stress surrounding Easter, Birthdays and Christmas, and who spends them with us.

I have an easier time to set boundaries and saying no. People pleasing is quite common among women who misuse alcohol. Initially alcohol provides the relief from trying to meet various demands. It is at wine o’clock you anesthetize yourself from everyone else’s demands. Now I have started to say no and consider my own needs. And that does not include wine.

I don’t procrastinate anymore. I used to think that I was a procrastinator, but it turns out that without alcohol I am not. In fact I am person who gets things done. Who knew? I didn’t because I was so focused on handling my life whilst drinking unhealthily. Since I now don’t drink poison disguised as a treat, I am in a position to be myself and sort things out I am getting my self-respect back. Slowly I am building myself up and showing myself care and consideration. When I was drinking I was always feeling guilty about someone else and never prioritized myself. I felt I did not deserve that, but now I know that I do. I have a right to say no and to take care of my own needs.

I think women today are socialized into thinking that they are responsible for everyone’s emotional needs: family, relatives, colleagues whilst at the same time they have been led to believe that they can have it all. These unrealistic expectations are making women push themselves too hard and if you combine that with alcohol you have set yourself up for a burnout.

I am so glad I stopped drinking alcohol. My life is fuller, more satisfying and I am starting to trust my own judgment again. In this culture you need to be in touch with your inner self and your values. That is not possible with wine in your life as it distorts your inner life. The only thing I regret today is that I did not give up alcohol sooner. What a waste of time wine drinking turned out to be. Now we are all quite understandably terrified of the COVID-19 virus, and in turn I am reading how much more alcohol is being sold, there is no doubt I would have numbed out the fear with wine, rather than face it.

What a waste of time wine drinking turned out to be!

 

 

 

Helen’s Blog

The Silent Pandemic

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We are now following other countries across the globe, most especially Europe into the lock down phase with Coronavirus. As of now, 15,433 have died from the outbreak, with over 358.000  recorded positive results worldwide. The news, social media, and newspapers are running with this 24/7. It has taken approximately four months to be recognised as a pandemic. It is now regarded as the most dangerously infectious disease on the planet, and is resulting in not only the tragic deaths, but a surge in mental health problems, anxiety and loneliness. There are people who disregarded all the information to stay in isolation this weekend, causing an uproar because of what was seen as irresponsible behaviour, selfish and thoughtless. Pubs, restaurants and bars are closed, but of course prior to the final curtain, the last night of being able to go to your local saw them packed. There is no shortage of booze as far as I can see in shops and supermarkets, no need for stockpiling the shelves will never run dry, there is far too much for Big Alcohol to lose, given the potential boom that will happen with such loneliness and stress building.

The point that I am trying to make with this blog is that Alcohol directly kills £3M people a year worldwide. It is also a causal factor in over 200 disease and injury conditions. So only based on direct deaths, that represents £750000 in four months. If this information was streamed daily, and experts and politicians told us that this was a pandemic and to stop immediately would we? Would it change the lifestyles of so many to the point of them calling time asap?

I can hear the cry, that alcohol dependence is a choice COVID-19 is not. But the crowds that poured onto beaches and into the countryside at the weekend had a choice, and decided to ignore the advice and guidelines, and risked not only their lives but that of others. Alcohol misuse and following rules has to come down to Willingness, information and a big dollop of compassion.

Coronavirus is loud, scary and is not only affecting the elderly. Alcohol is worse, it most definitely can kill and maim at any age. There is stigma, judgement and unkindness thrown at so many who suffer from drinking too much. A cure has been sought for centuries, halfheartedly imo, with no success. If however, the same amount of time and money, appropriate care had have been put in place eons ago for this potentially life threatening substance we may not being seeing the silent pandemic that will go on far longer than any virus ever will. Loneliness is one of the major triggers that leads to a dependence that none of us who have experienced it would want to wish on anyone. 

Please don’t feel ashamed to admit you need help and now, it is one of the most courageous steps you will ever take.

 

 

The Silent Pandemic