“I’m afraid the cancer has spread. We found it in the lymph nodes that we tested, so you’ll need further surgery, chemo and radio-therapy and we’ll need to do further scans to see where it may have spread to”
Those were the words that told me that my breast cancer was serious. They also led to me starting to drink again after more than 7 years of sobriety. I went home that evening and when my brother and my adult daughter opened a bottle of wine, I said I’d join them in a glass. No-one said anything though I suspect that a look or two may have been exchanged. I had a glass…and another…and another. My intention was to numb the fear I was feeling. And I did that pretty well, in the short term. But the fear about the cancer was still there the next morning. And it was joined by the fear that wine witch was back to play havoc with my life again.
That wine witch had already played far too big a role…
I grew up in a household where alcohol was an integral part of daily life. Both of my parents drank. At home. At the pub. Every time we went to see my grandmother. Every time we went to see anyone, in fact. In addition to ‘social’ drinking every evening or whenever anyone popped round, there was also some surreptitious, hidden drinking, straight from the bottle (and that was the adults, not us kids).
Looking back, and with the understanding I now have, I can see that alcohol got in the way of healthy relationships within our family. As a teenager, I was confused and bounced between being angry about the consequences of all the drinking, and then numbing myself, by joining in. And perversely, it was when I was drinking alcohol (the very thing I resented) that I felt I fitted in best – talk about cognitive dissonance!
As I grew up and went off to university, I drank alcohol, and became a pretty enthusiastic social drinker. And when I started working in the boozy advertising industry in the '80s, I fitted right in with the long lunches followed by evenings in the pub. However at that stage I was never preoccupied with thoughts of when I could next have a drink. I was, at that stage, still a social drinker. But that gradually changed over time.
Living independently, I started drinking alone. A glass (or three) of wine at the end of the day to wind down. I saw it as a treat, and some sort of a reward. And it made me feel ‘grown up’.
And that pattern of drinking alone stayed with me – getting quietly inebriated on my own. I drank socially too, but hardly ever to excess (I’m far too much of a control freak for that!) and no-one would have thought I had a problem. I got married and we had two lovely children, and I found it easy not to drink during my pregnancies but was quickly back on the booze as soon as I had stopped breast-feeding. My husband’s work took him away a lot, and I drank pretty much every evening, partly out of loneliness and partly out of habit. I was good at hiding from myself just how much I was drinking (more than one bottle on the go, mixing my drinks, uber-generous amounts of gin in my G&T, and even drinking straight from the bottle). There were times when I drank so much that I couldn’t function the next day, and I had one or two blackouts, but mainly I existed with low level hangovers and lots of ‘hairs of the dog’. I knew in my heart of hearts that my drinking and my frequent hangovers meant that I was not performing as well as I could have been in any area of my life - as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee or boss.
Although the physical symptoms of hangovers worried me, it was the mental pain that really bothered me. I would often wake in the early hours, with a filthy furry mouth, feeling sick and incredibly anxious. My heart would be racing and I would run through the previous evening – had I said or done anything I would regret? What would have happened if one of the children had needed me in the night? In the wee small hours, I would vow not to drink for a period of time (a week, a month, for Lent). But then I would ‘cave in’ that evening or within a day or two. And every time that happened (and it happened a lot), I would like myself a little less and beat myself up a little more.
Superficially, I had it all, lovely family, gorgeous house in the country, good career, and yet I knew that I was living anything but my ‘best life’. I remember saying to my husband once that I felt that I was sleep-walking through life. And I knew that I was not going to properly wake up until I stopped drinking…for good.
I had managed several periods of sobriety and decided that hypnotherapy would help me to make this permanent. (I had used this method very successfully to give up smoking). I booked an all-day one-on-one session, which worked really well, for seven years. I felt so at peace with myself during that period, and I honestly thought I would never drink again. Until that conversation in the hospital.
Once I started again, after that evening in the hospital, I quickly slipped back into my old habits, and although I felt too sick to drink much during chemo, I celebrated the end of my treatment with a few glasses of Prosecco, and put this photo on Facebook. At the time, Prosecco made complete sense to me, because society tells us that a glass of two of fizz is how we should celebrate something momentous like finishing treatment for something life-threatening like cancer. But the effervescence didn't last long, and the self-loathing started up again, except it was worse now.
I knew I had a problem. I started devouring quit lit books, but it wasn’t until I came across This Naked Mind that I read something that really resonated with me. Although I had already stopped drinking again after reading the book, I signed up for the Intensive course, and then went to the first conference in Denver. And my life has got better and better. Slowly, I have learned more about this substance but I have also started to understand so much more about people in general and myself in particular. And the self-hatred has stopped.
When I compare This Naked Mind with the hypnotherapy, I can see that my underlying beliefs about alcohol were not changed by the hypnotherapy. I still believed that a celebration without alcohol wasn't really a celebration. I still believed that when things got really tough, alcohol would make everything better and I still believed that alcohol had magical powers.
Through the coaching I had with TNM, I have challenged and reframed all the beliefs I had about alcohol and I now just don’t want to drink. That is true freedom, and that is what I want to be able to share through my coaching programmes.