Sarah at the Sanctuary

Sarah at the Sanctuary

The Musings of a Well Woman

The Good, The Bad and the Very Ugly



I am often asked by clients and in interviews, was I really that bad when I was drinking. Was it so desperate that I would do anything for a swig of alcohol?

Actually, it wasn’t bottom of the pile drinking, apart from the few mornings when to straighten myself out, and stop the very scary anxiety and building panic, I resorted to a quick couple of secret top ups in my bedroom. Up until 35, I really did have an excellent time with my drinking and the culture that surrounded it. I was never leery, just a happy lucky woman who lived my dream. Never ever did I feel ashamed or embarrassed. That came later. It came from having to hide, to keep secrets and to lie constantly to my husband and family. Because of that,  I drank more and more. I didn’t feel addicted, I felt ashamed. So to stop feeling anything at all the booze worked. I could be shouted at, sworn at and argued with, and by being out of it, I could cope. I victimized myself.

So some of it was good, and if I had been able to handle it in the same way as I had done before having my child, and we had not had huge stresses with health and finance, then I am absolutely sure I would have carried on if I could have held the pattern. I still don’t see happy drinking as terrible, quite the reverse, I think it’s brilliant to have fun with it. That was the good bit.

Now, in this chapter of my life, there is so much good by not using booze, the list is too long to blog. Nothing is perfect, but for me certainly I think as good as it gets, I’m vintage and to be as sharp as I can be, getting pickled like an old gherkin is not an option.


The bad stemmed from the lies. Not the thought that I might be killing myself, didn’t occur to me, so any professional telling me that I could, was really barking up the wrong tree. All of them tried to, and actually it offended me. I found it incredibly patronising and hypocritical. For I had seen at least 2 doctors from my surgery knocking back pints in the pub, ask anyone who the hardest drinkers at Uni were, and most will say medical students. Nothing has changed in the last twenty odd years with this type of attitude. It’s just useless. To blandly tell a patient, ‘Just cut down’ or as was relayed back to me from a client last week ‘Have a gin, then a couple of tonics in-between’. If only it was that easy doesn’t any one of them think that we would?? The bad also stems from this, completely inappropriate care. Last week, Alcohol Concern came up with more stats about how much the UK is drinking, and government should be doing more to address this. What with? More money is pumped into illegal drug use than alcohol, getting celebrities to save us is a joke too, how on earth does a middle aged Mother of two relate to Russell Brand??

Nothing good will come unless the current Gold Standard of care is radically altered. If it had worked moderately well, we would not be seeing the bad outcomes that rise year on year.


The ugly truth is that none of the great and the good ever listen to evidence based front line knowledge. All mainstream agencies for alcohol misuse are the same. It’s a little like going to your GP and never being referred for any potentially life threatening illness. Each one has its own specialist consultant and team. So why isn’t the same common sense used with different alcohol problems? Just throwing a few more quid at it, and not changing any of the methodology or care is insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a change.


It’s ugly that the attitude to those of us who have overcome an issue that really worried us are treated like do gooders or worse weirdoes because we don’t use drugs. If you stop smoking there are huge slaps on the back, not so with stopping drinking. And yet, I suspect that boozing is killing just as many if not more people in this decade and well as harming millions of loved ones. This state of affairs is perpetuated by the current treatment that is we all apparently have to hide our wellness lest we be found out for once having had an issue with alcohol. If anyone can tell me why that should make us into high risk losers I would seriously love to debate it. The vast majority of my clients are now very content and reliable, as well as being ready given the chance to prove that life without caning the vino is wildly better than disappearing into the permanent brain fog it caused.

For once, I just wish that those who think they know what’s best would listen to the real facts. That is, never will current blanket coverage and out dated approaches work in these modern times. There should be consideration given to each individual rather than herding us all together like a weak minded flock of sheep.

Sanctuary Campaign for Change

My posse of women and I will be starting to pinpoint inappropriate positioning, of wine most especially, in all Supermarkets.

As consumers we all enjoy choice in this country, but more and more we have alcohol thrust at us from it seems every available angle. It’s put next to flowers, ready meals, dine in for two deals, and slightly more bizarrely, at the end of Health and Well Being aisles, feminine hygiene and baby food. It doesn’t though take a genius to work out why these particular genres are targeted. Wine is the biggest pull for women in this day and age. Acceptable, grown up, not a proper hardened drinkers drink, gentle and pretty. The women who will be involved in this campaign were not knocking back Jager bombs or getting legless on the streets and clubs, but slowly zoning out at home every evening on special offers at most supermarkets, or the stealth like cheeky numbers placed at the end of aisles which simply bear no correlation overtly to drinking too much.

Once we start to get reports back from my clients old and new, I shall tweet them, I hope too we have some visuals to prove the insanity of it all.  For if we compare alcohol to tobacco, now hidden behind dirty grey doors, to the damage caused by the former, is way more damaging, excessive and cruel to oneself and others now than the latter.

If any of my twitter followers would like to join in, that would be great, male or female!

Victory over Booze - So Inspiring.

With permission from this wonderful client, I think that this email I received yesterday totally encapsulates what Sacntuary women are all about. No smugness, no tambourine bashing, just freedom.

Day 42

I woke at 5 am this morning, looked around, then cried.

The tears were of utter relief and joy.  I used to think, oh God listen to that when someone spoke of a 'rebirth,' it even made me shudder and conjured up an image of the nutter with the sandwich board walking up and down the high street crapping on about Christ.

Today, on the 3rd of August 2014, at one of my favourite times of the year (my absolute favourite is Spring), I am feeling like someone new.  If i could really pat myself on the back I would.  (I'm off again and drippy nose is not the look I had envisaged for today).  Six weeks ago I was broken, plenty of shop front but knackered, old stock inside way past it's self by date rotting and stinking.

My 'friends' would rip me off for as little as a quid, had such opinions about me - shit! They knew more about me than I did!  They thought.

Well, this is not just a new broom, it's a golden broom, one that flies.  It swept and cleaned and dumped all the rubbish in a huge fire pit and now I am flying round on it,  'the new Witch Hazel'.  Sparkly and optimistic wearing a lighter suit, one with very tiny pockets so that I decide what goes in them.  they are not wide open and sagging any more ready for someone to pounce and make themselves at home before sapping me dry.

I really thought that I would have to make a positive effort to avoid these people and although I have only mentioned, when pushed, that I'm not drinking, the ones that I really could do without seem to have run for the hills in fear.   I am very flattered, the bastards knew what was inside the real me but loved to see me broken and lost, I think it's called 'Drawing attention to themselves, at the expense of someone else'.  See how they like being 'lost'.

Today I am going to take my youngest great niece to the pool, she really needs to be able to swim and I want to help her, rewind 6 weeks and by the time the pool was open it would have been time to open the wine,  No contest. Then.



Home Drinking & Self Medicating

My clients invariably are not social drinkers. They don’t go out to meet friends for a chat and a glass or two of Chardonnay, their drinking is usually at home, and most often alone. Weekdays especially.


This is not enjoyment drinking. It’s self-medication. There is no banter or sharing, purely a way of getting the hell out of Dodge, whether that is represented by unhappiness or the simple inability to break the habit. Wine is by far the easiest, if not the most devious, escape route there is. No raised eyebrows at supermarkets, you are faceless, no chance of standing out from the crowd, because most of the crowd that you know are making the same trip, to not use alcohol is unusual.

There is no seen or reported outcomes to this style of drinking. Quietly becoming stupefied in the comfort of one’s own home is de riguer for so many women over 35. Only a little later down the line physical problems may occur, but the emotional hurt and despair is rampant.

No thought goes into the process either. It’s normal. If attending a fitness class, or running a couple of miles that gives a natural high was as easy as opening a fridge door and unscrewing a bottle top, I am fairly sure that most women would do it. The buzz that way is too much effort, too inconvenient. Even if a visit to the gym has been slotted into the daily routine, more often than not, it will be followed by a couple of glasses of wine (three quarters of a bottle at 250ml a pop) to ‘relax’.

Am I saying women are lazy? No I am not. What I am saying, and I know this to be true, is that they are exhausted. Meeting the needs of their families and their work along with coping with financial stress and this endless pressure to appear to be all things to everyone has worn us down.

I listened to a great lady on Desert Island Discs on Saturday, an eminent scientist and mathematician, who was probably one of the first women I have heard admit publicly, that she could not have achieved her success if she had had children. She made a very conscious decision to put maximum effort into her work, as she said, with a driven and perfectionist personality such as hers, she would have had to have put similar effort into child rearing.

If we admit to being tired it seems to mean that we are inadequate. Being able to either zone out with alcohol, or get a quick lift from the first sip, just has become what valium was back in the 60s, Mothers little helper, without the necessity to go to the GP.

Children and work are difficult to balance, both are going to be with us for much longer than ever before. If we are lucky we are all living longer, but our responsibilities are with us for longer too. The middle aged women I see don’t drink for fun, they drink to cope, to keep up, and sadly the progressive nature of misusing alcohol is catching up in the most insidious way.


In the spirit of true liberation, whether it's from the Wine Witch or the Vodka Vipers, I have committed life and limb to a Sky Dive in support of the British Liver Trust, a charity which is very close to my heart.

Many might prefer me to jump without a parachute, but I shall be accompanied by both an expert, and apparently a video camera. In my emails to many of you I have banged on about fear being courage in action, and I am terrified, but am putting my words into practice. 


In the Declaration of Fitness which had to be obtained from my GP, it categorically states that those suffering from alcohol addiction cannot take part, so I think this is more confirmation that living life without the cage of booze simply has no boundaries, even for vintage broads like me!
So if you follow the link below to my Just Giving page to help the stellar work of the British Liver Trust, they and I would be enormously grateful for your support and kindness. We have to do whatever we can to de-stigmatise the whole subject of once drinking a bit too much, and change the taboo into a more honest and open conversation, and to show that life without alcohol is far from dull and boring!


Thank you very much, and to my clients, you are a constant inspiration to me.

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