Sarah at the Sanctuary

Sarah at the Sanctuary

The Musings of a Well Woman


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.

Marketing & Myths Surrounding Wine O'clock


As more women are becoming alcohol free, and understanding that life, partially intoxicated by a cheeky little Pinot was really not the sparkly marshmallow world that the marketeers would have them believe, I have been making some interesting observations, and I really hope this blog will just blow away some myths.


First of all, just because supermarkets smother us with promotions and attractive pictures of how life will be if you drink, does not make it true or right.




This promotion is hardly indicative of a grocer is it? But it suggests that this enormous bottle of wine, not some crisp rocket or fresh brocolli would be the main reason you would do an online shop. Other supermarket items are just as heavy, milk, bottled water, or perhaps laundry powder. We seem to just accept that it's quite normal to encourage us to ditch any obstacle that might come in the way of home drinking and women particularly, I am sure the marketing department were not thinking of men when they came up with this image. So let's just put this into an appropriate place mentally. If you are going shopping the first thing on your mind should not be how much the wine is going to weigh, if it is then you must becoming concerned. This is not normal at all.


Secondly the constant battles that women I talk to do with their thoughts of how people will perceive them without a glass of wine in their hand. Rather than focusing on how nice it might be to meet up with old or new friends, chat about fun or serious stuff, the whole process of going out seems to focus on whether or not they will get some awful stick for not drinking alcohol. Hours can be spent getting worked up over this. If these people are really friends, what difference will it make to them whether you are imbibing or not? They like you for what you are not for how much you can drink. There is nothing dull about being able to string your words together without losing the plot, or having no recollection of what actually went on with the night or lunch. Being out of control in some quest to become more likeable is just madness. For the most part no one cares what you are drinking as long as you don't interfere with their habits, and anyone that does really isn't worth knowing. So all that time wasted on the what ifs of not drinking is just pointless.


Thoughts of being seen as a 'do gooder' really get my back up too. No disrespect to do gooders, but we are just being real without a crutch of alcohol, who should have a problem with that? None of us in my posse are trying to change the world, ban booze, but we are saying that we are quite enough without it, so now let's move on.


After 35 I am not sure where the good times come from with wine time. Most clients now drink at home, alone. Where is the fun in that? It's isolating and lonely. If your drinking revolves around socialising and being responsible, that's great, but I have not met that many women who have families and work commitments that are able to do that anymore. So they retreat into a world of sofa, tablet, teli and Pinot.


I am still amazed that so many people, especially women, are not more upfront about not drinking anymore. What's the problem? You have stopped hurting yourself, and possibly others, you are able remember everything you do, and more than likely are looking a 100 times better than you once did.

On the whole, people don't judge these days, they are all too embroiled in their own lives, why should it matter so much to others

Campaigning For A Sober Revolution

Campaigning For a Sober Revolution


Now that the Sober Revolution has been on sale for some time, and word spreads, I am really heartened by the reviews and comments that we have had from our readers. It does not come naturally to me to be 'out' there, and like so many women who once upon a time, drank too much, shaking off the shackles of both judgement and bigotry that surrounds this subject, takes a fairly thick skin sometimes, and wearing my teflon coat has not been an easy ask, most especially with media attention and speaking with the press.


I am not into self promotion, just an untiring desire to help more women become well, and also to kick start a campaign for appropriate care, not just with the Sanctuary, only one of me, but also make mainstream agencies see that clearly, that this problem rising at a rapid rate of knots year on year, that whatever is in place just is not effective. I spoke at the last Soberistas meeting on this subject on 15th March 2014, and thought that the transcript of the speech may be an interesting read for those who could not attend, and for anyone else who might be interested in brief what I would like the thrust of my Campaign to be about.


Years ago, I drank too much, I worried too much, I projected too much and now I don’t. I dealt with it all, and moved on.

For me, there is no room for self-flagellation, or what if’s, my time is concentrated on the here and now, and the exciting times ahead.

Today, is one of those exciting times. I am always inspired by women who make a stand, and most especially against anything that could potentially harm them or anyone who they love.


Soberistas has shown how huge the problem that I once had is, a hidden epidemic that we in this room have faced.


In my work, naturally confidentiality has always been key, but the more empowered The Sanctuary women become the more they are now beginning to start the BIG conversation in real time, about what was once a very toxic issue for them. Without stigma or tambourine bashing, they have overcome the fear around talking openly about their reasons for not drinking to excess anymore, and I hope as they do, that they will in turn encourage others who find themselves in the same concerned and worrying position to be able to do the same, casting aside any shame or guilt.


For after all, it was never a choice that we became so dependent on such a well marketed and dangerous, legal drug.


Wine is dressed up so adeptly as being very acceptable and glamorous.

It is also completely normalised, that for many of us, it was never considered ‘proper’ drinking until the wheels fall off, With the added easy edge, that it needs no prescription, just a grocery shop and a fridge.


Of course it is not the first time that we have been seduced. Gin was the craze in the first half of the 18th century, the Absinthe movement in the latter part of the 19th Century, and more recently, Mother's little helper Valium washed down with Gin and Dubonnet in the 60s was a favourite mix for middle class Mums. My Mother was a victim of this over prescribed prescriptive drug, trusting advice that it would make all the tragedy and angst in her life disappear, sadly the reverse was the case.

65% of my clients last year were prescribed Ads, Prozac, washed down with a cheeky little number, oblivious of the fact that their drinking totally negated the effects of the other legal drug they were taking. I am delighted to say that only 12% still take them, free of booze, a proper clinical diagnosis could be made. So in many ways history is repeating itself.

But this is a modern problem, faced by modern women, who wanted it all, and for the most part got it, except for the indisputable fact, that biologically we just are not equipped to drink like men. In everything else of course, we beat them hands down!

This BIG conversation will only start with us. Like minded women, from different backgrounds, who have had enough of the self destruct button. Without being preachy or evangelical, by playing our wellness and clarity forward, we can make a change. We do not have a rule book, or belong to a cult, but we are very obviously, savvy, intelligent, articulate women who have now got control and choice.


Methods at the Sanctuary are not mainstream, I have no time for the depressing thought that I will be burdened with a lifetime of regret. The gold standards of care that are in place today, are antiquated and inconvenient for many. What I would love you all to do, like me, is to campaign for at the very least gender specific care, and at best combine that with age specific care. To be told once you have decided to cork it, that there is a waiting list of many months is also totally unacceptable. If you broke your leg, would you allow a general practitioner to fix it? Would you not feel safer with a specialist, most especially if there was a particular nuance to your break? There is a very lackadaisical approach to alcohol misuse, borne from the legality and acceptance of this drug. There is no value in poor and ineffective care, waste of time and money. Because of the drip feed with drinking, rarely do we count the financial cost of it. We did the stats at the Sanctuary.

Last year the average saving per client, was £4674.00 per annum, and that did not include, any wild online shopping, guilt purchases or taxi fares. I have been doing a starfish impression for many years, and it’s now time, with the brilliant attitude of women like you to start to make a change. We have to be proactive, vocal and concise in the inappropriate way our once problem is handled. We need to speak with the powers that be, from GPs and upwards, we need to make bars and clubs give balance to the drinks on offer, and we we need too to tackle our supermarkets and get them to address this balance also. You are the consumer!


We have to banish the taboo, there is none with , sexuality or smoking, so why the hell are we still frightened of talking about once drinking too much? It’s insane, and the best definition of insanity provided by Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to change. We have all been there! We live in the 21st century not the dark ages.


Non drinking is attractive and glamorous, I cannot remember ever being dull and boring sober, kindly my beloved never took a picture of me at the end of my drinking career, needless to say it was far from pretty, witty or wise, which were the three things that I really thought drinking gave me. I became purely entertainment value, and then just an embarrassment. Shipwrecked on a sea of Chablis.

One of the only rules I have with my programme, is honesty, and it’s time in real life, we all got honest. No one will judge if delivery of your decision is short sharp and to the point. No more secrets and lies.


For me to be able to survive breast cancer and alcoholism was a fairly bleak prospect at one time, but not any more. I needed logic and a deep understanding of women just like me, and studied hard to be as successful as I am today. I do know that there has never been a more rewarding time and if we can keep the conversation going and growing, I’m sure you will all feel the same as I do. Empowered and inspired. As I look at you in this room today, it has to be a no brainer for you to see that you all have had enough of this hyped and insidious drug. Be the Mistresses of your own Destinies, and help others be the same.


Thank you all for your time today, and welcome to the Sober Revolution. 

Six Weeks To Sober

I have drunk happy, sad and started to drink myself round the bend after over 20 years of a nightly bottle, or two. It started probably, in my mind, before I even took the first sip. As a child of a strict, religious and probably quite controlling upbringing I knew that my ‘escape’ at 18 would be marked with getting really pissed. And it was, and as I found the escape into being someone who was witty, funny and fell over a lot I thought I had found the panacea for all my ills – for all my insecurities – hah, just get pissed; for feeling like the odd one out – a quick few pints and I was as well integrated into any party as the rest; for learning to be an adult – well I had no idea how to do that one, so I just sank another.. and another.. and another. Good time party girl, could drink any man under the table. And under that table I remained, thinking every night I cant rise above until I’ve had a bottle of wine.


Stupid thing was that I spent nearly 20 years looking for myself, for peace, for happiness and I never found it at the bottom of the bottle. I saw the adverts that showed women like me being glamorous, funny and letting go (but just a bit) of their inhibitions – so why did I always end up like some vomity Worzel Gummidge. Laughing as I fell and threw up into a Wheelie Bin – that was fun and glamorous wasn’t it??


So why was I so sad inside, counting the units every night to try and make sure I drove to work under the limit, how on earth did I hold down quite a successful career and bring up 3 children I’ll never understand. But underneath it all, every day, like some mercenary parasite was the little voice “it’ll all be ok after that bottle” and was it? No, I was just drowning out the little voice, the stress and the sadness.


Do I consider myself an alcoholic – not sure really. I spent the first years of my career working with street drinkers and chronic alcoholics who drank themselves to death, I wasn’t like them was I? My choice of anaesthetic was Shiraz not Denim After-Shave (and yes I did work with a man who drank that – he smelled lovely but had a serious case of Korsakov’s Wet Brain). I think for me, it was the intent that went with it all – that it wasn’t for the taste, the enjoying times with friends, it was to drown all those feelings I couldn’t deal with.


Even through some major and traumatic losses in my life, one as a direct cause of my drinking I still turned to the bottle because it was the only way I knew how to cope with hard and difficult feelings. Wine turned from being my good-time friend to my tormentor – the feelings of self hate, the shame I felt – “if only people knew how awful and weak you really are” would be the little voice inside that got louder with each drink. And I thought I could stop, maybe cut down but I didn’t know how, and each time I tried and failed I felt like I would never be free of it. Like a charming con-man who becomes a tormentor, so became wine’s hold on me.


And I did manage some sober times, like some marathon runner waiting for the relief of the finish line – I would hold off drinking for a month, or two, I even managed three after doing the Alan Carr one-day workshop – but as I got to the end of the ‘sober marathon’ I would spend the next few weeks catching up in style.


So why did it have to stop? Because I got to over 40 and realised that there was no way beyond without doing so, because some days I drove to work knowing I was too near to the drink-driving limit (and hungover to boot) to be safe, because I was sick of it all. But I couldn’t see the life without my wine, I live in a society where all things associated with relaxing are also inextricably entangled with a good skin-full of the most expensive and beautifully bottled poison. Because I had to, because if I wanted to start to live I had to face life in real.


Enter Sarah (ta,da) – real, warm and beautifully honest woman. She might tell you the hard stuff, but that’s just what I needed.


Did you know that it takes 6 weeks to even clear this stuff from your system, and that that 6 weeks is a roller coaster of emotions (you know, the ones that have been stuffed down for so many years). But Sarah’s approach is calm, assured and loving - (Sometimes we all need a good bit of old fashioned love – indeed for some of us Soberistas it’s one of the things that we have been missing for a long time) - and she shows you how to start being kind to yourself – dammit I might even start to think about learning to love myself! Maybe that’s what I needed after all.


But what I also needed was a guide through the storm, I knew that my very clever neurology had created such a strong link between feeling sad and lonely and ‘curing’ it with a swift and large glass of the very best red. I suspect that even after the re-wiring job currently underway, I will always have that neurological link in my brain and for me wine will not be something that works for me in any setting, and I’m increasingly less sad about that fact, whereas at first I could not imagine ever ‘enjoying’ sober merely tolerating it (you may recall I had a particular hang up about being the odd one out).


I am just over three months sober, and apparently a much nicer person to live with. I haven’t yet lost the three stone I was hoping to (!!!) but I look into the mirror and feel generally OK with the woman smiling back at me. What worked with the Harrogate Sanctuary approach was on many levels, but the sane voice of calm through my storm of getting sober was the biggest thing. The daily emails helped me to start to unravel what damage alcohol had done to a fragile self-esteem, and understand what drove me to seek solace in a bottle of red. The knowing I could text Sarah, when the ‘off-licence’ voice was shouting strong. The way I was heard and valued even during my silly strops abut not being ‘allowed’ to drink.


I’m still early in this journey, and I have really appreciated the way that Sarah ‘never goes away’ (her own words!) and has responded to my panicked emails about feeling like giving it all up for a swift night of obliteration. One thing I have truly learned is that physically getting sober is just the start, because all that time I was drinking I was failing to grow up. So the work starts…… grow up (I believe it is called ‘emotional sobriety’ in the AF world!). I’ve found underneath that I do have some problems with being able to cope with bad emotions, but rather than running away, I’m facing up to them and learning to learn to live with and understand them.


I’m so happy that I decided to do this, it hasn’t been easy, and I know there are many things I need to learn to deal with and to live with being happy and alcohol-free. But it is so worth it, to wake up every day without regretting what I did or said. People keep telling me I’m looking so well… the three stone can wait because I’ve got my life to live and I’ll say in honesty I was not living for a long time.




Ashey is I am so very glad to report much further down the wellness road, and I hope to see her soon. Sarah.

Them and Us

Are you a woman who drinks wine? Nice wine? Do you work hard, play hard, manage perhaps family and the home with precision and seeming ease? Are you horrified by the story in the news a while ago of a child being left by his Alcoholic Mother for so long he mummified in his cot? Or do you tut at the anti-social behaviour highlighted by the media of the drinking culture of the young, and the massive burden they put on the ambulance service and A & E?

We were once the same, oblivious, or at least in denial that quite possibly as dependent, home drinkers, with the odd foray out to dinner parties and nightclubs, we were sinking between 100-150 units a week of alcohol. Not once were we faintly observed as alcoholics, we just were not like them.

We had nice jobs, nice clothes, a nice lifestyle, but hidden behind the interlined curtains, we were drinking at least on a par with the reckless overtly boozy Brits. We would have giggly conversations the morning after the night before, on how amusing it was that we had got a bit tipsy, but nowhere near as sozzled as another. Another was the party piece among our friends who got so drunk she made us feel so much better about ourselves.

Because we appeared to be in control, articulate and reasonably intelligent, we were never really questioned about our drinking habits. The old guffaw about not being an alcoholic if you still drank less than your doctor was rolled out across a well-polished walnut table.

Yes that is them, and this is us. Our drinking was cleverly disguised, consequences were few, and as we progressed down our particular River of Denial, when the things started to fall apart, we just managed, barely, to cover it up even more, terrified that someone would ever point a finger and accuse us of being alkies. In fact so bad was our bigotry, that we self-harmed to the point of almost killing ourselves. Too frightened to confess that actually we were not just drinking three glasses of wine a night, but preloading, and secretly drinking in our bedrooms. Hiding bottles in cupboards and wellington boots. Re-organizing the re-cycling so that even the bin men would not suspect.

And yet we judge others, because they are not like us. The fact is that they are just like us, just less fortunate or not as good at hiding it.

The over 55’s are now the biggest burden on the NHS in terms of alcohol related illnesses. The lowest cost to our health care and society as a whole are the under 35s. 20% of the population of this country suffers from liver disease, alcoholic liver disease mainly. So why is that the middle aged are never regarded as a problem? Because we are so adept at hiding it, until it’s too late to deal with the progressive nature of this. Not everyone likes drinking anymore, they are just pressured into drinking so that they don’t feel different to what has become the norm. The overall cost of the problem, latest figures from 2007, was estimated at £55.1 billion by The National Social Marketing Centre. Quite sure that figure has increased since our country has been in recession.

40% of my clients over the last three months have come from the health sector, both clinical and mental health. The average age is 47 years. Not 16. These women are the Mothers of the drinkers who are often out there on the streets getting hammered. Do you think they have perhaps learned a habit? We hear of girls of 14 taking bottles of wine to parties, because if Mummy drinks it to help her relax, then it will help us do the same. After all she isn’t a drunk.

With the Sober Revolution Lucy and I have tried to inspire rather than bang on about the less savoury effects of our past, for surely the time has come to change the treatment of problem drinking, so that is becomes acceptable to not only talk about it, but better yet, to be proud and congratulated for overcoming the most accessible, acceptable and dangerous drug on the planet, without any kind of slavery to having to confess the sin for the rest of our lives, but to accept that we just don’t want to be imprisoned anymore or apathetic, and move on. This is not preaching to regular drinkers, you are still having fun with it, but for those who are not, let’s just start to fight back.

It’s time to start the conversation about US, and not them, because in terms of cost, to ourselves and others, we are right up there with the worst Friday night ever televised by car crash TV. Except for us, no one will ever see until it’s too late.


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