Yorkshire mum's warning over 'collective denial' by middle classes of alcohol misuse

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Waking up under a tree with a police officer peering down at her, middle-class mother Lucy Rocca still didn't believe she had an issue with alcohol.

It was all a hoot, she believed, and while she was able to maintain her affluent lifestyle it seemed her drinking habits simply weren't an issue worth worrying over.

Lucy Rocca, founder of the Soberistas support group. Image: Steve Ellis Photography

Lucy Rocca, founder of the Soberistas support group. Image: Steve Ellis Photography

The slow-dawning realisation came much later, after waking up in hospital with no recollection of how she had come to arrive.

While that night eight years ago was to spark a sharp wake up call, there is still a silent crisis, she warns, behind the nation's closed doors.

It's one she has personally endured - and is now witness to - as her anonymous support network grows to over 60,000 people, concerned about potentially harmful drinking.

"There's a collective denial in middle classes about alcohol misuse," says Ms Rocca, 44. "That if you're buying £10 bottles of wine from Waitrose it's not really a drinking problem.

Lucy Rocca, now 44, founded Soberistas after becoming concerned about her own potentially harmful drinking. Image: Steve Ellis Photography

Lucy Rocca, now 44, founded Soberistas after becoming concerned about her own potentially harmful drinking. Image: Steve Ellis Photography

"Drinking didn't encroach on any aspect of my life. It was all behind closed doors."

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Harmful drinking

Brought up in an affluent area of Sheffield, going to school in Dore, Ms Rocca had a very 'normal' childhood. There was certainly no trauma, she says, no trigger factors.

She was just among a generation of women, she adds, who grew up with alcohol. At 13, sneaking off to steal parents' wine. At 16, going clubbing with friends.

The Soberistas support group, founded by Lucy Rocca in 2012, now has over 60,000 members. Image: Steve Ellis Photography

The Soberistas support group, founded by Lucy Rocca in 2012, now has over 60,000 members. Image: Steve Ellis Photography

Even marriage and motherhood hadn't changed her habits too much, she says. There was a culture about drinking that made it sociably acceptable.

Then came divorce. Work and study pressures, tipping her over the edge.

"I started using alcohol to self-medicate," says the mother of two, speaking out today at the start of Alcohol Awareness Week. "It was different.

"Rather than as it had been, as a social prop, it was to blot out feelings."

Soberistas

After brushing aside the tree incident, following a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert, Ms Rocca had been unable to escape the shame of waking in hospital in 2011.

She hasn't touched a drop of alcohol since. In 2012 she set up Soberistas, in search of other people who felt the same way, who didn't quite fit the image of alcoholism.

It seems she has hit a nerve. Soberistas now has over 60,000 members, all anonymous. Most, around 90 per cent, are women, and they tend to be aged between 40 and 65.

They don't fit the mold for 'alcoholics', she says, rather most are concerned about their levels of potentially harmful drinking.

"Most of our members have never sought help for alcohol abuse," says Ms Rocca. "This is a problem behind closed doors, and people are ashamed of asking for help.

"It's that middle-class woman, normally a mother, with a good job, who finds it difficult to vocalise that it's a problem.

"I didn't have a good off-switch, but I didn't feel as if I fit into the category of alcoholic," she adds.

"I had a nice house, a respectable job. I never drank in the day, or at work. That sense of someone who had lost everything, it just wasn't me."

Changing habits

Drinking habits are changing, she believes, and there is a broadening adoption of a 'sober-curious' lifestyle, amid a roaring trade in alcohol-free drinks.

But there is still a persistent problem among many of a certain generation, she adds, and a culture of shame around admitting it.

Were middle-class' mothers' tipple of choice viewed in the same as cheap cider, she warns, their consumption habits may be somewhat more frowned upon.

"It's very much a class thing," says Ms Rocca. "People would be appalled if you were drinking cheap cider, but if it's craft gin at £30 a bottle, it's somehow seen as OK.

"There are a lot of people out there who are scared and they don't know what to do.

"But there is a lot more support out there now, and a recognition that you don't have to have hit the floor to ask for help."