Blogger and author Clare Pooley talks to Hannah Stephenson about finally accepting that her reliance on ‘wine o’clock’ was a problem - and why she’s so much happier sober.
Not so long ago, former city high-flyer and mother-of-three Clare Pooley was seeing life through a hazy blur, the endless hangovers only alleviated by ‘wine o’clock’, when she’d open another bottle. The one-time advertising executive had been used to a lifestyle which invited a lot of drinking, first at Cambridge University, then nights down the pub after and later as a party-going mum.
“By the end, during the week I was drinking a bottle of wine a night, and at the weekend I could easily drink two bottles, especially when I was going out to a party. If I added that all up - which I tried very hard not to do for years - it was about 10 bottles of wine a week.”
She had tried to give up before, unsuccessfully. For a long time, she thought wine helped her relax and took the edge off anxiety.
“I thought everyone was drinking the same as I was. My Facebook feed was littered with jokes about ‘wine o’clock’ and I didn’t think it was a problem for a long time. But gradually, I started to realise that it was having a huge impact on my mental and physical health.””
At the peak of her drinking she was two stone overweight, wasn’t sleeping, was frequently hungover, snappy with her children, and anxious a lot of the time.
“One day, I woke up after my birthday with a terrible hangover and ended up pouring myself the dregs of a bottle of red wine from the night before into a mug, and drank it at about 11 in the morning. That was breaking one of the cardinal rules I had set myself. I thought, ‘If I can’t keep to those rules, then this is becoming a real problem’.”
Her mother had previously told her she thought she was drinking too much, only to be greeted with curt dismissals from Clare. Her husband, John, had also said he thought she should cut down.
“I found trying to moderate my drinking was totally impossible because the more I tried to stop drinking, the more I became obsessed by it.”
So in March 2015, at the age of 46, Clare quit alcohol. She doesn’t use the term ‘alcoholic’ because she thinks it encourages people to think that alcohol addiction is black and white - that you’re either a normal drinker or a rock-bottom alcoholic - when there are many shades of grey in-between.”
She chose not to go to AA, but for her own therapy she started the blog Mummy Was A Secret Drinker under the pseudonym ‘Sober Mummy’, and quickly garnered a worldwide following. Now she has written a book, The Sober Diaries, charting her first year without alcohol.
“The most difficult bit was the first 100 days, when it was difficult to think about anything other than drinking or not drinking. For years, your go-to prop when you are tired, stressed and fed up is a glass of wine. That had been my prop for 20 years. It takes a long time to recondition your mind.”
Clare admits she came close to hitting the bottle again when she discovered, eight months after giving up drinking, that she had breast cancer.
“The only thing I knew that could take the edge off that immense fear was alcohol,” she recalls. “But I got myself sorted out. Had I been drinking, I may have sat on the fear for a lot longer.”
After a lumpectomy and radiotherapy, she was given the all-clear. Nearly three years on, Clare, 48, is now two stone lighter, feels more energetic and positive - and says she’s a lot more fun to live with.
“I always encouraged my husband to carry on drinking whenever he wanted to, although he naturally stopped drinking as much as he used to. He now only drinks at weekends, and hardly ever at home. But I didn’t want to feel like I’d made him change his life.”
The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking And Started Living by Clare Pooley is published by Coronet, priced £16.99.