EP #15

The Sober Diaries with Author Clare Pooley

alcoholic minimalist podcast

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In Episode 15 of Breaking the Bottle Legacy, Molly invites Clare Pooley for a conversation centered around Clare’s journey with alcohol and her book “The Sober Diaries.” Clare, a British author who initiated a blog named “Mummy was a Secret Drinker” during her decision to quit alcohol, shares her experiences that later formed the basis for her acclaimed book “The Sober Diaries.” The conversation explores Clare’s authentic storytelling and humor in addressing her journey with alcohol, the challenges she faced, and the transformation she underwent. They discuss the stigma associated with alcoholism, the importance of honest narratives, and the need for mindful drinking. Clare shares insights from her book and highlights the impact of societal perceptions of alcohol. Molly and Clare address the notion of reaching rock bottom and challenge the stereotypes surrounding alcohol use. The episode concludes with a discussion on the current surge in alcohol use during the pandemic, offering hope and encouragement for those seeking a more peaceful relationship with alcohol.

You’re listening to break in the bottle legacy with Molly watts, Episode 15. Hi, I’m Molly, after a lifetime living under the influence of family alcohol abuse, spending more than 30 years worrying about alcohol and my own drinking, believing I had an unbreakable daily drinking habit, I changed my relationship with alcohol forever. If you want to change your drinking habits than breaking the bottle legacy is for you. My goal is to help you create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, past, present, and future. Each week all focus on real science and using your own brain to change your relationship with alcohol. Nothing has gone wrong, you’re not broken, you’re not sick. It’s not your genes. And creating peace is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello, and welcome or welcome back to breaking the bottle legacy with me your host Molly watts, coming to you from well, let’s say it’s going to be a pretty beautiful day here in Oregon. Spring has definitely sprung, we’ve turned the corner and there are flowers in bloom everywhere the birds are singing and the sun appears to be shining. So that’s always a good thing in Oregon. Today on the podcast, I am thrilled to be able to share with you a conversation with Claire Puli. Claire is a blogger, author and speaker. And she actually started a blog when she was deciding to give up alcohol, called mummy was a secret drinker. She’s British, so mummy, and that went on to be the basis for the sober diaries, which was a book that she published in 2017. And that book has won critical acclaim and has helped hundreds of 1000s of people change their relationship with alcohol. She’s also a TEDx talk speaker. Her talk called Making sober less shameful has been viewed by over 200,000 people. So to say that I was thrilled when Claire agreed to jump on this podcast with me is an understatement. And I just enjoyed speaking to her so much she has so much to share, I highly recommend you read the sober diaries, if you haven’t already. Here is my conversation with Claire Puli. Hi, Claire, thank you so much for taking the time to be with me today. I appreciate it. I appreciate you taking the time. Oh, I’m so excited to be here all the way from London all the way from London. And it’s a it’s a much more pleasant hour over there in London, I will say and so like I said, I’ve just you and I just chatted about it briefly. But this jumped to daylight savings time, we’ve sprung forward over here in the US already. And so it’s quite early in my neck of the woods still a little bit dark out, to be honest. So over here, it’s it’s already mid afternoons. One wonderful, wonderful. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time, like I said, your book, the sober diaries is something that I know inspired me has inspired so many people. And what I really love about your book, and I just said this to you before we jumped on, but I want to say it again, is how much you use a combination of both your authentic life story, there’s some humor there. And also some weave in a little bit of science because here on breaking the bottle legacy, I definitely like to talk about science and neuroscience. So talk to me a little bit about how that became Did you do a lot of research as you were writing along was that I mean, this overdose is is based on a blog post that I wrote at the time as I was quitting drinking. So you know, I don’t think I could have written that book, if I’d written it a year after I quit drinking because by then it’s funny, our memories are very strange. We tend to forget the really traumatic stuff and, and only remember the easy bits. And you know, and that year was a really traumatic year for me. So actually, you know, reading back over it, you know, I was reminded of quite how tough it was so, so yeah, so it was based on a blog that I started the minute I stopped drinking. I started a blog called mommy was a secret drinker. And it was it was anonymous, and it was my way it was anonymous. I don’t think I knew it was anonymous. Yeah, it was I hid created as a pseudonym, sober mummy and because I thought that actually if I had to constantly type sober mummy it would remind me that that’s what I was. And I wrote every day and it was my way of therapy. And the other thing that I did by way of therapy because I was far too ashamed to you know, talk to a doctor or a friend anybody in the family, anyone about the fact that I was I was having real problems with my drinking. So I started blogging, and I started reading everything I could find, you know, I read, I had a pile of books every day I would have books delivered, which I did under my bed, I had this huge stash of books about alcohol, and, you know, fiction, and nonfiction and memoir and science. And, you know, the Alcoholics Anonymous big book. I mean, I bought the whole lot, and I read a lot. So, in the blog, I also talked about all the stuff that I was learning as I went through. So the sober diaries is, is a mix of my story, you know, what actually happened after I quit drinking that first year? And a lot of stuff that I learned along the way? Yeah, I actually say that a part of my journey, and a part of me changing my relationship with alcohol. I call it my toolbox, but a part of my toolbox is education. And that whole science, learning the science of alcohol, learning about neuroscience, for me, and understanding how my brain how I trained my brain to want the alcohol heads, you know, literally trained my brain and how I could rewire my brain and rework it. And change my conscious of my subconscious thinking about alcohol was incredibly important to me in terms of being able to peacefully change my relationship with alcohol, which is what I say, now I have a peaceful relationship with alcohol, which is what I really wanted. More than anything, I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I didn’t want to, you know, worry about it, I didn’t want to feel like I needed to drink at all. And so I love that because your book was a part of my toolbox. But I agree with that a whole notion of figure out, you know, whether it’s a science book, or a memoir book, or whatever it is, it helps to rewire your brain thinking about alcohol as you’re going through the process. Yeah, you know, it’s about sort of know your enemy in a way. You have to understand what what you’re up against. And I also wanted to know, I wanted to know what I was facing. And, you know, one thing I found really hard, I read a whole load of of memoirs about, you know, by people who’d had drink issues, and most of them were based on, you know, 90% of the book would be about the days when they were drinking, and then, you know, right at the end, they quit. Rate and I wait, what, how long did it take before it got great? And, you know, how did it feel in between, you know, quitting, and it being okay, and how long does that take? And all those questions, and I couldn’t find answers to those questions. And that’s really why I wanted to publish the sober diaries is to answer those questions, you know, how, how difficult is it? How long does it take? You know, is it possible to have life without alcohol and still be happy? Or, you know, all those sorts of questions that I couldn’t find answers to at the beginning, I loved to you said, you talked about in the sober diaries that you weren’t comfortable or didn’t identify with maybe even being an alcoholic, quote, unquote, right? You didn’t want to rush down to the nearest AAA meeting and stand up and say, Hi, I’m Claire, I’m an alcoholic, but you found some, some other support online through other bloggers who were right. Yeah, that’s right. I mean, they say that the opposite of addiction is connection. And, you know, I think part of the reason why Alcoholics Anonymous is so successful is is the fact that, you know, puts you in touch with people like you who are going through the same thing as you. And, you know, as you say, I found that online through through my blog, and, you know, I mean that, I think Alcoholics Anonymous, do a fabulous job for so many people. But I was really, I think I’d spent, I spent many, many years in advertising. And, you know, I’m, as a result, I’m quite obsessed by language and all that sort of stuff. And, you know, I just found the whole language around alcoholic and recovery and disease and all those things really, really tough. You know, I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to define myself by a negative for the rest of my life. I didn’t want the rest of my life to be defined by the fact that I couldn’t drink. And instead, I wanted it to be a positive. I wanted to be able to stand up and say, Hi, I’m Claire, and I don’t drink and that’s great. And, you know, I didn’t I, you know, it was I had a real mental block about that. And, you know, and I do think that I think we we are very quick the problem with all of that language and terminology She is the fact that it makes you feel, you know, I, you know, makes you the addict feel like it is your problem, you know, there is a problem with you. And that’s why you can’t deal with alcohol. Actually, there’s a problem with alcohol, it’s to toxin. And it’s addictive, right? It’s your problem is the drink. That’s the problem. And that’s, I think that’s where I think we need to change our thinking, is, instead of blaming the addict, we need to blame the drink, you know, when you quit drugs, smoking, everybody congratulate you. And they say, Well done, you’ve done a great thing. You quit drinking, and they think you were a bit strange, or I have a disease, no problem. Embarrassing, and no one wants to talk about it. And that’s crazy. You know, alcohol is a drug, the same as nicotine is exactly the same issue, but we treat them so differently. Yeah, no, I agree with that there is a lot and that’s one of the things I really tried to share with folks here is that we have to treat alcohol as the chemical substance that it is as a drug as a toxin. Because no matter what you’re doing, whether you are not drinking at all, which is a perfectly wonderful decision, to not drink at all. And for those of people that want to include alcohol in their lives, they need to do it in the most mindful way possible that it is going to be that they understand the risk rewards trade offs, and that there are real physical and real mental reasons to not want to include alcohol in your lives both ways. So I tried to, you know, I mean, I don’t want to, I wouldn’t want to say to anyone that they shouldn’t drink if if they’re able to handle it, and they enjoy it. And all I would say is just know what you’re doing, as you say, be mindful about it. And, you know, don’t let it fool you into thinking that, you know, it’s completely harmless, because it’s not so long as you’re aware of that trade off. And then, you know, if it does become a problem, you you can do something about it early on enough to not have it ruin your life the way it does with so many people. Yeah, and that’s the reason that we need to be so particularly mindful because it it is dangerous, right? There’s no two ways about it. And I shared with you before we started speaking and people on this podcast know and listen to that have listened to it know that I come from a background of having an alcoholic parent, someone who actually defied the odds lived until the age of 81, even though despite drinking, you know, four different stints in rehab, a very hardcore, severe chronic use, you know, disorder. And so I always say, you know, this is not something that goes away. Over time, it only progresses over time, if you don’t pay attention, and you are not mindful about your decisions. I say I’d have a peaceful relationship with alcohol. But one of the things that I think is really important for people to know is that there is no point in my life now where I’m going to use alcohol as a tool for buffering away the negative emotions of the day, or stress or strain, because that is just a slippery slope. And I think I would love to hear your thoughts on that. Because I think that’s sort of where you, you started in terms of developing a stronger drinking habit was trying to drink away some of the stress and strain of the day. Yeah, I mean, I think the especially that I use this, is if you if you’re using alcohol as social lubrication, which is, I think, the way most people start with drinking, you know, when it teenagers or us, it’s over 21, right. And, you know, it’s all about partying, and, you know, relaxing and social situations, and that sort of thing. And that’s one thing, but then, you know, when it goes from social lubrication to self medication, which is a way that I ended up using it, it’s very different. And, you know, I think if you get to the point where you are drinking to numb your emotions, then then that’s, that’s when you can end up in trouble. Because, you know, I ended up drinking to celebrate and commiserate and I drinking to relax, and I drink to calm down, and I drink when I was stressed, and I drink when I was anxious. And, you know, I drink when I was happy, and you end up sort of getting to the point where any, you know, almost any emotion you have is associated with with a glass of alcohol. And, you know, that’s, that’s a very slippery slope to end up on. And, you know, I mean, I think, again, coming back to the terminology, and I spent a lot of time late at night Googling, am I an alcoholic and husband, you know, and I get these little, these little quizzes that would come up and they’d say, you know, do you know Did you drink every day and all that sort of thing? And I would answer all the questions and then it would say, Well, you may be and you may not be an alcoholic, and nobody really knows. And, you know, actually, I was asking the wrong question. I mean, that was, you know, that wasn’t the question I should have been asking. I should have been asking is alcohol messed up? My life? Ran the answers. That was definitely yes. And at which point, I should definitely have stopped. Then carrying on down that slippery slope, but because, you know, the saying that you need to reach rock bottom is nonsense. You know, once you’ve, you’ve reached rock bottom, it’s very difficult to crawl out, you know, you want to get off the slippery slope pathway down, not right at the bottom. Yeah, no, I love that. I think it’s so in my book, I actually had to have a chapter on losing the alcoholic label, because this whole idea that we have, and I did the same exact thing I you know, first of all, I spent years trying to figure out my mother’s drinking, right, so I was like a research person on alcohol wave from from back in my, my teenage years before I ever developed my own drinking habit, then by the time it became a situation where I was concerned enough about my drinking, although I was constantly I mean, like I said, no one on the outside would have ever known it. I was had this anxiety caused by watching my mother’s path and continually asking myself, am I going to become an alcoholic, like her? You know, and Googling the same thing, looking at my drinking, trying to figure out whether if what I was doing was, you know, technically a problem yet? And I think the same thing I agreed. The question I should have been asking, and the question anybody should be asking themselves is, is alcohol impacting your life? Is it keeping you from doing things that you want to do? I can say, with real confidence that you probably would not have written a full book. Had you been drinking a bottle of wine every day? Do you think that’s a fair statement? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the main, the main problems I had was, one of the things I really notice now, in terms of the difference is, you know, alcohol took up so much headspace. So it wasn’t just the time that you’d spend drinking and the time you might spend feeling hungover. It was all the time that you spent thinking about drinking, and, you know, and that, that’s exhausting. And, and it stops you doing other stuff. So, you know, I spent a lot of time thinking, what am I going to drink tonight? Or not? And if I do drink tonight, how much am I going to drink tonight? And what rules am I going to set to make sure I don’t drink too much? And, you know, where am I going to buy it? Where am I going to buy it? Well, I haven’t bought it recently, so they were hate buying too much. And you know, and it went round and round and round in my head, you know, on. And, you know, now I find that I have so much more free headspace to do other things. So, you know, I’ve written and published two books since I quit drinking. And, you know, I never ever would have had the headspace let alone the actual physical time, but their headspace as well to do that, if I’d still been drinking. Yeah, I made a big point about monitoring because I was came from an alcoholic background and my mother drove me really crazy when she was, you know, when I’d speak to her when she’d been drinking, I just couldn’t have a rational conversation with her would make me mad. And so I was very constrained, I always didn’t ever want to get to a point where I got altered. So, you know, I drink slowly over time, I’d still drink the same amount, but I would just really, really held on to the fact that you know, I’d never I didn’t get altered, right? This was my big thing. Like, if I didn’t get altered, I wasn’t an alcoholic, right. But at the same time, same kind of thing. You don’t you know, I didn’t do anything else because I’d spent all night just drinking, you know, I’d sit down on the couch, I’d have no energy to do anything else. No mental energy, no physical energy, nothing to all like wanted to do was drink and sit down and watch TV and you know, just kind of zone out right? It just is a totally different definitely a self medicating coping mechanism that doesn’t allow you to do really anything else in terms of contributing to the rest of the world or feeling like you’re creating your best life. Yeah, and you know, what, when when you get used to, to numbing all the the bad stuff like that, right? You still end up knowing all the good stuff. Right the world that you also used to get very fearful so you know, I mean, I I became increasingly anxious, you know, as the years progressed, and I’d always been very fearless and brave when I was young and I am My deal was just anxious all the time. And, you know, I realized now that it’s because I had, I hadn’t, you know, I got so used to using alcohol to numb, fear and anxiety and all those sorts of things. I couldn’t deal with those emotions on my own. And, and it’s only after I quit drinking, I became brave again. And I realized that, you know, I could take risks and do, you know, do things that were was scary and difficult and tough, because, you know, I, I trained, I retrained myself to be able to do you know, deal with the emotions that go along with that without a probe? Yeah, I think that’s great. I actually talked a little bit I’ve talked about this on the podcast before, and I’m talking about it in the book as well about emotional immaturity, and alcoholics that it’s actually a key characteristic of emotion of a lot of most people that are addicted is emotional immaturity. And basically all emotional immaturity means is the inability to handle your emotions very well. And I definitely not only being having it be modeled for me by my mother, but some of my learned behaviors amounted learned ways of coping with emotions, I didn’t believe that I could handle negative emotions, I didn’t believe that I could handle you know, anything that was too stressful, right? I grew up in a different way of being not fearless. I was fearful. And so but what I realized is that I was the one that was creating those thoughts. And I created the story in my head by continually just repeating those thoughts to myself, and I could change them. Yeah. And also, you know, you are seeing that behavior model by your mother. So you were as a child, you were learning that when tough things happen, grownups drink. And, you know, one of the main reasons why I quit eventually, as I realized that that’s what I was teaching my kids to, you know, I quit when my children were 11, eight and six. And, you know, they, they’ve spent sort of, you know, almost as much of their lives now, you know, seeing me as a non drinker, as they seen seen me as a drinker. And, you know, and I’m, I’m just, I wanted to break that link, you know, I wanted to, I wanted them to realize that, you know, you could, the grown ups can deal with all sorts of stuff, without, you know, without a prop, like alcohol to, you know, constantly in their hands. Yeah, no, I agree with that. I was going to ask you that, if that was, I assumed that that was kind of another motivating factor for you. But I think it’s so important. Because I the same way, I mean, it’s a little different for me, my children are all grown now. But they are still benefiting from watching me change a very long standing a 30 year plus habit, you know, that I, and I think it’s important for people to know that this, whether it’s a whether they’ve actually crossed a line and become physically addicted, or if it’s just a habit that does not serve them, that does not help them create their best life, their most authentic life keeps them from doing their dreams, like writing a book, that they have the power to change that, that habit, they have the power to change that relationship with alcohol, there are countless books, tools, support groups, and you don’t have to stand up in front of an AAA meeting and say, I’m an alcoholic to get the support. And I think that that’s another bowl thing about realizing that there’s a whole bunch of people that are like you that are like me, that that don’t necessarily align with all of the core values of AAA that still can help people and get them on to a better path with their with their drinking. Yeah, absolutely. There, you know, there are more and more different ways of finding help now and the Internet has been really, you know, it’s been a game changer in that way. And there are hundreds of 1000s of people just like you and me out there. And, you know, we are talking and forming links and connections all over the place. So, you know, so you don’t have to feel alone. You know, I think that was the one of the main the two main emotions I had when I first quit was I felt really alone and I felt really ashamed and nobody should have to feel either alone or ashamed anymore. So you know, if that’s you don’t you know, just reach out. Yeah. You know, because you don’t need to feel like that and you shouldn’t have to feel like that you should feel proud and you know, really pleased and pleased with yourself and you’ve done a great thing and you shouldn’t do You know, you shame should be the last thing you should feel? Yeah, absolutely. I want to as we’re wrapping this up, I really want to touch on two things before we go to the authenticity project, because I do want to talk to you about that real briefly, too. But we really can’t escape it this year talking right now about the steep rise in both addiction treatment and alcohol use due to Coronavirus. I know I’ve seen on your Facebook, and I’ll link to all of this in my show notes, folks, several posts about this, it’s really alarming. And the use of alcohol during lockdown has been I know, both risen here in the US and in the UK as well. What are your thoughts about that? Well, I mean, it’s, it’s absolutely understandable, you know, I can, you know, I can see exactly why it happened that way. Because, you know, if I’d still been drinking, when this pandemic had hit, I would have thrown out all the, you know, the essentials from my cupboards, or the pastures and the toilet papers and all of that sort of stuff and replaced it with alcohol, you know, because that would have been my priority. And, you know, I would have used it as a coping mechanism, and my drinking would have escalated massively, because you don’t have a routine all of a sudden, you know, you’re at home a lot more. You know, you’re at home. Everybody’s here, we got the kids, homeschooling, everybody is sort of, you know, we’ve had so much on our shoulders for the past year. And, you know, alcohol if you’re used to using alcohol as I did as, as a coping mechanism, and as a way of dealing with stress and anxiety, then at a time when we’re finding it difficult to cope, and we’ve got lots of stress and anxiety that’s gonna go through the roof, so I can absolutely see why it’s happened. And, you know, I think the important thing is that as we come out of this, that, you know, that people, anyone who has ended up getting into trouble with the, with their drinking, or with, you know, any any other sort of addictions during that period, is able to ask for help, and to realize, again, that they’re not alone. You know, it’s, you know, there. There are so many people in the same situation right now. Yeah, and so folks, if Coronavirus is one of those things that has definitely impacted your drinking, or any other substance that you might be using to cope, again, just really know that there is hope. And that there is there are ways to deal with coping better coping mechanisms, better coping strategies, and alcohol is not a is not a substitute for any of those in a healthy in a healthy way. So hopefully, we can keep encouraging you to figure out and create a better and more peaceful relationship with alcohol, minimize your use. And if in fact, being alcohol free, makes sense, then I would invite you to do that as well. Lastly, Claire, you just in the midst of a pandemic, managed to publish another book and this is a novel. So talk to me a little bit about the authenticity project because I know there is some a little bit of a, also a sharing or relives a little bit of your life too in terms of your own experience. Yeah, I mean, it was really inspired by what I’ve been through. Because when, you know, as I said, when I first quit drinking, I, you know, I didn’t tell anyone that I was quitting, I didn’t tell them why I was quitting. And if you looked at my Facebook, or my Instagram, at that time, my life would have looked pretty perfect, but the reality was completely different. And, and it was telling the real truth about my life in my blog that really saved my life. And it helped transform the lives of 1000s of people who read it. And that got me thinking, Well, you know, everybody lies about their lives in one way, shape, or form. You know, the pictures that we put on social media are highly curated, it’s always the best selves and not the reality. And you know what would happen if instead, we all told the truth about our lives, and that was the thought behind the authenticity project and what happens there is it’s one of the main characters is an artist called Julian who’s 79. And he decided to tell the truth about his life not on the on a blog like I did, but in an old fashioned notebook. And so he writes on the front of the notebook, he writes the authenticity project, and inside he tells his truth, which is that he’s incredibly lonely because his wife has died for 10 years previously, and he leaves that notebook in a cafe where it’s picked up by the owner who reads his story and decides to track him down and try and make his life better. And then she does the same thing. She writes the truth about her life and needs a book somewhere else. So this little notebook is passed between six complete strangers, and they all end up meeting each other and changing each other’s lives in miraculous ways. So yeah, that’s the basic idea behind it, but all based on my own experience, and obviously, one of the characters is an alcoholic. Yeah, so it is it is slightly autobiographical, in a way. Yeah. Oh, I cannot wait to read it. I haven’t gotten to read it yet. So I am going to link that as well, folks in the show notes. Yeah, I love the I mean, it’s, it’s true. This whole idea, like I think I said to you earlier in before we started recording this idea of the imposter syndrome. And something that I was really struggling with in my previous podcast and things and people I’ve talked about it on this podcast as well, just not being authentic about how much drinking was impacting my life and being able to share that really does change your life, for the better. And I think that that I love the idea of doing that through a novel as well. And some fictional characters. I can’t wait to read that I’m sure it’s, if it’s anything as if it’s written anywhere near as well as the soaker diaries, which I have to assume it is. It’s going to be a great read, folks. Oh, thank you. Thank you, Claire. I just cannot thank you enough. And I will link to your TED talk as well. When you’ve managed to accumulate a following and publish a book and influence hundreds of 1000s of people. It really takes someone special to take the time to pay it downward, pay it backward to someone who’s just launching a podcast. So I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing a little bit more about your journey with me and my audience. So pleasure. It’s been lovely chatting to Molly and best of luck with everything. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening to breaking the bottle legacy. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Take something that you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible. You have the power to change your relationship with alcohol. Now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com