Clare Pooley (1969, London) Writer and former alcoholic, her blog Mami Drank in Secret achieved millions of visits. His first novel, If We Tell the Truth (Grijalbo), has been on The New York Times best-seller list for three weeks.
How Long Have You Been Sober?
I haven’t been drinking for six years in March. How did you discover that you had become an alcoholic mother? Many people drink the same as you drank, a bottle of wine a day, and are not considered alcoholic. Part of the problem is that there is a stereotype about what it is to be an alcoholic. And people think that if you don’t live up to that stereotype of the classic alcoholic, then they don’t have a drinking problem. I spent a lot of time wondering if she was an alcoholic. At night, late in the day, I would fill out these questionnaires to find out if one is an alcoholic, trying to find out if there was a problem. But then I discovered that I was asking the wrong question and that the question I had to ask myself was: Is alcohol causing me a problem in my life? And yes, he was causing me problems. You cannot drink a bottle of wine a day and that does not have an impact on your physical and mental health.
And What Specific Problems Were Alcohol Causing Him?
Many. I didn’t sleep at night, I woke up every day at 3:00 in the morning. I was overweight. I was very anxious all the time. And she was not a good mother. I spent all my time trying to escape from my children. When it was, for example, bedtime, instead of enjoying reading them stories, I would read them to them as quickly as possible so that I could go down to open a bottle of wine. And so with everything. Drinking had huge consequences in my whole life. Little by little, I realized that on the one hand, it took a lot from me and, on the other, it took up too much space in my head. He spent a lot of time thinking about drinking, trying to figure out if he had drunk, how much he drank when he was going to drink, and so on. Yes, it was a big problem.
His novel deals with how to be honest and authentic with oneself, let out the most intimate and deep feelings, helps to overcome adversity. Is that process that allowed you to give up alcohol? Yes, totally. When I realized that I had to stop drinking, I felt very embarrassed by the situation I was in. I did not feel able to talk about it with my family, I did not feel capable of going to Alcoholics Anonymous to tell my story, I did not feel able to talk to my doctor or anyone, I felt ashamed, I felt fear. I think that being a mother made me feel that more strongly because we mothers worry that people may judge us and think that you are not a good mother, that you do not take care of your children properly. There is a lot of shame and fear around addictions, particularly for women. So instead of talking to anyone, I started blogging and doing research on the subject. He bought me all the books he could find on alcohol. And every day I wrote on the blog how I felt and, for the first time, I spoke with total honesty about myself and my life, because I wrote under a pseudonym and because I thought that nobody was reading me. For me, the writing was my therapy. And suddenly hundreds of people from all over the world started reading my blog. But since they didn’t know who I really was, I continued to feel safe, secure.
And Did Writing Therapy Work?
Yes. As soon as I started to be honest about myself, I realized that this was not only changing my life completely but also the lives of a lot of people who read my blog because they too felt lonely, and reading it made them feel less alone. And the blog also made them see that there was another way to live without alcohol. All of that made me think that if being authentic and honest about your life could change your life and the lives of other people around you, what if other people did the same? And that’s where the idea for this novel came from. I thought about what would happen if instead of doing what I did on the internet someone wrote the truth about their life in an old-fashioned notebook, with an old-fashioned pen. Thus the idea for this book arose.
If your blog was your therapy to stop drinking, is this book your therapy to stay sober?
Yes, totally. When I wrote the blog it was extremely personal, because what I was talking about was my life. I exposed my privacy and in a sense, it scared me, and that is why at first I did it anonymously. But when you write fiction, you can explore everything that fascinates you, what makes you angry, what makes you passionate, but from another perspective, through the eyes of your character. In the novel, obviously, there is an alcohol and cocaine addict. And that allowed me to explore what I myself had gone through, but from a certain distance, making someone else go through what I went through. I keep writing as therapy, but it seems to me that fiction is in a way as therapeutic as non-fiction, just in a different way. There is for example a scene in which this character goes to a wedding and starts drinking again.
Was it difficult for you to give up alcohol?
Yes, it actually took me longer than I expected to feel normal again. Like many people, I believed that if I stopped drinking in a month I would feel completely normal. And no, I learned that it takes about 100 days until you start to feel like you are not obsessed with alcohol and to feel mentally good. And it actually took me two whole years to completely forget about the alcohol, not realizing whether a person with me drinks or not, to stop that alcohol radar from working. Is going to a wedding or a social event still a temptation for you or not? In the first days without alcohol, the hardest thing was being with people, going to parties. If you quit smoking, people congratulate you. But if you stop drinking people think you are a freak. At first, it was hard, no doubt. At parties, I even pretended I was drinking, drank a non-alcoholic beer or a vodka-free tonic to punch it because I realized that not drinking made others feel uncomfortable.
And Why Were They Uncomfortable?
Alcohol puts us all immediately on the same level. If you go to a party and have a drink, it just takes your fear away. And that does it all, it seems to me. I always thought I was an extrovert, but I realized that part of it was alcohol that made me an extrovert, and I think that is somehow why I turned to alcohol. Now without alcohol, I’m a bit of an introvert. Before, when I went to a party, I needed to spend an hour or an hour and half drinking to relax and get into the party. Was the support of other people, specifically your blog readers, important to overcome your alcoholism? It was a huge help. The idea of community, of helping each other is very important to me, and this pandemic is making it evident, the sense of community is increasingly important.
In those first days when I stopped drinking, I think I would have done it again if it hadn’t been for all those people around the world who followed my blog and my story. He thought that if he drank again, he would have to tell all of them and they would be disappointed, and some of them might even start drinking again. The idea of a group, of supporting each other, is very important, that’s where Alcoholics Anonymous comes from.
And did the same thing happen to you when you had breast cancer? Yes. Eight months after I stopped drinking, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the cyst was detected, the first thing I did was write about it, because I was used to writing as a therapy exercise. I wrote about the lump, about my first visit to the doctor, about my hospital appointments about everything. And the same people from all over the world who helped me with alcohol helped me again during that period, a very hard period. I received messages of support from a lot of people. A lady from Wisconsin for example, sent me a message telling me that she was a member of a church with a congregation of 250 people and that they were all going to pray for me. That woman had never seen me, didn’t even know my real name, and she mobilized a lot of people on the other side of the world to pray for my recovery. It was very moving.
A study by the Global Drugs Survey revealed a few days ago that, on average, a Briton takes 33 serious drunkenness per year and that the United Kingdom is the most alcoholic country in the world Well, I’m not surprised. It may be partly genetic, there is a relationship between alcoholism and genetics, and there may be something in our genes. But I also think it’s a cultural issue. In the UK people are very little or not ashamed of getting drunk; getting drunk is seen as perfectly acceptable. And the other way around: those who feel ashamed are those who don’t drink. It is said that alcohol is the only drug for which one does not have to justify himself when taking it. I see people at parties who get wildly drunk, who behave sadly, and who don’t have to explain their behavior. And the other way around: I have to explain all the time why I don’t drink. But I think things are changing
In What Sense?
In the UK, and I imagine it will be the same in the rest of Europe, young people now drink much less. Among those under 25 in the UK, many people have decided not to drink for health reasons, because they simply don’t need it. It’s a gigantic change. when I was going to college, I never met a single person who didn’t drink. And now it seems that 25% of students choose not to drink. During the pandemic according to polls, 48% of Britons admit that they drank more. Does it fit you? Totally. People drink for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is to be able to deal with stress and anxiety, and also with boredom. And when you are confined, you have a lot more stress and anxiety and nothing to do. I know many people who drink to relax, but also to give themselves a kind of gift, it is like throwing a party at home. If I had continued to drink, during the pandemic I would certainly have drunk much more. She would have taken packets of pasta and other things out of the kitchen cabinets and filled them with wine.
What Should Be Done To Reduce Alcoholism?
I believe that education has a lot to do with it and also the language we use. It would be necessary to educate more on the negative effects of alcohol explain how alcohol instead of reducing anxiety increases it how instead of making you happy it increases depression, tell that it causes insomnia that there is a very strong relationship between cancer and alcohol because there are many people who do not know that alcohol causes cancer. And I also think that we should talk about alcohol differently than we do because we talk about alcohol differently from all other drugs.
If, for example, we treated alcohol like tobacco, if we made it clear that alcohol is a drug like any other as addictive as all others, it would be a major cultural change. Right now, if someone becomes an alcoholic, we think it’s their problem. But an alcoholic is someone with a disease someone who cannot handle the situation someone who is blamed for being as they are. And what should be blamed on the drug?