Rachel Elnaugh, ex-Dragon’s Den dragon, recently gave up drinking when she discovered the wonderful Jason Vale’s book, ‘How to Kick the Drink…Easily!’ which I blogged about in the summer. Rachel’s account of her problematic relationship with booze and how she finally kicked it, will, I’m sure, strike a chord with many. It certainly did for Anita and I, which is why we were so eager to get Rachel’s post on our site as a guest blog. Thank you Rachel for allowing us to publish your post on the Soberistas blog, and good work for seeing the light and ditching the booze!
Rachel Elnaugh, from BBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’
This is a post dedicated to all those people who are getting uncomfortable with the amount of alcohol that they are currently consuming.
After all, what harm can a glass or two of wine do?
Well, maybe getting on for a whole bottle after a particularly stressful day…
Or even the occasional skinful getting carried away at a party, or over a boozy dinner with boozy friends?
I’ve been a drinker for as long as I can remember.
My parents always enjoyed a bottle of Blue Nun with Sunday lunch and I used to see them sit hand in hand sipping ice cold lager when it first came into fashion in the 1970′s. Was it any surprise that I saw drinking as perfectly normal, very grown up and somehow rather romantic?
I’ve always been a hedonist who tends to do things to excess. This was fantastic as a career girl working in the City during the ’80′s – a champagne fuelled era of decadence where you’d often go to lunch and end up still in the wine bar in the evening. So long as your charge out rate was at 100+% (mine was frequently 110%+) the bosses turned a blind eye. We worked hard, we played hard, we all made lots of money.
This hedonistic streak was also a big reason for the success of my first business Red Letter Days (all about escapism essentially) – but it also lead me to go over the top where drinking was concerned.
Things changed when I was 30 and had my first baby.
Looking back it was clear I had post-natal depression, and as a single mum I really didn’t know how to cope stuck at home with a baby that needed constant attention. I didn’t know what to do when he cried. Apart from transporting him to the childminder each morning on my way into work and collecting him on my way home I rarely left the house with him, because I didn’t know how I would cope if something went wrong.
So at that point drinking became something of a ‘private party for one’. Pure escapism from the terror of not knowing how to be a mother.
When life is wonderful and full of friends and parties, alcohol just fuels the celebration. But once you are addicted it’s very easy to turn to booze as a coping mechanism to get you through life’s problems.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2002 – by which point I’d been using alcohol as a coping tool for over a decade. My business was booming, I had a hard working high stress life, and I also had the money to pay for a variety of childminders and helpers and private schools for the children. A good friend had committed suicide as a result of alcohol on Valentine’s Day 2001 – leaving me a suicide note saying he was about to go on the ‘Ultimate Experience’ – a trip across the River Styx accompanied by Charon the Ferryman. I had been drinking to excess throughout the Christmas/New Year period and, thanks to a good friend whose father had also died from being an alcoholic, and who also took me to various Christian events, I finally went along to my very first AA meeting.
I was surprised at just how many ‘normal’ people there were there!
I managed to stay off the booze until that May, when I got the call that I had been shortlisted for the 2001 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award. They wanted me to attend a photoshoot with the other finalists – Barbara Cassani of GO! Airlines, Jo Malone, Chey Garland and Sly Bailey, then CEO of Trinity Mirror Group. Of course the event was awash with free champagne, and in the elation of the moment I made the dreaded mistake of thinking ‘One glass won’t hurt!’. BAMMM!!!!
And, of course, the problem now was that this glass of sparkly-chilled-designer-poison was now inextricably linked with success and fame.
Much of 2002 was spent on one champagne high or another, during which time I met my current husband, who also likes to drink, but in a very different way to me. Things turned once again, though, in 2003 when it became clear that things were going badly wrong with Red Letter Days. I’d stepped back from the company in a non-exec role and now had to step back in to unravel the mess. Once again, alcohol was the coping mechanism, this time to the stress of massive cashflow issues, re-financing after re-financing and generally being on output 24/7 to save my business. It didn’t help that a close adviser who accompanied me to many of these meetings loved wine as much as I did!
I was under massive stress, mentally, emotionally and physically – and although I thought I was relieving much of this by using alcohol as a crutch to get me through, I now realise I was simply adding more stress to the situation by feeding my body with poison.
Things came to a head one night at my brother’s house where we had all been drinking quite heavily and his wife made some sly comments which I overheard and reacted badly to. Realising I was under massive stress and things were getting out of control, I asked my husband to drive me to a private clinic I had read about in ‘You’ Magazine a few weeks earlier. They put me in a room with a methodone addict, and next day I was in such an emotional state they gave me (as well as most of the other people there) Valium to calm us down. So there we all sat around the room like a group of sedated zombies. It was a massive wake-up call (I don’t do ‘drugs’) and that afternoon (when the Valium had worn off) I asked my husband to come and get me the hell out of there!
I never did manage to save the Red Letter Days business, but in the meantime had now managed to become a TV star via my appearance as a Dragon in the first two series of Dragons’ Den. Another champagne fuelled existence, going off in Peter Jones’ chauffeur-driven Bentley after filming for drinks in Duncan’s private club followed by dinner at The Ivy.
Booze was now tied up with power, sex, money, fame, and all the rest that goes with it.
I was managing to keep it under control now, but alcohol was still a big factor in my ability to enjoy life.
People have often asked me ‘How do you cope with five children?’ The real answer (as almost every mother will know) up until now has been: ‘With the help of a large glass of white wine.’
The next meltdown occurred in July 2011. I was due to do the Landmark Advanced Forum and (as part of my resistance to going I now realise) decided to go on a bender the night before. In no fit state to do the course, and nursing the hangover from hell, I opted out of the course at lunchtime and went back to the hotel to sleep it off.
I remember lying in bed praying to God to send me help.
I woke up at 5.40pm with an urge to get myself to an AA meeting. I Googled it and found out there was one starting at 6pm just 100 yards away !!! ’No!’ my ego-self declared ‘I look a mess and what if someone there recognises me off the telly?!?’
‘Get yourself up and go there’ replied my Inner Self, calmly.
The room was packed, and to my surprise half of the people there were young women. Lots of men in suits who’d just come from work and just a few properly ’alcoholic’ looking people. Sitting next to me was an old man with a walking stick. At the end of the session, ego-self was preparing to slip out of the room unnoticed when this man turned to me and with piercing blue eyes said ‘What can I do to help you?’. I promptly burst into tears and two women came towards me and took me to get a cup of tea and a biscuit. (These two women became my AA ‘sponsors’ to help keep me off drink.) I turned round and the man had disappeared. Strange that, earlier, when they were passing round the collection jar for donations during the session, that no one had passed the jar to the old man… I often wonder if he was the angel God had sent in response to my prayer?
That period of abstention lasted until September when I read ‘Pure’ by Barefoot Doctor which essentially said spirituality had nothing to do with how much drugs you consume. BAMMM!!! A real ‘Fuck It’ moment giving me permission to drink again…
In many ways I was lucky. I have quite a weak constitution which means that I’ve never been able to drink spirits, plus low blood pressure – which always ensured I fell asleep on booze before I could drink way too much of it. Not so my best friend Debbie, who was my champagne drinking partner during the ’80′s. She descended into vodka addiction and died of liver failure a couple of years back.
Nonetheless, even though I was only drinking wine – and I had developed some really effective ‘coping strategies’ to manage my drinking – I was increasingly realising that it was becoming an expensive habit that I really needed to do something about. I think it is really important to point out that at this stage, far from ‘battling addiction’ I felt that 99% of the time I was supremely ‘in control’. I only drank wine and by now was something of a ‘connoisseur’ – no Chilean Columbard shite for me! I only drank well made Sancerre, Languedoc and Gavi with perhaps the occasional glass of Fleurie or Chateauneuf du Pape with beef or lamb. A bottle of anything disgusting got poured away. On a typical day I didn’t have my first glass until early evening; even later if I had a professional speaking engagement. And I had developed the supreme art of alcoholic self-control: After-Dinner Speaking – not drinking for 5 hours straight through a champagne reception, five course meal with unlimited wine until going on stage, sometimes as late as 11pm. Yes, I was supremely in control! One thing though: by now I could not imagine having fun without also having a drink.
Then, last weekend – during a booze fuelled dinner party at which at no point did I want to switch to a coffee or cup of tea, or even drink a glass of water – my friend Marie Claire Carlyle suggested I read ‘Kick the Drink… Easily’ by Jason Vale. Although known for his ‘super juicing’ recipes, this was actually the first book Jason ever wrote, about his own alcohol addiction and how he stopped.
Amazon kindly delivered the book on Tuesday.
Jason instructs you not to attempt stopping drinking until you have finished reading it – and last night I finished, with a decision to also finish with alcohol. The book has altered my thinking about drinking forever.
Jason Vale asserts that there is no such thing as an ‘alcoholic’ (a term designed to shame most of us either into denial or supreme control around their drinking habit). There are just alcohol addicts – and everyone who drinks alcohol is in effect an addict to some degree or other. The very fact you have to control your drinking means that, in reality, alcohol has control over you.
He also explains in very clear and inequivocable terms that alcohol is nothing more and nothing less than a cleverly marketed, highly addictive poison.
The problem is, given that 80% of the adult population drinks, in our society alcohol is the only drug that people think it is odd for you not to take.
He also points out that even though our Government is constantly clamping down on drug dealers, heroin, crack cocaine etc. it is in itself the country’s biggest drug dealer – making £8.7billion a year from alcohol. Alcohol claims 9,000 lives a year in this country which is 9 times more deaths than from all the other hard drugs combined.
This is one powerfully written book, destroying every single myth and excuse around alcohol one by one, and in three days reversing the lifetime of brainwashing I had had around alcohol. In three days I realised that, like everyone else, I had fallen for a con – and that it had taken me 47 years to realise it. Drinking alcohol is drinking poison.
As a result of reading the book, last night I took the decision that I would never again allow myself to drink alcohol. There is no recovery period, no lifetime of going to AA meetings, no willpower, no determination needed. Just a crystal clear decision not to take poison, in any shape or form.
Given the extent of alcohol related problems in this country, the Government really should bring Jason Vale in to remedy the situation.
An ALCOHOL IS POISON label on every bottle and can of booze would be a good start.
As Jason points out, there is no such thing as a ‘safe number of units’ – in the same way that there is no such thing as a ‘safe amount of heroin’.
Alcohol is addictive – which means the only ‘safe’ number of units is no units.
Oh how I wish I had read this book several decades ago… As well as given a copy to my dead friends Brian and Deborah before it was too late for them.
You can get a copy at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kick-Drink-Easily-Jason-Vale/dp/1845903900/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350656091&sr=8-1 (this is a pure link, not an affiliate one that will earn me money). I’m giving it to you to pass on the key out of the self-made prison that is alcohol addiction.
Meantime, I am looking forward to my first weekend of freedom from the poison that is alcohol.
No it is not ‘too early’ for me to be making this declaration. There is no drying out period, no 21 days to change a habit required. Just a simple flick of a switch which has destroyed the illusion that it is somehow ‘safe’ or ‘normal’ or ‘enjoyable’ to drink a highly addictive poison.
I hope this post helps you.
POST SCRIPT It is now Monday morning and the decision to stop drinking was taken last Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday used to be the most tempting days of the week, but this time I filled them with healthy eating and drinking plus getting busy clearing the house and garden. This morning I feel more energised, awake and alive than I have done for years. Far from feeling ‘in withdrawal’ or denying myself pleasure I’m celebrating finally being out of prison. The great thing has been the reaction to this post both via the comments below and via Twitter throughout the weekend. It seems so many people are in exactly the same position that I was – a nagging sense that something was very wrong. I’m really glad that by ‘coming out’ and sharing my story I have helped be the catalyst for others to wake up and break free from the spell that we as a society are under around alcohol, believing that this highly addictive poison is normal, acceptable and a key element in our ability to have fun.