The Umbrella Cafe

I apologize for being super quiet on here lately, but the good news is that the dry venue for Manchester is on its way!

The Umbrella Cafe is for everyone who wants a fun and relaxing night out without alcohol or other drugs.

You might identify as in recovery, or sober, or straightedge, or your religion may preclude alcohol. You might be having a temporary break for your health or just trying a night off to see what it feels like. Whatever your reasons and however you identify, you will find a warm welcome – and a great night out in the city centre – under our Umbrella.

We are a brand new, inclusive, alcohol-free social space in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Find us at Nexus Friday and Saturday night starting 5th Sept 14.

See our Facebook page HERE

Follow us on Twitter HERE

Walking the Walk

I’ve been out and about trying to learn more and hopefully put my walk where my talk is this week. To this end, I watched, visited and met several brilliant examples of the new recovery advocacy movement. This sea change in attitudes to addiction, sobriety and recovery seems to be sweeping rapidly across the Atlantic to us here in the UK, and to me it seems like the proverbial breath of fresh air.

First up, the watching:

The Anonymous People is a new documentary, currently available to rent or buy on Vimeo. It features interviews with some of the main movers and shakers in the new advocacy movement.  This is a campaign to get addiction moved away from the stigma of moral failing and into the light of recovery viewed as a positive change of which recovering people can be proud. One of the key messages is the importance of language, especially when dealing without the ‘outside’ world. This means while its fine to admit to ourselves that we are addicts or alcoholics, we are encouraged to say to others ‘I am a person in recovery, for me this means […]. For example, I would say, ‘for me this means I have been abstinent from alcohol for 20 months’. This form of statement also allows for recovery to be self-defining. One person might want to describe themselves as in recovery if they have stopped heroin and still drink (for example). Although this might not fit with many 12 step programmes, it does allow the definition of recovery its widest possible range. After all, if many of us still admit a reliance on sugar, or sex, or gambling or cigarettes after quitting drink, isn’t it essential that recovery is self-defined?  The film has many such points of interest for a sober person to mull over. The sober High Schools and college dorms were a revelation to me, and again brought home how completely alien sobriety is to the UK culture. If anyone knows of any UK Universities with a sobriety or recovery student society, let alone a Halls of Residence, I’d be really happy to hear about this!  The film is completely US orientated but still very inspiring. Hopefully I will get to be involved in organising a screening in my home town soon. If you would like to do this near you, details are on the website. 

The day after the watching, the visiting:

The Brink is one of a slowly growing number of dry bars opening around the country. It’s located down a side street not far from the bustling Bold St. in Liverpool city centre. We called in on a Monday lunch time and I had a lovely vegetarian breakfast, pots of tea and cake (the sugar and caffeine addictions remain undefeated as yet). I’d like to call again on one of the evening events as I don’t think we got much of a ‘bar’ vibe from the place. It was much more of an upmarket version of a community cafe. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love community cafes – and knowing that the people serving and most of the people shooting the breeze were in recovery meant a lot to me. I even had a little cry when they played this over the stereo.


However, it’s somewhere to hang in the evening I am really craving, somewhere safe and welcoming where I won’t have to listen to what Jackie O’Hagan describes as ‘people shouting their own names at each other, over and over’ (precise starting time: 10.05pm). The Brink do a staggeringly wonderful drinks selection, with much prominence given in the bar to Mr Fitzpatricks. Mr Fitzpatricks is based in the last of the old Temperance bars in the UK, a tiny shop located in Rossendale. I visited there last month and purchased some of their wares to drink hot in the shop and cold at home. The fizzy ready made mocktails I found a little sweet but the cordials are excellent, luxuriously viscous in the bottle (all that sugar, again!) and full of flavour when diluted. The Brink often host entertainment nights, so I’ll be trying to sample a few of their own mocktails while checking out some live music or comedy soon. 



What I’d like most in the world, of course, is to have a dry bar as my local. The Brink is run as a social enterprise, and as part of that they offer courses in how to set up your own venue. Having 10 years experience helping to run alcohol fuelled venues, and being in a job now that is predominantly events management, of course my little brain is ticking over with dreams and aspirations that I might one day be able to be involved in something like this… who knows what’s possible with sobriety on my side?


So finally, to the meeting:

The UK Recovery Walk  is a charity that is very much about bringing recovery advocacy out onto the streets. In its 7th year, it will be bringing 8 to 10,000 people to the streets of Manchester to celebrate their and their loved ones’ recovery. It will conclude with a big party in the Castlefield basin. I met two of the organisers this week and am really looking forward to volunteering and getting more involved with this kind of work. Advocacy is becoming more and more important to me (of course, look at the title I chose for my blog!). As I said in this meeting, I grew up in a house where everyone drank, all the time. Both my parents were dead by the time they were 57, and for myself I never for a minute thought that life without alcohol was an option. I know that if I couldn’t see any other way of life, there are plenty of other people out there still in the same leaky and disaster-prone boat. It’s only by constantly speaking up and identifying myself as a sober person that those people can be reached. In the typical way that we joke about out addictions, I have a fridge magnet that says ‘If nothing else, I can always serve as a bad example’. I bought it in New York, on a trip with some of the worst drunken repercussions of my life. I think it may be time to throw that one away. This week an old friend I met for coffee to celebrate the completion of their PhD texted me to say that our conversation had caused them to sit down with their partner and plan some drastic cutting down. I’ll take that for starters, and keep walking.




So, we bought a car. A 16 year-old second hand car. We are driving home in it right now. I am in ecstasy and I have to post because probably only you lot will understand (as usual). This is the first thing in my *life* that I have saved up for. We paid cash. Our money. No cards no overdraft no hand out. I’ve never saved money before because I drank every spare bit I had. We’re still both in pretty bad debt, but we pay up every month. And now we have some spare to buy actual *things*. I’m heading into my mid-40s so I’ll probably never get to own a house but I feel such complete gratitude that today we have our very own (bottle) green metallic wheels. Wheeeee!!!

Why we binge

Really great post, I identify a lot.

Drunky Drunk Girl

1:16 pm

So, it’s been almost two whole weeks since my sober “birthday,” and while I felt (feel) proud and capable and free, the usual stuff continues to come up: worrying about my motivation levels crapping out on me and then, not being able to earn a living; worrying about the wedding in May, where I’m going to have to see my brother and his girlfriend; wanting to drink, surprisingly, out of boredom, out of a general sense of, OK, Now what? The usual stuff is still there, and while I feel much more balanced and able to deal with it, I still do want to drink. More like, I want to have ONE glass of red wine after a hot shower–like, a bubble bath for my insides. But then I remember the million reasons not to, and I let the fantasy go.

Maybe I simply need to set a…

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600 days

I’ll be on 600 days tomorrow, so I thought I’d best check back in and confirm my sobriety as still alive and trucking along. It’s a big number in some ways but it also seems tiny to me now. In the same way I’ve been with my husband only three years, but I feel like we are almost one person now, sobriety is the ground under my feet. It is a strange perspective. I don’t want to wish my life away, but it feels like I should have decades under my belt for all the depth of growth and feeling I have garnered from both relationships. In any case, I am sublimely grateful.

For the last few months, things have been up and down emotionally. Work is stressful, I think mainly because I am terribly raw to other people’s feelings and actions still. In the old days I am not sure how much I noticed or cared. I mean, I know I cared enough to be a reasonably successful team leader, to have relationships and friends, but now the emotional noise is like tinnitus. Nevertheless, each time I forge through a situation, I am aware I am learning something (if only to forgive myself a little for my own mistakes).

Ultimately, I wish each day for more humility, forgiveness, understanding and generosity. To let go of resentments, to recognize the pain in others, and to recognize and say sorry when it is me that has contributed to it.

Sunny days are here again, and once that would have meant cold drinks outside (you know this without me painting a picture). But I am working my way to a place where I can be happy with plain water in a windowless room:  because I can see joy everywhere, not only in escape.

I wish nothing but good to you, too.

18 months


So here we are now, 18 months down the straight and narrow line. My silver ‘chip’ collection (self awarded) now comprises a half crown, a silver penny and a number 18 key charm.


I don’t feel especially elated, but I am very proud and happy. I spent this morning texting a sober friend who has the wobbles, and we will meet for lunch tomorrow: my turn to be the strong one. I love my sober brothers and sisters and would be nothing without them.

My gift to myself, besides the silver for my tiny trophy cabinet, was a pile of books. It might seem strange to buy ‘how to’ books this far on in the game but for me keeping sobriety present, as one of the main pillars of my life, is the most important thing. If discovering the blogs has taught me anything it is that it’s never too late for more advice.

Give it away now?

I’ve been reading up a lot about the human body, in relation specifically to my recent experience with panic attacks.  I have had four during December: two in the dentists and two in Christmas crowds (one of which led to me being ushered out through a velvet curtain by an actor dressed entirely in furs – a meltdown in a Narnia diorama is quite the public spectacle).

It turns out that my habit of existing solely on coffee and cake for 10 hour working days has been playing merry hell with my pancreas and insulin production. The triple shot lattes I have been taking as my drink of choice have further exacerbated the harassment of my adrenal gland. It all seems pretty obvious when you think on it, but despite heart palpitations and terrible period cramps (both of which my doctor friend warned me some time ago were down to caffeine over use) I persisted.

I’m an addict. That seems to be the fundamental fact of my existence. Give me anything that gives my brain a fix and I will hammer that switch til my paws are bloody stumps.

Of course environment and education have huge parts to play. I wish they had taught us about brain chemistry at school, rather than about photosynthesis and that homosexuality was ‘just wrong’ (the wonders of Catholic school in the 80s). I wish my mum hadn’t been such a chronic alcoholic that food became something she did for other people. I wish I hadn’t decided that the thing that would get me through was seeing how much punishment my own body could take, and priding myself on it.

I’m trying to learn the lessons of my reading and return my body and brain to equilibrium. I have cut out sugar and other refined carbs, and caffeine. I am on day 4.

Caffeine works by blocking up receptors in the brain that take up the chemical signal that tells us we are tired, and if like me you ingested a lot of caffeine regularly, you have also grown more receptors (!) to compensate. So when you stop blocking them you feel, to use a technical medical term, like crapola. The headache is something else. The caffeine causes the blood vessels in the brain to contract, so when you open them again you get a swollen brain! Wow!

The symptoms were horrendous yesterday (I always found day 3 of nicotine withdrawal the worst too) but touch wood I am doing OK so far today. I am able to concentrate enough to write this, so I must be. Yesterday was like the ending of ‘Flowers for Algernon’…

In my agony yesterday though, I posted a moany, sympathy seeking status on Facebook and got some interesting responses. One person who went on about ‘why would you want to do that, it’s the elixir of the Gods’ and another which said ‘be sure to keep some vices, they are what make people interesting’. Now it’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of reaction to quitting. Cigarettes are seen as fundamentally bad by most people, so you always get cheered on for stopping those. Abstinence from alcohol, as we’ve discussed on the blogs before, tends to get a different reception depending on the national culture and the individual’s own relationship to drinking.

But coffee/caffeine brings up a whole other aspect, which is how most people don’t seem to object to the idea of addiction per se. So, you can find lots of listings if you Google ‘caffeine withdrawal’ all of which agree that the addiction is real and that the withdrawal terribly severe. But because the intrinsic negative effects of caffeine are very few, and its stimulant properties pleasurable and useful, the fact that it quite profoundly alters ones body and brain chemistry seems to be quite acceptable.

This doesn’t sit well with me any more. I feel like I have been through the looking glass of addiction and it is no longer about cost/benefit analyses but has become something more fundamental, political and spiritual. How dare people sell me drugs on which I become dependent, just to get through the day? And what does it cost me in terms of my own peace, to never deal with the world on clean and clear terms? All addiction is a waste, it provides quick fixes where instead I could be learning another tiny, precious lesson and growing stronger as a result.

The comment about being interesting to others was again quite an eye opener, it’s another thing we talk about a lot, isn’t it, that fear of being boring?

I’m ready to throw this one off too. It’s not my job in this world to be interesting to other people. I offer love and respect and community, but not entertainment. As women, we are raised to be people pleasers, whether as ornaments or servants. How much of our own power do we give away, when we make our self worth through the eyes of others? AA say to give away all your personal power because will is failure. I disagree. Will may fail you when you will towards something, yearning and pushing and striving. I am coming to see that. But the will to stand strong in one spot, and say no, this is me, I am your eggshell-dancing monkey no more, that comes from inside, and I will not give it away.