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The Sober Revolution

"Between 2003 and 2012 the number of cases of breast cancer attributable to alcohol consumption in the UK rose from 9,100 to 13,700, approximately a 50% increase in just under a decade." The Sober Revolution, 2013, Turner, Sarah and Rocca, Lucy.

I wrote the above in my first published book back in 2013. Just short of ten years later, I found myself in Sheffield's Hallamshire Hospital having a tumour removed from my right breast, having recently being diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.

Twelve years prior to that, I woke up in Sheffield's Northern General Hospital after drinking myself into oblivion and being found, lying on the pavement outside my house, throwing up and unconscious.

Twice in my adult life I have been hospitalised (other than giving birth). Both times have been down to drinking alcohol. (IMO, it is a high probability that alcohol caused my recent breast cancer. If you start drinking early, you’re increasing the chance of cancer developing in later life.

Flicking through my phone this morning, I stumbled upon this news story, featuring the moderate drinking champion, Adrian Chiles, detailing how he cut back from 100 units a week to 25. OK, so it's definitely an improvement, but given that Chiles is still drinking double the UK's current recommended guidelines of alcohol consumption for men, and 25 times Canada's current recommended guidelines (recently amended to a big fat zero), it's not so great.

Chiles has this to say on the subject of Dry January; "The wiser among you will have spent your period of abstinence working out something important: what kind of drinker do you want to be? It’s a question I had to ask myself five years ago. I was drinking about 100 units a week — incredibly, without obvious ill effect. But then a doctor told me my liver was looking decidedly unhappy, and something had to change. I considered stopping completely but felt that drinking, rightly or wrongly, was a seam too securely stitched into my life to easily unpick. And, frankly, I enjoyed it too much. I decided instead on a concerted attempt to cut right down. For the very love of drinking I wanted to drink less."

This is all very well and good if it's Chiles's personal opinion - after all, he is entitled to think and do whatever he wishes, within the parameters of the law. However, this paragraph is an extract from his widely publicised book, The Good Drinker: How I Learned to Love Drinking Less and for that reason, I find it unsettling.

The majority of the alcohol industry's profits are derived from binge drinkers. People who stick to the government's guidelines (especially in Canada!) do not boost the coffers of the fat cat booze giants. People who drink alcohol generally drink more than they should and, indeed, in many countries including the UK, drinking is perceived as a pastime - most likely, our favourite national pastime.

"We're meeting for drinks" (new date)

"Let's go out for drinks" (group of friends)

"Let's share a bottle of red (or two!) (romantic dinner)

"Let's do Pimms - Wimbledon's on!" (tennis and summer)

"Let's have a pint at the end" (country walk)

"Let's drink Prosecco - it's holiday time!" (in-flight drinks)

Chiles sends out the wrong message entirely. That we need alcohol to be happy and complete and, therefore, the aim must surely be working out how to moderate our consumption without giving it up entirely - what kind of drinker do we want to be?? Dry January is a break for the liver, not an opportunity to start learning to live without ingesting a daily carcinogen. God forbid we entertain the idea of socialising without the mind-altering crutch we have been leaning on for all these years.

The kind of drinker I wanted to be was, in the first instance, a massive pisshead who drank herself into oblivion pretty much every time she drank, and then, as I reached my late twenties and early thirties, a moderate drinker... I desperately wanted that, and tried incredibly hard to make it so.

It was impossible.

I drank a lot when I was younger. I started at 13 and, by the time I was 30, I was drinking easily 100 units a week. This continued until my disastrous (actually, a blessed occasion for which I am now wholly grateful) night of drinking in 2011 that landed me in hospital.

I am glad that I went through the pain of early sobriety. I'm unbelievably thankful that I stopped harming my body in the way that I was. I am proud that standing around talking mostly crap with people I barely know no longer constitutes my social life. I feel lucky that I have self-awareness, fitness, emotional resilience, solid relationships; that I have fulfilled my potential and know what I want out of life; that I am present in my life, day in and day out, no longer fuzzing the edges of my reality.

This is the message that Sarah Turner and I wanted to send out when we wrote our little book back in 2013. The book has just been relaunched with a new introduction written last year, and I am as proud of it now as I was ten years ago when it was first published. I am glad that I wrote a book with the intention of showing people how positive an alcohol-free life could be, and not one that encourages them to drink double the recommended guidelines while being dressed up as "common sense" and "down to earth advice".

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