Track and Trace

During the first lockdown, I started walking along the seafront each morning, further and further, until I established a regular walk with regular stops to pick up tea and coffee along the way. I greeted the same people each morning, first with just a wave, then a ‘good morning’, and not long after, a proper conversation. They became part of my morning social life – I’ve largely replaced socialising in the evenings with mornings.

Almost every day someone will tell me that I’m ‘late’ or ‘early’, or not where I am normally on my walk. They’ll ask me how far I’ve walked, where I’ve come from and sometimes even tell me off for not going further. Only last week, a woman spotted me on my way back home and said, “That’s too quick! There’s no way you’ve walked to X beach!” I’d never said I’d walked to that beach, so I don’t know why she was measuring me on it.

The next day a man I vaguely know tapped his watch and said, “You’re running late!” The day after that, the same man noted that I was carrying a second cup of tea. I confess that I slightly lost it with him. “Are you tracking me or something?!” I cried. He laughed nervously and dragged his dog away.

I get this commentary all the time and it’s something I would never say to someone else. I see the same people each morning doing their thing and might observe a change in their routine, but I wouldn’t dream of pointing it out. This is their precious morning time, to do with whatever they choose.

I never walk at exactly the same time every day, so the ‘you’re late/early’ comments are a waste of breath. I’m hoping they work it out soon. I don’t understand why me being on time is so important to them. The lack of fixed routine is one of the greatest joys of my new freelance life – why would I impose a fixed schedule on it when I don’t need to?

A few weeks ago I met another solo woman when I was out hiking and helped her with some directions. We stopped to chat while eating lunch and shared our favourite walking books – Wild, The Salt Path, The Old Ways

It turned out that her husband and two children were waiting for her a mile up ahead. Her husband had got her into travel and nature writing and wanted to encourage her to walk alone and experience the joy of it.

“How wonderful,” I told her, and she beamed.

“I love being on my own in nature,” she said. “Just a few hours where I’m off grid, untrackable.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.

After we parted ways I showed my face to the sun and took a huge gulp of air, knowing that no one knew where I was (apart from the woman I’d just met) and that I could choose to go wherever I wanted, in whatever direction, quickly or slowly, with no commentary from anyone else.

As a solo woman, you know that you should probably leave details of where you’re going with a friend in case something awful happens, but that’s the last thing I want to do. This is about disappearing from view with nobody else’s input. I want to hike alone and tell no one about how far or where I’ve gone. I used to post everything on social media but it always came with a commentary I didn’t need: someone who’d done the same route and told me about their favourite bit, someone who wanted to do it, someone who’d done it twice as fast, someone who’d done it naked…

As a solo woman, you also encounter ‘Challenge Man’ – the man who questions you intensely about whether you’ve ‘completed’ the path you’re on, how fast you’re doing it, and how many days you’ve ‘allowed’ yourself to complete it in. These men are often my age and dragging around a woman who is trying to enjoy nature, not complete a challenge in a set time. She, like me, wants to stop for tea and cake in the sunshine, and not be concerned about how that is impacting her overall time or Fitbit stats. She smiles at me apologetically, standing slightly behind her competitive other half.

The approach I’ve decided to adopt with all these people is to be as vague and non-specific as possible.

They ask me how far I’m going: “I haven’t decided yet – I’ll see how I feel…”

They ask me if I’ve completed the path I’m on or planning to do another: “No, I’m doing my favourite sections of this path, over and over again.”

They tell me I’m early or late: “I don’t have fixed times…”

They ask me if I’m not working that day: “Yes, I just start whenever I want.”

But when they ask about my second (or third) cup of tea, I might just smile politely and walk on by.

Because I can.

The Plan

Last week I went for my one and only Christmas meal out with a group of friends and they were asking me about my relationship with Shubham, The Most Handsome Man in Goa, who is currently on a ship sailing around Madeira and the Canary Islands.

“So, what’s the plan?” one of the ladies asked. I scrambled around for an answer, remembering that my original plan was six months in Goa and six months here. Then Covid got in the way.

The following day I thought about that conversation and remembered something else: I do not like plans. I don’t even like the word ‘plan’. When someone tells me they ‘have plans’ for the weekend I baulk internally. The word triggers something in me.

You can listen to me reading this blog post here

I have realised that I have weathered the Covid storm (which continues to rage) principally because I have no plans to scupper. I haven’t booked anything that could have been scuppered, only recently having bought flights to India when the pre-omicron world appeared to be opening up. Those have been cancelled and I’ve got a refund. I will not rebook until I know I can definitely go.

People say to me, “Oh you must be DEVASTATED not to be going to India or seeing your man,” and for a while I think, “Why aren’t I?” But he’s the same as me – of course we miss each other, but our love doesn’t diminish because we’re not in each other’s presence. One could say it gets keener because we continually tell each other stories in our videocalls – how we met, how we split up and got back together, and what will happen when we see each other again. The latter is never a defined plan – we both have a ‘what will be will be’ approach to it. Anything else is just stressful and pointless. We can’t control it, so why attempt it?

I’ve realised that this plan-less existence serves me very well as a freelancer. Yes, I have a set of things that I must work on week to week, but I decide which ones get done when on the day, depending on how I feel. I often work from 11am to 7pm (or even 12pm to 8pm) because that’s when I feel most motivated and creative and I can make the most of the hours of winter light. I never like the fixed-hours culture of corporate life and made mine as late as they could be, avoiding those ‘first-thing’ morning-stealer meetings as much as I could.

I’ve never enjoyed planning too much of my time ahead and love to leave weekends open to chance and spontaneity. I like to book a cinema ticket on the spur of the moment or get up and go on a hike. Mid-hike, I’ll change the plan because of how I feel in the moment. I go with my gut.

I’ve found that the more I plan in to my life, the more open it is to change, and the more open all of it is to commentary from other people. I prefer to keep my ideas fluid and silent like an underground stream. I don’t want to have to explain why I’ve changed my mind about something so I don’t mention it in the first place. As a chronic sharer of things, this new strategy has taken some doing.

So my answer to “What’s the plan?” with me and my boyfriend is, “Why do you think we need one?” Why does every aspect of life need a plan? If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re mice when it comes to best-laid plans.

I plan to let life unfold just the way it’s meant to be.

Sober curious? Preview and pre-order my new guide on how to live without alcohol – only £1.99 – below:

Free

I had an epiphany last week. I’d got bogged down with my book promotion and temporarily forgot why I published it in the first place – to help other people trapped in unhealthy situations, be it a marriage or an addiction to alcohol. I’d lost sight of that as the pressure for my book to ‘perform’ mounted. I am someone who is deeply suspicious of free things (and people who only want things because they’re free). I would never have thought that making my book free for a day was the key to something so good.

In publishing, we’ve forgotten that writing is an art form that we might pursue for pleasure or to spread enjoyment locally. It’s an industry obsessed with sales figures and book deals; recognition and validation from an elite group being the main goal. We’ve forgotten that people like to write stories and feel pleasure when someone else enjoys reading them. We’ve forgotten that there is a pleasure in a local group of people enjoying art and aim for global recognition, sometimes not even showing anyone our writing because it hinges on a deal that may never come.

I’m asked all the time about sales figures. How are sales going? How many books have you sold? I get asked this every day. A little light in my heart goes out every time. Is that all you can see? I think. Let me tell you about the people who have loved my writing and messaged me to say that the book changed their lives. Let me show you what success really is. I often use the analogy of painting to point out this weird commerciality attached to books. I know that if I hung a painting of a sunset on Worthing Pier, people wouldn’t ask me how many I’d sold. They’d hopefully stand and enjoy it and invite their friends to look at it. Just because it’s not on a global tour to major art galleries, doesn’t make it any less valid. I think of my self-published book in the same way.

My free book day brought me so much joy. Perhaps there is someone out there now, a woman, who needed to read my story in order to make the leap into freedom. I spent the following day hiking on the South Downs, thinking about what it meant to be free and happy. For me, it’s a solo hike in the sunshine, the wind whipping my hair, a warm down jacket and everything I need in a pack on my back. I sat eating a slice of apple and cinnamon cake in the sunshine with a hot mug of tea and simply felt happy. I am happiest when being in nature, when writing, when helping other people, when being alone.

My book (and this blog) is about freedom in all its forms: from the confines of an unhappy marriage, from alcohol addiction, from unhealthy relationships, workplaces and friendships, from dieting and beauty standards, from society’s expectations around marriage and motherhood, and from the toxicity of corporate life. Most importantly, it’s about asserting oneself as a solo individual. To me, freedom is about not waiting to be validated or given permission to do anything by another person or entity.

I am reigniting my writing here with the fire of freedom and changing my branding to suit. No more Because I Can – it’s Because You Can from now on.

Cheat Play Live now available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cheat-Play-Live-journey-fearlessness-ebook/dp/B09BW65D7B/

Last Woman Drinking

Last week, I was interviewed by Be Sober‘s Simon Chapple about my relationship with alcohol, and how I managed the transition to a sober life. I talk about how writing my memoir made me realise that drinking had had a huge impact on my life from the time I started in my twenties until my early fifties, when I gave up. Many of my (bad) decisions and behaviours had taken place under the influence of alcohol, including asking the wrong man to marry me. You can hear me talk about my story below, and of course, read the book here (leave a review!).

I also wrote a blog post for Simon, which I’ll share here. For me, it’s all about awareness and choice – if you’re aware of the realities of drinking, you can make an informed choice as to whether to do it or not.

Last Woman Drinking

I knew that I’d hit rock bottom when the young designer next to me in my bed was on the phone to his very understanding girlfriend, reassuring her that he was ok, and that nothing had happened. “We have a very honest and open relationship,” he said, looking at me shyly.

I’d got him so drunk at some work drinks that he hadn’t been able to get home. We’d both slept next to each other, fully clothed, and now it was time to face the harsh light of day. And the fact that I was his boss…

As a senior manager in a publishing house a few years ago, I organised a weekly ‘Prosecco Hour’ every Friday at 4pm. I’d say it was ‘for the staff’, but now I realise it was also for something else: it was a way of enabling and validating my own drinking by having everyone around me join in.

The publishing world is made of prosecco hours; they’re everywhere, from book launches to book fairs. We’d whip out a bottle with the merest whiff of something to celebrate, even if it was just the end of a stressful day. But over time, I noticed that the numbers joining in had dwindled, and they were more likely to be peers my own age gathering around the fizz while other younger team members backed away politely, saying they needed to get to their yoga class. I couldn’t understand why they’d prefer that over booze and I scoffed at their lack of party spirit.

I’d got a name for myself. “Lisa likes a drink,” I’d hear people say. I’d laugh with them about my inability to ‘just have one’ – everyone knew I’d drink one bottle, not one glass. I didn’t know I had a problem. It was what everyone was doing, wasn’t it?

Writing my memoir, Cheat Play Live, made me examine where my drinking began. I knew it had started in the nineties with my entry into publishing and ladette culture. We all drank Stella with the boys and fancied ourselves as Bridget Jones, Ally McBeal or the girls in Sex and the City. I drank as a reward for triumphs at work and as a commiseration for the stress. But I was also using alcohol to numb the grief of losing my father as a child and to cope with my mother’s dementia.

As the decades passed, I started drinking on my own in bars. My feminist self justified it as a woman exercising her independence and freedom, but really it was further validating my habit. My drinking gathered pace over time, until it reshaped itself into something I could cope with: bingeing.

Before I stopped drinking almost three years ago, my life was largely constructed around alcohol. I was successfully managing my career, and my drinking. I was trapped in a binge-recovery cycle that I told myself was ‘cutting back’. I’d restrict my drinking to three nights per week and felt smug about my nights off. In reality, I needed those days in between to recover from the bottle of prosecco (or two) that I was consuming on the other nights.

Leading UK alcohol charity, Alcohol Change UK, states: “…a generation who drank heavily in the 1990s and 2000s is bringing those habits into middle age, with potentially serious consequences for their long-term health.”

I spoke to Lucy Holmes, the charity’s Director of Research and Policy who said, “Many women drink half a bottle of wine per night, not realising that it represents a third of their weekly recommended intake. They are unaware of the health risks and the links between alcohol consumption and cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

I am proud of the fact that I’ve never smoked, having lost my dad to cancer (he was a heavy smoker). I was ten years old when he died and I swore I’d never touch a cigarette, even though everyone around me was doing it. As it was, I also managed to avoid alcohol until I was in my early twenties – and if I’d been told that drinking alcohol was equally harmful, I never would have started. But of course, we know that the alcohol industry is worth £10bn to the government – they’re never going to highlight its harms in any meaningful way, even if £3.5bn of that income has to be spent on managing alcohol’s damage to our health.

Being made aware of potential physical harm has a huge effect on our smoking and drinking habits. The increase in non-drinking among millennials and Generation Z is largely attributed to their awareness of alcohol’s harmful effects (as well as its cost). Similarly, many women my age are proud of giving up smoking because they see it as a greater harm, having swallowed health campaigns such as the British Lung Foundation’s Stoptober. Like me, they’ve also seen the effects of smoking on their ageing parents. A friend of mine, Cheryl, 51, a press officer living in Brighton, admits, “I don’t worry about my drinking,” she said, “it’s the late nights and the cigarettes I smoke when I am drunk that I worry about.”

Public Health England found that high-risk drinking increased from 16% in 2019 to 19% in 2020, most of which was driven by women during lockdown, specifically those between 35 and 54 years old. (High-risk drinking is anything above the recommended limit of 14 units, equating to one and a half bottles of wine, six pints of beer or seven double gin and tonics, or anything above 5 days per month of binge-drinking.) Women my age used alcohol as a way of coping with the increased stress around working and schooling from home during lockdown.

I relied on zero-alcohol prosecco to see me through, even though I did spend some time staring at the shelves of the real stuff. It’s the most I’ve been tempted since I gave up – I wanted to break up the day, numb the boredom and anxiety, and celebrate when it was all (apparently) over. On ‘Freedom Day’, I watched two women taking a bottle of prosecco and two glasses down to the beach and I so wanted to join them. But I didn’t.

The UCL report showed that while the numbers of women drinking during lockdown increased, the numbers of those trying to give up also showed an upward curve. I know that among my friends, their increased lockdown drinking scared them a little into cutting down. Candice, 42, single mother and a senior lecturer in sport and fitness in Hampshire, worked from home and homeschooled her 13-year-old daughter during the pandemic. She drank gin and tonic every night as her life became more stressful. “I use alcohol as a reward or something to help me unwind, and during lockdown,” she told me. “It was something I used to break the day into evening. That kind of habit forms very easily and after lockdown I decided to cut back for the sake of my health.”

Since the pandemic, Candice has reduced her drinking to two to three nights a week: “I now consciously have nights off alcohol, drinking a cup of tea or a hot chocolate instead. I try to only drink at weekends and I’m happy with that. All my friends have done a similar thing.”

A number of celebrities who were heavy drinkers in the 1990s and 2000s have recently embraced the sober life. Kate Moss, 47, has been alcohol-free since 2018 and Zoe Ball, icon of ladette culture, quit in 2016. More recently, Susannah Constantine, 59, spoke about her own alcohol dependency: “The truth was, not only was I dependent on alcohol, I enjoyed life better when I was drinking. Until I didn’t… Drinking had ceased to be fun. I had ceased to be fun. I was no longer in control of my drinking; it was controlling me.”

I had a very similar epiphany to Susannah. My own sober journey started nearly three years ago with therapy, yoga and reading ‘quit lit’ such as This Naked Mind by Annie Grace – the sober bible for so many people. Drinking alcohol had stopped making me feel good and I’d begun to question why I was ordering the first drink, never mind the second. The only part that was every truly good was the anticipation of it and that first sip. Drinking started to feel increasingly disappointing after that point and I did and said a lot of things I now regret while under its influence.

Reading This Naked Mind and William Porter’s Alcohol Explained revealed that what I was drinking was literally a poison – a toxic depressant – and it made me give up for good. But this was a message I was opening to hearing at a particular time of my life. When I’ve told friends who are still drinking that they are putting flavoured ethanol into their bodies they just look at me blankly. But is the message slowly seeping in?

Some of my friends gave up drinking at the same time as me (literally the same day I told them), seemingly relieved to being given social permission to do so. Others have read my blog and my book and felt they could give it a try too. My friend, Cheryl, who recently fell down some steps on her way home at 3am and knocked herself out, said, “It made me question why I can’t just have the one and head home. When I’m dancing away in a club I feel great, but the next day, I feel dreadful and a bit of an idiot. If my friends all slowed down then I probably would too – I don’t want to be the last woman drinking.”

Since becoming sober, my life has completely changed. I’m more likely to stay in, because I’ve realised how much of my going out was tied to drinking. I’ve reclaimed mornings and now use them as my ‘evenings’, where I walk, meet friends for coffee and muse on the day ahead before I start work. At 54, I look younger, have a clear, (mostly) anxiety-free head, and I’m more able to cope with menopause symptoms which are known to be worsened by drinking.

But that, my friends, is a subject for another book…

Cheat Play Live by Lisa Edwards is out now (Redwood Tree Publishing, £4.99 (ebook), £6.99 (paperback). Buy the book, read reviews and listen to more interviews here.

Get Back

Like many people, I’ve taken out a Disney+ subscription just to see the hours of unseen footage of The Beatles, lovingly restored by Peter Jackson in his Get Back documentary, preparing for their live rooftop show. I’ve been watching in awe at the creative process shown live and in full colour: Paul strumming the first chords of Get Back and trying out unformed lyrics while George yawns in front of him, Ringo staring into space.

Paul and John getting the scansion right for “Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona” has been a particularly memorable moment for me. When I’m writing (and editing) I listen to the sound of the words. Like songwriters, I’ll live with something that isn’t quite grammatically correct if it “sings right“.

Last week I’d got so bogged down in various activities related to my book I was starting to drown. I was monitoring adverts and promos on Amazon and Facebook, preparing my first newsletter which contains a free downloadable book, my print materials for a sober conference in January, plus launching pre-orders of my first guidebook – all while trying to hold down my (freelance) day job. By the time it got to Friday, I was at breaking point.

Design by Clare Baggaley

I went on a self-publishing forum I use to ask other authors if they experienced overwhelm when they publish their first book; if they initially thought they could publish and run but found themselves unable to tear themselves away from trying keep it alive and kicking in the world, like it was a small child crying for milk and cuddles. Of course, the resounding response was that I was not alone. It was also that having written book one, the best thing you can do for yourself is write book two and don’t kill yourself promoting book one. So I set about doing that.

As soon as I started filling the first page, I felt happy. Writing makes me happy and I’d temporarily forgotten that. It was a cold day but I wrapped up warmly and sat at my desk with coffee and candlelight. I feel happy just writing these words, writing about writing.

So this week’s blog is about the importance of getting back to the core reason why you started something. The reason that made you write words on a page or strum chords into a guitar. Watching Paul and John create songs together is hugely inspiring for me. It makes me remember my seaside walks coming up with ideas for book one, which have now morphed into ideas for the sequel. It’s how I create – I spend time thinking, going over and over the details of the past until a pattern emerges that I can commit to paper. Events loom large, or recede, and I make editorial decisions on what to include, or not. It is the essence of me in the world and I can’t thrive without it.

I am a writer.

The launch of Because You Can guides!

I have news! The first of my new £1.99 guides to a free and happy life is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will publish on January 10, 2022, my three-year soberversary. It contains my essential twelve steps to sobriety, my own sober diary from the early days of quitting, plus a related extract from my memoir.

Pre-order here:

https://amazon.co.uk/dp/B09MSM5CD2


I will be releasing BYC guides on other topics discussed widely on my blog, including how to live a happy single/childfree life, how to travel solo, how to live a free working life, how to love your own body and how to live with menopause. Watch this space – or better still, sign up to my newsletter to get the news on the next one first: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/redwoods1

Cover design by Clare Baggaley

Stroppy Cow

I went hiking at the weekend with a good friend and whilst we chatted, she remarked that I seem so much softer than when she first met me; less spiky.

I know I am because I feel it.

I underwent a massive life change in 2018/19 when I went through therapy, yoga training, giving up alcohol and opting out of a stressful corporate life. All of those things had combined to make me somewhat ‘scary’ to those who encountered me, as I tended to bark at people, online and in person.

What I didn’t realise until this year, though, was how much I was governed by my hormones at that time. I was 51 and going through peri-menopause – the stage before full menopause where your hormones are adjusting after a lifetime of monthly cycles. But like many women, I didn’t realise. I look back now and can see that I had a suite of symptoms that are completely in line with perimenopause and menopause.

I had trouble sleeping for years, which did improve when I gave up drinking, but remained intermittently, manifesting at 3am most nights where I’d find a TV show to binge on to quiet my brain. I felt anxious about things that in retrospect, shouldn’t have caused anxiety, but they felt very real. I recognised that feeling from years of PMS.

Much of my anxiety stemmed from an inability to control my emotional responses to things, be they work scenarios or relationships. I’d lie awake at 3am thinking about whether I’d burned my bridges by having a red-hot response to something. I knew I was doing it but couldn’t seem to help it. A red mist would descend and I’d say the thing I’d hoped not to say, and then spend days and nights worrying about its impact. It scared me a lot, and now I think I remember my mother going through a period like this, and it made me wonder if it was the reason behind her retreat into an almost hermit-like existence.

I also had horrific joint pain in my shoulders and hips. It was, as I explore in my memoir, a manifestation of the stress I was experiencing at work, but it was also result of falling oestrogen levels. No one tells you that oestrogen is a painkiller, and when you lose the levels, you gain the pain. I went for countless clinical tests and x-rays to determine the problem, when the obvious answer was hormonal change.

It was only in the last year or so, when my symptoms heightened during the second lockdown, that menopause was suggested to me by a friend as the possible cause of my issues. A year ago I’d made a list on my phone of everything that was causing me anxiety and I’ve kept it because now it seems so ridiculous. I cried over things that now generate barely a raised eyebrow and got angry over nothing. I was a stroppy cow.

In the new year I sought help and I was lucky enough to be assigned to an HRT nurse in my local practice who helped me determine what I needed. I started off on a patch (Evorel Sequi) that mimicked a ‘normal’ cycle with a period, but I found I was still feeling anxious in the weeks where I was deprived of progesterone. I moved on to a continuous supply of oestrogen and progesterone (Evorel Conti) and immediately felt better. Literally on day one.

It was only then, when I started to feel better, that I realised what a slave I’d been to my hormones. I noticed physical changes as well as emotional ones too: I hadn’t noticed that my hair had begun to thin quite alarmingly until it started to thicken again. My shoulders stopped hurting and I stopped having to lie in a weird position to reduce the pain. I started sleeping better – just feeling more normal. I still can’t believe I spent so long living with all the symptoms, living with my inner stroppy cow.

Now that everyone is out there talking about menopause, I’m adding my story to the mix. Now, when I meet any woman describing any of the above symptoms, I tell her about my HRT experience straight away and tell her to take the name of my patches to her doctor. I tell her not to trust them if they palm her off with anti-depressants, which has happened to friends in the past.

Menopause has been described as a kind of reverse-puberty. I think about the heady mix of me and my mother living together when I was 14 and she was 52. I couldn’t understand why she was irritable and downright miserable and now I wish I could have got her to use HRT, although then it wasn’t trusted as much.

So, I hope my story helps one woman out there who has read this and realised that her symptoms align with mine; joining the dots and realising that they all stem from one source – hormonal imbalance. I hope she gets the help she needs and stops putting up with pain, sleeplessness and anxiety that are completely unnecessary.

Because she can.

CHEAT PLAY LIVE is free today!

Today, on the day of a life-changing full moon, I am setting my memoir Cheat Play Live FREE on Amazon. I wonder if it will find its way on to the Kindle of a person who needs to hear its message about freedom.

Download Cheat Play Live FREE here.

See all the reviews and interviews here.