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.
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 Mindby 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.
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.
A wonderful review from Always Need More Books. Thank you, Clair!
Cheat Play Live by Lisa Edwards Originally published: 6 August 2021 Author: Lisa Edwards Published by: Redwood Tree Publishing Genre: Memoir Length: 246 pages Reading dates: 4-9 November 20 21 On a beach in California, Lisa finds a shell on a rock, its two halves open to the sky. On the outside it is sea-worn and […]
Back in September, I was interviewed by University College London for their Shelf Healing podcast, about the therapeutic power of books and writing, and how writing my own memoir, Cheat Play Live, became an act of therapy in itself. In this podcast, I talk about my love for travel writing and memoir, especially books like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, The Salt Path by Raynor Winn and all of Paul Theroux’s travel writing. For me, there is immense power in true and personal stories. I hope you enjoy!
I chat with the lovely Lisa Edwards, former publisher, now author and yoga teacher, all about her memoir Cheat, Play, Live and her thoughts on the theraprutic effects of reading and writing. We have a wonderful dive into travel writing too.Links to Lisa's bookLink to Lisa's blog Because I CanLink to Lisa's TwitterThings mentioned in the podcast:Wild by Cheryl Strayed Paul TherouxThe Salt Path by Raynor WinnTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Shelf Healing is UCL’s bibliotherapy and wellbeing podcast. Interviews with authors, editors, academics, and more discussing the therapeutic effect of books and reading as well as Work & Life discussions focusing on workplace wellbeing and wellbeing issues encountered in daily life.
Cheat Play Live is out now. Buy the book, read the reviews, and listen to more interviews here.
On a beach in California, Lisa finds a shell on a rock, its two halves open to the sky. On the outside it is sea-worn and unremarkable, but on the inside it gleams like a jewel. She wonders if it is waiting to be found and cherished – like her.
The shell is the image she uses to set up an online profile that will end her marriage. It leads her to more beaches around the world – to Kenya, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt and India – in search of the freedom to choose how she wants to live. On a beach in Goa, she confronts the grief that she’s been numbing with alcohol, and finds a way to break the lock on a secret she’s been keeping inside her since she was a little girl.
For fans ofEat Pray Loveby Elizabeth Gilbert andWildby Cheryl Strayed, Lisa…
I’ve been thinking about comfort zones. On Saturday evening, I walked up a heather-covered fell with no one else around, in wind and rain, at the end of the day when I really should’ve been heading back. I even tried to go further but my gut was screaming to go back. I found out later that I was heading into a notoriously boggy area so my gut had been right (as always).
Today I tried to cross that bog and found myself panicking (and crying) in the middle of it, believing myself to be stuck. There were fighter planes from the local RAF base flying at eye level with me as I stood in the middle of the bog. It was a most surreal moment. I got out, but I’d crossed my comfort zone again.
I know when I’ve stepped outside it – I start to breathe quickly and shallowly, I feel like crying, and then I start talking and singing to myself (and to sheep) to keep my spirits up.
I kept thinking about 26-year-old Alex Staniforth from Chester, the fell runner I cheered into town on Friday night, as he completed his Bob Graham Round in 27 hours – 42 fells, 66 miles, 26,000ft – unaided. I kept wondering how hard it must have been to have been on top of a fell at 2am, on your own, with only a head torch to help you.
I later found out that he has already attempted Everest twice, aged 18 and 19, stopped only by the Nepal earthquake and the avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas. The holder of the record for the ‘double Bob Graham’ – 84 fells in 45 hours – is a woman my age: Nicky Spinks.
The thing about the Lakes is that you keep meeting inspiring people. It’s where people congregate, bright-eyed, to share tales of fells they’ve traversed and people they’ve met. I realised that I’d met legendary fell runner Joss Naylor when I was hiking here last. I had no idea who he was at the time but he had an aura around him. He was the first to congratulate Alex on his Bob Graham, of course.
And then there was Lisa Bergerud in my last blog post, with her incredible story. I remembered what she’d told me about deep breathing when I started to panic today. Like many people here, Lisa has learned to keep pushing against her comfort zone, and in my small way, so am I.
And the soggy dog? I met a man and his very wet but happy labradoodle, heading towards the fell I’d been up on Saturday evening. I was so glad to see them both. He called his dog “Soggy Doggy” when I stooped to pet him.
“That’s the name of today’s story,” I thought, and continued on my way, stopping only to chat to two Scottish guys who were off to wild camp in the rain, grinning.
…except I didn’t. I love walking alone but I also love bumping into incredible people on the way, especially when I’m a bit scared in a white-out on a narrow path on a Lake District fell! As always, a guardian angel looms out of the mist to guide me on. It has happened so many times…
Lisa Bergerud is a fell runner who has done the Bob Graham round twice – once in her twenties and once in her forties (42 fells/66 miles in 24 hours).
She also fell off Sharp Edge ridge on Blencathra and smashed her entire body up. She recovered with physio and now works as a ranger for John Muir Trust, dedicated to the conservation of wild places. As we walked along (fast) she was picking up litter as she went.
She left me as I found a place for lunch and I watched her run off down the heather-covered mountain. She’s not supposed to run for her job but she loves it too much. What an amazing woman.
Given the summer we’re having, you may feel the need to transport yourself to a hot tropical beach this weekend – perhaps in Thailand, Turkey, Egypt or India…
You can find them all in my book, Cheat Play Live, now up for pre-order in ebook (£4.99) and paperback (£6.99), on Amazon, Kobo, Nook and Apple Books. Read about the adventures I had as a newly single fortysomething woman trying to find her place in the world, and the men I encountered along the way.
I’m dying to hear what you think, and if you can find a moment to review me on any of the above platforms, please do! Reviews matter a lot… as do recommendations to friends.
Thank you for sticking with my blog even though I disappeared for a while. I hope you think it was worth the wait…