I saw blood on his face and all over the bedcovers of my 8 year old son.
“I’ve killed him!” I thought, as the adrenaline mixed with the alcohol and I stood shaking and confused.
I was away in Wales in a stunning country manor for my Mum’s 60th birthday weekend.
14 of us had taken over this Elizabethan residence and it had been a meticulously planned surprised secret for my fun loving mum and wild and wacky family.
My two younger sisters and I had carefully planned our meals, our extensive alcohol stash and I’d packed my PA kit complete with disco lights and hundreds of glow sticks. Because, you know, who doesn’t hire a posh country manor and turn it into a rave?
It had been quite stressful in the lead up to the weekend. We wanted to make it amazing for my mum and we’d pulled out all the stops. It’s not an excuse but the moment we got there and the surprise was revealed, I melted into the sofa and allowed that first bottle of Prosecco to melt into my bloodstream.
And the second.
And I think there was even a third bottle.
I know there was Jack Daniels because the next day I tried to piece events together and my Instagram stories gave me a glimpse into the night I could no longer recall.
The day before, at 5pm, I had been so drunk around the long, sophisticated and beautifully decorated dinner table that my dad apparently had to feed me the satay chicken my sister had spent hours preparing. Drunken me didn’t like this and proceeded to lower the tone by repeatedly calling my poor dad the C-bomb (in front of the kids) and generally being what our Shazza would call a drunken d*ck.
Instagram stories revealed a night full of merriment with my family. The boys had taken their tops off and performed a Take That medley. I wore a shark mask for pretty much the whole evening. God knows why?! We played twerk pong and my uncle Dave even did a big sing song around the piano.
If only I could remember it.
The next morning, I was watching all these videos back of the night before in the chair by the window, under darkness. My heart rate had considerably slowed from the initial adrenaline fuelled panic that I’d accidentally killed my son in my drunken stupor.
As I’d woken, in that unfamiliar room, my mouth painfully dry and my eyes unable to focus thanks to the film of muck over my eyeballs - the perils of forgetting to remove your contact lenses in your pissed up stupor - I panicked.
Where the f*ck am I?
Who am I?
Where is Blake?
Because this is the thing about being one of those ‘Facebook wine mums’ as I proudly was with my Hurrah for Gin books and the Mummy Drinks Because memes I’d share over WhatsApp with friends. You transition from your teens and twenties doing 2-for-1 shots in your local nightclub to your thirties drinking gargantuan measures in the homes of the other school mums on a Saturday night. Bemoaning your kids and your husbands and the internal cliquey politics of the PTFA. And a part of me reflects back and thinks that’s actually worse than going out in a skirt than skimmed my pubes with no coat and no way of getting home. Because in my thirties I have this mammoth responsibility called my son.
Yet my son came with me to those parties.
He watched me get sloshed and sozzled and on ocasions black out.
In Wales for my Mum’s 60th birthday gathering, this was another of those times.
This was a supposedly ‘safe’ home-like environment where my son was with both of his parents and his wider family. But my experience of these occasions is that my alcohol consumption meant I wasn’t Gemma the mum, I was Gemma the pissed d*ck and my parenting skills were non existent.
It was 5am. I jumped out of the bed.
“Where’s Blake?!” I thought. That momentary panic rising after a night of heavy drinking.
The landing light had been left on, presumably for the children to find their way to the toilet in the night and I could see a sliver of light illuminate a lump on a camp bed at the foot of my bed. I did that mum thing, squinting, trying to focus, holding my breath as I desperately got the sign that my son was taking breaths of his own. I couldn’t see the rise and fall of his chest. This was nothing new. I’d been through this same panic every night since the day he was born. Tell me I’m not the only parent who checks their child is breathing every night?
As I moved over to where he was sleeping, I could see blood. There were ruby red splatters of it on the dove grey soft sleeping bag and as I got closer, brown edged crusts of smeared blood was all over his beautiful freckled face.
I shook him. “Blake Blake!!” I tried to scream. The words not quite forming as my brain focused on trying to access the memories from the night before, but they were stuck like an old VHS tape caught in the machine. “He’s not breathing. Blood. Dead,” went my incessant thoughts. I was facing the reality that I’d killed my son.
Then, he stirred.
“Oh my god thank f*ck thank f*ck!” my brain computed while it slowed the tape of memories.
“Blake, what happened?!” “I had a nose bleed.” “Oh sweetheart! Why didn’t you tell me?” I purred in my best honey soothing tones, the relief washing over me as the maternal instinct to care and protect kicked in.
“I did tell you. You were drunk and wouldn’t wake up.”
And that was it.
That was the first moment I thought to myself “I can’t do this anymore”.
I was a lot more subdued for the rest of the weekend and upon returning home I threw myself into a 75 day challenge which involved no alcohol.
The first few weeks were OK. “I can do this! I don’t need this!” I thought. Because I’d never had a ‘problem’ with alcohol, or so I thought. I could take it or leave it. The ‘problem’ was when I was taking it, I was taking it LARGE and I was taking it too far.
I attended the BBC Lancashire Christmas party in the December of 2019 and spoke to Shazza about her journey. “It just gets better and better and better,” she said to me.
But like many people on this alcohol free journey, I spent that first 75 day period focusing on what I was giving up rather than what I was gaining. My 75 days booze free crossed over the Christmas and New Year period. That drunken shock of thinking I’d killed my son was fading in my memory as the depression at ‘missing out’ on Baileys and Advocaat and other Christmassy drinks took hold.
I did my 75 days and felt great. My wine belly had started to go down but we had a stash of booze that hadn’t been touched at Christmas and the period between the middle of January and the middle of February I pretty much drank half a bottle of wine every evening. Over the Valentine’s weekend of 2020, on a group trip to Barcelona I once again got so drunk I blacked out.
In the airport, hunched over a Burger King that made my stomach flip every time I got a whiff of it, I Googled ‘Can you die from a hangover?’ which led me into a Google wormhole of all things hangovers and alcohol.
As I clicked onto Facebook to distract myself from the nausea and hangover anxiety, those pesky Facebook gremlins heard my cry and all of a sudden sponsored posts appeared about going alcohol free. One post was actually written by a girl I knew who had done a 365 no alcohol challenge. This blog was so beautifully written and I could empathise with the way she felt before giving up the sauce. Here she was, a whole year later, mentally lighter and living her best life. I wanted a slice of that myself.
I remembered Shazza’s words “It just gets better and better,” so I reached out to her and she helped me get started with a 90 day alcohol free challenge. By day 45 I knew I wanted to extend it and I got the chance to change my challenge to a whole 365 days.
I knew it would be longer though. By day 90 life was so different AND by day 90 we were two months into a global pandemic. While everyone else in my life seemed to be soothing and coping with alcohol, I was focusing inwards and this reset period became a beautiful blessing for me. Without the temptation of social events I was able to focus on my alcohol free challenge and for that I will be eternally grateful.
I had a nervous breakdown in 2016. Since then, I have spent a lot of time, money and energy healing myself and resetting my mental health. Removing alcohol felt like that missing piece of the mental health puzzle for me. When I kissed goodbye to alcohol, I kissed goodbye to my almost daily anxiety. Without the seesaw of living life with shame and regret Monday to Thursday and feeling like the weekend was my weak-end, I felt more balanced. Which helped me balance my mental health. I built mental resilience. I showed myself what I was capable of, I started to keep my promises to myself in my health and fitness, I started to sleep, I lost weight, I became more present. I didn’t spend Sundays sat in my dressing gown, hating myself. I often say that I don’t think my mental health would’ve survived the pandemic had I still been drinking. I think I might have broken again.
As I write this I am just over 18 months sober. I am 50lbs lighter, I have written three more books and I am currently writing my next book on my sober journey. I have a full-time job I adore that helps change the lives of women all over the world and I feel ‘unf*ckablewith’. This is a word my boss, Jaymie, gave to me when he made me cry unexpected tears of joy this week. He said watching me go sober and change my life has been inspirational and he loves the way I have become unf*ckablewith. I love this word and I’m embodying it.
I am Gemma, I am sober and I am unf*ckablewith - nothing can fuck with me anymore because I’m mentally clear, I trust myself and I wholeheartedly believe in myself.
And you know what? There ain’t no glass of Prosecco worth taking that from me.