Blogger and author Clare Pooley talks to Hannah Stephenson about finally accepting that her reliance on Wine O’Clock was a problem – and why she’s so much happier and healthier for it

NOT so long ago, former city high-flyer and mother-of-three Clare Pooley was seeing life through a hazy blur, waking up to endless hangovers only alleviated by Wine O'Clock, when she'd open another bottle.

The former advertising executive-turned-full-time mum had been used to a lifestyle which invited a lot of drinking, first at Cambridge University, then in her high-powered advertising job, and later as a party-going mum. She did what so many of us do - open a bottle of wine to relieve stress, to be sociable, to help keep the party going...

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"It crept up gradually but by the end, during the week I was drinking a bottle of wine a night, and at the weekend I could easily drink two bottles, especially when I was going out to a party. If I added that all up - which I tried very hard not to do for years - it was about ten bottles of wine a week."

She had tried to give up before, unsuccessfully. For a long time, she thought wine helped her relax and take the edge off anxiety.

"I thought everyone was drinking the same as I was. My Facebook feed was littered with jokes about Wine O'Clock'and I didn't think it was a problem for a long time. But gradually, I started to realise that it was having a huge impact on my mental and physical health," she says.

At the peak of her drinking she was two stones overweight, wasn't sleeping, was frequently hungover, snappy with her children, and anxious a lot of the time. "Wine, rather than being my best friend, was my greatest enemy," she reflects.

She'd always set herself a number of markers: You didn't have an alcohol problem if you didn't drink in the morning; if you didn't drink vodka; if you didn't throw up in front of your children.

"One day, I woke up after my birthday with a terrible hangover and ended up pouring myself the dregs of a bottle of red wine from the night before into a mug, and drank it at about 11 in the morning. That was breaking one of the cardinal rules I had set myself. I thought, 'If I can't keep to those rules, then this is becoming a real problem'."

Her mother had previously gently told her she thought she was drinking too much, only to be greeted with curt dismissals from Clare. Her husband, John, had also said he thought she should cut down.

"There are two types of people - those that are good at moderating, like my husband, and those who are very much all or nothing, and I'm in that camp. I found trying to moderate my drinking was totally impossible because the more I tried to stop drinking, the more I became obsessed by it."

So in March 2015, at the age of 46, Clare quit alcohol. She doesn't use the term 'alcoholic' because she thinks it conjures up negative images of a stereotype and encourages people to think that alcohol addiction is black and white - that you're either a normal drinker or a rock-bottom alcoholic - when there are many shades of grey in-between. "I think the word 'alcoholic' stops people seeking help. I say 'I'm alcohol-free' or a 'non-drinker'," she explains.

She chose not to go to AA, but for her own therapy she started the blog 'Mummy Was A Secret Drinker' under the pseudonym 'Sober Mummy', and quickly garnered a worldwide following from thousands of women who found themselves in similar situations. Those kindred spirits ended up being a big help. "Whenever I thought, 'I'd really like a glass of wine right now', I wouldn't just be letting down myself, I'd be letting down all these other people as well - and I couldn't do it," Clare reflects.

Now she has written a book, The Sober Diaries, charting her first year without alcohol. Far from being, well, a sobering tome, it's an uplifting read, filled with amusing anecdotes of situations which so many of us have experienced. She initially hid her decision from friends because she feared she would be perceived as boring, but gradually got back her mental and physical health, her patience, her figure, and her sense of taste and smell.

"In the early days, it was hard," she admits. "The most difficult bit was the first 100 days, when it was difficult to think about anything other than drinking or not drinking. It was exhausting. Then suddenly it became much easier and the idea of not drinking became doable and exciting."

There were times when she nearly fell off the wagon. At one point, she poured herself a glass of wine after a particularly hard day - but when her husband came in and asked what she was doing, she poured it down the sink. "For years, your go-to prop when you are tired, stressed and fed up is a glass of wine. That had been my prop for 20 years. It takes a long time to recondition your mind to not go to that solution."

But she was closer to hitting the bottle again when she discovered, eight months after giving up drinking, that she had breast cancer. Had she discovered the lump while she was still drinking, she might not have been so quick to call her GP and get an early diagnosis, she says now. "The only thing I knew that could take the edge off that immense fear was alcohol," she recalls. "But I got myself sorted out. Had I been drinking, I might have sat on the fear for a lot longer." After a lumpectomy and radiotherapy, she was given the all-clear.

Nearly three years on, Clare, 48, is now two stone lighter, feels more energetic and positive - and says she's a lot more fun to live with.

She still has alcohol in the house (her husband drinks in moderation), has fun at parties and is, by her own admission, a better mother. But she is certainly not one of those painful converts who scorns those of us who have one too many at a social event.

"I always encouraged my husband to carry on drinking whenever he wanted to, although he naturally stopped drinking as much as he used to. He now only drinks at weekends, and hardly ever at home. But I didn't want to feel like I'd made him change his life."

During family celebrations, she'll crack open a bottle of alcohol-free champagne - and still drink the whole bottle - and when she's stressed she'll have a slice of cake, go for a long walk, or meditate.

The Sober Diaries also highlights society's attitudes to alcohol, how in a culture of heavy drinking, many women are scared to admit they need to give up and find it impossible to imagine that a sober life is ever going to be fun and rewarding.

"I know from my blog there are a huge number of women and men who refuse to admit they have a problem with alcohol, because they don't want to be branded with all that negative imagery. Now my life is so much better and more rewarding without it, I can't imagine going back there," says Clare. "I'm much more positive about life, which makes me a much easier person to live with."

The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking And Started Living by Clare Pooley (Coronet, £16.99)