White horses appear to be a theme in my life, so when I sat down to eat my lunch during yesterday’s hike, I wasn’t surprised to find one munching some grass right next to me.
Misty’s owner told me that she is 15 (about 45 in human years) and that she was rescued from a bad life in Ireland where she’d been forced to have lots of foals and been in a road accident.
Now she lives a peaceful existence on the South Downs, but is still afraid of fast-moving bikes and cars.
What I didn’t know is that the grass that surges after summer rains is like crack for horses. It’s full of sugar and they go crazy for it, hence the munching. Misty’s owner said they’d ‘work it off’ by having a quick trot after lunch.
After she left, her soulful eyes looking at me sideways under long lashes, I thought about Misty in her midlife prime, having lived a difficult life but finding peace (and sweet grass) on the South Downs and realised we had a lot in common.
If you’ve read Cheat Play Live you’ll know how White Horse in Agonda was my spirit animal, showing me what a free and independent life could be like, by the sea. Misty, although not completely free, reminded me that the next move I make needs to be where the grass is sweet and the humans are kind. I think I know where that is.
Dark Horses Ride is a story of midlife reinvention, of friendships, relationships and a working life all put to the test by the seismic effects of menopause.
But it is also a story of love and homecoming. It is about the healing power of walking and meditation, the therapeutic process of writing and one woman’s determination to redefine what success and happiness look like.
Living the dream isn’t all she hoped it would be when Lisa swaps a high-flying job in London for a freelance life as a writer, editor and yoga teacher by the sea in India. She struggles to control the tide of emotions that hit her as the red mists of menopause descend and she begins to question whether her new life – and her relationship with a much younger man – are all she hoped they would be.
When the pandemic hits, Lisa decides that the universe has made the decision for her and back in England, she falls for the charms of a man her own age. However, he is not who he appears to be. Neither are the friends she’d hoped would support her when she publishes her first book and releases her ‘dark horses’ for all the world to see.
After travelling back to her homeland in Wales and reconnecting with ‘The Most Handsome Man in Goa’ in India, Lisa is forced to confront her dark horses alone when her health and hormones threaten to derail the happiness she’s learned to live for.
ORDER HERE and don’t forget to rate and review – it’s so important to authors. Thank you for all the support for my writing on this blog – my books wouldn’t be here without it.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.