Thursday, 19 May 2011

My name's Debbie, and I'm an alcoholic...

Photo: Jocelyn Durston
Or at least I will be, if I keep drinking wine like I do.

What’s the big deal I hear you ask? It's only a couple of glasses of wine at night. Where’s the harm?

I’ve been drinking at least two or three glasses of wine every night for maybe a year, and what I don’t like is that my little habit has turned into a battle of wills, with wine winning more often than not.

Like most women, I'm always trying to shift a few pounds. Following my recent health problems and surgery, in January I made a decision to get back in shape and thought giving up alcohol for a few weeks was bound to help the waistline. Easy enough, yes?

No. I made the decision mid-week but by Thursday my resolve was weakening.On Friday when hubby poured himself a glass and asked if I fancied one, I found myself justifying the craving. "It's only one glass. It’s your only vice. You deserve it” ‘Oh, go on then.’ The words were out before I could stop them and I caved. A few weeks later in March I tried again. I lasted two weeks, and actually, every day since, I’ve told myself I won’t have a drink, or I’ll only have one glass, but every evening my willpower ends up round my ankles, not to mention the guilt, the castigating, and disappointment with myself.

This realisation of my unhealthy relationship with fermented grape juice has crept up on me. I don’t remember exactly when the penchant began. Like many people, when I worked, I liked to come in from work at night and pour a glass of wine while preparing dinner. After the kids came along, it was "wine o'clock," that magic ‘me’ time after the little blighters had gone to bed and calm was restored chez nous, and I’d sit and watch TV, or read, with a glass of wine clasped firmly in hand. When I retired from work on ill health grounds, I carried on the habit. Hubby would come in from work - I’d already have a glass on the worktop as I prepared dinner - I’d get him a beer and pour myself a top up as we chatted and ate dinner. After clearing up, I’d pour another glass as the family sat down to watch TV. Three or four glasses said in context doesn’t sound excessive, does it?

The trouble is, then there's the occasional glass of Dutch courage I need if I'm going somewhere and feel unconfident, like one of hubby's work parties. Or the habit I've developed of having one while I do the ironing in an evening. And there's nothing like sitting on the patio, admiring the view and watching the swallows while sipping a cold glass of white...

These little associations to alcohol aren't healthy. Don’t get me wrong, drinking doesn’t affect my day to day life. I’m not out of control or a binge drinker. I rarely get drunk. Two or three bad hangovers in my early years of drinking are deterrent enough to stop a desire to get blotto. And unless we’re having Sunday dinner or on holiday, I can't stomach a drink before tea-time.

But am I the only woman, who around the time of 'The Weakest Link,' finds themselves watching the clock, waiting for the magic moment when it will be six o’clock somewhere in the world so I can get the corkscrew out and open the next bottle?

Evidently not. When I speak to my friends, some of them share the same habit. And according to several articles there's a growing trend for middle-age women to hit the wine bottle in the evening, not falling down drunk, but a glass or two at the end of the day. Every day. That's me. Who would have thought about the 35+ units it adds up to.

Photo:Luis Rock

As many as 1 in 6 has a problem with alcohol dependency. More than 1 in 3 women over 35 drinks more than they did in their teens. And 1 in 5 women over 35 admits to regularly binge drinking.

It’s a standing joke in our house about "Mum and her wine."
Even the kids see the association. It was funny at first but now I’m starting to feel it’s all a little sad. I don't want to turn into a bag lady. I started buying boxes instead of bottles. It didn’t look quite so desperate (or was it because it hid how much I was drinking?) But then I realised I could get through a box of wine in three to four days. It’s too easy to keep topping up with a box. And it was even more of a shock when I calculated how many units are in a box. Mum’s psychological crutch had increased to a bottle of wine a night. How shocking is that?

The fact that I've been able to stop in January and March without any ill effect shows I’m not physically addicted as such. However, I don’t like the thought that psychologically, my drinking habits are hooking me in, as alcohol insiduously teases me towards the slippery slope. It might be a way of helping me to wind down, but is the increase because it takes more and more alcohol to achieve the same effects, as your body becomes used to it. Because eventually alcohol might become the only way to wind down...

Am I over-analysing? Do I have a drink problem? I should be the one in control, not the wine, so I guess that makes it one, if it’s a problem to me.

I'm not addicted, but it's a habit which is starting to make me unhappy, and therefore one that needs breaking. Besides anything else, I take a lot of medication already for my Behcets disease – Methotrexate (an anti-cancer drug,) Sulphasalazine, (an anti-rheumatic,) Celecoxib, painkillers (sometimes morphine based.) I won’t bore you with them all, but you can see the amount of toxins my system has to cope with. I really shouldn’t punish my body by adding more.

And also, I have a new set of health worries to contend with - more about them in another post - but I need to make sure I’m strong and able to cope with whatever the outcome. Time will tell. Perhaps it's this scare which has given me the jolt I need, and to this end, I’ve stopped drinking. No wine has passed my lips for...err... forty-eight hours... but it's a start, and giving up for one night was the first psychological hurdle.

I won't set myself up to fail by declaring I'm going teetotal. For the time being, I’d like it to stop for longer than the two weeks I managed earlier in the year and to show I’m serious, I’ve posted this blog for the world to see and that I can re-read it as a reminder to look after myself better.

Right, it's your turn to be honest. Do you drink more than is good for you? And if so, have you tried to stop? Or if it's not the booze, what habit would you like to break?

Until another day

Above statistics and information obtained from:
NHS live well
Alcohol Substance Abuse
The British Liver Trust

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Have I got news for you!

No, I didn’t make it onto the Times Rich List. In fact, not many other writer’s made it, except the Great JK Rowling (and her literary agent, Christopher Little,) Jeffrey Archer, and Jamie Oliver (Chef, author, restaurateur. But most writer's I know are realistic, and don't expect to make much from their chosen profession. For me, I have something far more valuable. While I was away I was awarded another three blog awards! I am honoured. A thousand thank you’s to:

The super Elizabeth Mueller for recognising that I’d finished the A-Z challenge.

The lovely Cherie for the Blog on Fire award

And, the splendiferous, Anita who has awarded me an Inspirational blog award.
Oh yes, and not forgetting, I won a prize - a free 2000 words critique from writer, Jeffrey Beesler. Cheers Jeff!
Thank you all for your support and encouragement. It has been great to make your acquaintance over the A-Z challenge, and beyond…

Well, I’m back from the caravan after waving my little arm off flying the Union Jack flag for the Royal Wedding. And what a glorious and memorable day it was for me (hopefully the happy couple enjoyed it too.) I cried, I laughed, I ate salmon and strawberries and sipped Bucks Fizz. And that frock… (sorry, that’s a ‘dress’ for American reader’s) was divine! I thought everything was spot on – just the right amount of pomp, ceremony, and intimacy, considering millions were watching around the world. Most of all, it wasn’t too ostentatious.

Now I’m home, it's time to knuckle down to the WIP for the NWS, but not before I post this newsy, finger on the pulse blog.

Unfortunately, a gagging order prevents me from disclosing the latest line up of celebrities who have been caught, metaphorically speaking, with their pants down and in flagrante. But the question is, do we really care? Or am I the only old fart to ponder where the insatiable feeding frenzy for celebrities and the interest in their prurient, trashy lives comes from? I don’t give a stuff who’s made it big, despite their poor, troubled upbringings. I have no interest in vaguely famous people's stretch marks, their unsightly facial hair or latest drug,booze or shag-fest? Premier league footballers and their antics - pah! - I couldn't care less!

Photo: P A Wire

I don't do politics in my blogs and won't go on about the Lib Dem massacre in the local elections but I had to mention that it hasn't been a good week for Mr Clegg, seeing his electoral reform dream crushed. And it will be even worse if he happens to spot my blog because seeing a photo of him last week, I couldn't believe how much he's aged. They say a week is a long time in politics. But it's only been a year...

May 2010 - baby-faced and handsome Photo:Angela Harbutt

You wouldn’t catch me being a politician or Prime Minister, not for a squillion pounds! What a thankless job. And it wouldn’t be much better if I were still in banking.

I see in the last few days Lloyds Bank has set aside 3.2 billion for claims likely to arise from the incorrect selling of Payment Protection Insurance (although City analysts think the actual figure will likely exceed £10bn!)
Conditional selling, mis-selling - how underhand and unethical, I hear you shout! And you're right. There is no denying today's sales culture is about greed; banks make bigger profits, shareholder value etc. But having been on the 'other side,' I also understand why it's happened, because I have to admit, the news didn't surprise me.

In the early/mid 90’s before I joined Lloyds Bank as a Manager, I was Sales Manager then Regional Training Manager for Lloyds Bank Insurance Services – a wholly owned subsidiary of the bank. In essence it was my job to sales manage (and train) branch staff, from counter and enquiries staff to Senior Managers, how to sell insurance.
Branches had targets for everything; Overdrafts, lending, mortgages, numbers of personal loans, amount of loans, insurance take-up for mortgages and loans, freestanding insurance products, credit cards, bad debts... I won’t go on - you get the message.

Much time and training went into maximising every customer interaction, face to face and phone call, or ‘opportunity.’ Monitoring of leads, interviews and results, making sure staff didn't miss anything and were proactive. I observed interviews and coached. Staff sat in my interviews so I could demonstrate techniques. What I’m trying to show here is how sales and revenue were part of the culture and way of life. Back then, it was a struggle to get some of the old dinosaur staff to sell, especially the Senior Managers but slowly it dawned on people that working in a bank was no longer a ‘job for life.’ Everyone had to share in the sales effort, including cashiers and enquiries clerks who were expected to pick up snippets in conversations with customers, to identify leads, introduce them to an 'advisor.' There was constant resistance from staff who walked the fine line between providing customer service and giving help and advice, whilst at the same time increasing sales. Many staff hated the changes but their jobs depended on it. If you didn’t adapt to the changing ethos, you wouldn't survive.

As the pressure to grow sales revenue increased, targets got higher and higher, and everything and anything was tried to improve results; Competitions, rewards, tickets for sports events, holidays. Other gimmicks like ‘points made prizes’ (the more you sold, the more points you got, the bigger the prizes.) Clever incentives introduced a competition element, playing people off against each other. Successful individuals were hailed saviours; talisman of success, to be admired, and to aspire to. Branches were revered as the chosen ones, their methods studied, simulated, and best practise ideas spread across the network.

Nowadays, there can't be anyone who works in a branch who doesn't accept sales and targets as part of the job (even if they don’t like it.) In some cases branches have been de-skilled to the point that there are few skills left at all, only sales people. And I'm not knocking this. Being of this 'new breed' was the reason I was recruited all those years ago. It hasn't got any easier over the years for staff in branches. It doesn’t matter that times are tough in the economy, jobs are insecure, money is tight, customers don't have the disposable income etc etc. Branch targets are still there. In fact, more than ever there is huge pressure to increase sales revenue. Overdrafts and financial worries facilitate loans, and ‘talking up’ loans to increased amounts. Further advances may need to be secured against property, and re-mortgages. With an increased chance of redundancy and stress-related illness, there’s never been a more necessary time to have insurance. So the demand for loans won’t diminish. However people must see that when jobs, careers prospects, salaries, bonuses are inextricably linked to performance and achieving targets, it's going to be open to mass mis-selling. If a failure to meet targets means bank staff lose take-home pay, is it any wonders misconduct is widespread, and systemic?

The debate will continue to run but I wanted to show you a slightly different perspective and that you might see how hard it must be, trying to do what’s best for the customer, selling to their needs, when you have to balance reaching targets and surviving in a dog eat dog world.

I don't see obvious solutions. The above is the reality and unless banks stop the hard sell culture and have a major about turn on targets, bonuses, prizes and other incentives for staff to meet sales targets and shift the emphasis back onto customer service, I don’t think it will ever improve.

Sorry, I’ve got on my soap box a little there but with the recent revelations it gives a chance to voice something that's been glaringly obvious to me for years! I won't say any more as I have some very dear friends who still work for the bank;)

Anyway, I hope you liked the newsworthy blog. Let me know your news. And for now, I'd better get back to the novel...

Until another day

Bye for now

PS - As most of you may know, Google's Blogger platform went down for a day. It erased most of my Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning comments to this post - at least twenty of them, and I can't remember for the life of me who you all were. Sorry ;)