Amy

Review by: Vicky Unwin

Film: Amy

Director: Asif Kapadia

Stars: Five

This cannot be an objective review. Amy and our daughter. Louise, died within a few months of each, both from drugs. Her poison was alcohol, Louise’s was ketamine. They used to hang out in Camden together, playing pool at The Good Mixer. There is even a scene in the film with one of Louise’s friends. Both of them were clean when they died, although Louise had never been an addict like Amy, just a ‘recreational’ user. How daft that word is, when it leads to death.

In the wake of their deaths, Mitch and I got to know each other through our work in trying to educate people about the dangers of drugs, of which alcohol is of course the biggest killer of the lot. We even had a joint event at the House of Lords, where Mitch sang with one of Louise’s best friends, Tim Arnold, the Soho Hobo.

So Asif Kapadia’s film is laden with sad and poignant memories for me. I wasn’t sure if I could bear to watch it, let alone write about it, especially knowing Mitch’s objections to his portrayal.

As in Senna, Kapadia’s BAFTA award-winning documentary about the eponymous Brazilian racing driver, there is no narrator: the movie is fashioned from a series of film clips taken by family, friends and lovers. The voices are mainly Amy’s, peppered with conversations and reminiscences. Of course Kapadia exerts editorial control in directing us to the scenes from her life he wishes us to see, but leaves us to judge for ourselves as to who bears responsibility for the hounding of Amy Winehouse. 

Naturally Amy is the star of her own picture: she shines out from the first time she sings happy birthday as a child, a small girl with an enormous, grown-up voice. Where did this North London Jewish girl get that? Jonathan Ross remarks with glee on her voice being ‘common’ at one point, something they both shared in addition to their family background.

As we see her growing up and getting up to all sorts of teenage mischief, we do sense that she is looking for a father-figure: Mitch himself admits that he left the marriage when she was very young; Janice, her mother says he was ‘never there’. Why else would she latch on to unsuitable boys, ending up married to the vain, drug addicted Blake Fielder-Civil, who unashamedly sought and revelled in the lime-light and admits to being her dealer. Less unsurprisingly he abandons her when she is on the skids.

Through all of the alcohol and early drug abuse, her personality and sense of fun shine out. Although her girlfriends despair of her, they still love her and rescue her; Mitch, despite his absence, was also always there for her. He was a devoted and loving father and would have done anything for his ‘Daddy’s girl’  – the tattoo Amy had on her shoulder. OK, so it wasn’t so smart to turn up in St Lucia with a film crew, something I am sure he regrets to this day. It does not cast him in a good light; but I will stick up for Mitch – he adored his Amy.

I know he came running when she picked up the phone and cried for help, time and time again. I know he uttered the the now-famous sound-bite, ‘Amy doesn’t need rehab’ – he claims the word ‘now’ was cut – which she used to dramatic effect in her haunting song of that name. As she says when she wins the Grammy (winking mischievously when Justin Timberlake’s name on the short-list is read out) – it is ‘so boring without drugs’.

The music is of course key to the film and her song-writing is largely autobiographical, from the obvious Rehab, which gets increasingly ragged as it is played throughout the film, charting her descent into hell, to the much earlier and ominously foresighted words, ‘Played out by the band / Love is a losing hand…Though I battle blind / Love is a fate resigned’, through to her heart-breaking duo with Tony Bennett in the closing scenes ‘My life a wreck you’re making/You know I’m yours for just the taking/I’d gladly surrender myself to you, body and soul’.

I remember seeing Amy perform at Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebrations with Louise. She was at the height of her addictions, clutching the hem of her dress, her skinny little legs and emaciated body just above us on the stage. She could barely get the words out. Louise was visibly shocked by her appearance. It was the last time she saw her.

The sad truth is that you can’t stop people from being what they are, but you can try and save them from themselves. Amy had an addictive personality from a young age, fueled by her prodigious talent, and had agents and the media forcing her into situations, which she wasn’t strong enough to cope with. They were ruthless in their exploitation of this fragile talent, when they should have been shielding and protecting her.

How poignant her words, early on in the film, when she says that she wouldn’t survive being famous. We know she didn’t, but Kapadia’s masterful direction somehow allows us to feel there could be a different outcome.

If only, you keep saying to yourself, if only…

Vicky Unwin

Contributor

Workshop testimonial

Dear Janet

Thank you for your mails.  I have been meaning to write to you to thank you – for so very much.

I feel as though you have saved my life.  I was trying to explain the feeling to a friend last night and all I could come up with was ‘light’.  I feel Light.  I feel rescued.  Renewed. Saved.  Perhaps this is how religious epiphanies feel, as the same words come to mind!  I am ‘me’ again.  And I am sure you know exactly what I mean by that.

Again I thank you.  I have tried to give up for years, but have never felt the sort of brain-switch that I feel now.  I just know this is forever.  And I cannot thank you enough for that.

Why the switch?  I have no idea.  It has something to do with your beauty, your lovely style, your grace.  And of course the group.  The stories, the special people.

You have a very special mission, for which I applaud and thank you.

Thank you, Janet.  You lifesaver!

To the future

Recovery coaching via Skype

A year ago today, I woke up hungover and anxiety ridden. My husband and I had had a series of arguments (wine made me over-emotional and confrontational.) I was feeling severely depressed and knew that if I continued down this path it would ruin my relationship and ultimately, my life.

I contacted Janet Gourand via Facebook (who at that time, only hosted workshops in Cape Town.) She offered to help me with private sessions via Skype. I asked my husband to gift me the sessions as an early Christmas present. I wasn’t certain that it would stick but felt desperate enough to try.

The start of sobriety was difficult. Eating at restaurants without my two (okay, four- five) glasses of wine made me feel bereft. It took me a full six months to tell my friends that I had quit alcohol. There are some friends who I haven’t seen since the 2nd of October 2016 which is telling in itself.

A year later going without wine has become effortless. I’ve truly gotten to know myself (for instance, that I am sentimental even without the wine.) I feel brave and ultimately, just thankful for this major life-change.

So I had to write this and acknowledge it. Thanks again Janet Gourand.

Guest blog – Tina’s story

My lovely workshop “graduates” are hitting their milestones and some of them are even sending me their stories – thanks guys – we love stories and I am always humbled by the way people open their hearts and “share” at the beginning of our workshops.

All our stories around alcohol are different but by sharing our angst about the booze we can all become stronger – there is a great benefit to being open and honest and that is how we will change our relationship with alcohol – as well as inspire other people.

A couple of weeks ago I posted “Nick’s Story”, today it is Tina’s turn and “Jamie’s story” is in the pipeline – so watch this space!

TINA’s STORY

Alcohol was my best friend, my go to strategy when feeling blessed, stressed or depressed.

I grew up with alcohol – from my first party at 14 to girls holidays in Ibiza – from countless afternoons in the wine bars of London with work colleagues to milestone birthdays in Vegas. It was fun, it made a good night out great and gave me unbridled confidence.

I always turned up for work – I worked hard and played hard – I never drank on Mondays and thought that meant my health wouldn’t be impacted because I often took breaks of 2-3 days, sometimes weeks at a time.

The years of partying continued into my late forties. But then thing started to change, I noticed it was taking longer and longer for me to reach that ‘buzz’ and even longer to recover from a ‘big night out’ or ‘legendary lunch’.

The hangovers were getting worse and the frequency of waking up not entirely sure what had gone on the night before were increasing (I now know these to be blackouts) I particularly didn’t enjoy the feeling of waking up and having to retrace my steps through bar and taxi receipts (let alone text messages).

My health was also suffering. I was bloated, had chronic indigestion, my skin was dehydrated and my diet was generally poor – the hangover days were fueled with carb and sugar frenzies.

I slowly started to resent how alcohol was dominating my social life. Days and nights out were built around alcohol – even going to the theatre had to involve pre, during and post show drinks.

Still I carried on consuming way over the recommended amount of 14 units (I mean who sticks to that, really?). It was normal to get plastered at the weekend- everyone drank as much as I did…. Right?

The problem was my conscience was nagging me. It wouldn’t let up. I had known for years that I drank way too much – I’d often thought about stopping but knew I needed help. I kept minimizing the adverse side effects and attempted to cut down on my own but that lead to drinking more and eventually my consumption began to negatively impact my relationships and so I decided enough was enough and last October I made the decision to quit.

It wasn’t an easy decision and it’s been a challenging journey but with the help of support groups I am looking forward to celebrating my one year soberversary.

A lot of people questioned why I would want to give up alcohol and now one year later I frequently get asked how I feel and have I experienced any benefits.

Truth is there are many benefits – I’ve listed a few below.

My anxiety has dramatically reduced

I can focus better

I stick to my commitments (like training for a half marathon)

My sight has improved and my skin is clearer

My face is not bloated or puffy

I don’t binge all day on pizza, crisps and coca cola

I listen to others instead of talking about myself all the time

I’ve not injured myself or anyone else

I’ve met some amazingly cool and fun sober people

I still party like its 1999 – I just remember everything and don’t lose the next day to a hangover.

If you’re thinking of quitting for 30 days, 100 days, a year, forever the best thing you can do is join a support group. I had stopped for a few weeks but was struggling, then I attended the World Without Wine Workshop in Cape Town. It helped me enormously.and now, 1 year later, I want to help others on their sober journey.

If I ever doubt my decision to quit I only have to ask myself this … is my life better or worse with alcohol…

Tina

Guest Blog- Nick’s Story

Nick is an investment banker who came to our workshop in February and has just completed 200 sober days – if you want to know how alcohol free living has transformed his health, raised his game at work and improved his yoga practice then check out his story…

 

 

 

Last Wednesday marked 200 dry days. My journey to health started over 10 years ago. I started by giving up smoking after my dad died from lung cancer. I was +112kg at the time and an exemplary couch potato. Basically: a script for a short life.

A few years later, I started to exercise five to six times a week. I had tried various exercise regimes over the years but nothing stuck. Fortunately, for no logical reason, I decided to give yoga a try. I do not discriminate; I do all yoga that makes me smile inside. It started with a ten day pass to see what it was about, a 90 day pass to get rid of the sore body and thereafter: yoga addict!

This exercise strategy proved to be a good one for me and I lost 20kg – but then flat lined. I could never understand why the weight loss stopped. I was getting strong, feeling healthier than any other time in my adult life and starting to make healthier food choices. Yes I was still drinking, although that did not stop me from getting on my mat each morning.

My health was improving but not at the same pace as the weight loss. Unbeknown to me, things were not well. Adrenal fatigue, cortisol resistance and massive hormonal imbalances were found to be the problem. That was more than two years ago.

Eventually the penny dropped for me after hearing World Without Wine on the radio. I was inspired and decided to try an alcohol free life after attending the workshop. On reflection it’s strange that alcohol was not identified as an obvious roadblock to my health objectives much earlier on. Perhaps the social acceptability of drinking helps to mask the issue. My health is good and I’m feeling great.

 

Here are my top 10 benefits of alcohol free living:-

 

1. At work I’m performing better – I’m feeling good, in control and alive – I connect better with people, am more observant and pay closer attention.

2. My heaIth has improved dramatically – I have much more time and more energy, can do more at work and at home and pursue my interests more vigorously.

3. My sleep quality has improved greatly. No more waking up at 02:00 and then lying awake waiting for the alarm to go off.

4. I’m waking up strong, ready for an hour on my yoga mat and then a productive day at the office.

5. I’m losing weight again… slowly but it’s happening.

6. Sex is better sober… really! Try it.

7. I’m handling stress better. Counter intuitive for me, but true. I always thought alcohol was a good way to deal with stress and now it seems to me to be the exact opposite.

8. I’ve saved a ton of money – booze is really expensive.

9. It’s great to drive home after a social event. No worries about a possible roadblock or having to try and connect with an Uber (a task which is much simpler when sober).

10. The quality of our marriage is improving – and I know I am a better role model for my children.

Time to get rebellious!

A lot of this sobriety game is psychological

When you think of the billions spent by the liquor industry to brainwash us into believing that we need their product it’s little wonder some of us get hooked.

Not to mention the fact that alcohol is chemically designed to be addictive.

And then you have the fact that drinking alcohol has become so “normalised” that it makes it’s appearance at just about every event from a Christening to a Funeral.

It’s the lubricant that oils our social life, it’s the gasoline of fun!

Or is it?

How about we get a bit rebellious here and go against the grain, move out of our comfort zone and even defy social expectations a little.

I know I started to drink because I just wanted to “fit in”.

Yes it takes a fair amount of confidence and courage to socialise sober – and to dare to be different.

But it does get easier.

So maybe it’s time to rise above all that social conditioning.

After all we got wise about cigarettes – we now know they kill you and are not particularly cool or sexy.

Let’s get ahead of the game and see booze for what it really is – a poisonous trap.

janet xxx

sober socialising – seven survival tips

“Are you afraid of getting sober?” is one of the questions we ask at our workshops.  The response we get from the group is invariably “well yes…”

Their biggest fear?  How on earth do I cope with parties, functions, restaurants, networking etc. without a glass of wine in my hand?

Well amazingly it is possible to be alcohol free and have a social life but it takes practice and perseverance – try our seven survival tips and let us know how you get on…

  1. Remember alcohol is not a fun machine – it’s actually you, your friends and the environment that provide the fun – not the contents of your glass.
  2. Fake it till you make it.  Just slap a smile on your face and commit to an hour of making a real effort.  You are under no obligation to be the “life and soul” of the party and entertain everyone else – maybe just try listening hard to what people are saying – they will love it!
  3. It’s nobody’s business why you are not drinking but people are nosy – have an explanation up your sleeve to get them off your case – “I’m on meds” or “I’m on a health kick” are classics and who can argue with either of those?
  4. Always have an escape plan.  Stay long enough to be polite but if you are really suffering then just go.  You can leave whenever you like – it’s not a big deal.  You came – and now you are going.
  5. Early sobriety is really hard work but if you don’t want to become a recluse then you need to put in the work.  Then one evening you will realise that you are having an awesome time without even thinking about what is in your glass.
  6. Relish waking up with a clear head and plenty of energy the next morning – even if it wasn’t the best night ever you will have total recall and can now get on with your day.
  7. Finally – look on the bright side – when you are sober, the chances of you making a fool of yourself (or crashing your car) are greatly reduced.
    That is a very good thing.  Trust me on that one.

7 Ways Alcohol Impacts Your Looks…

Many of us spend a fortune on “beauty treatments” not to mention gym membership and organic food bills but the quickest and certainly the cheapest way to get your freshness back is to ditch the drink…

If you need convincing then just check out Nicola in the photos – Nicola came to one of our workshops and as a result she quit drinking – she took a photo before she stopped and then again after just a few weeks of not drinking – they say a picture speaks a thousand words so I will say no more..

I will just post a quick listicle of how drinking impacts your looks…

  1.  Tired eyes – evening drinking affects your sleep – it cuts REM cycles from 5 or 7 to just 1 or 2 so you wake up feeling tired
  2. Grey skin – alcohol is a diuretic and makes your kidneys pass more fluids.  Skin needs moisture to stay healthy and will become dull
  3. Sagging – regular drinking can leave your skin missing the essential vitamins and minerals that help keep it elastic and smooth
  4. Red blotches – alcohol dilutes the small bood vessels in your skin which can result in red blotches
  5. It ages you – New York nutritionist Jairo Rodriguez always tells his patients “if you want to look older, then go ahead and drink!”
  6. Drinking leads to zinc deficiency which can lead to hairloss so those luscious locks may suffer as well as your face!
  7. We all want to be slim but did you know your body will not even think about burning any fat until its got rid of that deadly alcohol you drank?

We have more workshops coming up in September – make a booking and we will throw in a complimentary online support system called “Take a Break” which will get you through an alcohol free month – a great way to prepare for a workshop and find out how dependent you may have become.

If you don’t live in Cape Town or Joburg then just sign up for “Take a Break” – have an alcohol free month and get your sparkle back!

Just don’t forget to do that selfie at the beginning and end of your alcohol free month – send it to us and we will send you a WorldWithoutWine t-shirt.

janet x

 

 

 

 

 

Stress and Recovery – Guest Blog from Bill Weiss

7 Ways Stress Can Make Recovery More Difficult

Stress is not totally awful as most people assume. In fact, stress is an incredibly important part of our survival as a human species. Before modern industrialization, we were left to our own devices to survive against the wild. The subtle crack of a twig beneath a potential predators foot was enough to incite a stress response in our system to help us survive. This fight-or-flight response is so integral in our makeup as a being that we can see its effects in virtually everything that we do.

The problem?

Modern technology has placed us in a unique situation where our brains are not fully equipped to handle the everyday stressors that we now have. Rather than acknowledging an overflowing inbox as a manageable task, our brains jump into survival mode and produce cortisol so that we have enough stamina to complete the task.

Perhaps a dose of cortisol once a day would provide a healthy boost of energy, as needed. Unfortunately, very few of us have just an overflowing inbox to deal with. Instead, we have stressful tasks, demands, and urgencies all throughout the day. As a result, we are continuously pumped with cortisol, which can break down the body in harmful ways.

For a recovering addict, this can place serious strain on their ability to stay sober. Though this is a normal and common struggle for many recovering addicts, it is totally manageable. As you can imagine, managing stress is an important part of addiction recovery.   Not convinced that you need to manage your stress?

Here are 7 ways that stress can sneakily make an addiction worse:

1. Cortisol can damage brain function.

When the brain is stressed, cortisol levels heighten. When this happens regularly, cortisol can damage the way the brain functions. The hippocampus, the region responsible for emotion regulation, shrinks with chronic stress. This makes it more difficult for a person to control their emotions, which increases cravings and turning to substances to cope.

2. Substances are used to relieve stress.

Certain drugs used to relieve stress, such as alcohol, Valium and Xanax, limit how the central nervous system responds to stress. These substances do this by slowing the nervous system’s response, which then lowers everything from blood pressure and heart rate to body temperature and respiration. When a person is dealing with chronic stress, they may rely more heavily on substances that seem to counteract that stress.

The problem? They do not actually learn how to cope with stress without substances, which increases the risk of being addicted to xanax. Instead of giving in to the substances, or instead of suffering through more unbearable cravings, get your stress under control. Practice healthy habits, such as yoga and meditation, or even long-distance running. Get plenty of sleep, spend time with loved ones, and provide yourself with a creative outlet. Manage your stress, yourself, so that you don’t feel the urge to turn to a substance.

3. Substances change the brain, making it difficult to stop use.

Substance abuse, no matter the duration, significantly alters the chemical balance of the brain. Cocaine, for example, floods the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, signaling to the brain to stop producing more. Though cocaine quickly leaves the body, the signal to the brain lingers for days. The same can be said for Ecstasy and serotonin. With a slowed production of serotonin, the abuser can feel depressed, anxious, and low in energy for days after use. This is where the popular term “Suicide Sunday” was born: based on the effects of the drug on the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Many addicts struggle through this comedown period, leading many to turn back to using. Stress also naturally alters the chemical balance in the brain so that you are left, once again, sluggishly producing neurotransmitters. Many recovering addicts will recognize the feelings of this slump and will crave the substances that can temporarily boost their brains. This makes stress a very dangerous trigger for many recovering addicts.

4. Stress Lowers Impulse Control.

Poor impulse control is very strongly correlated with stress, meaning that the more stressed we are the less impulse control we have. It’s not all in the head, either. Chronic stress, such as rush hour traffic and dance recitals, decreases gray matter in the brain in the regions most associated with stress regulation. When the brain is unable to regulate stress, it is unable to manage other areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex. This area is perhaps the most important of all to the recovering addict because it is where we control our impulses and make complex decisions. By leading a stressful life you are removing your armor against cravings: impulse control.

5. Traumatic events and stress are closely linked.

When children undergo high levels of stress or experience a traumatic event at a young age, they’re more likely to cope with stress through the use of drugs and alcohol. Trauma like abuse, abandonment or neglect can lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Additionally, substance abuse can increase the risk of a traumatic event occurring. Not only can trauma lead to substance use, but substance use can raise the risk of trauma, especially in children and teenagers.

6. Trauma (extreme stress) can lead to alcohol or drug abuse.

Trauma is strongly linked with substance abuse and addiction. The stress disorder PTSD, which is caused by a traumatic event, is especially notorious for being linked with addiction. When people have PTSD, they’re unable to turn off their fight-or-flight response. This can lead to sleeping problems, re-experiencing the event, avoiding certain situations, feeling irritable, feeling anxious, always being on edge, memory lapses and poor self-confidence. Some people with PTSD even find it difficult to experience joy. Often, people with PTSD will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which can not only increase stress but can also get in the way of other treatments and recovery plans.

7. Detox can cause stress.

When a person is trying to recover from addiction, the detox process can trigger a stress response in the body. This almost certainly increases cravings and withdrawal. In order to detox effectively, a combination of strategies should be used. Options for detox include medications to help with side effects or to stabilize mood, behavior therapies, and counseling or support groups.

People who are suffering from addiction and stress will benefit first from understanding the disease model of addiction, and then immense support. Battling stress should not be a traumatic in itself! Instead, seek healthy ways to reduce your stress and don’t be afraid to reach out to your support network. Prevent your stress from making addiction recovery even more difficult than it already is!

 

 

Bill Weiss is an advocate of long-term sobriety. As a member of the recovery community, he feels it is important to spread awareness of alcohol and drug misuse. Being personally affected and having family members struggling, it is a personal quest of his to get the facts about substance misuse in the public domain.

http://www.unitingrecovery.com

getting the sparkle back…

This is my first blogpost for more than a year – not because I “fell off the wagon” but because I have been busy building my alcohol free life – and making it awesome.

I started blogging the day I stopped drinking and used it to track my first year of sobriety – first blogpost was May 2015 so if you want the whole story just click HERE

I hope this new post is reaching some of those kind people who encouraged me through those tough early months – would love to hear from you and anyone else who would like to leave a comment!

One of the best things about sobriety has been the opportunity to help other people via the worldwithoutwine workshops – we run them in Cape Town and Joburg and more than a hundred people have attended – about a third of those people have stopped drinking completely, another third of them have cut down and the rest did not reply to our survey so I have concluded that they are still “in contemplation”.

Contemplation is actually a vital part of the change process – my decade of trying (and failing) to moderate was definitely “contemplation” before I finally accepted that I would have to stop drinking completely.

My biggest learning as I begin my third year of sobriety is that putting down that last alcoholic drink is just the beginning. If you don’t make some serious changes in your life then you end up trying to live your normal life with a big hole in it – where the booze used to be. I certainly went through that phase, feeling depressed – and stuck because I couldn’t even chase away the blues with wine. I used say that I felt as if I had lost more than I had gained – but now I feel the opposite. Now I know that you need to fill that big hole with stuff that’s going to lift you up, connect you with others and broaden your horizons.

I have learned so much about addiction since I got sober so am planning to share some of those learnings, as well as some personal insights, via a weekly blogpost – please follow me if you’d like to get notification when I post.

Never forget that the opposite of addiction is connection.

I leave you with a quote from Mary Karr:-

“When I got sober, I thought giving up was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite”

That’s when the sparkle started for me”.

janet x