Normally, around this time of year, I’ll have placed my order at the local deli. Twelve bottles of Cremant de Loire. 

Although not as rich and expensive as champagne, prosecco is more festive than champagne. It tastes very much like dishwater, to my taste buds.

Every Deli Man arrives wearing a Santa Hat, and he skips through the snow (I am from North Yorkshire), before depositing his two boxes that sparkle merrily.

Bravo! That’s me sorted. Each day of Christmas, one bottle. As long as I have control, it is possible. 

I will have been to numerous parties — apart, of course, from last year. While I was applying make-up, I had one of those cool crisp glasses before each party.

I arrive, teetering on tall heels, and the moment I’ve checked my coat I will scan the room, frantic, for the young man or woman wielding a tray of fizz-filled flutes. 

Normally, around this time of year, I’ll have placed my order at the local deli. Twelve bottles of Cremant de Loire

Normally, around this time of year, I’ll have placed my order at the local deli. Twelve bottles of Cremant de Loire

They are not in my immediate vicinity, so I stop sprinting and then I grab hold of them with a vice grip to remove their precious cargo.

Then I take a sip, and exhale a relief. It is now that I can make small talk. I try not to drown the first flute too quickly — showing tonsils is never a good look — before snatching the next.

This is my everyday routine since 1999 Christmas. At 41, I began to drink. For the next 20 years, I was unable to quit.

I’d never touched a drop before then. I looked at those who were weak and drank. 

I’d grown up with a father who was posted to East Africa after the war and become inured to the expat lifestyle. He was eventually deposed in the UK and would often go to the pub every night.

As a child, I’d lie in bed, unable to sleep until I heard his car on the gravel, safe. One of my sisters was an alcoholic. As did my sister-in-law, Laura.

It’s telling I only became aware of how bad their drinking had become at my dad’s funeral. His death from cancer at age 82 was not due to the cumulative effects of years of heavy drinking.

However, things were different for the women in our family.

Ta da! That’s me sorted. One bottle for each of the 12 days of Christmas. If I can control myself, that is

Bravo! That’s me sorted. Each day of Christmas, one bottle. As long as I don’t get too excited, it is okay

I met my brother and his wife the day before the funeral for a meal, and I couldn’t understand why Laura kept missing her mouth with her fork. ‘She’s an alcoholic,’ he told me.

Although she was shy and a teacher, she enjoyed a few glasses of wine when socializing. When their house was torched by the gas stove at the bottom, they were left with nothing. This led to her changing her drinking habits.

Not too long after my dad’s funeral, Laura was found, still only in her mid-50s, dead in her flat, alone.

Clare, Clare’s older sister, was lively and outgoing. As a teenager I used to go to her house and found a empty vodka bottle in my room. However, there was no way to know. Her only quality was good company.

The first impossible to ignore drunken behaviour happened, again, at my dad’s funeral: she almost fell in the grave; it was like a tasteless sitcom.

Clare was like Laura and had children. She also married a man, underwent a massive barn conversion, and owned a Porsche. In her 70s she died in assisted housing alone.

Lyn, my second-oldest sister is still alive but not quite. When she was in the intensive care unit at National Heart Hospital, Lyn began to drink in her 20s. 

The hours were so long, the pressures so great — she was always telling me about having to ‘crack open a chest’— that she would go to the pub to ‘wind down’.

This has been my routine since Christmas 1999. Which is when I started to drink, at 41. I have been unable to stop for the next two decades

This is my everyday routine since 1999 Christmas. This is the age at which I began to drink. The next twenty-two decades have seen me continue to drink.

Her son’s death from leukemia at 21 was the trigger for social drinking becoming pathological. A year later she came to my London flat and I foolishly abandoned her, because I needed to return to Yorkshire. 

The next night, I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognise. The doctor who called me was my sister from Clerkenwell.

It was likely that she had forgotten my address after going out. My phone number was written on paper and kept in her pocket. 

She still doesn’t own a mobile as it’s ‘too complicated’. She’s barely able to cope with anything.

I was raised with fear and anxiety about alcohol. It destroys families. I didn’t want to end up like the women in my family, plus I’ve always been nervous, so would always want to be in control, alert, en garde!

I was a retired wallflower and accepted the role of Marie Claire editor. I’d turned it down at first. ‘Is it the package?’ the publisher asked. ‘No, I’m terrified!’ I replied. However, the publisher persuaded me and I accepted the job.

It was an exciting world in which I had to interact with super-confident, well-dressed magazine designers, actors, and film stars. 

I was also confronted at every event — even at breakfast — by a smartly dressed young person wielding a frisbee of flutes. 

I resisted, at first. I’d stand with my glass, finding it reassuring to have something cold to hold, as my palms would be sweating.

But then I was no longer new in the job, and as I pushed boundaries with cover choices — bigger women, black women, older women — I got into hot water with my bosses, which made me desperate for something to dull the fear.

In the workplace, I had many colleagues who were older than me. However, each of these women was my partner. It was a life. Their lives would be spent talking on the telephone to each other. 

I’m a workaholic and this annoyed me for two reasons: first, they were wasting time. Second, because I didn’t have anyone.

Consequently, I grew up with a fear of alcohol. It destroys families. I didn’t want to end up like the women in my family

As a result, I was raised with fear of alcohol. It destroys families. I didn’t want to end up like the women in my family

Christmas 1999, and what I did have was a lovely house, a company BMW, a wardrobe stuffed with freebies, but I didn’t have a man lined up for Millennium Eve: the biggest dating night of the century.

It was important to me that I be relaxed. To have more faith and admiration for my talent. To have fun.

I opened one bottle of champagne. The ritual seduced me. I was seduced by the ritual of unwrapping foil as if it were a present. Pop. I felt the fizz in my mouth. It was the instantaneous sensation that first struck my brain.

It was my armor. It made my life — which got worse, as I was sacked within the year — bearable. Then I went bankrupt. 

It’s a long story, but let’s just say alcohol sometimes made me rash, such as taking part in Celebrity Big Brother.

I suddenly had no money for food, but what I did have, miraculously, was my M&S store card! Marks didn’t then deliver food, but what they did deliver was champagne. 

That was all I had for two years, heavy after heavy, until officialdom destroyed me.

This continued. You want to go out with a guy? Drink a glass of champagne, because why not? It breaks the ice; I’ve only ever had sex sober once, and it was a disappointment.

The day I’m discharged from bankruptcy? Crack open a bottle, yay! Oscars difficult assignment? 

Dolly bottles lined up on the plane. If you’d been sitting behind me, you’d have seen my head craning along the gangway to find out where in hell’s name is that trolley!

It was 2018 when I decided to quit. My concerns about strokes and breast cancer were real. I wasn’t sleeping, and would wake, dry-mouthed, at 3am. 

My anxiety was made worse by alcohol, which is a depressant. I attended a retreat in Switzerland. All went very well until I saw the French movie.

All it was beautiful were the pergolas and sunshine, as well as endless glass after glass of wine. Everyone looked happy. None of them looked like Edna, the Inebriate Woman.

Drinking isn’t so bad, after all. We all deserve a treat, don’t we?

It was like a blur. The retreat I took in Mallorca was where my high cholesterol was revealed. Nope, didn’t deter me because, who cares: I’d rather be dead than not drink. 

The bad news? I’m facing Christmas without alcohol. What on earth will I do with my hands at a party? How will I know what to say?

What’s the bad news? I’m facing Christmas without alcohol. What can I do at a Christmas party? What will I say at a party?

When once I’d have half a bottle, then a whole one, during lockdown I was perilously opening a second.

I must be easily swayed or, given what happened to my sisters, have a genetic predisposition, but I’d watch Love Island, or Selling Sunset, and every single situation would be celebrated by clinking glasses of champagne.

My brain says, well, it’s normal. I wanted to feel like them. Young, wanted and celebrated. I’d wake the next day, and a glass would be at my side. Did I watch Succession, or didn’t I?

I had to be in a crisis before it was possible for me to get out of my rut. At the beginning of 2020, I’d find myself walking my dogs and felt unsteady on my feet. Not drunk, surely — I’d only had two glasses. One evening I went back, had a glass of Cremant and then the room began to spin.

It was difficult for me to climb the steps. My room was spinning for several weeks, and I felt like I was vomiting. My assistant, who is nearby, was able to help me.

My vomiting became so severe that she called 999. The paramedics came, saw I wasn’t dying, though I felt I was, and because of Covid, refused to admit me.

On my one good day, I made it to my GP, who prescribed medication that would melt in my mouth, as I couldn’t sip water.

This went on for weeks: the world would spin, and I’d be confined to bed. I had a brain scan, terrified that if I lay flat I’d throw up.

The GP didn’t ask about my drinking, and I didn’t volunteer. It was embarrassing. But I went to a blood testing and my liver was healthy.

Yet. That was the moment I thought I was crazy. Though I was able to spend a lot on skincare and facials to make my skin look great, drinking is still the worst thing for your skin.

I eventually decided to go private after my NHS appointment moved again. After being diagnosed with vertigo (an imbalance in my left side ear), it was discovered that crystals had become loose.

Balance disorders can be caused by hearing loss. You can still feel sober, even though it is hard to believe.

My doctor prescribed me diuretics. I’m not allowed to drink while on medication, and the ear, nose and throat professor told me that alcohol can worsen the vertigo, and certainly not help my stress.

As with everyone that I have come in contact, he also noticed my shallow panting. ‘What are you afraid of?’ he asked. ‘Everything,’ I replied. ‘Goodness,’ he said. ‘No wonder you drank.’

The good news? I have stopped craving alcohol after weeks of vomiting. The funny thing is, the man from the deli actually emailed, concerned, as he hadn’t had to make a delivery.

What’s the bad news? I’m facing Christmas without alcohol. What can I do at a Christmas party? What will I say at a party?

Endure all the Christmas adverts: Do Not ‘Ave A Dubonnet. What will make me laugh inanely at the boredom of work?

Given I’m now so terrified of being dizzy, I’m not even tempted to fall off the wagon. If I’m with someone who’s drinking, the smell disgusts me. My sister and her-in-law were beautiful, I am sure. They had that loveliness wrestled from them, and I’m grateful I’ve been saved.

It’s amazing how quickly the body bounces back. My sleep is like that of a kitten. I have so much energy and I’m more positive. 

I still get nervous, but I’ve found ways to cope: an oily bath, a walk with my dogs, but not, I have to say, non-alcoholic wine, which is disgusting.

My sister-in law was found by a sea of empty wine bottles and piles of pizza boxes when she was discovered. Because she ordered a pizza, and also a bottle wine.

Either she was too embarrassed to drink alcohol without food or she wasn’t capable of getting to the toilet.

I don’t want to end up like that. Sometimes you need a push to make you change. For me, it wasn’t too late.

Santa Eve will see me raise a glass San Pellegrino, and I am grateful to the hilarious, misplaced Crystals placed in my deaf ears that saved my life.