Claire Maskery glanced at her clock and decided to open a bottle of wine. It was only mid-afternoon but the sun was shining, it was during the first lockdown and there was nothing else to do. But by 6pm she’d had too much.
"During lockdown there was more opportunity to drink with no one knowing," says Maskery, a 46-year-old veterinary nurse and mother-of-one from near Guildford, Surrey.
"I was totally inebriated and I popped my head over the fence to speak to the neighbours and I was slurring. I remember the look on their faces and thought to myself: ‘It’s only 6pm’.
"People have a misconception that when you have a drinking problem you are crazily inebriated and rolling around on the floor. For me and many others, this was not the case.
"I would still cook dinner, engage with the family and lead a pretty normal life, but with this desperate shameful secret hanging over me."
Alcohol problems have increased hugely over 2020, with the British Liver Trust reporting an increase in calls of 500% since lockdown began.
But this follows an already huge increase – up to 400% – in deaths due to alcohol related liver disease in the last fifty years. Every day more than 40 people die from liver disease in the UK and it’s the third biggest cause of premature death in the UK – especially for those aged 35-49.
Like many people, Maskery started drinking in her late teens to give herself "a confidence boost".
It was in her thirties that she realised she might have a problem.
"When I was younger my alcohol intake escalated and I would make terrible decisions and sometimes put myself in harm’s way," says Maskery.
"I was living the cycle of drinking and hangovers and was aware that alcohol controlled me so I attempted to give it up.
"I managed to stop drinking for a whole year but every day was complete torture. I couldn’t stop thinking about alcohol and all that I felt I was missing out on.
"Eventually, I decided I would start drinking again but in moderation. My plan was to only drink when I went out and not at home. On the weekends I would walk the dogs where I knew there would be a pub so I could have lunch (with two glasses of wine).
"Eventually this spilled back over into my home life once again. My willpower failed completely and soon I was back to a cycle of heavy drinking and hangovers again.
"I hated the weakness in myself and, although I tried twice more to give up drinking – even trying Alcoholics Anonymous throughout the years – it was no good."
By 2019, Maskery’s drinking had escalated and she was drinking up to two bottles of wine every week night and more at weekends.
"I was experiencing blackouts most evenings – not where I became unconscious but where I still had a normal evening but had no recollection in the morning of what I’d done the night before," she says.
"If I washed my hair at night, next morning I would not remember until I looked in the mirror.
"My morning ritual would involve checking my texts to see what I had been chatting about with friends as I wouldn’t remember from the night before.
"My anxiety was sky high, exacerbated by my drinking. At one point I had to take time off work and I was very argumentative with my partner. But I would not remember what we had argued about the following morning. My drinking most definitely affected my relationship with him.
"I keep a diary and over Christmas 2019 I wrote: 'I’m desperate to be sober. I want to sober and be in control of my life again.' This was so far out of my reach or that is what I thought…"
Watch: Signs of a high-functioning alcoholic
The incident in lockdown over the garden fence may have been embarrassing for Maskery but it was also the defining moment that she started her journey towards going alcohol-free.
The following morning, an advert for alcohol coach Simon Chapple popped up on her social media feed. Although Maskery put off contacting him for many months, she eventually started coaching sessions with him via Zoom.
"During our initial sessions I was still drinking and felt like a fraud because Simon was investing his time in me but I was too scared to give up drinking," she says.
"But with Simon’s help and support – along with people I had chosen to tell – within four weeks I started to realise that I wasn’t craving alcohol all the time.
"I started to educate myself about the physiological effects that alcohol was having on my body. I read books such as The Naked Mind by Annie Grace and also Simon’s book The Sober Survival Guide which has been equally helpful to my success."
"I am now over 11 months sober and I feel so much better," Maskery continues. "I feel that I’m in control of my life for the first time since I was a teenager.
"The question I ask myself is: Do I miss alcohol? And the answer is ‘yes’. But I would miss my new life more now. I feel totally free.
"My eight-year-old son is now a great supporter and I feel proud of what I’ve achieved. I am a better mother and my relationship with my partner is improving.
"I have told all my colleagues at work and even posted a YouTube interview that I did with Simon at 100 days sober. The feedback and support have been immense.
‘Even before I started the journey to become alcohol free I always knew I wanted to be a success so I could help break down the stigma around alcohol addiction and get people talking about it. If I can help at least one person not go through the torture I have been through, I will be happy.
Watch: Higher sensitivity to booze can predict alcoholism