Let me tell you all about my long and complicated relationship with alcohol. Actually, it's not that complicated: we met, we became tempestuous lovers, and now we keep breaking up and getting back together. Me and white wine? We're the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton of the booze world. Sometimes I cheat on it with a beer, or a Baileys (Baileys! What am I? Eighteen?), but I always come back to it: a nice, chilled glass of Chablis with a couple of cubes of ice in it. The ice is crucial - somebody told me it waters the wine down but actually I suspect it just makes it even more pleasant so I end up drinking it faster.
In my 20s, my primary relationship was with alcohol. It outlived countless boyfriends. It was always there for me. My need for it was often problematic - in order to get more of it, there was a period of cocaine abuse, cocaine being the drinker's drug in that it sharpens you up and enables you to carry on going.
After nights like this, which often stretched well in to the next day, I would tell myself that I was never drinking again. Then a few days would pass, the memory of the hangover would fade, and we would be reunited in a joyous knees-up.
When I met my husband-to-be, our love blossomed in a glorious haze of booze-fuelled dates. But I soon discovered that he could stop after one or two, and I couldn't. I'd rather drink nothing at all than just one or two. What was the point? Where was the fun?
This could have become a problem but I got pregnant and so any issue between us about alcohol immediately vanished - I didn't miss booze while I was pregnant, not one bit, and couldn't imagine ever going back to it in the same way, if at all. I put my problem drinking down to youthful idiocy and got on with planning motherhood. But after my daughter was born, it crept back in. Not every night, not even every other night, and certainly not as excessively as before, but there it was, a need for booze as reward for a trying day of new parenthood.
I looked forward to that ice cold glass of wine, counted down the minutes until 7pm when I could crack open a bottle. But my tolerance had completely diminished so the hangovers were different, more entrenched.
With responsibility has come clarity: I have realised that alcohol is not my friend, but my nemesis. It is at the route of almost every problem I have in my life: anxiety, weight gain, exhaustion, crabbiness with my husband.
I may now drink on the sofa watching a boxset rather than while dancing on a table in a pub, but the units are still there, totting up, to eclipse the recommended weekly intake. So finally, and not before time, I want a divorce from alcohol. I want, not just a Dry January, but a Dry Life.
The woman charged with breaking the abusive relationship is Susan Hepburn, a hypnotherapist who has worked with Nigella Lawson, Lily Allen, Sophie Dahl and a fair few more celebrities she cannot name. Though Dahl, Allen and Lawson came to Hepburn for weight loss advice, her hypnosis covers everything from smoking to self esteem to stress… and alcohol, of course. "Anything you perceive to be a problem," says Hepburn when we meet in her London office, "I can make better through hypnosis."
Hypnotherapy has always seemed a bit fatuous to me - I just think of swinging clock watches and Kaa, the snake in the Jungle Book. But Hepburn is a no-nonsense woman who immediately debunks misconceptions about her trade. "It's not about 'putting you under' so you can't remember anything. If anything, hypnosis is about getting into a state of increased awareness, so we can re-programme the mindset. When people are in a hypnotic state, so to speak, they are actually more receptive to noise and everything around them. They are more conscious, more open to what people are saying."
Hepburn discovered hypnotherapy after studying psychotherapy and was immediately fascinated by the discipline. She opened her first clinic in her native Barnsley which proved very popular but on discovering the huge demand for her services in London, she moved to the city 20 years ago where she has built an extensive client list through word-of-mouth. Today she has clinics in Los Angeles and New York. She tells me with confidence that she can stop me drinking in one session - though she suggests three to be sure. I am sceptical to say the least. How can she break down an almost 20 year relationship in just one hour?
We sit down in her consulting room, which is all plush leather chairs and chinois print screens. In the middle of the room is her hypnotherapy chair, a vast, vibrating monstrosity with leg, back and head rests that can move up and down at the touch of a button.
It is slightly frightening, and I am relieved when Hepburn tells me that we will have a psychotherapy session first to help her to understand my history of drinking. I tell her about when I first drank alcohol - one summer on the local green, when I ended up being sick into my shoe - and she asks me when I 'transitioned' from being able to take it or leave it. "Um, I don't think I did transition," I mumble. "I'm pretty sure I've never been able to take it or leave it." Hepburn nods understandingly. She's seen it all before.
Eventually, and with trepidation, we move to that chair. I climb on and make myself as comfortable as I can given that I am absolutely terrified (what if I wake up as a devout teetotaller with no sense of fun?). Hepburn covers me with a blanket. Apparently it can get very chilly being hypnotised.
I close my eyes and steel myself for what is about to happen. But whatever it is that occurs, it is strangely, pleasurably cathartic. Hepburn's voice becomes softer, slower. She tells me to open the 'window of my mind', and to let in fresh air to my brain. While taking deep breaths, she asks my body to relax from the top to the toes. Then she starts with the hypnotherapy proper. "You are going to have no cravings, no desires, no inclinations to drink. If you do, don't worry. Do not waste energy on what you cannot change." Hepburn tells me to imagine looking in the mirror and seeing clear, sparkly eyes; to feel fresh and full of energy.
How long does this go on for? I'm not sure I know. Either I am in a hypnotic state or I have just fallen asleep. Either way, it feels kind of good. By the time that Hepburn is telling me to "delete the files" containing all memories of alcoholic stupidity, I am crying. But I feel as if I am crying in a good way.
As I prepare to leave, Hepburn issues me with some 'self-hypnosis' tips to keep me going until our next meeting. I am to say the following 'positive affirmations' to myself over and over again: I am enjoying my new regime of being mindful and healthy; I am proud of not drinking; I love having all this energy.
I leave feeling hopeful. Or perhaps I am just desperate. Either way, I know that something is about to give.
(©The Daily Telegraph London)