Preparing My Sails

Perhaps I should see if I can successfully sail past that 11-month buoy before I start preparing my sails for rounding the one year marker, but I’m nothing if not impatient. Besides, flight tickets to the city of angels isn’t something you just go and buy the week before. Fuck it – it’s clear in my mind: magical and romantic evenings enjoying the sunset in Huntington Beach with hubby, and when he has to work me and Willow in an open top muscle car of some description and the wind in our hair as we’re cruising around Hollywood Hills. If she picks me up in a silly little Peugeot I’ll be seriously unimpressed – I have her pegged in a Mustang or something that’d roar in a similar manner. I’m going to make hubby take me to dinner at Sur (Lisa Vanderpump, people – what more reason could I possibly need?) or Villa Blanca and I hope he’ll also drag me along for long hikes. I need to see that view! I suppose he’ll have to show up for some of the meetings he’s actually going there for in the first place, but this is where Willow comes in. And what better way to celebrate my one-year milestone than with my hubby and best friend as well as with Willow, who I got to know via AA before she deserted London to head back to Los Angeles. Now THAT would be pretty fabulous.

I think it fits and partly so because it also really highlights how much more fun life is without alcohol! I mean, rewind a year or more and I would have had trouble imagining going to LA sober. Well, I had trouble imagining going ANYWHERE and doing ANYTHING sober, but trips like that would always have appeared in the sentences that went something like “I’ll quit drinking after the LA trip“. Just like I initially felt OH FUCK as we already had a weekend in Paris and a trip to Gothenburg planned when I stopped drinking – those were what I immediately hesitated over. How can you possibly go to Paris and NOT drink wine? Turns out you not only can but it’s freaking glorious too, and I have to say I’m really happy that LA hasn’t come up until now that I’m sober – imagine wasting a week there by drinking. Oooohhhhh! I’m really excited but will have to calm down as it might not be possible for me to go. Bosses will have to agree the time off and Bonus #1 would have to agree to spending a week with his teenage stepbrother Bambino. Not at all certain and then of course there’s a cost too and unfortunately we’re not made of money. We shall see.

Do you have a way of commemorating your milestones? I was toying with the idea of a gold ring – but again, not being a rich is a bit of an obstacle – and adding a tiny little diamond for each year. I was also thinking about a tattoo but don’t really want the AA sobriety symbol and haven’t seen an alternative I like. I would have gone with the date – 23 January 2018 – but already have Bambino’s birth date and our wedding day along my back so might end up like a fucking calendar.

Then again, forget trips, trinkets and tattoos – I already gave myself and those who love and care about me the greatest gift of all.

Los Angeles would be so cool though… Oohhh I hope it can work!

Today I’m not going to drink.

Fresh Out of Hell

During those first few weeks and months of sobriety, I quite frequently had dreams that I was drinking again. I was so relieved and grateful to get away that I think it was my subconscious poking me by way of saying oh, check this out, here’s a nightmare to remind you. Every time I woke up with that sinking feeling and awful shame. I’d carefully look around only moving my eyeballs, scanning the ceiling and top half of the room around me with that familiar shitty feeling of trying to work out what happened the night before. Then the next moment I’d realise I’d once again woken up without a hangover and feel so relieved it made me tearful. It’s like with anything I suspect, when we escape something terrible and the horror is fresh in our minds because we’re fresh out of hell. During those early days – well, it’s still quite early days – those dreams would really shake me up and it was quite easy to quickly establish OH HELL NO, I ain’t going there again.

A long term sober blogger recently said how “the further I get from my last drink, the closer I get to my next one“.

Whilst we might think that the longer we stay sober, the safer we are (and I would imagine this is in many ways true), I really understood what this meant this morning.

There was a wine box and I’d poured a glass and in the dream it was just like my other drinking dreams in that my choice was gone – I’d already had some and the damage was done. Bambino came in and got pissed off with me in that typical teenager sort of way, when it’s disguised as anger and sulking but actually beneath it all is real, heartfelt hurt. And here’s the really scary bit that really proves to me that the brain I have today is the brain I had all along and the very same one that had me sinking into addiction – in the dream I was horrified I’d let Bambino down so made a show of pouring out the glass of wine, yet… …at the same time calculating if there’d be enough left to drink and when I’d be able to get to it behind Bambino’s back, because I was 100% going to drink it. I sort of don’t want to type it because it makes me shudder, but I always promised to keep this honest and this is the ugly truth. Well, the honest account of a very ugly dream anyway.

Nothing has changed, by the way – I still don’t want to drink, I still am absolutely rock solid in my conviction it does nothing for me and I still want nothing more than forever stay this way. Just wanted to point that out. This dream isn’t a build up of me increasingly toying with the idea of a drink. Quite the opposite and that’s what’s scary about it! I just wanted to highlight that this is something my brain cooked up that is in absolute opposition to everything I, in this moment, want and believe. Eesh.

Anyway!

Those early drinking dreams were awful because just like the one I had last night they always started with it being too late – i.e. I’d already had a drink and the wheels were set in motion without me having any way of stopping it. What made this dream interesting is how there was the added thought process: the manipulation and being shady as fuck in order to deceive (in this case Bambino) so I would get to drink. I know I said it before about those dreams whenever they’ve happened, how I reckon it’s my subconscious reminding me of where I was going and how grateful I should be that I got away. This one really did hammer the same message home – I don’t want to be the mother who does that again, the one who lies and hides to sustain that evil habit, the one whose heart breaks because she’s letting her son down yet can’t help herself. No thank you.

You’re so good, Mum. I’m proud of you,” Bambino told me when I got back from a run one evening last week.

God, so slow though!” I gasped, still out of breath and grumpily noting via Runkeeper that my pace is ridiculously slow.

So what! You’re doing it!

Bambino said it with that little-man sort of voice. Like he’s the adult telling me the child to see the bigger picture. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and says stuff like that to encourage me and it’s his way of letting me know he’s happy about it. No one in the world could possibly see me run and be impressed, honestly I am that slow. Anyway. That, right there, is the mum I want to be. The on-the-cuddly-side-of-medium-but-OK-fine-probably-large mum who ran 6k and now can barely breathe but damn it I did it. And I do it every other day, even when I don’t want to. And have my son see how I work hard at something and commit! THAT is who I want to be. And in sobriety this is who I am.

Isn’t it strange, that further down the line a drinking dream (or nightmare, really) is so much more evil in its nature? I would absolutely say that these almost 11 months into my sobriety I feel a lot safer than I did, say, at 11 weeks. Not only am I now used to it and the idea of having a drink is actually a very strange one, new pathways have formed in my brain and so old habits are all but gone too. It’s also natural and my normal to casually say “no thanks” and not think any more of it when offered a drink compared with earlier on when it was still strange and felt odd to order soda water. So yes, absolutely it is true for me that my sobriety seems to solidify with time. However, remember what I said about being fresh out of hell? Again, this I think is so natural. I was in an accident when I was about ten years old, got knocked off my bike by a car. I had nightmares about being hit by a car and when I had to cycle the same route after I’d recovered I was crying my eyes out because it had really traumatised me. I remember feeling so ill any time we drove past the spot and the black break marks on the tarmac from the car that hit me were there for months afterwards. I was scared for a long time. And then it faded and later on I never gave it much thought at all. No more nightmares and I’d happily cycle anywhere.

This is what we are wired to do! Our brains are programmed to fade out the bad stuff and hold on to the good bits. So whilst I feel more and more secure in my sobriety, chances are that how bad it got won’t seem as bad to me in five or ten years’ time as it still does now. Entirely logical, no? It would make perfect sense that someone who’s been sober for years and years could fall back! You feel secure and it’s been forever since alcohol was ever a problem in your life. You feel secure because you’re set in new habits and a new normal where a drink would be out of the ordinary. You feel secure because you look back and hey, stopping drinking wasn’t so hard was it? So you can probably just do it the once. So what. No big deal.

I can see how easily it could happen. You know, because I was so scared of falling back when I first escaped I told EVERYONE. I declared it to my family and friends and even my bosses because I figured the more people who know, the more chance there is that someone will blow the whistle if I come up against that enemy again: me. I have sometimes referred to all these people as my anchors. Getting sober will always have to come from me, but knowing I have a large number of people who are aware of my struggle with alcohol makes me feel so much safer. After all, the Beast wants to isolate me and get me on my own, so snitching on it instantly means it’s harder for it to get to me. Anna 1 – Booze 0. However, I actually wonder if it just doesn’t happen that way – the Beast is a fucking cunning creature and I doubt it’d try to get me when I’m anchored down. So I’m going to ask people I know who were sober for a long, long stretch what that scenario was when they picked up a drink again. I picture it being something unusual – perhaps you’re away with work or at some party or anything else that takes you away from your own habitat. And suddenly you’re offered one and it just happens, in one floating motion with no real thought behind it. Lights dimmed on those hellish memories of your rock bottom and a heightened sense of how strong you’ve been for all this time? Well – I’m just speculating here and simply because I just can’t see myself get a stash of booze and set to work on a Tuesday afternoon in the way I used to. Too much explaining for starters and no one enjoys drinking whilst having to justify it – that’s why us alkies prefer drinking on our own.

Thinking about the dream now, it makes me feel sad but most of all grateful that I don’t have to be her anymore. I don’t have to do that. There is nothing I miss about it and I’m glad the shame of it is so strong it lingers even all these months later. I hope it lingers longer still. Much longer. Forever, in fact. I’m going to create a list of things that I am grateful and joyous to be free of and find a way of carrying it with me or putting it up somewhere I will see it every day. At this point all of those things are fresh in my mind because I’m still fresh out of hell. Really spell out how I used to feel and what drinking felt and looked like. More thoughts to come on this, no doubt.

Feel free to share if you have dreams like that or something similar – I’d love to know.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Skipping Ceremonial Duties

An article popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago, shared by a friend who suffers depression as well as going through a break-up. The article was about loneliness and “self care” and it struck me how thin the line is between setting healthy boundaries and morphing into a self absorbed twat. It was written by a health coach and the message was aimed at people who witness a friend or family member go through something, be it mental health or addiction issues. To say it was harsh is an understatement and it made me think of my friend Kitten, who often reaches out to me as she battles her demons and whom I’m doing my best to be there for.

To those going through something difficult, the advice is to put themselves first and if people supporting them don’t do so with a never ending supply of energy and time, they’re shits. “Don’t offer support if you can’t give it 100% on your loved one’s terms” reads the instruction to those who are trying to be supportive. It states that you should ask yourself if you can totally put your own needs to the side for the time that it will take. I take issue with this. Massively so.

Either, it is the case that only people who have lives akin to an episode of My Little Pony should ever offer support, or it’s total bollocks. Perhaps the author of the article would be aghast that I, a recovering alcoholic, am attempting to be there for a friend in need? We all have our own lives and most of the time said lives come with varying degrees of good and bad. When I read the article I almost felt like in order to do it right, you’d have no problems whatsoever and wake up wearing an Instagram filter, plus have no other commitments in life so you can dedicate yourself fully to your loved one in need and always at the exact time they need you to. You’d basically probably have to be royalty with staff to run everything in your life for you as well as be excused from public commitments and ceremonial duties as required. So the Queen would potentially be good enough for this type of support role but only if she was prepared to call in sick a lot.

I think there is such a thing as taking it too far. Yes, mental health and addiction issues are really, really difficult things to go through and require an enormous amount of strength to overcome. Of course it would be terrible to have friends and family judging you or refusing to support you – even I get that. But to demand they should only do so if they can completely neglect their own needs is bloody preposterous. “Don’t give advice based on your experience,” the article tells me. Uhm, I’m doing my best to just listen and let Kitten know I’m here for her, but when she does ask me what I think she should do, what else can I bloody base it on than what I feel or have experienced myself? Perhaps I got defensive reading it because I do feel pretty rubbish in terms of supporting Kitten. Once I even apologised for being too harsh – I felt awful and wanted to say sorry after she’d come to me with what appeared to be an additional heap of problems stemming from a bunch of incredibly poor decisions and I told her that her decisions were poor.

But here’s the deal, and what I try to always say to Kitten. Depression – I’ve not been there. I don’t know how it feels. I don’t know what it’s like. So I always ask her to tell me how I can best support her. I try to always underline that what I suggest when she asks for advice is based on myself – I suggested walks because walking and running are my results guaranteed solution for feeling low, and creating something with your hands (be it knitting or ceramics or jewellery making) as that always calms my mind. I do my best to say “how about” instead of “do this“. Call me stupid, but this requires a lot of effort for me and not least because depression is freaking frustrating to deal with. I don’t get it! How can the world possibly look so gloomy and hopeless? It’s like she’s actively looking for things to be sad about and be a victim! ….but that’s probably what depression looks like to those of us who don’t truly get what it’s like, right? So I do my best and part of doing my best is accepting that I don’t get it – and I tell Kitten so, as well as ask her what she needs.

In return, I would never dream of asking someone to only be supportive if they can give me 100%. To be honest, I had no idea how people would react so I guess it’d be fair to say that it would probably have been enough if no one had hated me. Instead, I was of course met with only kindness and love, but not everyone is that lucky. But we have a Kitten-&-I-Situation with me and hubby. He’s not an alcoholic and therefore he’ll have no idea how it actually feels. To him it must seem, when I try to explain what I’m going through, exactly the way it does to me when Kitten is trying to explain her depression to me. Bloody hell, girl! Just stop after a couple of drinks! Just say no, what’s the big deal? Get a grip! Hubby is the best person on the planet and has asked and asked and asked again. It must seem so alien to him yet he’s forever getting up in my grill and wanting to know what’s happening in my mind. And do you know what? Sometimes he’ll NOT get something or ask me something I find ridiculous, but for God’s sake so what? Just because he is my greatest supporter doesn’t mean he has to get it all and behave precisely the way I (me, me, me!) need him to at every hour every day. And that’s what this article seems to suggest – namely that in hubby’s case, he should just dedicate his whole damn existence to my recovery or frankly, butt out. Perhaps I’m reading it all wrong but that’s what jumps out of me and it winds me up enormously.

By the way, it’s in Swedish so perhaps a bit pointless to link to it, but I suppose you can always stick it into Google Translate: Hälsocoachen Åsa Nyvall.

It largely talks about the sense of being alone, which I can definitely relate to with my own addiction – only a year ago I was still trapped and the idea of reaching out and asking those around me to understand seemed like climbing Mount Everest. I get all of that and I have been there. But I also consider it MY DUTY to communicate what I need, and if I’m in such a bad place that even this is impossible, I cannot possibly resent my loved ones for being at a loss as to how to help me. I just don’t think that’s fair – how could they possibly know?

I genuinely believe the vast majority of people have good hearts. I’m absolutely certain that most people would do anything to help. But we’re all different and if I’m honest I think e.g. my father is probably one of the people who, with regards to my drinking, feels it’s “just” a matter of not drinking. And guess what? That’s OK. He’s done his best to understand but it’s also up to me to understand that his world is a lot more black and white than mine is. And of course, he – like hubby – isn’t an alcoholic so for him the way to control alcohol is to control alcohol. Yah? For him it really is a matter of just declining another drink. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. It’s more than OK because as much as it actually irritates me when he decides to be the Wine Police and loudly proclaims NO ALCOHOL FOR ANNA in social situations, he’s actually got my back and doing his best to support me. I think it’d be really shitty of me to be unappreciative. Perhaps I personally would prefer him to not be so bloody loud but mostly I just love him that little bit more for wanting to help, because that’s what he’s trying to do and what I try to recognise.

The article also talks about when friends and family fall away, how people eventually become sick of trying to support you if you don’t recover fast enough. That’s a shame but again, people do their best and supporting someone in recovery must be hugely draining. I often say to hubby “let’s talk about something else now” if we’ve spent lots of time discussing recovery related things, and I say it because I’m aware that my recovery IS and HAS been very central over this past year. It will always be central to me and therefore also to hubby given he’s married to me. However, he is in this marriage too and has stuff that’s important that he needs to vent and discuss. Even if he was that royal who had everything done for them and could skip public engagements at the drop of a hat to be there for me, he also has his own needs. It just can’t be one way. For brief periods, yes. Of course if Kitten has a crisis I will make time for her, and I imagine most people would do this for someone they care about but we all have our own lives and needs too.

Also, being there for someone can be exhausting and this goes back to a previous post I wrote with regards to being there for Kitten. There is sometimes a limit to how much I can give. I’ll probably go to hell, but after a long exchange I can feel myself getting pulled down and need a break. Sounds awful and perhaps I’m just a shit friend, but sometimes I need to come up for air or I’ll drown too. It’s a balance, I think. As much as Kitten should focus on self care, so should I and I simply don’t want to end up feeling selfish if I need to step away momentarily. And I think those of us who are in recovery from addictions need to always be mindful and considerate of those who support us in the same way we want them to be mindful and considerate of us. I’m willing to suggest that there is not one person on this planet who does not have their own needs. I’m willing to state as fact that if we demanded this of someone, they’d eventually – and probably even quite quickly – fall away, just like this article suggests. So surely the whole concept of demanding or giving 100% all the time is absurd?

I don’t know if I am getting it right with Kitten but I make damn sure I don’t promise her something I can’t give her. Giving her 100% isn’t possible. I wouldn’t even expect that from my spouse on a beyond-temporary-crisis basis. Is it just me or is the suggestion we should only offer support if we’re willing to forsake all our own needs ridiculous! Surely it’s a matter of offering what you can and delivering on just that: giving what you can.

Ah, there it is again! Balance. It’s all down to balance.

Well, there’s a rant on a Monday for you but there we are. Perhaps this pinched at some insecurity in me, I don’t know, but I really did find myself getting my back up when I read that article.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Smoosh Him Silly

Happy Friday to you!

The restlessness is making me twitchy, I just want to get going with the weekend now – head home, go for a manicure (how very Housewives of Beverly Hills of me!), sort Bambino out before he is off to his dad’s for the weekend, then go for a run and this evening make the apartment all welcoming and Christmassy for hubby who lands at 5am tomorrow morning. Drunk Me would usually sleep through (I think it was twice that I woke because hubby rang, stranded at the airport and wondering if he needed to get in a taxi – eesh, I cringe thinking about it), but Sober Me is very dependable so I’ll be drinking my morning coffee at 4am before getting in the car to go and collect him. He’ll no doubt be jetlagged after a week adjusting to being eight hours ahead so I’m going to tone down my over excitement and let the poor guy have a bit of peace. Joy to the world and all that. Well, he can be an exhausted hot mess for all I care – emphasis on ‘hot’ – as long as I get to climb all over him, steal his body heat (I’m always cold and he’s always toasty) and generally just smoosh him silly.

Yep. It’s more than enough to get me in a really brilliant mood!

For those of you who know me a little better, this might just get you a little worried – a good mood was always my biggest trigger – but let me reassure you that at this present time there is no part of me that wants to drink. Not one bit. Sorry to go all I’ve-seen-the-light evangelical on you, but every goddamn time I think about this it makes me feel so grateful and relieved I could just weep. I don’t want to drink! It’s magic. I don’t actually know how else to describe it. MAGIC.

Of course, this didn’t just happen. I’m at this point and found sobriety after the slippery slope of alcohol abuse had begun to get extremely steep. You know, it always only ever goes downwards but in my case it was so slowly at first that it was only when I was actually in trouble that I realised it. The line was so bloody fine! One day you can keep it up and the next you discover you’re too fucked up to function, yet you only did what you’ve done for quite a long time. You cannot keep going like I was though – eventually it’ll start to catch up with you and it did for me. Even though my extreme drinking went on for over a decade, it’s amazing what you can get away with for the longest time. Well. It got shitty and I got scared and I wanted to get off that runaway train. I consider myself lucky that I got to a point where I’d had enough, that this happened before I’d begun to really suffer irreparable and irreplaceable losses. PHEW. I’m also very grateful that my turning point was one I got to myself and not one I was forced into with a big fat OR ELSE.

It was me who’d had enough. It was my eyes that opened. It was me who wanted to stop. And it was me who did stop. And I stopped because I truly no longer wanted to drink. It was no longer a case of “I need to stop but still crave a drink” – the appeal of a drink all but died. Since then I have taken immense care to at least begin to unpack all the things that alcohol was to me and what I thought it did. I needed to inspect all of those pieces carefully, hold them up to the light and understand what they were. What I discovered was (and is – this is and probably always will be an on-going process) that it was all an illusion and that booze is nothing other than a filthy poison that never did any of the things I thought it did. It never made happy happier, it never made fun funnier and it never added even the tiniest benefit. I feel grateful every single day that I am free from its evil trap and consider myself so, so fortunate that I got to that point where I could walk away. Or rather – the point where I wanted to walk away. After all, it isn’t hard to stop yourself from doing something you no longer want to do.

When getting sober I consider this a luxury – God help me if I’d had to rely on will power or some sort of distraction, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. Well, just like previous attempts at sobriety had failed. Those attempts failed for one reason only: I still wanted to drink. Honestly, that’s all there is to it. I wasn’t able to stop (or at least I didn’t!) as long as there was the tiniest part left in me wanting to keep on drinking. Only when I reached a point where I felt done with it and genuinely had enough could I get sober.

From what I’ve learned so far, sobriety appears to be a very individual thing so I’m not saying my way is the best way or the only way. I know lots of people who got sober in lots of different ways. I have used the analogy of childbirth before – whatever results in the delivery of a healthy baby, I don’t think it matters much if it was with the help of an epidural, a c-section or whilst doing a bit of gardening and baby just gracefully popped out amongst the roses. Who cares? I see sobriety the same way and I do try to be respectful and not preach when someone does it in a way that I can’t understand or relate to. If what keeps you sober is running around your house naked three times at dawn every morning, good on’ya.

What I do try to do, is absorb all I can from other sober folk – the whys, the hows and so on. There are lightbulb moments on pretty much a daily basis. I want to know about the pitfalls, I want to hear about the struggly bits, I want to learn about all these stages we all seem to go through in sobriety – that’s the one thing we all do seem to have in common regardless of our methods. Stages. There’s the acceptance. Then there’s hope. Then there’s summoning up the oomph to make a change. Then we untangle and unpack all that stuff. We contemplate. We want to put things right. We seem to discover and get to know ourselves again. We find a better way. And perhaps the one thing I seem to find in every single person: the genuine, passionate and sincere wish to help the next person find their path too. That’s probably the most overwhelming thing I feel – I want to scoop up Drunk Me in my arms and hold her, tell her this life is possible and that it’s within her grasp to find it. And I regularly – as conceited and smug as this may sound – want to high five Sober Me. Sorry, not sorry – I like this version of me. I’ve got this.

And yet, having said all of that, the one thing I need to always remember and keep at the forefront of my mind is that relapsing is so, so easy. The more distance I cover between Drunk Me and the present day, the more the negatives of drinking are likely to fade. One day my brain could trick me again. And that’s why sobriety will always have to be my absolute focus and priority. It doesn’t have to consume me but it can never slip into neglect because the moment I lose sight of it I’ll be in trouble. Big trouble.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Charismatic and Mental

There are several books I should never have read and several films I should never have watched. I should never have watched the Blair Witch Project because it messed me up massively and I slept with the light on for years. That last scene where one of the “documentary makers” is standing there facing the wall in that basement made my soul contract and freeze to ice. I should also not be reading Pretty Girls which is currently on my Kindle, as already its parts of graphic sexual violence are ingrained in the tapestry of my mind where I suspect I’ll have a hard time washing them out. If you were to scan my bookshelves, I’m proud to say you’d find some books there that I’d like to think points to how awesome I am, like several by the amazing Toni Morrison who is one of my absolute heroes. But you might also soon deduct that I might be some sort of Hannibal Lecter in the making. There are books about the Manson Family, Ted Bundy, the Green River killer, Fred and Rosemary West, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Columbine massacre, the Ipswich murders, the Soham tragedy and a good sprinkling of Adolf Hitler too. What is this morbid fascination with evil?

Last night I watched part of a documentary about Jonestown. This DEFINITELY goes in the category of stuff I should not be reading or watching, because I had nightmares all night. This was by measure of the number of lives lost, the greatest massacre involving American citizens until 9/11, yet I’d never heard of it. I’ve heard the expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” and have used it too. I knew what it means as a saying and think I’ve used in the right sort of context, but I never knew where it came from. Now I know and I wish I didn’t. It comes from a mass murder/suicide where followers of the Jonestown People’s Temple cult drank cyanide mixed with – that’s right – Kool-Aid (or rather, Flavour-Aid, which is apparently a cheaper version) as instructed by their charismatic, terrifying and totally mental leader, Jim Jones. Brr! I haven’t seen all of it and know that although I’d be better off not watching the rest, I won’t be able to help myself. So anyway, nearly a thousand people committed collective suicide by drinking the Kool-Aid, some forcibly but many by blindly following and believing Jones was some sort of Messiah.

Isn’t it amazing – and fucking terrifying – what our brains can make us do? Drink a poison in the belief something good will come of it? I’d never… …uhm… …hang on….

Ironically – and I kind of take this as a sign from above – the Kool-Aid used at Jonestown was grape flavoured.

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Loveliness of Slow

Last weekend was an unusual one. Hubby was away, which he often is, but unlike other times I now had the company of Bambino, who, thanks to some bad choices is grounded until 2019 and therefore had to hang out with mummy. Bambino is brilliant company actually, and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting all this time with my charming, witty, funny and often hugely irritating son. I think if he’d not been grounded and banned from all screens, I would have been bored stupid over the weekend. Instead, everything we did we did together as opposed to him being out and about with his friends or holed up in his room on the Playstation. I’m desperately missing hubby, so much so that it makes my heart churn, but this time has been easier simply because my little man has been much more of a companion. Obviously this is not his choice and I do realise he’d much prefer to play Red Redemption or whatever that new game is called, but I’m reaping the rewards nonetheless.

It was quite a slow weekend though, it has to be said. What struck me though, is how much a sober weekend contains even when we don’t do much. I wake early, so even after what is in my world a long lie-in, I’m up by 7.30. Enjoyed the morning sitting on the sofa and drinking coffee. Bambino emerged a couple of hours later and I did a bunch of laundry, cleaned the apartment and got all the Christmas decorations out. We headed to the Swedish shop and got our body weight in sweets plus two tubs of gingerbread cookie dough – I’ve polished one off so far, which means I’ve eaten it and not that I’ve baked any cookies. I get this cookie dough for this purpose alone. Hubby, in an ill advised moment, one year suggested we bake cookies and I nearly filed for divorce. It’s gloriously delicious, I cut big chunks that I proceed to put into my face as if it were normal cake. I’m not actually a huge fan of gingerbread cookies, but the dough – oh ehm gee. Anyway, this little outing across west London had us out and about for a couple of hours and after this our Saturday really dragged – it was pissing it down with rain so heading to a market or similar wasn’t an option. We watched Modern Family all afternoon, then I made Bambino play a few board games with me (he refers to this as BORED games, the little shit bag) and generally the rest of the day dragged a bit. Went for a long walk when the rain let up a little and managed to get my running shoes covered in mud along the paths in the park.

Sunday we made a fry-up for breakfast and then headed off to get a Christmas tree and spent some time trying to get this standing somewhat straight despite the trunk being shaped like a half circle (I swear they sent us off with a different one to the one we picked which looked so straight and symmetrical and perfectly Disney). I couldn’t reach all the Christmas decorations on top of our wardrobes but we put out the ones I did manage to get down, including the embroidered table cloths my grandmothers made for me when I was little. Christmas has arrived at Casa Storm, even if our tree is weirdly bent. In the afternoon I went for a run when Bambino went to get a hair cut and then we cooked spaghetti bolognese together.

Shall we add lots of chili because [Hubby] isn’t here?” Bambino asked and smiled.

Bambino and I both love a good kick, whereas Hubby often ends up sweating and having a runny nose when I cook, so obviously with him not being around we had a free pass to set our meals on absolute fire. Chili doesn’t go with bolognese though I don’t think.

No chili, but we’ll use the whole garlic bulb!” I replied and raised my hand for a high five.

Oh my God you’re so lame, don’t high five me,” Bambino sighed and rolled his eyes, “that’s so embarrassing, Mum, don’t EVER high five me.

Whatever. But see? Regardless of whether I’m uncool with my high fiving or if there is such a thing as too much chili or garlic (in my opinion there isn’t), point is there’s not that much there in terms of what we did over the weekend. It really was a very lazy one. What’s amazing though, is how the above would have been my idea of a Super Productive and Eventful Weekend back when I was drinking. Forget morning coffee for starters, and I would have been too hungover to get in the car to negotiate my way and then parallel park across town. You can easily remove walks and runs, and I probably wouldn’t have got the Christmas tree either.

TIME. It’s one of the great benefits of being sober along with countless others. There is so much of it now! And I love it! And this is what struck me about this weekend, how slow and really quite uneventful it was. Lovely, but uneventful. Yet if you were to rewind to my drinking days, I would have felt accomplished and really satisfied I’d got lots done. I mean, remove the run because that was never possible except for dry patches here and there, but beyond that. Trip to the Swedish shop – wow! Superwoman! Get a tree – fanfuckingtastic! So much time wasted on being drunk or hungover and all that time I used to waste I now have back. This weekend I did everything I needed and wanted to do and got a whole load of quality time with my son too, and I still had hours and hours to spare and had what can only be described as a slow and lazy weekend. Amazing.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Fine in the Fortress

I’ll start with how magical the park was this morning – here it is:

park.jpg

Environment conscious folk will hate me for this, but my morning drive to work is a sacred ritual. I don’t drive the quickest route, instead I take a longcut that takes me through London’s loveliest and second largest park. There are no manicured lawns or flowerbeds, just a beautifully wild and natural sanctuary that is filled with fallow deer that Henry VIII brought in for hunting when he took up abode down the road at Hampton Court Palace. Today is a cold and crisp morning and the sunshine and mist made the park look absolutely spell binding. I wish I could have been out walking or running, this is my favourite sort of day and I actually really begrudged how I’m not a billionaire or a desperate housewife. Still, having this on my (sort of) way to work and just a hundred yards from our front door is pretty goddamn cool. It’s a shame that the photo doesn’t do it justice, but then photos never do – I don’t think the magic of a moment can ever be fully captured that way. And for that reason I mostly stop myself from interrupting the moments – I very rarely pull out my phone as this for me feels like I’m not fully present, but this I just wanted to share because it was so very lovely. As for moments, sobriety lets me be in them. Had I still been drinking I would have been too busy trying to take the shortest route and generally staying upright. Yep, it’s a spectacular gift, this sober stuff.

Driving is kind of my meditation. It’s a time for reflection and when I sort through my thoughts. Concentrating on the road means there is no room for distractions like my phone or the TV or anything else that could be described as mindless, yet something I’m used to enough to allow plenty of brain capacity for a bit of mental hygiene.

This morning when I found myself feeling so grateful, I ended up thinking about how I used to structure my whole life around drinking. The things that didn’t fit I rearranged. Now that I’m sober, I’m forever discovering how I even invented “truths” about who I am and what I like/don’t like in order to keep drinking. For example, I used to hate speaking on the phone. This was mostly because I’d be so painfully aware I was slurring and also my glass would empty within ten minutes and that satisfying gush of wine from the box was so bloody obvious! Then the PSSHHHH! from unscrewing the cap of the soda bottle. Never mind how it’s quite hard work to hold on to any coherent train of thought – I’d quite literally find myself mid-sentence and having forgotten all about where I was going with something. I was all about texting and e-mailing. Problem was those would expose me just as much and my morning ritual back then wasn’t going through a magical park but in a panic reach for my phone and cringe at what I might have sent when I was drunk the night before.

Sober Me isn’t like that. Yes, I’m a creature who expresses herself best and most easily in writing, but I also like chatting on the phone. Last night I got my Cherokee on the line and I came off the phone after our long conversation feeling happy and content inside. This is the beauty of real life, real time interaction – it doesn’t always drain me, sometimes it enriches me. Who knew!

Speaking on the phone I’d written off in my drinking days as simply another thing that “just isn’t me“. Just like other Anna’s Drinking Truths like “I don’t like people“, “I hate socialising” and “I want to be alone“. It is true that I like my own company and sometimes I just need solitude because my brain does overheat with too much stimulus, but I actually also need people. You know, it was only yesterday when a kick-ass lady said something my inner autopilot immediately disagreed with. She said she too (what do you mean – TOO??) feels lost without her husband. And I discovered how I’ve almost trained myself not to need people. Not anyone. I’ve ingrained this in myself so deeply that it’s just how I have always viewed myself. When she said this (fine, fine – it was the lovely Katie from over at How I Killed Betty!), a lightbulb went off in me. Holy shitballs! I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that I don’t need anyone and so it’s almost like I freaking refuse to allow myself to feel any of these things. Even with hubby. I swear I’ve always been of the opinion that sure, if he left me I would never ever love again because he is IT, so that’d be devastating and shit. Bottom line though – I’d live. I wouldn’t love but I would live and I am FINE on my own.

Being a drinking alcoholic in social gatherings suck because I have to be so aware of how much I drink so I don’t lose control and also have to hide it. This is really hard work and not in any way enjoyable. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I hate socialising. The Actual Truth: alcohol made socialising stressful.

Living almost every day with a crippling hangover is thoroughly shit. I’d be weak, dizzy, shaky and unable to follow even simple conversations. That makes human interaction fucking painful. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I hate people. The Actual Truth: alcohol made me feel like death and when you do, any human interaction is painful.

Everything else, be it people or things or even eating (yes – eating!), gets in the way of drinking. Meeting with a friend for coffee takes me away from drinking = stressful, and meeting with friends with a hangover = stressful. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I want to be alone. The Actual Truth: being around people is painful because I’m either stressed out about drinking or so hungover I can barely function. 

And then the whole I’M FINE ON MY OWN. I mean, this is to a great extent true. And I do believe we need to be secure and happy in ourselves before we can ever be in a healthy relationship, but it’s also quite normal to need the people you love. I need hubby. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without him. As for Bambino – my world would collapse without him. The sun sets and rises with those two. I already knew that, I’ve never tried to make myself believe anything but. Still. To admit I depend on them, need them, that my heart can’t beat without them? WHOA. The I’m-fine-on-my-own thing isn’t so much of a Drunk Truth because I was like that since long before I ever drank a drop of alcohol, but as alcohol does with anything that’s negative it really enhanced it. The Beast wants me on my own, remember, so this was perfect – she’s a loner! Why, of course! Me, the bottle and impending death – that’s where it wants me to be.

What this does go back to is this thing I’m increasingly discovering, this fear of mine of being rejected. It appears I may have build myself a pretty impressive fortress over the years and I’m-fine-on-my-own is perhaps its very foundation? Up until pretty much the point that I realised this – uhm, just a moment ago! – the idea of needing other people made me squirm. I don’t recall this myself, but according to my mum the first sentence I spoke was “I can do it myself“. Actually, what I said was “jag kan själv” given I grew up in Sweden and didn’t speak any English when I was two years old, but there we are. I don’t know if that is telling or just shows what a stubborn and obstinate cow I am. Cute aside I thought.

As for Little Anna, I clearly remember being so scared when I was little, of losing my parents or anyone else in my closest family. The thought made me squirm with discomfort and terror, it absolutely petrified me and sometimes had me in such panic and angst I couldn’t sleep. And here’s the really sick and twisted truth that dawned on me too in these last 24 hours of revelations: I recently realised that none of that scared me so much anymore, because even though it’d be heartbreaking and I’d be desperately sad, I’M FINE ON MY OWN and in this case without them. Without everyone. Wow. Thank God I am unravelling this or I might have ended up in a fortress eventually that could never be torn down. Inspecting my heart it’s still needy and ready to love despite all my efforts to close myself off from the world.

This is interesting as hell to me. Scary stuff, this brain of mine. It can make me do things that I plainly don’t like or enjoy yet make me think I do. What else might it be capable of?

Today I’m not going to drink.