Hey Sister, You’re Doing Great!

The one thing that remains hard for me to understand is the emphasis on how sobriety is “hard”. How is it hard to wake up with a clear mind, be full of energy and feel a general sense of health and strength? Life trapped in a bottle is infinitely harder, desperately trying to achieve some buzzy warmth that never comes because it simply isn’t there. Not in the first sip and still nowhere to be seen as you approach the bottom of the third bottle. What nonsense. I’m not going to beat myself up and feel stupid, though it would be easy to do so – I mean, how could this pass me by, this gift of feeling so amazingly good and get to wake up each day with the opportunity to make the most of it. I can’t do that with a hangover. All I can do with a hangover is go through the motions and hope I get to the afternoon without fainting because I feel so ill. Instead, all this! Am I going to go for a run? Will I get cracking on a couple of chapters of that novel it now seems I might just freaking write as opposed to occasionally dream about before I’m once again too wasted to care much?

You’d have to be a fool not to grab all of that with both hands, surely? Who in God’s name would choose to crawl into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, then another and then a third through half of which you black out and then feel like death all of the following day until you once again in the afternoon open one, then another, then a third…. It’s madness. You know, I think I do agree that alcoholism is an illness of the mind more than anything else.  Brainwashing is, as far as I’m concerned, a huge part of it for reasons I’ve previously outlined. And I definitely know that be it mental or physical, I cannot stop drinking when I start. So the answer at this point in time would appear fairly simple: drink and destroy or abstain and live fully. What’s hard about that? What’s so difficult about not putting poison into my body that just renders me quite literally senseless? Turns out the only reasons for drinking aren’t real reasons at all, only stuff I’ve been conditioned to believe.

Looking forward to the rest of the day – meeting up with another AA-friend, I’ll call her Willow for no other reason than that’s what weirdly and randomly popped into my mind. So we’re having a coffee and then heading to a meeting. It’s a meeting where they hand out chips to celebrate milestones of sobriety and I’ll be collecting my chip for being one month sober. Think Sparks is going too. Texted Ivy earlier, she’s a little further into her sobriety than I am but has experienced extreme tiredness lately. My tiredness comes and goes but hers sounds worse so hopefully it’s something that can be easily fixed. Surely it’s normal for strange things to happen in the body after years, even decades, of alcohol abuse.

The most obvious – and possibly most glorious! – difference for me is my sleep. I don’t wake up in the night anymore. I fall asleep easily and quickly and I sleep solidly until my alarm goes, and if it doesn’t I seem to wake up naturally and fully rested ahead of 7am. Honestly, I can’t remember ever feeling so rested or enjoying such quality sleep.

Speaking of sleeping, I’ve had a couple of nightmares and as opposed to many other dreams that rarely make any sense I think these particular dreams are sending me a message because they really illustrate and speak loud and clear of the prison I’ve escaped – I dream that I’m drinking again. In the dream it’s already too late, it begins as I’m already drinking and of course in my case as a drunk it means there is no stopping. It’s horrible. But it’s more than just a dream: it’s a stark reminder of what it was like to drink. The sinking feeling when you’ve got into that first glass of wine and know it’s Fuzz Lightyear from here to oblivion. The bit when you can no longer turn back, which is what the first sip represents for me. I can’t turn from there. It’s something I think of and shudder and I don’t want to be there again. Perhaps it’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding me so that I don’t allow how much I adore being sober to get me to a place where I suddenly am gripped by old brainwash madness and believe “a drink” would enhance the moment or my life in some way. As of now I can’t see it happening, but with everyone I know in AA telling me how hard sobriety is there just HAS to be a huge threat somehow.

I get dreams sometimes about being on airplanes, and I suspect for the same reason I get the dreams about drinking now – I don’t like it and I don’t want to be on a plane any more than I want to be drinking. The glaring difference of course is that flying is VERY unlikely to kill me so that’s a very irrational fear of mine. The fear of drinking is different though –  it’s very rational, very real and an actual threat to my life should I decide to get back to it. Never say never, but I just can’t live life having to feel everything is so freaking hard, so difficult, such a slog. No thanks. And why should I? Why should I stop in my tracks when I feel as great as I do each morning and tell myself to be careful because a good mood is dangerous? Isn’t feeling good Mother Nature’s way of telling me hey sister, you’re doing great!

Hm… I really don’t want any of this to seem like AA-bashing so let’s instead talk about what I consider AA’s greatest strength!  I’ve touched upon before how near impossible it is to try to explain to a non-alcoholic (aka normal person) what being a drunk is truly like. Even when you have a hubby as awesome as mine, it’s sometimes frustrating to try to find new ways of explaining how it’d be easier to wrestle a grizzly bear than stop drinking when I’ve started. Actually, I think hubby gets it but it’d be unfair to assume other people would in the same way as the man I married is exceptional – to call him “one in a million” would be too much of a generalisation as he’s way too awesome compared with anyone who’s only better than 999,999 others. Anyway, I digress.

The most invaluable feature of AA (in my opinion, that is) is the freedom and relief of being amongst people who have the exact same issue with alcohol. People who will chuckle at the idea of “why don’t you just have one” and who all nod and get exactly what you mean when you share stories of the insane things you did in black-out. A non-drunk will never ever understand the absolute panic that ensues when you discover you’re out of wine. AA offers to the alcoholic exactly that and no wonder you encounter such a sense of community and kinship the moment you come in to the rooms. And you tell me where else you may find complete strangers scooping you up and giving you their time, checking up on you more often than your own mother might just to see if you’re OK? It’s nothing short of extraordinary.

So there – I will always recommend and praise AA. I may not agree with all its philosophy but I can (despite a little skepticism here and there) absolutely appreciate its numerous advantages.

Today I won’t drink. I don’t want to! I am removing all the reasons why I might and I guess that’s why sobriety right now feels gentle and sweet, much like a summer’s breeze.

The Big Lie

Monday again and a feeling that is slowly becoming my New Normal radiates through my whole body: joy! I’ve always been of a sunny disposition but right about now my happiness knows no boundaries and I find that I’m often trying to rein myself in as I’m beginning to suspect I’m getting on people’s nerves. Not everyone feels true joy and for those poor souls especially, another person’s happiness and optimism will be nothing but annoying. I’ve been sober a month and without the crap that follows in the footsteps of Sauvignon Blanc, I feel free and full of excitement. I’ve discovered something I’m actually amazed I didn’t see until now – that I bought in to what might possibly be one of the biggest lies ever told. For all my adult life I bought this lie and for the past decade, in spite of being on the fast track to total destruction of my own life I still believed this lie to be true. What lie? The lie of alcohol.

It’s there from day dot. I defy you to even switch on your TV and see if you can get through a whole evening without being served several images that glorify alcohol. Now I bloody hate Sex and the City just because of that whiny Carrie alone, but you don’t need to be further into any given episode than half a minute and you are presented with the fairytale of booze. Successful, smart and independent women sipping on their cosmos. All neatly packaged as something for us other chicks to aspire to, filling us with desire to be just like them. One of my favourite ads of all time is for Pripps Blå. It’s a Swedish lager. The 30 second TV ad is gorgeous imagery of goodlooking people, enjoying shimmery and beautiful scenery in the archipelago to the lines of a Swedish song where the lyrics go something like “I never loved you like I loved you then, when you were all the shades of blue”. OK, that’s a pretty free translation but you get the gist. It ends of course with the goodlooking guy, he’s straight out of another ad for Boss suits I’ll bet and he has just the right amount of stubble, then he gets a bottle of Pripps Blå out of a cooler box on his boat, the bottle has drops of condensation on it because the beer is chilled and perfect and glooooorious, he puts the bottle to his lips and against glittering waves and sunshine as a backdrop he greedily gulps back the golden nectar. If you don’t want a beer watching that, there’s something really wrong with you. Don’t believe me? What about James Bond? The very epitome of suave, masculine charm and sophistication – and throw in intelligence, bravery and that he’s clearly God’s gift to women too! – and “shaken, not stirred” at the very core of his magnificence! We are fed images non-stop of how alcohol is fun, cool, sophisticated and every other positive adjective you can possibly think of.

Not that I ever aspired to be a spy or bed lots of women (a couple of adventures at university was plenty, ta) but even I as a woman, based on James Bond alone, considered Martini a really sexy drink. I’d order it on occasion but could never finish it because let’s face it, it tastes FOUL. I’ve never been able to drink liquour without diluting it for the simple reason that it makes me gag. Period.

So what chance do we have, really? We’re brainwashed into believing there are so many positives with drinking alcohol no wonder it’s hard to let go. Then throw in my unfortunate predisposition as an alcoholic to react so badly to the stuff – if I have a single drink I cannot stop and lose control – and you have the recipe for disaster right there. And it’s because of the fact that I’ve all this time still believed that alcohol is something to be associated with good times, positive effects (for those non-alcoholics, that is) and an added little glow to life in general, that it’s taken me so long to finally wake up to see it for what it really is: poison. Hell, if you were to drink it neat it’d kill you on the spot!

I’d be willing to hedge a bet that with enough brainwashing in a similar manner you’d soon convince us all to drink arsenic. Not neat and not in the amounts that’d instantly kill us, but why do that when you like with booze dilute it and make our untimely demise a really drawn out process? OK, I realise I’m starting to sound a little more than just a bit mad, but think about it logically for a moment. Mother Nature equips us with these amazing bodies and brains. With this extraordinary machinery comes five little things that are all designed to keep us alive: our senses. Clever as hell! Mother Nature sure knows what she’s doing. We can see and hear imminent threats, we can feel sharp edges and avoid them and feel the cold so we’ll know to try to get warm, and she’s also ensured that we’re equipped with alarm systems to alert us to when we might put things into our system that’s bad for us: smell and taste. Rotten food, fermented fruit (also, sometimes, referred to as wine) and stuff like, you know, SHIT, smells awful and so we recoil and don’t go near it, much less put stinky stuff into our mouths. Poison tastes awful, again Mother Nature steps in to keep her amazing creation – us! – alive by equipping us with tastebuds so that if we do inadvertently put something poisonous into our mouths, we’ll know to spit it out because it tastes BAD.

But I love the taste of wine.” Really? Show me the person who tasted alcohol (beer, wine, diluted or neat) and tried again because they loved how it tastes. I’m willing to bet they drank again because they’ve been sold the lie that alcohol will do something for you. Other than slowly kill you, that is. No spotty teenager EVER took a sip of even the finest wine and thought it tasted splendid. EVER. Nor has any human smoked for the first time and loved the taste of tar and other toxins. EVER. But we tell ourselves we enjoy the taste because it seems a damn sight more intelligent to do something harmful if it at least does some good. Except it doesn’t. Nicotine doesn’t. Alcohol doesn’t. But who wants to seem stupid enough to admit that we’re actually only doing something because we’ve been brainwashed to do it?

I think we acquire the taste for alcohol. Just like a smoker comes to believe he enjoys the taste (and if he does enjoy the taste, why not just eat the damn things?!) I think a drinker (and certainly an alcoholic) believes she likes the taste of her chosen tipple. And why not – how humiliating to admit we are slaves to what is in actual fact a foul tasting poison! I actually think we end up drinking not the booze we find the tastiest but the booze we find the least revolting. Honestly. Our brain is the most powerful invention – once again, hats off to you Mother Nature – and we can make ourselves believe almost anything. How else can someone be convinced to blow themselves up and die a certain death? That only happens if you believe without a shadow of a doubt in eternal life and, in some cases, 72 virgins waiting for you on the other side. That’s what brainwashing does and how powerful it is and our brains are amazing computers. If we want to enough, like the alcoholic who is still trapped in the bottle, we can convince ourselves that we only got here because we know a good grape when we taste one.

Either way. It’s a long leap to take, this whole booze-is-nothing-but-poison angle, no? But even if it did give me even a fraction of the advantages I’ve been bombarded with images of since I was a child, I am still so much better off not drinking at all. At best, alcohol – after one or two drinks – makes me a little fuzzy around the edges. I feel slightly elated and with a warm glow inside. But what IS that? That, my friends, is alcohol numbing my senses. Is it a coincidence that we say we drank ourselves senseless? Or legless? It’s an exercise in disengaging the safety measures Mother Nature gave us. One by one, we switch them off – it’s what alcohol does. It’s like switching off the fire alarm in a fire. Sure, the alarm stops but does it remove the problem? Nope.

So anyway. I am still putting my heart and soul in to AA. No, I don’t have – nor do I want to take – the time to go to meetings everyday. I make the occasional phone call. I pray and I do my best to be the best I can be. Am I struggling? Of course there will be times – like last Thursday evening – when my old friend the devil appears on my shoulder, but overall I am just so grateful I escaped the trap of alcohol. I don’t particularly agree with having to live just one day at a time because that in itself makes it so much harder than it needs to be. For ME. I will continue to absorb the things that work for me, respect others in what works for them and never push my opinions on anyone if not asked for it. Sparks and I are very different and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I see her she’ll tell me to find someone else if I want a sponsor – I think my views, thoughts and musings are too far away and I am not dishonest enough to say only the things I think others want to hear. I was raised to speak my mind and old habits die hard. All I can do is keep as open a heart and mind as I can and pursue the life that is best for me in the ways that work for me. Just like everyone else really.

Some people may benefit from always living in the shadow of the booze and be forever fearful of its workings. I am trying to see booze for what it is and no way am I about to allow booze importance or significance enough to warrant a support network in order for me to have some semblance of a life. No way, José! Yes, booze was beginning to destroy me and stole a decade from me. Yes, I was trapped in the bottle. But I don’t need to go over and over and over again all the reasons why it was bad – STOLE A DECADE FROM ME sums it up plenty, no? Do I really need to mull that over? Nah. What I need to emphasize is just how little alcohol adds to my life. It adds nothing. That’s what I need to focus on, not sit and feel awful over all the bad things it’s done. If I do that and spend the rest of my life – or one day at a time – in eternal fear over the beast when I should in fact just see it as a pathetic banana fly I have gained nothing. I will feel I lost something. And I didn’t – I lost nothing at all. What I did do is win my life back and that, my friends, is what I would call jackpot.

Slaying Dragons

Last night a familiar thought process formed in my mind. It formed as I sat in an AA meeting. If it can get to me there, it can get to me anywhere. I didn’t want to go, not one part of me wanted to be there and that was before the devil sunk its claws into me. I knew I didn’t want to drink and I knew I didn’t want to go to the meeting. But I got my tired self on the bus and I’m glad I did because the woman I first saw in last week’s meeting was there – I had wanted to say hello, she was new having moved here from abroad, but she was surrounded by others and I had to rush off anyway. So I was really chuffed that we ended up chatting and I regretted being there a little less.

Once again I listened to the chair and then to others sharing their experiences. A common theme is emerging. Actually, it’s not emerging as such, it’s the overwhelmingly dominant theme each time: this is hard, this is a difficult journey and we are lost without AA. Over and over again, with each meeting. I didn’t share, only listened. If I’d spoken I would have told the chair her background and how alcohol first affected her was all identical to my story. To that point, it could have been my story she’d told: childhood and upbringing without any trace of alcoholism or abuse, silver spoon nicely in mouth, all very lovely and loving and secure and safe. And of course the clincher: she had never been able to have a drink without bingeing and most drinking would result in black-out. Snap! I could have shared that but didn’t. Others did anyway.

If we for one moment peel away the fact that us drunks have an abnormal reaction to alcohol in that we can’t stop if we have ANY, I reckon most five-yearolds could tell you that drinking and getting drunk is bad for you. Right? And here’s what I’m discovering. I’m an alcoholic and for whatever reason a mental obsession that is so powerful it’s almost impossible to resist takes over the moment I so much as THINK of having a drink. This I know for a fact and if it’s a disease, mental illness or I’m just an awful and weak excuse for a human being I don’t actually care about. I don’t care about – not really – what exactly it is or why it’s there, I just know it IS. Obviously I know that alcohol (and in particular alcohol abuse) is bad for you and like any other person – a teetotal, a drunk or your average social drinker – I could tell you about the reasons why we shouldn’t drink. I could tell you that we’re all, whether we have a problem with alcohol or not, better off not drinking alcohol.

That’s not what I’m trying to get at. Again, a child could tell me the reasons why I shouldn’t drink. What I need to work out are the reasons why I do drink and once I have, set about to work on those.

In AA meetings I feel alcohol is magnified, feared and actually bowed down to. I declare myself powerless. And so last night, when my old friend the devil was suddenly perching on my shoulder, I needed to demonstrate that I run this show. I wasn’t about to wait for a higher power to give me a sign strong enough for me to see it or frenetically call all the names in my phone with ‘AA’ next to them. Poor Sparks, I imagine she’d roll her eyes if she read this. I imagine a lot of the ladies I’ve got to know might roll their eyes. Actually, they’d probably just wish me luck (and mean it) but inside think to themselves I’m taking the wrong path and they’ll see me again next year when I’ve relapsed and got myself to an even darker place. Who knows. They’re wonderful people so I do know that whatever they’d think they’d as always have love in their hearts. But back to last night. I needed to put myself through it. I needed to know that the muscle power to get myself through this is my own. I needed to know that. I needed to know that my desire to be sober is greater than my desire to drink and I needed to face the beast head on. Mark my words – when I went into battle there was not a single part of me that thought I’d make it through.

With the devil whispering in my ear I got off the bus earlier. I needed to get home to make dinner for my son but I still got off the bus, adding a half hour to dinner time. Nothing else mattered. In my head I knew I was going to get wine. A box and a bottle of soda water. I allowed the thought to take hold and gave in to it. I walked along the river for half a mile before turning up the high street. I was powerless, my feet taking me a familiar route. Rounding the bend opposite where I prefer to get wine I suddenly knew just what I’m up against. I couldn’t tell you what happened but I didn’t cross the street, I kept walking. When I realised I was actually walking past tears spilled over. Thank God it’s February and still very dark at 7.30pm and no one saw. I was walking past and I kept walking. I hadn’t thought I’d be able to, not with the devil on my shoulder again. My mind instead started to focus and plan for the last shop up at the other end where I sometimes go but don’t like their boxed wines as much. It’d do. Still a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, just not my favourite one. My feet and mind worked in unison and further up I crossed the street so I’d be on the “right” side this time. I knew I was going in, I knew I was getting wine and the devil served up delicious images of drink that were so enticing I could feel the bubbles from the soda fizzling with the Sauv on my tongue.

I was going in. I had given in and up. Ten yards away I already started to veer to the left side of the sidewalk. But I didn’t. I fucking didn’t. And I couldn’t tell you how if happened because I was THERE. I was right in that moment when I’d be powerless (and I thought I was), when I’d give in, when I’d drink. I’d completely resigned myself to it. I also knew my son’s eyes would be sad again, that my husband would also feel sad and mostly for me when I’d tell him I’d drunk, that Sparks and anyone else from AA would know because I’d tell them, and most of all I knew I’d wake up Friday morning feeling worse than perhaps I ever have. I’d made peace with all these things because my alkie brain doesn’t care when it’s busy making plans with the devil. It’s cruel, but show me the alcoholic who stopped drinking because the desire to drink was overcome by a reluctance to hurt anyone including herself. Just show me that one drunk.

Somehow my feet kept walking, I veered slightly towards the door but then straightened my line of travel again. I walked past. I still can’t tell you how that happened. I don’t know how. Who knew that the high street would ever feel like I’d been slaying dragons the whole way home. There I was, walking the last half mile to our front door. I felt like there should be some majestic soundtrack, something classical and powerful like in Braveheart. For a moment, as I walked that last half mile I pictured my husband’s face, again like it could have been a scene out of some epic movie. His face and how his eyes would sparkle – those incredible, big, blue eyes – when he’d see me in the distance against all odds, how he’d run towards me and scoop me up in his arms because somehow I’d made it through when he’d thought he’d lost me. I pictured my son’s face, imagined his pride at having this warrior queen for a mother and how she’d slayed dragons to get to him. Yep, that’s what walking the length of the high street was like for this drunk when she had the devil on her shoulder.

Point is, I did that. Yes, it was the hardest thing and I’m still quite baffled that not only did I make it home without getting any wine, I didn’t drink (because there’s still plenty of stuff at home I could drink if I decided to even if I didn’t get any Sauv: red wine, whisky, lemoncelli, champagne and various other liqour) and I woke up without a hangover this morning. When I walked through the door my son sauntered past me with a “hey mum”. He obviously had no clue that the high street this evening had been harder and more violent than all his Xbox games put together, nor could he see all my bleeding wounds from dragons’ claws and teeth or how fire had tinged my hair and clothes. He couldn’t see my sword and shield either, that I’d dropped at my feet when I closed the door behind me. He didn’t know I’d fought for my life to get home alive.

I need a hug,” I told him and did my best to hold back the tears and he dutifully wrapped his arms around me and I knew I was safe.

Hell, if I can fight off several dragons, I can hold back a few tears. I allowed them to spill over and find their release when I finally heard my husband’s voice on the phone. I told him about the dragons and I told him how I fought a fight to the death to get home. He told me ‘poor bunny‘ and how he’s proud of me. So yeah, he’s very much my real life epic movie love, running towards me when I appear on the horizon of a battle field strewn with bodies and lives lost. I also told Sparks about all the dragon business and she advised to never keep things inside. Thing is though, this I needed to do. I needed to face this beast off alone in order to understand my strength.

It is exactly one month today. A month sober! And today I won’t drink.

All About Me

It’s yet another hangover-free day but I am incredibly tired again. I suspect it’s hormone related right now as I’ll be coming on any minute and that probably also explains my mood. It’s not a bad one, necessarily, I just feel a bit MEH and the idea of going to an AA meeting this evening is in direct conflict with my desire to just curl up on the sofa and watch crime documentaries. I feel I should go though, plus told Sparks I would so I’ll just have to drag my tired ol’ ass there. It’s the women’s meeting in its rather magical location and I’m sure I’ll feel ever so virtuous once I’ve been so I’ll do my best to resist the urge to just be a couch potato as much as I really don’t feel like it.

Not sure what else to add today really. I am dutifully faking it until I make it and putting my heart into each suggestion. Sparks is showing quite a lot of patience with this somewhat hesitant protegé – I really am doing my best but it really does go against so much of what I feel is right for ME. It’s a little as though if you don’t follow AA and its philosophy to the letter you’re doomed and if you’re an alcoholic you are a pre-designed personality type with a list of traits that apparently we all display. Not saying this is what Sparks says (she doesn’t, as it happens) but my overall impression of this. Whilst I believe that everyone in the fellowship has one thing in common, i.e. the inability to stop if we have that one drink, the fellowship seems to be about how we are all similar in personality too. Bit like if you have, say, cancer, it also means you like the colour red and dislike carrots. I’m not liking that bit, it’s putting me off.

But hey ho, I shall persevere. I’ve got started on step one and will as with everything else AA related so far do it to the best of my ability and with an open heart. What I can say for now though is that my sobriety isn’t dependent on AA, it’s dependent on me and my desire to be sober. If I were to decide that self destruction and hurtling towards my untimely demise by hitting the bottle (or box, as it were) again, no amount of AA meetings, steps or phone calls would make a blind bit of difference. It has come from within me, I truly believe that, because in my view the only person you can help or change is yourself. To think I would be dependent on someone or something else to break this cycle of alcohol abuse is a thought I actually reject. Support and therapy, absolutely and I can 100% see AA’s usefulness there. It’s helped enormously to listen to other alcoholics share their experiences both of drinking and sobriety. And if it’s good and it keeps being good and helps me stay on track, I don’t have any reason not to go.

Once again though, bottom line it is my choice not to drink. My choice to strive for a life of sobriety. And it’s me who says (because I want to and believe it’s what I need): today I’m not going to drink.

One in 14 Million

Well, well, well….. Now is probably the time to go and buy a lottery ticket because it seems the stars are aligned and I’m clearly defying all odds so even though I think you’re more likely to be struck by lightning I reckon I have a fair chance of winning. I just looked it up, and based on picking six out of 49 numbers there is for each line a one in 13,983,816 chance! One in 14 million. Definitely getting a bunch of tickets for various draws this week. I just KNOW it’s my time and that I’m currently being engulfed in a huge wave of good fortune. The fact that I woke up without a hangover this morning had at one point not too long ago much worse odds than a one in 14 million chance of winning the lottery.

It strikes me as a bit of a miracle, really. Maybe it is. Or maybe I’m just fucking kick-ass amazing and just got to a point where I really found my strength.

I don’t want to over analyse. That’s part of the reason why some AA meetings turn me off a little. All this incessant going over (and over and over and over again) every last thing. Jeez, if I had to replay and go over every thought I have and every step I take with a fine tooth comb like that I would go mad. But I have to remember that everyone has a different journey and just because in AA we all have in common that, really, we’re a bunch of drunks, we’re also all individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. There’s a lot of talk about not being “good at life” and hence “needing” to drink. It’s stuff like that I don’t get or can relate to. I’m freaking awesome at life! It’s just that I ended up drinking too much and because of that I didn’t make the most of it. For me it’s the drinking that’s the issue, not my (in)ability to cope with whatever situation. Take away the booze and I’m actually a pretty damn great chick. Well, I think so anyway. Not saying I have Stephen Hawking’s intellect, Toni Morrison’s talent or Cameron Diaz’ beauty, but I’m Sophie and I like me! I’m kind, I’m sort of smart, I’m quite funny and although my teeth could be straighter and my arse could be smaller I’m happy with the hand I was dealt and I always have been. What I’m saying once again is that my drinking became a problem because of my reaction to it and nothing else.

Yep, I know I keep going on about it but it does get up my nose a little. “Oh, we’re alcoholics, we’re full of resentments”. Nope – can’t say I am. Sure, I get pissed off now and then but resentful? Do I carry stuff around that I’m still smarting about? I suppose my stepmum was a bit of a cow but as much as I try to dig deep all I can come up with is that she has very little impact – if any – on my life and that if anything I just feel quite sorry for her. Do I feel more bitterness in situations than a non-alcoholic would? Doubt it. I just don’t know that I do and in some AA meetings it’s almost like this collective “us” is painted out to be one stereotypical personality type that I cannot relate to no matter how hard I try.  A type that’s depressed, anxious and resentful. A type that lies, cheats, steals and isn’t very “good at life”. I understand someone who feels that way probably has an enormous need to share and by doing so get help untangling troublesome thoughts, which is amazing. For me personally it’d be far more interesting to spend time trying to understand the core problem, which as far as I understand it is the actual reason why we are all there. So I’m ignoring that part about what AA seems to assume I have to be to get my I’m-an-alcoholic badge or it’ll end up irritating me so much it’ll put me off going.

The reason (the only reason) I go to the meetings and the reason (again, the ONLY reason) I am pursuing a life of sobriety is once and for all because WHEN I HAVE A DRINK OF ALCOHOL I CANNOT STOP. That’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Pure and simple. Neat, eh?

Of course the byproduct of this unfortunate disposition is the very real possibility that I might drink myself into an early grave, I ruin my own chances of being the best I can be and as cherry on top (and what can be sensitive for a woman in her forties) I would also destroy my looks. Ruddy alkie skin ain’t a good look. It isn’t a good look for ANYONE.

Anyway, going back to what might get up one’s nose – it seems CA tried to recruit me and Ivy after last night’s meeting. I didn’t have the foggiest as to what was going on so when this (slightly frantic and now I think I know why) chick came up to us and wanted to talk about “CA meetings” I listened politely. Something about happily living sober and focus on all the positives, and to be honest all the AA chatter about how hard everything is, I didn’t mind hearing about more upbeat stuff. But it did feel quite preachy and that’s quite off-putting so I politely disengaged from the conversation and headed home. Spoke with Sparks and asked if she knew what “CA” is.

CA turns out to be Cocaine Anonymous.

I don’t know if I’m deeply offended (how DARE she – I’d never do drugs, I’m a very respectable alcoholic I’ll have you know) or perhaps a little bit flattered – perhaps she thought I seemed a bit too fun to just be your average drunk? Anyway. Don’t think I’ll be going as I seem to have enough on my hands figuring out this AA stuff before I start messing around with additional letter constellations.

Drugs though. Let’s not belittle or make fun out of any of the evils us terrible human beings fall victim to, whether it’s nicotine or crystal meth. Luckily I’ve never been very good with drugs. I’ve smoked pot on a few occasions (oh, this is 20-odd years ago), probably more than five times but definitely fewer than ten. Got me a bit giggly and very sleepy. Pointless. I tried ecstacy twice and hated it. Cocaine I also tried twice and it was thoroughly shit. Expensive and very, very shit. Drugs, or the ones I’ve tried anyway (not planning to take my experimentation any further) just don’t get the intended reaction in me. Ironically, I think I’m with the drugs the way a non-drunk is with alcohol! It doesn’t wake the beast. It doesn’t do much at all. So there’s never been any interest really. Drugs always struck me as pointless and so bar for those naughty little side steps I’ve never bothered and I’m very glad to report that because God help us all if drugs had had the effect on me that booze does. Then Sophie would be lying with her hands neatly arranged across her front some six or so feet under a pretty stone with a white dove on top.

Come on, let’s not be so gloomy! Just saying if I’d reacted to drugs the way I do to Sauv I wouldn’t be here now. But I am, yippie! And I don’t have a hangover! And I feel better and better each day! Sparks is coming over this evening so even though I don’t even feel a tinge of wine-lust I know (cocky, yes) that tomorrow I’ll wake up sober again. And again on Friday, when I will hangover-free collect beautiful hubby who is returning from a trip abroad and put my arms around him and tell him I did it. Then again I know he won’t have doubted me. He never does, that beautiful man and it’s pretty spectacular to have someone have such unfaltering belief in me. Because I don’t.

So perhaps that’s why I’m so anxious to underline that I’m not trying to be cocky or smug when I declare my little victories on this blog – they are victories to me because I just didn’t quite believe I could do this. Yet somehow, I can and I am. And it feels so wonderful I could cry tears of joy. It’s like that feeling on board the plane when you’re off on holiday and you’re at the start of the runway. The engines roar and then that powerful surge and enormous force when you start to move. Faster and faster until natural forces lift this gigantic body of metal into the air. It seems so unlikely, doesn’t it? Yet it’s also perfectly logical and what a plane is designed to do. It’s what it feels like. I’m taking off.

Today I’m not going to drink.

 

The Little Devil

Today is a tricky day because it would previously have been the sort of day when I could drink with abandon without it bothering anyone. Hubby is away. Today, tomorrow and Thursday form a spine chillingly menacing trifecta. Don’t get me wrong, if anything I feel even more determined – it seems each morning when I wake up feeling so well because I didn’t drink the night before is money in the bank. Another anchor to keep me where I need to be. The last thing I want to do is drink this evening. This is actually really unusual because normally at this point I’d already in my mind have the road mapped out: finish work, drive home via the shop at the bottom of the high street where I’d get a box of wine and some soda water, drive home and GUZZLE. Anything else would normally be at worst an inconvenience and at best a distraction, and this “anything else” is actually LIFE. Life around me got in the way of drinking. But not today! Today, amazingly, it still very much feels the way I know it should – drinking would get in the way of living and I really, hand on heart, cross my heart and hope to die, truly, deeply don’t feel like it! Don’t know about you, perhaps you’re one of those magical creatures who can drink without losing control (congratulations!) and therefore your drinking never stops you from truly living, but for me this is… it’s…. it’s…… You know what – I don’t even have the freaking words, it’s that HUGE to me.

With that said, that little devil that sometimes sits on my shoulder and whispers into my ear is a very close acquaintance of mine, I’ve hung out with that little beast enough to know its ways and today is precisely the kind of day when it’s more likely to not only grab but hold my attention. It’s very cunning but I’m on to it. So I dutifully knelt by the bed this morning and prayed a little longer (nope, still don’t know what or who to, but it sort of helps keep me accountable), read the little ‘Only For Today’ card, told hubby that it’s trickier when he’s away so he knows too and texted a couple of the AA ladies. Just to say hi, really. Going to the usual Tuesday meeting and so is Ivy. I’m not exactly scared in the way that I might have been in the past but I’m trying to just be a little vigilant here and make plans for today that’ll make it that little bit harder for the devil to jump up on my shoulder and whisper shit to me. Just sayin’. I’m not stupid enough to assume I’ve cracked this sobriety stuff after four weeks when I spent over a decade drinking my head to pieces. Nice and easy now, but for once I feel I’ve stacked the odds in my favour.

Meeting up with Sparks (my sponsor) tomorrow to catch up. I don’t have the foggiest as to how or when it’ll be time for me to do the steps but I’m not too fussed. On the one hand I’m keen to get going but this is just going to have to take the time it takes. Still quite a lot about AA I’m not all that comfortable with – some of it smacks of sect like doctrine to me – but I also look at Sparks who’s over five years sober and know it’s time to listen more and try to control everything less. I do like rules but ONLY if I agree with and understand them. So being asked to hand myself over without question isn’t something I do lightly, but I will keep on this track so long as the majority of it is stuff I can apply to myself. If I get to a point where it doesn’t make sense or strongly conflicts my own beliefs and values, I’m offski.

But there is one indisputable fact, whether you put a label on it and say I’m an alcoholic or just call it a drinking problem (I’m perfectly comfortable with ‘alcoholic’ by the way), and it’s this: when I take a drink something in me ignites, comes to life and takes over. I have absolutely zip, zero, zilch control over it. If it’s a disease, a disposition, something genetic or hereditary or some defective receptor in my brain doesn’t really matter, I just know that when I have that first drink my reaction to it is different to that of a non-alcoholic. For that reason, I cannot drink alcohol – I can’t stop when I do. It’s no more complicated than that.

And so… *drum roll* …today I’m not going to drink.

Hope and Painful Truths

Because I know myself, and in particular the Myself who feels on top of the world, I am trying to approach all this with a good pinch of humility because if I lose sight of how alcohol was getting very close to costing more than I was willing to pay it’d be fairly easy to slip right back. You know, just have that famous “one drink” to celebrate. And we all know how that story ends. No, seriously, right now my alkie brain is serving up a familiar route home and it’s via the supermarket at the end of the high street where I’d often get a box of wine and a bottle of soda water. I don’t think I ever sank as far as physical addiction (besides even if I had, surely now after nearly a month my system shouldn’t have any trace of alcohol) so it just goes to show how powerful the mental obsession is and how deeply it is embedded in my psyche. So I really need to be careful to remember how terrifying the beast is and never take my eyes off it or it’ll lunge the moment I do. At the same time, I feel it’s worth shouting about because it’s all just so bloody unlikely! I honestly didn’t think I’d be sitting here on a Monday morning saying all these things and I certainly didn’t expect them to be true, but they are:

I didn’t drink on:

  1. My birthday
  2. Valentine’s Day
  3. Date night at fancy Scandie restaurant followed by jazz club

For me, that’s nothing short of fanfuckintastic. The curious thing, and what I probably expected even less than managing to stay sober, is that I thoroughly enjoyed all three and it wasn’t even difficult. In fact, all three were so much better because I was THERE. I was present and in the moment when I didn’t spend those evenings under the spell of an unstoppable desire and compulsion. Sobriety keeps on delivering gifts and even despite still needing so much sleep (and a lot of chocolate) I’m finding that I have so many more hours. Figures, given I don’t spend time in black-out. Days and evenings are experienced in their entirety. When we walked through the park on Saturday the only things on my mind were how I loved hanging out with hubby, how much I love where we live and how beautiful this park is with its fallow deer and vast expanses. Sure, I always enjoyed that before, but Saturdays would always be plagued by severe hangovers and the end goal on which my alkie brain would be fixated was always a drink at the other side of the park. Almost always. Take that out of the equation and there is so much more to life. Well, life’s magnificent riches are always there, but it’s hard to cash any of them in when you’re locked in the defective thinking and behaviour of a drunk.

Had I been drinking last night at dinner and then at the jazz club, I would have been crawling out of my own skin with impatience and had wanted to leave at the interval – enough now, ticked that box, let’s go and do some serious drinking without these amazingly talented musicians holding us up. It’s fucking nuts. When I view my drinking and alkie brain through sober eyes, I almost wonder who that Sophie was. That’s the dangerous part because the moment I’m starting to feel there is distance between Sober Me and Drunk Me it’s the moment I might think I don’t have a problem and I don’t really want to have a slip, allow it to get much worse and then (if I’m lucky once again) pull myself out further down the line where I may very well find that I won’t get away quite so easily.

More on how sobriety delivers immediately – my son. This is not easy to write because it’s both heartbreaking and encouraging in one huge, bitter sweet tangle. He’s 13. I may have held it together so he’s never gone short and I dare say he knows he’s my world, but he has seen me completely hammered. Not tipsy and a bit goofy – I mean completely fucking wasted. No kid should see that. I don’t want to say it because I don’t want it to be true, but I have seen the look in his eyes the moment he comes into the living room and glances at the huge wine glass in front of me, filled to the brim with wine and soda. She’s drinking. That sorrowful look, the sadness in those beautiful, big blue eyes when Mum is on it again. If there’s anything I’ve tried to bury in denial it’s that. But it’s true. My son has had that look in his eyes countless times and it was all because of my drinking. How deeply I must have hurt him so many times and what an intolerable burden for him to carry on those still slender little shoulders. It’s unforgivable.

I didn’t know how to approach it but I wanted to tell him that I’m trying my hardest to get a grip on this. Something for him to hold on to, peace of mind or at the very least some acknowledgement that whatever I may have made him feel is valid. At the same time, given the beast’s very nature, I am all too aware that realistically – not to mention statistically! – I might relapse. Throwing a promise of forever around me would be both careless and irresponsible. So I decided to frame it to him as me wanting to make some changes and drinking alcohol would be one of those. Lobbing the concept of alcoholism at him seemed too much (or am I still wanting to hide that bit, save for my absolute closest?). Of course I’ve been going to AA meetings several times per week and given my son’s age he can’t NOT notice that suddenly something different is going on. I’ve gone for coffee here and there with Red, Sparks, Ivy and some other ladies from AA so I thought I might angle it as some sort of self improvement network – to my mind a white lie that would be true enough to be classed as honest yet shield my child from the a-word and all that that entails. So I asked for a chat and sat down with him.

So, I’m making some changes,” I began gingerly, “and in case you wondered where I’m off to in the evenings I just wanted to talk to you in case you’d noticed anything different or wondered about it.

My 13-yearold looked at me deadpan.

You’re not drinking.

BOOM.

Not that I’ve disappeared off here and there. Not that I’m suddenly meeting with new friends whose names he hasn’t heard mentioned before. There was one, and only one, thing he knew to be different and it was the one that mattered. If I’d been wallowing in denial and deluded thinking that my son hadn’t noticed “that much” I was now mercilessly catapulted in to cold, hard reality. He just looked me square in the eyes and with not a micro second of hesitation he told me straight. Now was my moment to say what I should have said so many times before. I held his gaze and reached out for his hand.

I know I’ve hurt you with my drinking and I’m so sorry.

Well, he is a teenager now so a heart to heart with Mum is probably not his idea of fun so I’m sure he wanted to return to his Xbox game, but even so. Now, I know for a fact that my drinking has upset him, worried him and probably caused him endless anxiety – I more than deserve going to hell because of that alone. Yet, children are so loyal, even if someone who should love and care for them hurts them, they still love you unconditionally. He leaned in and gave me a hug and told me:

Nah, it wasn’t that bad anyway.

Fact: that’s a lie.

My son lied to protect my feelings. I don’t know what I did to deserve him but I know that I don’t. But maybe there is time to make amends. I can’t take away hurt I have caused but I can strive to do better and show him I understand where I’ve fucked up and that I’m taking steps to correct it. Maybe one day, when he is a man and not a boy, I can then confide in him and let him know that it just took me perhaps longer than it should have to fight something that I lost control over. Until then, perhaps it’ll go some way to show him I am trying. I was careful not to tell him that I will never, ever drink again. I told him I might “once in a while”. Why? Why not make the commitment there and then to this little person who probably needs me to say those exact words and who – by every definition and standard – has the FUCKING RIGHT to hear his mother make a solemn vow to stay off the booze? The answer may be that of a coward but it is very simple: if – IF – I were ever to have a slip, it might be devastating. If I make a grand gesture and then fall prey to the beast again, how will my son EVER be able to trust me? So I can only be brutally honest with him when it comes to my drinking and tell him that I’m doing my best and trying really hard to be the best I can be one day at a time.

So my son will lie and tell me it was never “that bad”. On my birthday he once again put my feelings before his own. At the restaurant where he and hubby took me for my birthday meal, hubby ordered a glass of red wine and I asked the waiter for Diet Coke. My son told me:

Mum, you can drink on your birthday.

No, I’m not going to,” I told him.

He gave me that cute, adorable smile of his and leaned in to give me a little nudge. In that moment, I know that regardless of heartbreak I may have caused in the past, my son had faith in me and I may just have redeemed myself the tiniest little bit. Not that one evening can ever balance out years of drinking too much, but I think it hopefully filled him with some hope that I can do this and if nothing else that I am sincere in wanting to make the changes I need to make. Who knows. But I want to be clear that in spite of how much I may have tried to tell myself my drinking went unnoticed by most people including my son, I am more than aware that it didn’t and that I’ve caused endless hurt and worry. I can’t undo any of that. All I can to is try with all my might to be the best I can possibly be in the hope that hurt I’ve caused may with time – and my effort – be less severe.

So with a sense of hope and strength yet with painful truths spoken, I start this new week and this day with promising myself this: today I will not pick up a drink.