Heaven and Hell

So my previous post was about the notion that sobriety is hard work. Whilst I respect those who consider it to be so, it is not true for me. The hard work for me was drinking. That was REALLY tough. It’s funny, I look back on it almost like I look back on the first few years after my divorce. I was suddenly a single mother with a toddler and I had to work my backside off to keep everything together, working full time and at the same time struggling to provide my child with something that resembled a nice childhood. A child, who, by the way, didn’t sleep through the night at the time. I look back on those years and wonder how in God’s name I didn’t collapse with exhaustion. And that’s how I look back on my drinking too – how in the name of all that’s holy did I manage to drink like that for so long? I honestly don’t know. I can SORT OF remember that sure, I was extremely run down at times trekking to nursery in the morning to drop my child off after not getting to sleep more than four stretches of less than an hour and then head to work, but I can see why I managed because you just do. The main reason of course was my son and all the joy he has always given me, so despite working myself to the ground and suffering sleep deprivation to a possibly harmful degree, it was all quite doable.

But the drinking? Fuck me. What reason did I have to deliberately poison myself when there was never any reward? It’s one thing to be a bit tired because you haven’t slept and then be reminded why when you force your eyelids open to discover a mini-person standing by your bed in whose eyes you see all that is right in this world. It’s another to force your eyelids open when the alarm goes and no matter how beautiful a day it might be you are in hell and there is nothing whatsoever that’s made it worth it. But beyond that, how did I fucking do it? I clearly remember being at work and being afraid to move because all of a sudden my heart would begin to hammer in my chest in a wild tango and I’d be filled with paralysing fear that I’d die there and then. I’d dread having to get myself home and there was once I took the secluded route towards the river because I was shaking so bad from a panic attack (set off by a deadly hangover, of course) that I felt embarrassed walking down the main road. AND THEN I WENT HOME AND STARTED DRINKING ALL OVER AGAIN. Go figure – tell me what you come up with because if the ‘why’ wasn’t crazy enough I sure as hell am bewildered as to HOW it went on for as long as it did.

That’s right, I genuinely cannot tell you how I coped. I mean, look at me now. I’m sitting at work and it’s a bit shit, you know, given I don’t particularly feel a burning passion for this Plan B gig I’m only doing as it frees me up to do the things that do fire me up. How did I manage to do this over those years when I was so wrecked with hangovers I was actually afraid of having to speak to people due to being too zonked to 1) comprehend and process anything relayed to me, and 2) respond in a coherent manner.

So yes, I had to work hard as hell to drink. And not only once it’d turned into a three-bottles-a-day habit – I had to work my arse off to get there in the first place, steadily working up my frequency and tolerance once I’d got over the foul taste. No aspect of my drinking was easy. I had to work hard to get there, make no mistake.

But sobriety? Or, as I like to refer to it, LIFE?

It’s funny, because hubby and I talked about it only the other night. He told me, once again, that he’s proud of me. He told me, once again, that it must be hard. I don’t blame him because even I am quite shocked at how a raging alcoholic like me, who drank like I did, can go from guzzling wine like there’s no tomorrow to being sober without difficulty. I get that he must think that I secretly DO find it hard. Even I am sitting here thinking it must be. Maybe I’m blocking something out? There must be some deeper, more sinister answer somewhere, right?

Only there isn’t. It’s beautifully simple.

I drank because I was under the illusion it added a bit of glitter to life. And then the illusion shattered and I saw my drinking for what it was: total devastation and nothing else. And so I removed this devastation from my life and now I am left with a life I am free to live to the full. I am slave to nothing and no one. I am finally free to FEEL. I am no longer numb. It’s such a gift I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.

Sobriety (aka LIFE) means this:

I wake up and feel good. Even if I’m a bit tired and could have pressed snooze a few more times, I feel fucking good. It’s a joy to put on coffee and make breakfast. It’s wonderful to take a shower and then come out again from the bathroom into an apartment that smells of freshly ground coffee beans. Then put on make-up which is minimal because now my skin is clear and my eyes are bright again. Sophie in the mirror looks back at me and she looks WELL. This chick’s been taking her vitamins and eating her greens, I think. I like her a lot. Instead of taking the quickest route and being terrified I’ll faint driving, I drive around for an hour listening to audiobooks before work. I love driving! And I love listening to books read in my native tongue. It’s bliss. And then, well, work’s quite dull and I would rather spend the day doing other stuff, but I’m feeling good and I get stuff done because my mind is keen and alert and I remember stuff. Then all the really great stuff – driving home each day and looking forward to a long walk, seeing my boys and enjoying the evening. Everything I do, whether it’s choice or obligation, I do with joy and I’m present. Well, not always joy because there are limits to how fucking cheerful there is a need to be over silly shit, but each situation I find myself in is the best it can be because I’m fully there. If it’s a shitty situation it’s still the best possible scenario because it’d be infinitely shittier if I were drunk or hungover. Just like any glittery moments are splendid because I am present and can enjoy them to the full – I can’t do that numbed by ethanol. It’s wonderful, simply wonderful. And for those times when life gives me lemons I’ll be so much better equipped to deal with any crap. Just taking a deep breath is enough to make me happy. It makes me feel grateful that I can.

Right now, bored at work (well – blogging isn’t working, this is stolen time but that’s how bored I am), I still feel ridiculously excited about life. Grateful I get to be here, joyful that I can take that deep breath and feel it in my chest where my heart is beating calmly and strongly. Fuck, I just welled up writing that. I welled up that very second when I wrote about my heart and took a moment to pay attention to how I feel physically. And mentally? Amazing too, although it’s fair to say I’ll always be a little crazy.

When I drank, life was one day at a time. My whole focus had to be on just getting myself through the day and when I started drinking again in the evening tomorrow was only ever going to be a write-off that I couldn’t bear think about before I woke up in it ravaged by another hangover. I had to drag myself through each day.

Now though, when life is LIFE, I can plan ahead and it’s so fucking exciting I might just pee my pants. We’ve got a bunch of trips booked in and I cannot WAIT to be THERE, PRESENT and in the moment!! We even have a 10-year plan! Who would have thought? That’ll take me into my 50s and a decade I know I would never have got to see if I’d continued drinking, no way. Perhaps I’ll be hit by a bus tomorrow, but I sure as hell ain’t going to depart from this life by my own hand. Not when there is so much living to do in this awesome LIFE.

So no. Today I’m not going to drink.

 

Murky Depths

“I have worked hard at my sobriety.”

– Kim Richards, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Season 5 Reunion

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Yes, I know, wouldn’t it have been nice to quote someone a bit more… ..not sure what the word is… But, see, that’s a mistake right there I think. Here’s me thinking there’s more weight to the words if they’d been spoken by someone like Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, perhaps Michelle Obama or in any case someone who has made a more serious mark on the world than having made a spectacle of themselves in the murky depths of the arguably shallow and superficial world of reality TV. And I don’t mean Richards personally here but rather all of them – I think they are all probably smart and classy ladies (except for the astonishingly vacuous Dorit who seems to have the IQ of a slug on valium – she really does take ‘trashy’ to a whole new level we’d all hoped didn’t exist but hey-ho) but fame via the reality machine is decidedly non-smart and non-classy as far as I’m concerned. Nothing less attractive than catty women, yet it’s strangely addictive (figures!) in spite of the fact that I sometimes watch from behind a cushion as if it’s the Blair Witch Project. Well, it kind of is, only there’s a whole bunch of them. Sorry. But no, it’s not often I’d select a reality “star” to find a quote but Richards fits the bill for what was on my mind just now and that she hasn’t won the Nobel Prize in Literature doesn’t mean her words are worth any less than those of e.g. Morrison.

I should start off by saying I have the deepest respect and admiration for anyone who struggles to stay sober manages to do just that, so I’d be the first to take my hat off to Richards. She is more than worthy of praise and I think the fact that she has a level of celebrity stateside and has gone out publicly with her problems is not just brave but freakin’ awesome. Kudos to her. Besides, out of the housewives she comes across as the nicest one and that says a lot given a lot of her air time she’s plastered. Well, her air time before coming out as an alcoholic, that is. I like Richards. And I admire her greatly for staying sober and facing her demons in a very public way.

Her words about her sobriety made me think about how I worked hard too, only it hasn’t been sobriety I’ve had to work hard at – it was my drinking. I look back and shudder. How did I do all that? How did I function when I knew in my heart that it was only a matter of time before I’d drink myself to death. No – seriously. I’d often worry about how it’d hurt my loved ones that I’d have been One of Those Alkies, a dirty addict. I’d worry about it happening when hubby was away (he often is) as it’d be my son who’d find me and how that would destroy him. Imagine a life when keeling over isn’t just a possibility but a PROBABILITY and you live with the constant knowledge that your consumption of ethanol would already have been more than enough to kill a horse so you’re already on borrowed time. THAT is hard work.

What’s also hard work is all the effort that went into planning my drinking – everything from where I’d buy the wine from to how I’d get it home without everyone seeing just how much booze was in my bag. Then rotating the shops I’d get it from in case cashiers would start to recognise me. Oh, it gives me a headache thinking about it.

What was the hardest work of all though? The hangovers. The merciless, never ending hangovers. I’d be so fucked I was scared to even walk from my office to the toilets for fear of aforementioned untimely demise to occur en route and I’d die on my employers’ kitchen floor – how embarrassing. I’d be so fucked I had trouble forming any coherent thought and if I were given instructions that involved more than one sentence I’d struggle to understand and remember. It was horrific. It was a version of Groundhog Day recorded in hell.

I could go on. Drinking fucking sucked horse balls. It was nightmarish on every goddamn level and I am so grateful that I’m free of it that I could just kiss the sky, Jimi Hendrix style.

I will no doubt come back to this, because there is a lot more to say. Hubby and I had a little chat about it a couple of days ago, actually it was specifically about AA and whether or not it’s useful for me or helpful in order to stay sober. I think AA is magnificent, truly amazing, but I just need (and want!) to continue to feel gratitude at how absolutely wonderful sobriety is and feels and do my best to remember what was actually the hard part – drinking. I don’t yet know what part AA plays there for me.

Yep. I will doubtlessly come back to this one… For now though, all I can say is that today I won’t drink. I’m meeting up with Blue, actually! She was struggling a bit so it’ll be good to see her, see what’s up.

Here’s to another day of… …..LIFE.

Kittens and Chili Peppers

More sunshine in Londinium today and unlike the normal kind which, when it happens, seems to cloud over by early afternoon, the weather forecast seems to suggest today will remain sunny. Yippie! I’m so ready for spring now. Usually I get to each season thinking “oh, THIS is my favourite” and just enjoy them as they come and go, but this year I’m really aching for spring to arrive. Winter just seemed a bit too long, that’s all. After a sunny morning yesterday the afternoon only brought rain, but then the sky was a little clearer again in the evening and hubby came out with me for a walk in the park. It was quite magical, actually (well, apart from the deer-whispering lady), walking through it just as nightfall began to engulf us. In the end it was a bit over 8 kilometres we’d walked and I can really tell now after a few weeks of this that I’m reaping the benefits – I could quite easily have walked the same loop another time whereas two-three weeks ago I could really feel it after similar distances. Perhaps now is the right time to start the running again – it is my favourite kind of relaxation, after all, nothing can set me right like my feet pounding the ground and the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers pounding my ear drums.

Speaking of exercise, I’m toying with the idea of yoga. I told hubby this and his facial expression can only be described as bemused.

That doesn’t sound like you,” he offered.

I think it’d be really good! Get me all zen, calm and centered!” I told him enthusiastically as I tried to imagine myself as all those things and failed.

You’re already calm.

I am WHAT??” I stared at him given that there are countless ways to describe me and ‘calm’ definitely isn’t one of them.

OK, not calm, it’s not the right word…” he searched for the right term but struggled.

Fabulous?” I smiled.

Yes, of course,” he lied, the sod, to humour my grandiose self image.

Hubby never found the word he was grasping for so I don’t know what he meant but will bring it up again as I’m quite curious to know. But I do get his surprise at me expressing that I not only want to attend a yoga class but also don’t expect to throttle anyone in it. I know, I know – it’s the last thing I thought I’d hear me say, too. Weirdly, the things that never appealed about it now do a little bit. I like the idea of focusing on my breathing, shifting my thoughts and doing my body some good in the process. Worth a shot, I think. There is of course not just A chance but a BIG, FAT chance I’ll immediately hate it and struggle to contain my contempt but nothing ventured and all that. I like the IDEA of it despite that it’s all in direct odds with who I am – I like the IDEA of rolling out my yoga mat and going into positions called stuff like Killing Kittens and Whipping Whales to greet a new day at dawn. As I picture this, I’m imagining our balcony in Lipari and obviously in this image I have the body of a 22-yearold Playboy model. But even with my not-Playmate-of-the-year-material arse and thunder thighs I like it and Sweaty Betty clothing goes up to a comfortable L so we’re all good. Plus I reckon sunrise on a seaview balcony in Lipari will be really good (and forgiving) lighting for me regardless. Yep, my 42-yearold non-model self will be just fine.

Drinking. Back to that. It’s what this blog is meant to be about, after all. So where are we? Two and a half months. Can’t say it’s been tough, nor have I struggled. There was the night of dragons when I thought I’d drink but didn’t. There was Easter when the little monster tapped me on the shoulder and got me in a bad mood but not drunk. I’m sure there’ll be other times – I hope I’ll have a long life and it’d just be weird if I never had any urge to have a glass of wine. Jeez, come on – even my non-drinking mother can exclaim after a stressful day at work that she needs a stiff drink. OK, it’s never serious, only a joke, so she never does have one and I can’t see it happening in the future either, but it shows what the illusion of alcohol is and how it’s part of the minds of most of us in the parts of the world where it isn’t forbidden for whatever reason. Even my straight laced mum sees it as something you do to chill out for God’s sake!

Will I ever drink again? I don’t know. I hope not, given I’m an alcoholic and would therefore get sucked in and dragged down in a way that isn’t what you see in the adverts for Tia Maria. But who knows. I’d like to think the rest of my life will continue like this, with my mind clear and my body feeling good. Drinking did NOT feel good. It changed how I felt mentally and physically and it was completely, thoroughly, devastatingly AWFUL. Who knows though. Just because I’ve settled in nicely up here on my Pink Cloud doesn’t mean I’ll always stay here. It’s just the nature of the beast and I know it’ll never attack me when I expect it but lunge at me when I don’t. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Alcoholism isn’t your typical battle. Alcoholism is like guerilla war – you never know where it’ll come from or when. That’s it’s strength. Unfortunately.

Today, however, is a beautiful day. Another day of my life I am utterly grateful for. And so, today I will not drink.

Electric Skies

There’s something about a blue sky,” Willow said once when we were at her place and were looking out towards the river and the grey skies above it.

She wasn’t describing the London skies – obvs – but the hue of the skies in the place she considers home, which isn’t just across the Atlantic but all the way across the home of the brave where it nudges the north of the ocean whose waves I sat and listened to in awe one night with hubby on Waihi beach. They tumbled in with such a mighty roar and I remember feeling so humbled by the power and brute force of Mother Nature. You can kind of see where us humans got our sense of God from – it’s all her! Mother Nature is so wondrous and magical she inspired countless religions. What a goddess indeed.

Back in my native land there is of course Thor, who sprang to life in my ancestors’ imaginations (but no doubt hearts and souls too) on thundery nights as he rode across the heavens and sent lightning with each strike of his hammer. And of course the mighty oceans inspired similar thoughts and similar gods, Poseidon just one of those but I don’t quite know his story. And so the sky does too – not just when Thor makes it roar, hiss and lash with electricity but with sun gods and rain gods too and across all time we have worshipped each one in various forms here on earth. What they all have in common is that we had to make them loving and divine as well as terrifying and brutal, because otherwise it wouldn’t have made any sense. Mother Nature can be awe inspiring in both respects – she can be divine when she lovingly caresses the savannah with a sunrise and she can be hellish when she unleashes her volcanoes and so our gods had to be all these things too.

But there is much to be said for a blue sky, even though the London skies are rarely as perfectly blue as I imagine Willowtown’s to be. I wonder what effect that’d have on me, what difference it would make to my well being if I lived someplace where the sun was almost always shining from clear blue skies. What’s the vitamin you get from sunlight? E? I don’t know, but it’s hardly an unknown fact that beautiful weather makes us feel happier. And the brief few hours when there was some of that sparse commodity in this town as I drove to work, did I feel happier than I did yesterday when it rained? I don’t know, but I’m sure I felt perkier although I couldn’t say for sure if it was to do with those momentary rays of sunshine.

So. Still sober, blue skies or otherwise. Felt the pull over the weekend but it wasn’t strong. Is the idea of a drink tempting still? A little, actually. Is this how it starts? Is this the fabled fall from the Pink Cloud you hear of sometimes in AA meetings? The image is absolutely there, and with it the feeling of excitement too. Our favourite pub, a few wines, put the world to rights like only drunk twats can. Right? Those images and any other fun stuff that goes around it will take more than a sincere wish to be sober to erase because they’ve been with me for almost as long as I can remember. Alcohol was always something I viewed as a party enhancer. Something to trigger the fun. Problem is though, of course, that even if those illusions were true – and they’re not – it would never work for me anyway. Even if that’s what wine did – made everything fun, fun, fun – it’d never be true for me, because I’m an alcoholic and therefore by definition incapable of consuming the stuff in a way that’d be fun and nothing else.

So for me, wine will never enhance anything, not a damn thing. It’ll just awaken something dark in me which would bypass all the “fun” and then rapidly proceed to take me to blackout, then of course I’d wake up feeling all the things alcohol brings out (or down) in me – anxiety, worry, sadness and of course a terrible mood. It won’t do anything else. Besides – given how I drink – I hate to drink with people anyway, it’s just torture to have to slow myself, pace myself, check myself. It’s fucking hard work – I get exhausted just thinking about it. So why in God’s name bother? Exactly.

Nope. I do believe that even in those hitherto rare moments when a mirage appears and I momentarily allow the thought to take root and forget I’m in the desert, I wouldn’t bring that glass of wine to my lips. Not even then. It may as well be arsenic.

And that’s that, really. Today I won’t drink.

The Distant Songs of the Sirens

Ah! There it was. My would-be blip. Saturday and bambino at a friend’s so it was just me and hubby. Took him to the pub for a drink – pint of soda water with fresh lime for Yours Truly – and then headed home. I’m not sure what happened, but I suspect this is what they mean in AA when they call alcoholism ‘baffling’. Yep, it was baffling. Old illusions of what booze would be and mean suddenly pushed their way into my conscious and for a moment I believed it all. There it was again. Out of nowhere. I wanted to have a drink, wanted to just be wild and crazy and do silly shit. I’d been so sensible for so long and I fancied dancing around on the livingroom floor with hubby. For that brief passage of time – we are talking minutes – it was tempting to believe in the false promise that pouring wine on our happiness would make it shimmer even more.

It didn’t happen. I don’t think even if someone had placed a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc with soda in front of me in that precise moment and thrown in cheerleaders to boot I would have drunk it. But that little monster was there, however briefly, and in that moment I wanted to for exactly the reason why I reckon people fail to stay sober: I wanted to because in that moment I felt deprived. Over the course of what can’t have been longer than three minutes, I was pissed off because I felt I wasn’t allowed to do something. I regressed to the mental maturity of a toddler and although I don’t remember sticking my bottom lip out it wouldn’t surprise me if I did. It made me SO angry. So angry, in fact, that my bad mood stretched well into the following day even though I didn’t initially connect the two. Is this what they mean in AA when they refer to an emotional hangover? Perhaps it was. I felt bristly. Like a hedgehog pointing all its spikes out around it in case some misguided soul tries to touch it. That was me Sunday morning. It took a 10k walk around the park to put me right again, inhale deeply and just let go. But back to the night before. I wanted to lash out and be petulant yet at the same time I knew it was right that I hadn’t given into it.

Well. It was bound to happen sooner or later,” hubby pointed out.

Yup. It was bound to. I knew that. I knew that illusions ingrained in me from birth about what alcohol is would come back to the fore and try to lure me in and for a short while I had believed it. Because I felt so angry, I didn’t want to show that I was actually relieved and grateful that I withstood that old urge when it found me again. And as much as I’d like to make this into a battle story, it wasn’t actually hard at all – I’d be lying if I said it was. It put me in the shittiest mood, but if once every couple of months is as often as I’ll end up being moody that’s something I can live with because when I was drinking I was moody every goddamn day.

I know,” I told hubby, “just bear with me because I feel really off and I have no idea why.

No surprise really, though. I was on course to drink myself into an early grave and then I stopped in January after over a decade of alcohol abuse, closer to 12 years of sinking 2-3 bottles of wine most evenings. I’ve felt amazing for those two months – well, almost two and a half! – and increasingly lost sight of all the reasons I once had to drink. So no wonder I was thrown when I suddenly heard the distant songs of the sirens. I woke up the following morning in hubby’s arms and the only thing on my mind was THANK GOD FOR THAT. No hangover. No deep disappointment in myself or the inevitable embarrassment of having to tell people I’d fallen off the wagon.

But I was still bristly, angry and disappointed. I told my poor hubby I needed space and he gave it. I read a book for a while. Then I had some coffee and just sat on the sofa for a while looking out at the grey Easter Sunday sky. And then I did the thing I knew I needed – my meditation, which is pulling on my trainers and going for a long walk. Only then and after a shower, was I soft enough again to be held. I still couldn’t explain to hubby why my mood had got so bad, but looking back on it now I think it was anger at wanting to do something I knew I shouldn’t do and knowing I would have wrecked everything had I given into it. Most of all it was anger at wanting to do something I know wouldn’t do anything for me, something I can now see through. So how could it possibly fool me again? That’s how strong the mind can be, and how deeply rooted those illusions still are in spite of how the rational part of me knows none of them are real.

What I can take from it all is this:

  • It’s not a strong enough pull to drag me under – it took zero to no effort to withstand it.
  • I need to allow myself to feel every bit of it – it’s natural and the more I dare face it head on, the less power it’ll have over me.
  • It will pass – every time and always.
  • I will win this non-battle – every single time.

So it’s all good. It’s another short week and I am already looking forward to Friday.

Today I won’t drink.