Warning! Heart overload!

There are so many things about my drinking that I don’t miss. Actually, let’s rephrase: there is nothing about my drinking that I miss. One of the first things that happened when I quit was that I sleep so much better. From waking up several times with a pounding heart, I now fall asleep easily and sleep like a log until the morning. The quality of my sleep now is awesome and I wake up feeling refreshed, strong and calm. So I don’t miss the 4am waking hour I used to have when I was drinking, when I’d lie awake for what felt like ages and when my heart was furiously fighting to do its job in spite of the terrible working conditions I offered, pounding with all its might to keep my alcohol contaminated blood flowing through my veins as it should. My poor heart.

Another thing I don’t miss is the anxiety I used to feel. This is not to say I never feel anxious but rather when I do it’s not the inevitable byproduct of ingesting a depressive agent such as alcohol. It’s no longer a chemical reaction to poison but a way for my gut/soul/Higher Power/whatever to communicate that something is wrong. This also allows me to fully acknowledge and feel all emotions on their own merit as they are no longer triggered by a poison I put into my body. Last night I had awful nightmares, vivid and graphic scenarios, and I woke up almost in panic and shuffled over to hubby’s side and clung on to him. My heart was beating in that way it used to at 4am every morning, hard and fast, and I was a tightly rolled up bundle of fear and terror. Just like the Grade A hangovers I used to have all the time.

What I have the luxury of now that I’m sober, is the ability to first of all acknowledge this deep dread and anxiety for exactly what it is, and given it’s not the result of booze I can at least try to understand what it is my gut is trying to tell me. Instead of battling withdrawal, I can receive the messages my soul is sending me and try to decipher their origin and meaning. Being sober allows me to feel fully and explore every emotion. I suppose you can say it lets me be completely tuned into my emotions given I don’t via alcohol numb some and enhance others – I just feel each one exactly as they are. I’d say last night I experienced what borderline reminded me of the panic attacks I suffered over a period following the divorce from my first husband. At the time, I suppose they were my soul trying to tell me I needed to pause, breathe and reset – WARNING, beeeeeeep, beeeeep, too much, too much, WARNING, heart overload, beeeeeeep, hold up, hold up, beeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeep, slow doooooown, WARNING, immediately engage self care system, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

And so instead of just riding it out I can at least attempt to unpack where all this dread and fear came from.

  1. I am sensitive to hormonal fluctuations and around my period I sometimes feel a little low. There’s one contributing factor right there.
  2. My son was heartbroken yesterday due to how his father (my ex-husband) treats him. Their relationship is buggered and it causes my son immense hurt. My sun rises and sets with my boy and when my teenager who I usually have to beg for hugs sobs in my arms as if he were a small child again, my heart breaks in thousands of little pieces. Little shards of pain that slice through my soul.

There you are. I was feeling low and hormonal (and OK, probably bad tempered too after unsuccessfully trying to pick a fight with hubby who annoyed me by, you know, breathing) and my child was hurting. Hello nightmares and palpitations!

What can we conclude? Well. Once a month I morph into an intolerable little cow with an attitude problem. My periods are beyond what I can control and until Mother Nature decides I no longer need them, they will continue to happen. I can try harder to manage my mood when those hormonal changes happen though, even if it’s as simple as telling hubby “look, I’m sorry, I feel this way, please give me some slack and I’ll make it up to you some other time“. Just give my nearest a bit of a weather warning perhaps. The situation with my son’s father is even further out of my control. I can’t control my ex’s behaviour and I can’t take away the pain it results in for my son. But again, what I do have the power to control is ME. I can try to be the best parent I can be and show my son how much I love and respect him and everything else. Be there for him and help explain how this isn’t his fault. And so on.

Yes! One more thing right there that I don’t miss about drinking. Imagine if I poured alcohol on existing period gloom and the pain I feel for my son – sweet Lord, it’d get unbearable and I’d be rendered completely unable to cope with any of it. Hubby would be faced with not only a hormonal witch but a drunk and out of control one. Plus in all the angst my son is already feeling, he’d have to see mum drunk as well. Eesh – can’t think of anything more awful, can you? I’d be no good to anyone, least of all to myself.

Back to anxiety for a brief moment – I know of course that many people suffer anxiety and how sometimes it has NO root cause, that perhaps some warning systems are too finely tuned or a little out of whack. And I don’t want to make light of that or sound flippant. I think I’m probably prone to it, couldn’t tell you if I react more strongly or am more sensitive to pain than the next person. Doesn’t matter though because as usual I can only speak for myself and my own experience.

Right, so that’s enough of a brain dump from me. Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Vomit and AA Super Stars

I wonder what would happen if we made the 12 step approach to recovery undone. If we waved a magic wand and made it so that it never came to be, I wonder if we would inevitably end up with a very similar strategy based on what happens within us when we get sober. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know.

With my first sponsor I ended up getting quite turned off, which is in a way really strange as 1) I absolutely adore her, and 2) she is living proof of how the 12 step program can work miracles. For me, she’s the sort of person I glance at and think “I’ll have what she’s having, please“. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, perhaps I was still too fresh into my sobriety to be fully open to it all – Sparks is what Willow used to call “an AA super star” by way of describing how she is very set in practicing the 12 steps and 12 traditions very strictly according to the AA way. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to be told not to question anything. Unsurprisingly, I can now see that Sparks was right in everything she said and even the things that I didn’t feel I could relate to she expressed for a good reason – to help me stay sober. I think I thought I had to accept everything as 100% true for me in every sense and so inevitably I encountered conflict almost immediately as no two people are the same. There just cannot be one size fits all to treat the human condition. So I guess I made the mistake of allowing the differences to grate on me instead of focusing on the similarities. And maybe, despite how I love Sparks to bits, she’s just not the right sponsor for me. Hey ho, always lessons to be learned, that’s half the fun, no?

Back to undoing the existing 12 step model. The reason I ask what might happen, is because now that I’ve got a few months of sobriety under my belt, I have discovered how some of these things actually happen in what seems to be an entirely organic and natural process, although as usual I can of course only speak for myself. You get to a point where you just can’t do it anymore and know it’s all a big mess, you want to live differently and you accept you can’t do it on your own. You go on to dissect your own patterns of thinking and behaviour in order to find a better way and you sincerely want to put right the hurt you have caused. When sobriety almost immediately delivers and your life experience goes from bleak and hopeless to light and joyful and you already see positive changes all around you, something almost magical (as magical as sobriety itself I suppose!) happens within and you want to share with others who suffer how there is a way to recover the person they were always meant to be and have the life of their dreams. Fuck me, I want to vomit reading that, I’m starting to sound like Sparks.

Anyway, my point is that I reckon what happened was Bill W & Co devised the steps and traditions not so much based on religion as their own recovery, because no one handed them the Big Book, right? It’s clear these dudes are Bible bashers, but remove the odd ‘God’ and ‘Higher Power’ they’re really just describing the process of recovering from alcoholism and what happens within us as we do. What do you think? This is all the stuff they concluded and so now that I have been sober using tools I’ve picked up in all sorts of places and not just in AA, I can begin to see how it all happened. Or rather, how it COULD have happened. Feel free to shout when I say stuff you think is totally wrong – I’m just letting my thoughts run wild and spill out as usual.

However, none of that matters anyway – who cares if the 12 step model was sprayed on to a wall when a unicorn did a wet fart or if it lit up across the sky when Thor smashed his hammer around – I just find it interesting and I love how sobriety allows me to discover new things almost every day. Like when I realised I was doing a bit of step 9 work when I said to my mother that I’m sorry for causing so much worry – it was specifically to do with my drinking so bang on subject and I specifically apologised for the heartache I must have caused her. Fuck me, the poor woman, I fall apart if my kid scrapes his knee, and I can only hope that my son does not in turn and passed down by me carry this most unfortunate predisposition.

When I get ready for steps 8 and 9, my son’s name will be the top name on that list even though there too I have, without using the A-word or placing too much burden on his still young shoulders, expressed sincere remorse and asked forgiveness for hurting him with my drinking. Anyway, that can be talked about more some other time, I just wanted to point out how some things kind of get triggered by sobriety and much of the stuff outlined in the 12 steps is what at least I have discovered I end up feeling anyway. And although my narcissistic brain does want me to think I’m the cleverest recovering drunk there is, I know I just cannot be alone in having this happen in this way.

So. I’m lacing up my finest 12 step shoes and off we go. Well, I’ll be lacing up my new trainers and will head to the women’s meeting and then walk back – that’ll be roughly the same distance as my normal walk around the park so a matter of two birds one stone. For those of you who aren’t members of AA, it’s normally the case that women stick with women and men with men (this reduces the potential risk of a whole new set of complications) so I’m making it easy for myself, plus I know who I want to ask. There are inevitably, as with all situations in life, people in AA you relate to and people you don’t, people you like and some who just really grate on you. People in AA are warmer and friendlier and WAY more open than any other situations I’ve found myself in, but trust me you get good’uns and bad’uns everywhere, so you don’t just grab anyone to sponsor you although I don’t know if there is some set of official guidelines for finding a sponsor. I chose Sparks because she was someone I got to know straight away, in fact the was the first person to swoop in and talk to me before she took my phone and added her number. She had the qualifications too: she was further along into her sobriety than I am and she’d done the steps. Beyond this I really like her on a personal level. She just seemed like a natural choice and I do enjoy her no-nonsense and slightly brutal approach even if I may not have been ready for it.

So yes, I do have my eye on someone (jeez, that sounds so fucking creepy!!) I’d like to speak to and see if she’s up for sponsoring me. Unless she’s an absolute twat of course, but I won’t know that unless I speak to her and if she isn’t as un-twatty as she seems I’ll just have to go back on the prowl, but that’s my criteria for having her in mind: she seems like a non-twat and I can identify with the stuff she shares.

For the purposes of this blog I’m going to call her Breeze because she’s softly spoken, comes across as gentle, always smiles (but most people in AA are very smiley) and when she shares I sometimes wonder how the hell she broke into my head and stole my thoughts. Bit like asking her out really. I’m not great like that. I’m a sunny and friendly person but a little shy with the approach so my normal strategy is to smile and hope other people make the first move when friendships are to be made. May have to put my big girl pants on here though and just do it. Chances are that she won’t burst out laughing and then mock me for even daring to THINK she’d want to be my sponsor. If she raises her hand again this evening to indicate she’s happy to speak to newcomers (which I think is the signal for being happy to be someone’s sponsor but I could be wrong – oh FUCK, what if I’m wrong and I ask her and then I’ll look really stupid and feel mortified OH SHUT THE HELL UP BRAIN!!), I’m going to do it. Oh, I am pathetic, just watch me stare at my hands in my lap for a bit and not knowing what to do when everyone else starts chatting after the meeting, feel a little silly and then just leave after talking with all the people I already know. Or I end up not going as usual.

You know, I’m really torn. On the one hand I absolutely 100% value AA so, so much and I always intend for AA to be an important and necessary part of my sobriety. Crucial and central, even. On the other I am not struggling to stay sober. I feel I need to go to stay connected and I suppose sometimes I just need to remind myself of that. Most of all, I just need to LISTEN TO THE SIMILARITIES instead of feeling frustrated any time I hear experiences that are nothing like my own and I can’t relate. But hey, it’s a journey and it’d be pretty boring if I didn’t learn stuff all the time. Long may it last!

Today I’m not going to drink.

155 Days

Great things that happened today, in no particular order:

– Sweden are through to the last 16 in the World Cup.
– My brother D and two of my nephews are coming to visit in September, their flights are now booked!
– Summer is here and it’s a glorious, sunny day.
– Our new boiler was installed.
– My son did really well in his German exam.
– I am sober.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Love and Burning Ears

154 days. There you go – your sure fire way of knowing I don’t really have much to say today. But hey, no matter the amount of days, so long as that number is anything other than zero it’s worth mentioning and I feel good. It feels good to say it, to hear it, to type it and to read it. I like looking at it. It’s mine and it’s probably one of a very small number of things I’ve had to work hard for.

So I’ve put out a few hooks now, in my quest to turn a decade destroying myself and hurting those who love me into something positive and fruitful. I almost feel a bit sheepish for being so lucky when I don’t actually deserve any of it – my friends and family haven’t showed me anything other than love, kindness and…….

………holy moly, talk about ears burning! I was interrupted by a phone call and it was one of my brothers, D, completely out of the blue in the middle of the day which first made me think something bad had happened. See, sometimes I’m a real pessimist. He’s not been to visit me at all over these 23 years I’ve now lived in the UK, mostly because I live in London and he can’t stand crowds and the stress of a big city. Bit like me really – don’t ask me why I decided to live in one of the biggest cities on the planet. And he is coming to see us! Plan is to fly over with his eldest two, who are both in their early teens like my son. D has four sons and the youngest two will stay put with mum. In September! It made me so happy my voice nearly broke, which I tried my best to hide as we exchanged our customary good natured insults.

Well, if my sister can stop drinking, I guess I can get to London,” D told me and I could hear the smile in his voice.

Yes,” I agreed, “shows you anything is possible, doesn’t it?

Day 154 was already pretty great but now it’s turned goddamn AWESOME!

So what I was about to write when D’s ears started to burn and he interrupted me, was that my friends and family have showed me nothing but love, kindness and support since I quit drinking. Not everyone is as lucky and honestly I didn’t expect to be. Part of me worried that some might feel ashamed of me (but perhaps some do and only hide it from me), get angry or what have you. SAYING I’m an alcoholic seemed worse than the fact that I already knew I was one 100%. Funny, isn’t it? That’s one of the things I’d really like to change. There are people who don’t have huge reservoirs of love like I do, big families or friends who will stand by them and offer support. There are people who either never had any of that or lost it. Or don’t have it for a myriad of other reasons. What if I can be there and offer that kindness and understanding for just one person? AA in all its glory and all of us there supporting each other, but I want to do more. My “day job” is as a PA but although I work for lovely people and don’t hate what I do, what does it REALLY matter? What if I could put that energy towards working in a capacity that in some way contributes to helping other alcoholics and addicts? I’m realising more for each day that this may just be why I was put here. Writing and silversmithing are my passions, but perhaps this is also part of my purpose here on earth?

Not just to be there for others – we do that in AA on a daily basis – but actively work in the field of recovery in whatever shape it could be. I need to figure out where and how to start but as usual I think asking questions is a pretty decent starting point, so that’s what I’m doing. Lots of them.

Thank you, God, for letting me wake up again sober and live through another day without having to drink. And thanks for the glorious summer weather too, you really are quite the artist when you shroud this island in its best finery.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Smack Bang

It’s probably lucky that I didn’t realise at the time that one of my sobriety milestones would land smack bang on Midsummer – I wonder now if that might have put me off. I knew of course that ALL big celebrations from then on would hopefully be sober for me, but to have a sobriety anniversary on the day of the biggest celebration in the Swedish calendar? No thank you. Or nej tack, as it were. One year we went to Hyde Park where lots of frog dancing, garland wearing and very drunk Swedes congregate – and we drank a lot of wine. Last year we went to stay at a little farm in Somerset – and drank a lot of wine. Other years we’ve done other things – and drunk a lot of wine. The activity in question might have changed but the drinking hasn’t. But here I am and I’m still sober. Five months and two days. Hurrah!

We went to see the most Swedish friend I’ve ever had. She takes all Swedish traditions super seriously and is ultra patriotic, it’s quite lovely actually and especially for me who hasn’t been all that bothered over the now 23 years I’ve lived away from the country where I grew up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the country I came from and I still get tearful when I hear any opening verses to traditional Swedish songs be it Lucia or Christmas or Midsummer, but my friend E goes all in. There was pickled herring, cured salmon, new potatoes dressed with dill, a sandwich cake (actually made by me – super proud!), meatballs and everything else you can expect on a smörgåsbord, followed by cinnamon rolls with the coffee afterwards. Bubbly and Swedish Rekorderlig cider for the adults except of course me. No worries.

As with most people, I’ve told E that I’ve quit drinking. I didn’t have to tell the story from the beginning because she and I shared a flat for a while and she is therefore more than well acquainted with my former drinking habits. Beyond hubby, she’s probably the friend who has seen the most, so I didn’t really have to explain why except my intention is to stay sober and there is no middle way for me.

Not even half a glass though?” she asked, but then immediately noted that I shook my head and concluded “no, soft drink for you then!” and it was no big deal.

This does highlight one of the difficulties with alcoholism – because it’s something the vast majority knows how to handle and control, it’s harder to explain that it’s the first drink I can’t have and not the sixth or seventh (or tenth and eleventh). E has never had issues with drinking and I’ve both known her to have one or two glasses of wine and stop there, or go on a bender and finish the night at 4am with tequila shots. But it’s her own choice and I suppose it’s then quite hard for her to understand how it isn’t mine and never has been or can be. She’s great though and she would never suggest that half a glass of Prosecco if she thought it was anything other than a case of moderation.

Way back when, in what feels like a different time but then again I suppose it was, E and I ended up getting an apartment together because we both ended up going through a crisis each at exactly the same time: my first marriage ended (very, very badly) and hers too (also very, very badly). Two heartbroken little Swedes shacked up together to try to piece their lives together again and I guess it was all quite sad but I look back on that time with huge affection. Having said that, it might have been easier for me – I was the one to leave after finally having tried all I could to save a marriage that was rotten almost from the start, but E had a huge shock having thought hers was happy only to discover that her husband had flown in a mistress from abroad every time E was away with work. She expected kids to be next, and I guess that’s what she got although it wasn’t a baby and instead a Portuguese 19-yearold. For me, it was like turning the page and I felt like a new person the moment I finally left my awful marriage behind. I felt, despite the stress and worry over divorce and childcare arrangements, happy and content again after a couple of years of misery and MAN did I celebrate! It was wine every night and it was during this period my alcoholism really kicked off.

I do believe us alcoholics have the unfortunate combo of what AA refers to as “a physical allergy and mental obsession” so I suppose I must have been that way wired and inclined all along, but this was when it properly took hold of me – it would have sooner or later, and this just happened to be when everything came together in a perfect storm in a wine glass. A year of drinking every day of the week and I had scared myself badly – I remember the morning vividly, despite the fact that I would have been hungover beyond belief. I walked into the kitchen and on the worktop were three wine bottles. Two empty and about a fifth left in the third. I’d been home alone. There were little instances like that, little steps, a steady progression: the first time I realised the next day that I’d polished off a whole bottle of wine on my own, then one and a half, then two…. When I stood there and surveyed those three bottles, I listened more attentively to the warning bells inside of me. I contacted AA and went to a meeting the same day.

Since then, those first AA meetings I went to, I’ve known I’m an alcoholic. All the things were true for me, most of all “one drink is too many, twenty aren’t enough” and I sat there wide eyed in those meetings and knew it was me. But perhaps I wasn’t ready. Clearly I wasn’t. Perhaps I needed to reach my rock bottom of drinking.

You know, I realise that for people who read this blog, it might appear that I’ve just quit drinking and whoop-dee-dooooooo I’m reaching the milestones one by one and it’s just plain sailing with no relapse in sight. Perhaps I should have been clearer on this point. I went to my first AA meeting the same day that I walked into the kitchen and saw those three bottles. That was May 2007. My relapse lasted nearly 11 years. Just in case anyone pops in here and gets the impression that I’ve quit, done so easily (which, THIS TIME, it’s mostly been to be fair) and never been tempted. I’m tempted all the fucking time and although I’ve now been sober over five months it’s been a long time coming!! And when I slipped it turned into over a decade of drinking to oblivion, until I had regular back cramps (my kidneys, I guess) and had got to a point where I was struggling to even do a very easy part time job. So this isn’t my first attempt. I made countless promises to myself over that decade but couldn’t keep a single one of them. In the end I was so destroyed by booze I was exhausted by it all, couldn’t do it anymore and finally I knew one evening that I was done with it. Thank God I got to that point, that something clicked in me and I knew I wanted out. If I hadn’t I don’t think I’d be far off the near-end stages of alcoholism because the merry-go-round only spins faster and faster and when it has started to shrink your world for real it all happens with frightening speed. So, there we are, if anyone wondered.

Funny – it only really dawned on me now that I was writing about my friend E that it occurred to me to go back all those years. Haha, how stupid am I?? I’ve even said occasionally how I thought this blog would document a struggle to get sober with slips at every turn. How conveniently I’ve somehow blocked out that I had a slip that lasted nearly 11 years! Perhaps I could call myself a veteran after all? And that decade long relapse was HARD AS FUCK. I honestly don’t know how I did it, I look back on it and wonder how I even managed to stay upright. Absolutely everything was hard work, something as nice as meeting up with friends required enormous effort! How the fuck did I do it? Never mind being a mother, going to work and everything else. Beats me.

Anyway. Here we are now and I’m no longer destroying my life and the lives of those who love me by drinking myself into an early grave. It’s been five months and two days and I still feel so, so good about this. I will never take my sobriety for granted and I will protect it like a mama grizzly bear protects her cubs. It’s the most important thing in my life because without it, there IS no life.

What’s YOUR journey? Was there a journey before? One so far back you have almost forgotten about it?

Today I’m not going to drink.

Many Little Streams

Because this whole alcoholism and sobriety stuff really interests me, not least because I am a drunk who has stopped drinking, I’ve been reading a lot of books on the subject and a watched a smattering of documentaries too. I’m sure if I developed another disease or condition I’d be keen to learn as much as I could about that too, so I don’t consider it at all strange that I’m devouring all perspectives and opinions I can get my hands on. The book that has resonated with me the most has got to be Allen Carr’s ‘The Easy Way to Stop Drinking‘.

The title itself is probably enough for many to immediately dismiss it as another quack theory designed to fill us drunks with false hope and therefore not worth the paper it’s printed on, but this book really reinforced how I feel. It’s in that way quite similar to ‘The Naked Mind‘, and aspires to show us how we have been brainwashed from birth and I would suggest that anyone who wants to hold on to the view that sobriety is difficult steers well clear of both books as there is a palpable risk they’ll change the way you view alcohol forever. And why take the chance if you feel you already have the answers you feel you need? In that case, don’t read them. For me personally, reading them was like putting into words how I have felt since I stopped, namely how I for the life of me now cannot name one single benefit of drinking alcohol and how I’ve sat in AA meetings with my chin on the floor listening to people state how sobriety is so tough. My own journey has been the very opposite and it was only days into not drinking that I discovered that the tough bit was the drinking.

But as with anything to do with the human condition, I don’t believe there is a one size fits all and perhaps that’s where I’m the most at odds with AA and its teachings. I value many things about AA but the very notion that “it works if you work it” makes me squirm. Of course it bloody does! And I can therefore, just like AA, claim I have a method that comes with a 100% success rate IF YOU WORK IT. Here it is and it’s totally free of charge: don’t drink alcohol. There. One instruction only and I promise you you’ll achieve sobriety so long as you work it. You’re welcome. Oh, that doesn’t work, you say? Well. There is nothing wrong with my method! And I told you it works if you work it. The instruction is very clear and you CANNOT fail if you just follow it. Well, then there must be something wrong with YOU! What if I were a doctor and you came to me with a troublesome infection, and I prescribed you something for it? You take the medication but the infection doesn’t go away. I prescribe you another batch. Infection comes back. More medication. Ad infinitum. Would you be filled with confidence that I know what I’m doing if I then told you that the medication works? Didn’t think so.

No, that sort of approach I think does more harm than good.

As for my own sobriety I can tell you this. Tomorrow it’s five months of not drinking and I feel absolutely fucking awesome! I don’t like calling it “giving up drinking” simply because I’ve not given anything up. Quite to the contrary, I have just rid myself of something that only brought a whole bunch of negativity with it. I won’t lie – I’ve had lots of fun with alcohol as part of the picture but all of that fun was in spite of the booze, not because of it. AA was a good anchor at the beginning and I intend to keep its benefits to my sobriety in my tool kit, 100%. Easyway and The Naked Mind two other sources that I read at precisely the right time in my sobriety, just as I’d discovered some of my own truths and they further cemented exactly how I feel about booze. Then there is a multitude of other books, documentaries and, perhaps most importantly, blogs I’ve been absorbing like a sponge, all these little streams that together create a huge flood wave of thinking around alcoholism and sobriety that is benefiting me massively.

Sure, I occasionally get that ping! at the back of my mind when a lifetime of brainwashing makes itself known and I have those images of alcohol and what I was taught my whole life that it represents: celebration and a good time. Of course that happens, how could it not? So far, it seems to help to just reel myself back in and remind myself that it’s all an illusion and think back on my drinking and what it was actually like. Guzzle a box of wine and catapult myself right into black-out home alone. Oh yeah, some celebration! What I want to point out though is that the pull of the beast is strong, but how it’s perhaps a little misunderstood. Or wrongly perceived, rather – that it’s not there because of a bunch of flaws in ME but because I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that this thing brings me good stuff. Having said that, I clearly react to alcohol in a way that some people (aka non-alcoholics) don’t, so I do also believe that SOMETHING is different in my wiring but one doesn’t have to exclude the other. Example – I could be allergic to kiwi fruit, like my kiwi husband quite ironically is. So I could be brainwashed into thinking that eating kiwi fruit will bring me benefits at the same time as I react to it in an unfortunate way that non-kiwi fruit allergic people would. As if poor hubby believed eating kiwi fruit would sprinkle glitter on life and insist on eating it in spite of his allergic reaction. That’s what alcoholism is for me – this thing I react so badly to but drank because I thought it put a sparkle on life.

Another voice in the huge flood wave of thoughts that I’ve enjoyed hearing is Russell Brand and his thoughts around recovery. I’d say Brand’s views appear to be very in line with the AA way but his approach is more straight forward, plus of course he has an engaging way with words that I believe is easier to relate to than the now somewhat dated voice of the Big Book. Besides, when it comes to the 12 steps I do firmly believe we would all be better off for doing them and Brand has a really excellent way of interpreting the program – some people might hate his way but I like it a lot, he strikes a chord for me and when he sells spirituality I find myself opening my purse, not holding it more tightly. Uhm, that sounded a bit dirty but it wasn’t meant to, sorry. Either way, I pick bits here and there from him too, as I do with AA, Easyway, blogs and the rest.

That all got a bit waffly, I realise that. But perhaps it illustrates how I view alcoholism and sobriety when it comes to myself, how I’m finding truth in a whole bunch of places and figuring out what works for me at the same time as I accept that it’s not going to be the same for everyone. To be honest I don’t give a shit if you follow this method or that, whether you go to AA meetings everyday or keep sober by doing cartwheels around the house each morning – whatever works for you is bloody perfect!

Today it’s 150 days of sobriety and tomorrow it’ll be five months – I’m pleased as punch! I think when I first quit, if I’d realised my five month anniversary would fall on midsummer – by far the biggest (and wettest!!) celebration in the Swedish calendar, I would have groaned with despair. Now? No biggie. Alcohol brings me nothing but crap, remember? It’s a shift in my thinking that’s happened during these almost five months of sobriety and I do hope my brain doesn’t get tricked back into thinking booze brings positives. Always easy? No. But it’s not exactly hard to be present, alive and feeling physically and mentally well and strong. Life will serve up its usual greatness and the occasional curve balls, but whatever happens I know it’s infinitely better and I’m much better placed to cope with it all when I don’t poison myself.

Today I’m not going to have a drink.

Fascinators and Phallic Symbols

Today is the kind of day when I actually feel like drinking would be a great idea,” I said as I adjusted my fascinator.

Hubby smiled as he drove into the car park of Ascot Racecourse, kind of chuckled a “hmh!” that wasn’t in approval or disapproval but just sort of a half grunt response to acknowledge that he’d heard me. And it was only a thought but it was nice that he heard me and that helped it fade very quickly, because that’s one of my best defences: speaking it out loud. When the thought comes, I let it out. I put words to it and it goes away. Boom. I allow those thoughts when they come a’knockin’ and I deliberately invite them in. Foolish perhaps, but I feel trying to shut them out or suppress them might be worse. And voicing them to someone else, most often to hubby, makes me feel safe, it’s almost like the urge gets closed down the moment I share it (same strategy as why it’s good to share in AA meetings I guess). Fine, so I know full well that if the beast got its claws into me there’s nothing anyone else could do. If I were to decide I was going to drink, nothing would – or could – stop me. But it does help to not be alone, because alone is where the beast prefers me to be. It’s in its nature to strip all semblance of a life away from the alcoholic, isolate her, shrink her world and slowly edge her towards death. And it goes without saying that voicing a fear to someone we trust means we weaken the beast – telling someone is, I think, the best thing we can do when we’re in harm’s way. Alcohol can’t speak, of course, but if it could it’d coax us drunks in the same way an abuser would – urge us that this is our little secret, threaten us with worse if we snitch and ultimately have us believe they are our only friend and no one else would understand or believe us anyway.

So anyway, we settled on our picnic blanket and it struck me how strange this little piece of Britishness is. There we were, dressed up to the nines and having paid more than we would have for a couple of concert tickets to even be there, yet we were sitting on a picnic blanket in a car park between rows of cars and eating food and snacks and strawberries straight out of the packets. You’re not allowed to enter if the shoulder straps of your dress are not of a minimum width, but eat your lunch with plastic cutlery is no problem. But this is what you do. People around us had picnic furniture and several with table cloths and even flower vases. It’s quite lovely and a little eccentric I think, this car park picnic thing, and I do love the wonderful British people who inhabit (and allow me to inhabit too) this lovely island and partake in their quirky ways.

The thought of drinking alcohol disappeared but for a brief moment when we were on the stands ahead of a race and I thought to myself that it was hard enough to negotiate steps and lawns in high heels and felt grateful I don’t have to drink anymore. We did go three years ago, and I drank then. I don’t think I got recklessly drunk, but then I rarely did when we were out – my full-on drinking always took place at home, much in line with aforementioned dirty little secret and isolation. For that reason, I was usually extremely restless and anxious to get away in order to get on with getting sloshed, and my guess is I must have been keen to get home after a couple of hours. Not so these days though and this is one of the biggest changes for me now that I’m sober: I get to be present, I can relax in the moment and just enjoy it. No stress, no hurry. Like many other awesome benefits to sobriety, this is utterly wonderful and I always did really hate the restlessness booze filled me with – I’d go as far as to say it was unbearable.

And that brings me to the greatest thing of all – quitting drinking has given me my freedom back!

That’s not to say I never feel anxious, restless or down. I don’t like flying so feel anxious when I have to get on a plane. I get restless when I feel done with one thing and want to move on to the next, like when hubby takes an eternity to finish off a coffee after a meal – we have already spent two hours sitting here and I am all ambiance’d out, ta. I feel down when something sad happens or when something hurts. Of course I feel all those things, but I feel them when there is a reason to. When I drank I’d frequently experience those feelings almost like they were a default setting. Thank God I’m free from that and only need to feel bad when there is a reason to do so. Oh, and I get a bit sad when it’s the time of the month, I really do feel the fluctuation in hormone levels and I once ended up crying watching Friends when I had my period. But you know what I mean, don’t you? Those feelings aren’t my natural way of being. They are quite the opposite, I’ve discovered. It has really amused me to realise that I’m actually pretty calm when I used to think of myself as highly strung and antsy. Who would’ve known?

Of course you end up feeling free when you’re no longer a slave. Now I go into situations for what they are as opposed to being distracted (and stressed) by how to factor in my drinking and all that this entailed. It’s still a novelty, actually, because I catch myself feeling little hints of stress that dissolve the moment I remember I don’t have to drink anymore and it’s replaced by a sense of gratitude.

Another blogger wrote something that made me think – how us dry alcoholics can feel utterly convinced and super strong about never wanting to drink again one day, then feel like hitting the bottle the next. That’s probably the scariest thing about alcoholism as far as I’m concerned, because as I’ve bleated on about in this blog I really DO see all the benefits (and necessity, of course) of total abstinence. I also know with the rational part of my brain that alcohol does nothing for me and that I’d be better off eating dog shit if I feel like doing something both stupid and pointless. Yet, the compulsion is so strong that it still pulls at me. That’s terrifying because what in God’s name does it have on me when I honestly KNOW it does nothing for me? When I know that it’ll just go to shit if I have a drink, why does it still hold some power over me? Well, I don’t know. Do you? Any theories? It honestly is – to me – like an abusive partner. You go back time and time again, but WHY when all they do is cause you harm? It’s maddening!! All I know right now is that this thing that I don’t actually want to do is occasionally tempting, and that’s enough to respect its power massively. I guess I’ll just always have to remember the beast is much bigger than I am.

In other news, this weekend is the most important celebration of the year for us Swedes – midsummer! We mark the lightest point of the year by getting very, very drunk and dance like little frogs around a phallic symbol. This year we’re heading over to a friend of mine and will binge on various Swedish delicacies and I suppose I’ll be on water or alco-free beer. And yes – just then there was a little ping! in my head and I conjured up images of hubby and I having a midsummer celebration picnic in the park and drinking wine. The association with fun and a great time is so strong. So strong that even though I know that those images are illusions, they still have a firm hold on me.

For anyone interested in celebrating midsummer like a Swede, here’s an instruction video:

Today I’m not going to drink.