High Fives and Potassium

Somewhere right now, this very morning, there’s a woman who is at a guess on to her second or third ready mixed gin and slimline tonic. Is she a neighbour? Or did she head to a supermarket sufficiently far away that she wouldn’t run the risk of bumping into someone she knows? Did she drink an insane amount last night and now desperate to escape the hell of a hangover? Had she even planned all this and booked today off in advance? I tried not to look because I know how those looks hurt. I went about my business as quickly as I could because I know how that shame burns inside, doing my best to appear as though it could have been fresh bagels and a pint of milk she clutched close to her chest. Four cans of two types of ready mixed gin and tonic, one a can with some pink pattern (very feminine!) that I don’t recall having seen before. No eye contact, I made sure of that to spare her the pain of human interaction but perhaps I was frightened of the emptiness and sorrow I might find there. I tried not to see, wanted to allow her invisibility because I know oh so well what it’s like to be closed off in your addiction. I know what it’s like to hand over your dirty haul to the check-out person and how it’s more painful if they are nice and friendly. Cold transaction, anonymous and invisible, eyes to the floor, fight to keep shaky hands steady to put a card to the reader, hope your presence never registered and you’re forgotten even before you leave.

It’s amazing how much you see even when you make a conscious effort not to and look away. It’s also amazing how much you can feel and how no amount of effort will afford you respite from sadness.

Damp hair combed back, face free of make-up and a gentle scent of something flowery and fresh that trailed behind her. Showered. Recognised the running tights I’ve been waiting for to hit the Sweaty Betty sales because I already have a patterned pair and they are £95 so I can’t quite justify another pair full price. Wedding ring and a pretty impressive engagement ring capturing the light in a way her eyes didn’t. Not that any of this matters. I wouldn’t have felt more sad if she’d been wearing a fucking tiara or if her clothes had been dirty and torn. What breaks my heart is how I think she felt, how I think I might know what was going through her mind. Did she clock me? Did she notice how my eyes fell on the cans and how I immediately averted my gaze? Or was she too caught up in feeling too shamed, broken and dirty to take anything in?

I’d got my pretzels from the bakery section (creature of habit much?) and was standing by the fridge with smoothies, slightly dismayed that Gorgeous Greens was out and instead settled for a much smaller bottle of Naked Green Machine which I don’t like as much because it contains banana and I fucking hate banana. Good for you though, and during my drinking days I forced myself to eat them or drink smoothies containing them because I’d heard or read somewhere they contain potassium and this apparently helps put you right when you destroy yourself with alcohol. When I stood there was when I noticed her, she had her back to me and was surveying the chilled alcohol section and in particular the selection of small, ready mixed cans – G&T, Pimms, rum and coke, Jack Daniels with whatever mixer, etc.

Would I even have noticed or paid any attention if that hadn’t been me not so long ago? Although, to be fair, morning drinking I never QUITE fell into. Still. On the relatively few occasions that I did, it was never wine or beer – the mornings I did suffer so badly I resorted to drinking, it was… bingo…. the ready mixed gin and tonics in their pretty, pretty packaging. When you’re truly in the seventh circle of hell and feel so goddamn awful you can barely stand up, when your heart is beating so hard and fast it feels like it’s about to jump out of your chest and you’re genuinely terrified that you’ve finally gone and broken it – in that moment you need to get something in you FAST. It’s that or landing in the back of an ambulance under the guise of a “panic attack” or anything else that can be blamed on anything other than your drinking. Although it IS panic and I guess ‘attack’ is pretty accurate too. Weak people don’t become alcoholics – they don’t have the strength. It requires a serious, hard core badass to not only swallow but also hold down alcohol before breakfast. Beer is too gross in the morning and wine is too sharp. Those ready mixed, feminine, sweet, gentle G&Ts though – perfect. Sure, the alcohol content is enough to make you shudder, but if you try hard enough it’s not much worse than a Red Bull. They’re easier to hold and you need to keep them down if you’re going to be put back together again. And you can chug one of those small-ish cans down in two or three brave swigs.

Well. I think you can probably tell that this is something I remember very, very well. And whilst THAT sort of morning was in the grand scale of things for me quite rare, the shame is the same when you only put a box of wine and a bottle of soda into your basket on a Tuesday afternoon. Eyes to the floor.

I wonder now where she is and how she is. It’s a couple of hours ago. Through three by now? Race through the first in a panic and desperate but futile attempt to stop the terror, feel immediately calmer when it’s not only down but seems to stay put? Then more slowly through the second. And now the beast is waking. Four cans? Don’t make me laugh! All gone by lunch time if not before. Head out and get on the wine. Blacked out by early afternoon. Perhaps even sleep. Then back again. Twice in one day. This would have been a very extreme example for me, but it has happened and more than once. Had I not stopped this would soon have become my daily routine. That window of time between the last drink and starting again was shrinking more and more. And this isn’t where it ends. This is where you still shower. And buy Sweaty Betty gym gear. And have a marriage and a family. There are even more horrifying depths you can sink to. And you do. Without mercy and without exception. Unless you find your way out.

Or, I have it all wrong! She’d showered after hitting the gym at 6am and was just buying a smoothie. She’s going to have some friends over later. Or her husband loves G&T and she needed to get a bunch for this evening. Could be it? I could have seen something that wasn’t there, but there was something about her demeanor, her way and her eyes. Eyes to the floor. Oh well, I could be wrong. I often am.

Now I look up. I see the world around me and I wonder if it was always this way. People smile at me. Not just polite little smiles the way you politely smile when you end up having eye contact, I mean full on SMILE smiles. I think on the park there is an unspoken female code that seems to happen just by default. Pass another female runner and be met by a smile. Almost without fail. But beyond this too. On a run last week, I think it might even have been the run when I ran for 25 minutes without stopping for the first time, as I was approaching home, I passed this lady. She was in smart work clothes and looked like she’d just come off the bus and was heading home. Just before passing she gave me this SMILE smile. I smiled back as best I could through my pain and panting. Perhaps she felt the way I do when I pass someone I can tell is working really hard – when I do, I feel a real sense of “hey you, you’re doing great!” and feel happy. Perhaps it was a smile of encouragement? There was a young woman I passed probably a month ago, when I was struggling to keep jogging for more than a couple of minutes in one go. She was struggling too but I’ve never seen anyone look so determined (or pained!). Very large chick and everything wobbled and bounced but she kept at it. I gathered what little breath I could, tried to smile but it was probably a grimace and hissed “good work!” just as we were a metre away from passing, neither of us going fast and both freaking dying. “You too!” she gasped, smiled and raised her hand in a high five. GIRL POWER! Stuff like that makes me so happy. Anyway. Now that my eyes are no longer on the floor the world seems to be such a friendly, loving and kind place. It’s pretty spectacular actually.

So it makes me feel so sad when I see someone whose eyes are on the floor. I wish I could show them what they’d see if they looked up.

Today I’m not going to drink.

For the Sexy Bunch

More than once I’ve bleated on about the importance of my tribe, but it really cannot be over emphasised how valuable it’s been for me to find others who are also sober (or trying/wanting/fighting to be). There’s always a nugget of truth in other people’s stories and sometimes an absolute juggernaut of clarity that hits you in solar plexus like a meteorite. My tribe can be found here in the blogosphere, in FB sobriety groups and other sobriety “clubs”. In a FB group I’m part of someone posted the best thing I’ve seen in quite a while. This particular soberista had been on a tour to a gin distillery and had posted the below photos – I am posting them here with her permission to nick them and a promise not to make any mention of her name plus use my own words. This obviously goes without saying but we’re strictly speaking strangers so sometimes it’s reassuring to underline online etiquette. Us sober folk never out anyone other than ourselves, such is the Law of Sobriety. Besides, in all my blogging years – these past eight+ months on here and the previous decade elsewhere – I’ve never named anyone except myself, always using nicknames plus ensuring I never make anyone identifiable.

Anyway. This lady described this fancy tour in the sexy gin distillery – hey, gin really IS bringing sexy back, isn’t it? Don’t know about where you are, but here in the UK it’s currently THE drink for yoga loving, health conscious women. Oh yeah, fuck wheat grass and quinoa – hard liquor is where it’s at! That’s its current marketing target audience, it seems. Fewer calories than wine (because if we’re thin we’re better, right, so what better way than shaming us into choosing one particular drink over another?) and you should see the vast selection of tonic water you can now get – the mixer is now an entire market in itself, it’s insane! Forget tired old Schweppes – Fever Tree is where it’s all at now, heard of it? You must have! You can barely set foot in a pub here in the UK without its logo raining down on you like confetti in the shape of beer mats, garden furniture umbrellas and napkins. Anyway, it’s HUGE, and gin has made an amazing job of reinventing itself as the drink to be seen with – it helps to have sexy friends and Fever Tree has proved a perfect, sexy wing man. So this tour in the distillery was of course ramming all of that home apparently – it was sexy, cool and sophisticated and the tour guide spoke with reverence about the various stages of distillation and the TLC and expertise going into each part of the process to produce this magnificent, sexy motherfucker of a drink. Gin – the drink for the intelligent, successful and sssssssexy bunch! Yeah!

The finest ingredients, the most refined distilling process, the best qualified people to do it all and everything about it is just top fucking notch. And then they add the key ingredient. This:

Amazingly, according to the lady who posted it, the guide proudly pointed this barrel out too. It wasn’t like my sober tribe friend had sneaked away from the group and found this damning piece of evidence after breaking and entering any “staff only” or “top secret” area closed to the public and then bravely exposed them for using poison that could kill us. Oh no, in full view. Ethanol is the new black, friends! Complete with symbols to illustrate that this is a hazardous, dangerous, poisonous and highly flammable ingredient. Come on, think about it, how many things in your fridge, freezer, cupboards and larder have symbols like this? On stuff you add to things you eat or drink? Would you sprinkle a herb that had a label saying it’s flammable on to stuff you’re cooking? Never mind eat it? Serve something poisonous to your family? Encourage someone to ingest something that’s actually a dangerous substance? I mean in a non-want-to-poison-them kind of way.

She’d worded it so perfectly – it literally is one of those things you could see going viral because it hits the nail on the head so goddamn perfectly – but again, if this ever got shared it’ll be for her to do so herself, not me or anyone else. She kindly let me nick the photos, so that’s what I’ve done and so all I can do is give photo credit to a fellow sober sister. Even without her eloquent, hard hitting words, can you see what I mean though? Can you imagine the tour she was on? And in contrast with this barrel? Perhaps only a sober drunk like me will react like this. Are you one of those magical unicorn moderate drinkers? What do you see when you look at the images? Is it just a case of “well yeah, so what” or does this have a bit of an effect on you too? For me, when I saw this, it just summed up how I feel so perfectly it made my jaw drop – quite literally. I read the post with my mouth open. Awesome!

Do you know what? I realise it’s probably hugely irritating to read this if you are indeed one of the people I know in real life and who therefore would have witnessed how I used to drink. Nothing worse than double standards, is there? And here I am, an alcoholic who put away amounts of wine so staggering it’s a small wonder there’s anything left for you lot to drink at ALL! And now I’m preaching and ranting about how poisonous alcohol is! I get it – it’s enough to throw up in your mouth a little. Or a lot. But there we are. I’m sorry, not sorry – these are the things I’m beginning to see. I do want to show the same kindness, courtesy and respect I have myself been afforded by everyone around me, and therefore want to make it clear that I judge no one. I frequently enjoy going to the pub with hubby and friends and I would never start a righteous sermon or condemn anyone else’s choices. I do understand that some of you are able to handle alcohol in a way that I never could. I also accept that some of you enjoy it. It’s not for me to question any of that, so can I just be clear on that the problem drinking I refer to on this blog is my own! Gosh, I’ve enviously glanced over at you my entire adult life wishing I had an off-switch like you seem to.

Having said all of that, here’s an interesting one… If someone told me they could cure me of alcoholism, wave their magic wand over me or do a medical procedure or give me a pill, leaving me JUST LIKE YOU. Transform me into being wired the way you non-alkies are so that I could skip on over to the pub this afternoon, have a couple of beers with hubby and then go on our merry way without me then necking a couple of bottles of wine back home, instead just enjoy booze the way hubby can… Would I want that? No. Honest to God, hand on my heart, I swear on my son’s life – no. This, though, probably comes back to how I no longer have any reasons to drink because all of those did a runner on me. It doesn’t do anything for me, there’s nothing positive about it. Would I want those positive things I once THOUGHT alcohol gave me if I could have them with no consequences health- or otherwise? I.e. add to the fun, sprinkle glitter on life, make happy happier, etc. Sure! Absolutely I would! And why the hell not? But that was all in my head and in reality wine does none of those things for me, so it’s an irrelevant question.

Anyway. There is part of me that wonders if, in the future, my son will sit there with his grandchildren and tell them about a time when alcohol was legal. And not only legal, socially acceptable as well as encouraged! And his grandchildren staring at him and laughing out loud at old booze adverts glamourising alcohol. Perhaps he’ll say “Mum had a tough time with it, she made a descent into alcoholism, but fought her way out just as the tide was turning and alcohol started to become less acceptable. But you know, kids, when she quit, it was actually still the case that she had to explain why she no longer drank alcohol – can you believe it?!“. I do wonder if my son will be telling that story and whether he and his grandchildren will laugh at those insane adverts like we now look back on cigarette adverts from the 70s that attempt to make smoking sexy. Or even at how crazy it is that the soberista who shared about the gin distillery tour was also shown – by the tour guide!! – the poisonous ingredient without it seeming all that crazy to anyone that poison was added to something we’re going to put into our bodies. I wonder.

Today I’m not going to drink.

246 Days

More of these beautiful autumn days and Londres is looking mighty fine in its fall finery. Drove through the park on my usual long-cut to work, listening to the radio and stopping at the Sainsbury’s at the end of the High Street to buy a couple of pretzels and my usual tipple: Gorgeous Greens by Innocent. The large, version of course – some things don’t change, right? 750ml of apple, pear, kale and something called baobab. A bottle of wine’s worth of good stuff instead of a box’s worth (i.e. three bottles…!) of really bad stuff and I’m not just referring to the poor quality of the wine. This feels good. Habits really aren’t all that hard to break, at worst it’s a little strange to begin with – like changing jobs and taking a left out of the train station after being used to taking a right – and stopping drinking was of course mostly down to changing my thinking, not so much to do with my habits. Changing how we think is NOT easy but so totally worth it. Well, if it means escaping destructive behaviours anyway!

Again, as I have so often over the past few months, I sit here and my legs and backside are sore from the gym and running. Those box jumps are a killer. That’s really good pain! It’s pain that tells me that my body has worked and is getting stronger. Gets those endorphins going too so I end up feeling like superwoman. Not like the pain of a hangover when you feel like you’re 100 years old, sick as a dog and going through severe depression. Fuck me, it’s good to be alive, no?

As the title of this post should highlight, as always when it just states the number of days I’ve been sober, I have very little to add today. I feel good and I am happy. There is nothing really that is pushing its way into my thoughts, today is just another day of living but then again that in itself is bloody awesome. I don’t know what I did a year ago today, but I can almost promise you that I was battling a hangover and had to use all my strength to just get through the day. Or maybe it was one of those rare days when I didn’t? Impossible to say, but chances are it was the former. The majority of my days I spent wrecked. It’s only been eight months so of course I remember those days well, and I do make a conscious effort to keep those memories fresh in my mind. It seems impossible that I’d ever forget how bad it got, but you never know – my alcoholic brain has played crazier tricks on me than that, lemme tell ya.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Gutsy Assumptions and Waffle

I won’t lie – there was part of me that hoped (fine – believed) that I’d come away from today’s meeting with a clearer path ahead and some paid hours for whatever bit-jobs the rehab centre might offer. What I come away with is something much more positive that further reinforces some of the things sobriety has been teaching me all along: 1) work is required, 2) easy does it, and 3) progress not perfection. Whilst that might all sound a little muddled, those are probably the most important lessons I’ve learned over these eight months – EIGHT MONTHS!!!!! – I’ve been sober.

OK, let’s stop right there and please can I have a huge hallelujah because I hit eight months this last Sunday, all together now: HALLELUJAH! It’s my blog and I brag if I want to. There, done – patting myself on the back and smiling smugly – and let’s move on.

Back to the task at hand, which is to stay sober and recover who I am meant to be and do all I can to become the very best version of me. Going to see the manager and one of the senior recovery workers at this rehab is part of all of that as I work out whether my little place in this world might be to pay it forward. As I told them during our conversation, I wonder if this is a very natural part of getting sober. Every goddamn morning when I have my coffee I’m filled with such gratitude for feeling healthy and strong – or free from crippling hangovers, rather – that it makes me tearful. Yes, it’d seem that Sober Me is the kind of unbearable twat who will watch the sunrise and cry tears of joy. I cringe just writing that, but it’s true and no wonder! I feel like I imagine that paralysed dude did when Jesus told him to take his bed and go – suddenly he has the use of his legs again! And much like walking to him must have felt like all his dreams coming true, living without drinking and all the crap it brings is for me nothing short of a miracle. So yes, morning coffee and sunrises do strike me as wondrous and magical – every time.

Gosh, do I waffle!

Where were we? Oh yes, a natural part of getting sober! I reckon it’s probably a very natural reaction to want to pass on the gift of sobriety. All the things I wish I could have told and shown Drunk Me. I want to look after that Anna who felt so hopeless and alone in her addiction, hiding in plain sight as she struggled to hold together some semblance of a life. I feel genuinely heartbroken for those who are still trapped by their addictions and, perhaps like me at one point, don’t see a way out. Beyond all of that, the subject of addiction and how our brains get highjacked fascinates me enormously. Who knows, perhaps when I’ve been sober eight years – gutsy assumption, eh! – it’ll be a different story and I’ll find myself doing something completely different altogether, but all I have is NOW and this feels right. But this is where these sobriety lessons I mentioned earlier come in and Full Throttle Anna – my default setting drunk OR sober – has to switch gears and accept that hey, easy does it. This is in absolute conflict with every fibre of my being and it’s so fucking good for me for that very reason. Slow down, girl. It’s early days. Get that hobbit foot in the door, peek in through the gap. You don’t even know what’s in there, easy now and take it as it comes.

I’ve plunged head first into this, that and what-the-fuck all my life – packed one thing in and thrown myself into the next without much thought except wanting to get away from the last one – and in sobriety I’m suddenly discovering that it’s not the world that has to adapt to me, it’s the other freaking way around. What the hell is up with THAT? I thought the deal was that it’s all about me, me, ME?? Jeez.

Take running. Just a few weeks ago, running for just three minutes was pure torture and the first time the app told me to run for five minutes at a time (it’s a running app that builds up to 10k) I didn’t manage to do it the first time. Gasping for air, I had to stop and walk as I only managed four minutes. Full Throttle Anna obviously expected to be Mo Farah from the word go and it turned out I wasn’t, because even Mo fucking Farah didn’t win any gold medals without effort and it turns out I’m only human too. Anyway. Then last week, a couple of days before my brother and nephews arrived, the app told me to warm up for five minutes and then run for 25 whole minutes in one go. AND I DID. And fuck me, it felt GOOD! For the first time in years, I experienced that amazing feeling again when it feels good to run. I was knackered towards the end, but there was definitely a bit there during the first half of it when it was pure enjoyment. And it’s because I’m working at it. I’m building up little by little. The gym is a shit storm every time and God knows if I’ll ever enjoy it, but the running is beginning to feel really, really good. I can tell my body is getting stronger – because I’ve worked at it and I continue to do so.

That’s the key to everything now: I have to work at it. My sobriety and running are two examples – both fairly new and I’m not about to proclaim myself a sobriety guru any more than I’m ready to run the New York marathon. One step at a time, though. And why not aim high? Ambitions aren’t the same as arrogance. I may be on the Pink Cloud still and I do feel quite confident (simply because I don’t want to drink) but don’t take that to mean I believe I have this sussed – I’m forever glancing over my shoulder. And it’ll forever mean work. This thing too, about potentially finding a place where I can prove myself useful within the field of addiction and recovery. Work. And work. And then work. That may sound like a hard slog but don’t forget that with it I get sunrises that make me tearful and feeling good when I run.

So here we are and easy does it. First off, I need a year of sobriety under my belt. This makes sense for lots of reasons, not least because the longer we remain sober the less likely we are to fall back (the brain pathways end up doing lots of clever stuff in the first year or so, which also helps strengthen our resolve) but also I suspect a year does show commitment and a good amount of…. ..yep – work. I guess it’s sort of proving ourselves. I mean, stopping drinking isn’t all that bad. It’s the staying stopped that’s the real bitch and you need a decent stretch of sobriety to gauge how you’re doing so I suppose a year does seem like a sensible goal post initially. Secondly, it’s also a matter of me working out where I’ll fit in (or indeed, if I’ll fit in at all!) and so it looks as though the best place to start is by volunteering. Now that I don’t have any drinking to lie about, hide and maintain, I stuck with the honest approach and outlined what I consider realistic to give and that would at a glance be afternoons after work and the odd Saturday. Every other Saturday perhaps. It’d be silly to over promise, and I’m not willing to compromise too much time with hubby and Bambino. I need to get a DBS check but that’s a formality I suppose and I don’t have a criminal record so should be straight forward, and then we’ll go from there. Where or what I’m sure will become clear eventually. And that’s cool.

I feel hopeful. I’m going in to this for the right reasons and I’m willing to do the work. I’m still me and always will be, so absolutely there is part of me who wants to either have it all now or at least have a clear outline so I’ll at least know WHEN I’ll have it all, but strangely I’m finding that Sober Me is actually very, very OK with this. The reason? Perhaps it’s because Sober Me is discovering that those things we have to work for are worth so much more. Even more shocking, Sober Me seems to enjoy having to work to get what she wants. Fuckinell, this is worse than the fucking tears at the fucking sunrise, what’s the world coming to??! You know, I would always have told you I was good at the sprint but not the marathon (and I think this is always going to be true to some extent) but then Sober Me showed up and it turns out I’m learning to like the continuous effort of working towards a goal. Or working to maintain something that is valuable – like my sobriety.

When I was told about the one year of sobriety they like to see before taking people on, I wanted to say “OK, great, see you then“, smile arrogantly in a David Brent-esque manner, give them a wink and a hand gesture illustrating double barrels, but I’m not THAT cocky. I don’t take a single day sober for granted because whilst drinking to me right now is still as appealing as eating dog shit, I also know that addiction is a fucking sly and cunning beast that I’ll never be safe from. Not completely anyway. I forced that beast into a cage but it doesn’t have a lock and I can never forget that, nor look away for too long. So I feel HOPEFUL I will get to the 23rd January next year and be able to say I’m one year sober. I hope I will. Wouldn’t that be something?

Easy does it. Frustrates the fuck out of me, but does me a world of good.

Today I’m not going to drink.

work

Shitty, Shitty Monday

Shitty, shitty, SHITTY Monday! Yep – it’s a thoroughly bad one and I’m utterly hating it. The positive side of me is trying to get my attention by pointing out that shitty Mondays are really rare, but I’m too caught up in this shit storm to take any notice. But that’s OK. As far as sobriety goes, it doesn’t make me want to drink and that’s all that really matters. I’m in my gym gear, as it happens, in order to head straight there from work. I’m sure lunges and box jumps will do my sudden bad mood lots of good. And tomorrow morning I’m meeting with the two guys at the recovery services so with any luck I can sail in to work afterwards and resign. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Nope, my job isn’t terrible or anything. In fact – and I’ve said this before – I work for super lovely people and there’s lots about this gig that’s awesome. But my heart is not in it, plus my first two years I was in active alcoholism and did such a shocking job I’ve never really been able to dig myself out. OK, that’s making excuses, I could have tidied the mess up several times over and it just hasn’t happened.

This part time easy job thing I actually went for as it was meant to bring in some money whilst I gave the writing a shot. As honest as my intentions were, I now see that it just gave me a bit of a breather and freed me up to drink with abandon. Well, I always drank with abandon but it’s easier to do so when you’re not under massive pressure. It’s amazing what you can make yourself believe when you’re in active addiction – I would have sworn on my son’s life that this job worked because it allowed me to pursue greater passions. I would have looked you straight in the eye and I would have known this in my heart to be true. I honestly believed it. It needs to go. It belongs in the past with my drinking. And even without all of that, it’s not for me and although I can’t actually answer accurately as to why I’ve made such a dog’s dinner of it perhaps some truth lies in how it was part of a life I no longer lead?

Who knows, but there we are – it’s a shitty Monday!

Today I’m not going to drink.

Eyeball Deep In Denial

As I continue my inventory of my past and survey my experiences and people I’ve known, I stumble across my last e-mail exchange with a friend I’ve previously referred to on here as Linda, which of course isn’t her real name. I much prefer the monikers I come up with, so from now on I’ll call her Tumbler. This is a reference to her pouring the largest amount of whisky I’ve ever seen anyone drink from a tumbler. I’m never been a whisky drinker but it’s usually a shot of, say, 25ml right? Tumbler poured aaaaaall the way to the top as you would a glass of water. Just like my glasses of wine were more like pint glasses, but THAT part I conveniently ignored and focused instead on how she poured all that whisky. Fuck me. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Our last e-mails are from April 2014. As I more and more discover is the case, my alcoholic, eyeball deep in denial brain has added its own spin on what we said to each other in terms of what was stored in my memory.

This is how my alkie brain would have me think back on it:

Tumbler tells me about two serious relapses, one during which she nearly died due to taking strong painkillers with all the booze and another where she got locked up at a psychiatric ward.

This is what is actually said and the bit that my denial has stripped from my conscious is that she, the alkie, is deeply worried about ME. I mean, what the hell? I’m FIIIIIIIINE! Someone had posted something alcohol related on my Facebook page, I think it was champagne glasses and “cheers to you!” for some reason – not sure what the context was and my birthday is in February so can’t have been that. Anyway. Tumbler had taken it upon herself to comment that I should NOT have alcohol to celebrate and also then went on to contact the person who’d posted the champagne comment (who was a mutual friend) to say she shouldn’t post stuff like that because I, Anna, was sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Now this was of course totally true! It takes one to know one, and just like I can spot a fellow problem drinker, Tumbler had sniffed me out like a blood hound. So it was me who started the exchange. It’s fascinating to read now. It makes me cringe and it makes me squirm. I was SO ready to speak with Tumbler about HER problems but was still entrenched in my stubborn denial and belief that I just binged a little too much. OK, deep down I knew – of course I did – but I pushed all of that away so deep down I was able to ignore it. And of course felt really offended that she would think I was in trouble! Perhaps I also conveniently forgot that just like she confided in me, I also confided in her and perhaps my tongue had loosened given we were both drunk during some conversations. Me in London, she in Florida.

Here it is, and I’m so ashamed of it I can barely make myself put it here, but this is the Era of Brutal Honesty. I’ve left out the irrelevant bits, where we talk about our kids and work and stuff, only leaving the booze related conversation. Read and weep!

Anna to Tumbler:

I don’t know how to interpret your comment on my Facebook, that I actually removed – I got a couple of messages asking me if I’m OK, not because of the post itself but because of your comment, kind of “what does she mean?”. So I suppose I’m asking you! 🙂 Was just wondering what you hinted at that is “off the wall” and/or what it is about me that “needs to be straightened out”?

Tumbler to Anna:

I’m surprised my comments on your Facebook are so sensitive. It also worries me as it feels as though you’re constantly trying to protect yourself from other people worrying about you. But we ARE worried about you. You have said yourself that you have no breaks.

Anna to Tumbler:

I think, hand on heart, that I’m generally sensitive to criticism which isn’t a great quality to have. My spontaneous reaction if anything is questioned, regardless how tactfully, is to get my heckles up. Well, before I have thought it through anyway. When someone asked if I was OK, I thought perhaps I’d posted something when I’ve been drunk and you’d got worried for that reason – THAT would be the only thing I’d be sensitive to. Do you see what I mean? In the moment I wondered so I asked and underlined that everything’s fine. And I don’t blame you, just so you know! After all, no breaks.

Tumbler to Anna:

I know full well that you have to hide the boozing in order not to be exposed to the wrong people, that’s what I had to do for many years. And this worry that you’ve written something on FB when drunk I also recognise fully, there’s a fear there. I am so glad I openly went out on FB about my addiction because no one can use it against me today.

But I have recently had two serious relapses. I’d been drinking one evening but felt I hadn’t had enough and because I didn’t have the energy or ability to get more alcohol I decided to munch my Oxycodone, a narcotic medication my spine doctor prescribes so I’ll be able to get to sleep. It’s for my chronic ache and I take one pill every evening. This evening I took several and it ended in me not breathing. Luckily D was at home, he’d just got back from a trip. He discovered I wasn’t breathing and did First Aid until the ambulance arrived. I have no memory of what happened between when I took the pills and waking up in the ambulance. Had to stay at hospital for three days and D was busy covering up what had happened as he had to get our staff to take my shifts. :/

Just three weeks later I’d drunk so much D ended up calling the police who took me to the psych ward. He didn’t think I’d go voluntarily and I was furious as three police officers came to get me and handcuffed me. So I was at the psych ward for three days and D had to once again ask our staff to cover my shifts as well as hiding from everyone what had actually happened. After the first day when I was battling the hangover I had a really fun time. A woman in her 60s was admitted on the Sunday, a nurse who was under too much stress and had herself decided to get admitted. She and I found each other straight away and on the Sunday evening we sat there with gossip magazines in our laps, talked about celebrities and giggled like little girls. Lol. She was sad when I was discharged quickly, which happened because I had gone with the police voluntarily. If I’d resisted, the American law concerning arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour had applied and they’d been able to keep me in for longer.

Oh well, that’s that and I’m over it. Now I feel great and working as usual. I don’t know if D is over that I stopped breathing, it must have been traumatic for him. His second wife passed away from a painkiller overdose and D was the one who found her dead. That’s what played out in his mind so it was a big shock. Truth is I would be dead now if D hadn’t been home that evening.

Just short of two weeks after this exchange, Tumbler drank herself to death on her 48th birthday. I was in contact with her husband, D, some weeks later and he confirmed it was an echo of the other episode she’d told me about and she’d again taken Oxycodone. Only this time he wasn’t around to save her. What I need to point out here is that at a party or in a bar isn’t where an alcoholic is in the most danger. We’re in the most danger when we’re home alone. 

With this, I want to show how I just refused to acknowledge my problem and my absolutely crippling fear that people would see or know. How my brain has catalogued this last exchange with Tumbler is also shocking evidence of the power of denial when you compare it with what was actually said here. Without reading through our exchange, I would have probably told you – thinking I was being honest because that’s what denial does too, it makes us believe in this alternate reality – would be that I was worried about my alkie mate. Nope. My alkie friend was worried about HER alkie friend: ME.

It’s so sad, what a waste of a life. Also heard of someone else, a boy I knew in my teens, who passed away last year. Apparently his drug and alcohol fuelled psychotic episodes had reached a point where armed police would have to chase him down. 42 at the time, leaving behind a son who must now be into his 20s. It’s so utterly tragic. Tumbler had two sons, both now in their early 30s I think. It’s hard to think about. I know Bambino will have to bury me one day, but I don’t want that to be after having found me sprawled in the hallway having choked on my own vomit. Anything other than a self inflicted death like that. If I can’t give him anything else, I want to give him a mother who discovered she could save herself and showed some strength. He deserved – like all children do – to have that all along, but I cannot change the past. I can change my path though and I hope I’ll always stay on this beautiful, sober and infinitely healthier course.

This turned very sad, which isn’t my mood today at all. In fact I’m really excited because my brother D and two of my nephews (D has four boys, four beautiful blond clones) arrive tomorrow. Due to a case of slight miscommunication – aka me not listening properly due to being too caught up in myself – it turns out hubby needs his fancy A5 Sport Audi and I will now collect my three Swedes in my battered old Mini. This will add half an hour to the journey as my car doesn’t like speeds over 60mph. Quite different in fancy Audi that is smooth and steady as a blue whale at 80mph (OK, and sometimes beyond). And comfortable too. My Mini is NOT comfortable. But hey, it’ll be fun and luckily they’ll be travelling light. I measured the boot and D reassured me they won’t have any more than can fit, which is basically a toiletry bag. Anyway. I’ve booked a bunch of stuff and can’t wait to have them over – it’s a first for my brother D (and for his sons too) who’s avoided my home town of Londres due to an intense dislike of chaos and lots of people…! Bit like his sister really – sometimes I do wonder what possessed me to desert the stillness of the nature and vast forests of Värmland for the madness of this town, but strangely it became HOME from the word go. Well, I will do my best to show D his sister’s idea of home as gently as I can without missing out on the must-see tourist parts. I don’t know how gently you can introduce Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden but I’m sure it’ll work out fine.

Sobriety has not curbed my time optimism and as usual I’d gone and planned and committed to more than today can possibly contain, including a chat with the manager at a recovery facility – unfortunately I had to cancel but was able to reschedule. It really irks me to cancel stuff now that I’m sober. ‘Cancel’ was my middle name when I was an active alcoholic and I am loathe to do it now, but I also need to accept that when there are reasons other than drinking getting in the way, cancelling on occasion is actually completely acceptable. It just really didn’t sit right with me, but again I have to remember that being sober doesn’t – and won’t ever – mean I’m always going to do everything 100% right and be perfect. It’s called LIFE.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Sober is the New Black

So how do you feel about it now? Is it still strange?” hubby asked as we were sitting at opposite ends of our a-little-too-small sofa, legs across each other as we chatted about everything and nothing Saturday evening.

The truthful answer – and on this blog, truth reigns supreme – is that it isn’t. Praise to the Lord [insert joyful gospel choir here], sobriety has gone and turned into what I can only refer to as normal. I’m serious here – this deserves a HALLELUJAH!!!! My new status quo, only not that new. Feeling this good I don’t ever want to take for granted, and although that might sound glum, negative and like I want to spend my days trudging up the past, I never want to lose sight of where I came from. And where I came from was a rock bottom that had begun to feel hopeless because I was letting my life slip away from me. Suicidal drinking, remember? It’s quite easy for that to fade out when I’m waking up every morning feeling GOOD. Waking up so wrecked it’s hard to even move almost every day is further behind me for each day as the distance grows between where I’m heading and where I was. Sure, from what I’ve seen and heard, it appears to be more common to relapse early on but you do also hear of those who have been sober for YEARS – 5, 10, even 20 years!! – taking a tumble. And I wonder if it’s anything to do with getting so used to sobriety that you almost forget how bad it once got when you drank. Who knows, but for me it’s definitely the case that I have to really think about it to conjure up accurate memories.

So when hubby asked, I had to really think about it. I’ll never be able to say to you that getting sober was super easy and all rainbows and ponies, but at the same time it really has been such a gift. Cringe away, why don’t you, I’m gonna fucking say it: it is a goddamn miracle and although I’m not entirely sure who or what I’m saying thanks to (God? The universe? The raindrops that fell on my windscreen as I drove to work this morning?), I am filled with overwhelming gratitude every single day. These past almost-eight months have been amazing and yes, I have spent a lot of those on the Pink Cloud. Well, think about it! Imagine you’d been ill, very ill. So ill, in fact, that your life had felt like you were weighed down and dragging a tractor wheel everywhere you went. So ill, that unloading the dishwasher was a huge test of strength. So ill, that you could at times not leave the house. And imagine that all goes away in a matter of days and suddenly you wake up feeling well, and not only that, you also feel full of energy and can suddenly do lots of stuff. Of course it’s going to seem really quite magical that you can not only leave the house, but also stick to commitments and participate in life as opposed to just suffer through it until you can start drinking again. Of course that’s going to feel like you just won at life! This is 100% how I’ve felt these almost-eight months. It’s hard to remember what was difficult when I’m so floored by how good it feels to just be alive.

After some searching around the corners of my mind, because it did need a bit of effort, I remembered those first few weeks. Euphoria at feeling good, yes. But also restlessness because suddenly there was something missing and I felt a bit empty. The lure of the wine loomed large and it took conscious effort to avoid it. And I remembered how, unlike this Saturday evening, sitting on the sofa was really strange almost-eight months ago. This Saturday I didn’t fancy an alcohol free beer and had a glass of water instead. No internal battle or forcing myself to do this or that, just didn’t feel like it. And this afternoon I might feel like it. Or not. Whatever. I felt relaxed and at peace and I’m curled up on the sofa and chatting with my bestie. And that sums it up, I think. The restlessness is disappearing. The first few weeks I found it hard to sit still, felt I had to DO SOMETHING in order to distract myself. We went for long drives almost every evening – I’d forgotten about that! And I certainly didn’t trust myself (but then I still don’t, not completely), in fact any time hubby went away I was full-on terrified. Because I was such an excellent drunk (A* for me!) and drank almost every day, it wasn’t just my addiction, it had become a deeply ingrained habit too. What the fuck do you do at home in the evening if you don’t have a glass of wine in your hand? That glass was like a natural extension of me. And not just any glass. My wine glasses hold at a guess 400ml, these are the ones and aren’t they so pretty:

glasses

Jamie Oliver, no less and yeeeeessssah! Keep it simple! These bad boys will halve your trips to the fridge. I was wrong, they hold 350ml. To put this in perspective a standard glass of wine in the UK is 175ml and I don’t think I need to tell you that I’m not the sort of girl who wastes any space at the top except for a tiny splash of soda – my glass is always full and if it isn’t I’m fast as lightning to fill it right back up. Positive mental attitude, eh? No, it’s only very, very sad, but there we are. Point is, it was initially quite strange to not drink myself unconscious to begin with and for that reason I was restless and needed distraction. Is that bad? I don’t think so. If it meant taking long drives to stop myself from killing myself, so what? We may have added unnecessary pollution to the already questionable London air, but if that’s what it took to put some distance between me and that last glass of wine, then fair dos.

Now? Much less strange. Yes, there have been PLENTY of times when I’ve felt a tinge of restlessness and the thought has entered my mind, and there have even been a few times when I’ve actually felt ready to go and fucking do it, but those are fading too. Most of the time, the idea of having a drink makes me feel ill. No, seriously, I’m not kidding! The idea of it makes me shudder. Oh, if only you knew how grateful and over-joyed I am to feel that way! However now that restlessness is gone. Those huge Jamie Oliver glasses might even feel strange to hold, who knows, but evenings without them no longer seem odd. The idea of getting sloshed isn’t appealing even though that was – hand on heart – never the goal but something that just inevitably happened, but more so even getting tipsy seems bleak and something I just cannot see the point of.

In the early days of sobriety I likened drinking to eating dog shit. This holds true more than ever, with a slight but glorious difference! Early on, I felt I’d rather eat dog shit than give up this new lease of life sobriety has afforded me. Now, I still feel that obviously, but I am now at a stage where even the “good” bits about drinking (e.g. that warm, melty buzz) make me feel a bit ill but then again that’s entirely logical seeing as the “good” bits stopped happening. I think of a regular beer or a glass of wine and imagine the taste and it quite literally gives the same reaction as those under cooked, slimy, slithery tiger prawns I had on holiday. Yuk. Not quite dog shit but you get my drift. Dare I say it, alcohol has lost its appeal, much like my teenage crush Don Johnson was quite the dish in his Miami Vice days but now is a slightly over weight and past his prime old man with an unfortunate penchant for women a third of his age. Not attractive. Oh, who am I kidding, Don Johnson will ALWAYS be hot, ageing hasn’t done him much harm at all.

State of affairs, then: not drinking = not strange. The idea of drinking = not appealing.

You know what – I’ll take it.

Today I’m not going to drink.