Google Bazookas

Boundaries. In recovery circles this comes up a LOT. It’s an interesting concept for me because I don’t bloody have them, but now that I’m at my full wits (aka sober) it’s something I’m much better at.

I’m 100% a people pleaser. Not in a Mother Theresa kind of way or necessarily because I just want everyone to be happy, but because I am so fucking terrified of disapproval. I’m desperate for people to like me and it’s taken me all the way to almost 43 years of age to learn I don’t need to give a fuck about any of that. Yes, of course I want everyone to be happy and I really hate it when anyone – anyone at all, whether I know them or otherwise – feels unhappy, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that I’m a total suck-up is completely down to my desperate need for everyone to like me. I quite literally go cold inside any time I feel I’ve got something wrong, even if it’s something that really doesn’t matter. Case in point: in the summer we were doing some target shooting with air rifles. It was me, Bambino, hubby and my dad. I don’t bloody know shooting range code so reloaded whilst Bambino was setting up the apples we used for targets.

Anna! You can’t do that!” hubby exclaimed, “Never ever load the rifle when someone’s down there.

My dad came rushing towards me as if I’d aimed a loaded bazooka at my child. For the record, the barrel was pointing up so there was no loaded weapon – heavy or otherwise – aimed at my son. To be honest it was to my mind an absolute over reaction and I had been fully aware of everything around me at all times. But this is a golden rule, clearly, just like you don’t allow the rifle to at any time point at another person even when it’s unloaded. Fair enough.

Whoa-whoa-whoa, give me that!” dad barked and took the air rifle off me, brow furrowed and bark worse than his bite in his usual manner.

OK. Important and I can see why you should adhere to a rule like that – it makes sense. Only load when everyone is back behind you. I just had it in my head that so long as the rifle is pointed away or up it’s cool bananas. It isn’t. Being in the wrong and being told off made me feel SICK. Yes, sick. I felt utterly shit and almost wanted to cry. This is how sensitive I am to getting something wrong. I’m surprisingly good at taking criticism and I’m not afraid to hold my hands up and admit to being a fucktard when I’ve been one, but I am PETRIFIED of getting things wrong. A contradiction in terms perhaps, but that’s just me. But anyway, look at this scenario and you probably realise that the only person who even remembers this months later is me. I can bet you any money that hubby or dad don’t, because it wasn’t a big deal. Throwing my dad into the mix is of course the cherry on top because I have massive issues with impressing him and getting something wrong in front of him sends me into meltdown. Another thing I’m learning slowly but surely to let go of, but there we are and it is what it is. Yes, I’m kind and yes I’m caring, but my people pleasing has traditionally been down to desperation to be liked and this example illustrates that what made me feel sick wasn’t primarily that people got upset with me (and they weren’t actually upset) but that I wasn’t “good enough”.

Where boundaries come into play when it comes to my incessant people pleasing efforts is how I always agree to stuff I don’t actually want to do only to keep other people happy (and keep liking me). So I’ve always over promised and then, lo and behold, under delivered because what I’ve gone and promised I can’t actually make myself do. It’s insane really and these days I steer clear of such behaviour. If I don’t want to do something, I say one thing and one thing only: no. Before, I would have offered some wishy-washy and long winded excuse, feeling the need to justify, explain and apologise for my decision. Not anymore. I say no and that’s that. And so, when I found myself in a situation that actually really pissed me off and barged WAY over my new found boundaries, I dealt with it in the opposite way to how Drunk Me may have gone about it.

Without apologising for how I feel about it, I kept it matter of fact and removed myself from the situation. I showed appreciation where it was due and didn’t go into a long diatribe about aaaaaaall my feelings on the matter or the implications the situation had actually entailed on a personal level. Thanks but no thanks in a nutshell. Sober Me is surprisingly balanced and also firm. Drunk Me would have gone absolutely ape shit and reacted in anger at the time and at the same time apologised for how I felt about it. Sober Me let it sit for a while, thought it over and then calmly bowed out. I didn’t go into exactly what I found unacceptable because I recognise my part in an unfortunate situation, nor did I go into any other detail that wasn’t actually necessary. It’s not for me and thanks for your time – accurate and honest. This way I don’t need to feel upset and nor does anyone else, yet I’ve been honest and true to myself. In this situation it appears I wasn’t fully aware of how things would work and was a little taken aback (OK, a lot), but this is with hindsight my own fault so I don’t see any need to read anyone the riot act. All involved seemingly had the best intentions and the end result was just a bit unfortunate, that’s all. All that’s needed is exactly what I did: thanks but not thanks, this is not for me. Simples!

And that’s how I intend to keep on going. I don’t have to like everything and I certainly don’t have to explain and apologise for not liking everything. If I don’t want to do something, here it is in all its glory: NO. And when I feel my boundaries are breached, I will in a kind and respectful manner remind people where I’ve drawn them if it wasn’t immediately obvious.

Every cloud has a silver lining however, and this situation that got me thinking about boundaries did trigger some positive conversations. Oh, here we go again, I’m being a little suck-up. It didn’t trigger – it FORCED some conversations that luckily turned out to be very positive ones. When I realised my name now appears in Google’s search results as my full name along with being listed as ‘author’ on a recovery forum, I had no choice but to have the full disclosure discussion with my in-laws on the other side of the world (whose unusual surname I bear) and my teenage son. I’ve been dithering back and forth about the whats the hows and the whens, but this little episode meant it was ALCOHOLIC and SKYPE CALL and NOW. And a chat with Bambino last week. Panicked and in a knee jerk manner, maybe. But it has to come from me, not Google, even though the chances of that happening are in the grand scheme of things minuscule. Even so. Because I’ve been very open about everything it wasn’t difficult, but I would have still been able to choose for myself when I shared the most intimate details of my recovery and indeed when I had the A-word discussion with my child. It would have nice if that had been my own choice as opposed to be put in a situation where I couldn’t do anything other than present it all. Still, none of it was news so no harm was done. In fact, I’m going to take this whole thing to be the push I needed. I’ve not hidden my recovery or shied away from talking openly about it and I’m not about to start now, but I am also going to be in charge of what, when and how I broadcast it.

boundaries

It’ll all come good. And what it does show is that I’m a freaking WIZARD at handling stressful situations. This little lesson involved another reminder to fully weigh things up and check stuff over before throwing myself in. Or as this father of mine, whom I’m so keen to impress, often puts it: “don’t be so freaking blue eyed“. Ironic perhaps that a Swede who might be aware of the stereotype that might suggest we all have blue eyes uses this as a way of describing naivety!

Boundaries established. I’ll work on communicating them better. And I will always honour them. Sobriety keeps on delivering.

Today I’m not going to drink.

 

Me, Myself and I

Like so many others who get sober, I feel a strong desire to pay forward this gift. I recently read a post on Ultraviolet Sobriety about the things she, at 18 months sober, would like to say to her 30 days sober self. Actually, I may as well direct you straight there because I can sign my name to all of it even at nine months sober – all the things she points out to her “former self” are true for me too and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while. I want to write a post like that when I get to one year of sobriety as it strikes me as a really great time to reflect. But what about now? Now that I’m at nine months and one week, 280 days? It really made me think further about what I would say to the Anna of not 30 days sober but the Anna who still drank. What would the conversation have been if I had Drunk Me sitting here opposite Sober Me? And whilst I have so much I want to say to her, what I ended up thinking about is what she would say to me.

Sober Me: Hey..

That’s right. That’s all I muster before I choke up. I barely manage to get that one little word out because there she is – ME. This person I actually really love and it breaks my heart that she is hurting herself in this way. This is what makes the words stick in my throat. I throw my arms around her, wishing I can somehow without having to say anything make her trust in all the great things I want for her, that I can by just holding her close make her believe how amazing life will become if she takes that step she’s so scared of. Sober Me has a tear rolling down her cheek but Drunk Me is just politely returning the hug and wants out of it. She is a little irritated by this display of emotion directed at her, I can tell by how her shoulders tense up.

Drunk Me: You OK there?

She laughs a little awkwardly and she comes across as really prickly, like a hedgehog with its spikes standing on end. She knows, after all, that we’re going to talk about drinking and it’s obvious she doesn’t want to.

Sober Me: Sorry. I just have so much I want to say to you.

Drunk Me: Aw, you’re sweet. What’s up? 

Sober Me: I just wanted to let you know that all those things that might stop you from binning the booze are just in your head. I know it sounds completely mad but I promise you you’ll discover that alcohol doesn’t do anything for you.

My words are tumbling out too fast, I find myself stumbling over them because I’m desperate to tell her everything and feel like I need to get it all said at once in case she decides to walk off. Drunk Me stays put and studies me closely. When she picks a hair off the sleeve of her jumper I can tell that her hand trembles and she catches me looking.

Drunk Me: I have essential tremor. Nothing dangerous, just makes me shake. My dad and paternal grandmother also have it. Gets worse with age but doesn’t affect your health in any way. Sometimes I feel like I have to point it out so people don’t think I’m an alcoholic! 

She fires off a disarming smile and throws her hands in the air.

Drunk Me: You should see my gran! 90 years old and fit as a fiddle but shakes SO bad. It’s amazing though, she’ll pour the coffee and I swear not a drop misses the cup! I suppose you adjust though, I find it’s easier to do mascara on my left eye than the right, some angles are worse with those fine and specific angles! 

Sober Me: I see.

She has completely thrown me with this overly detailed explanation about her trembling hands even though I never even said anything. I spin my wedding band as a distraction to line it up so the small diamonds on it line up perfectly with my engagement ring. Perhaps I just need to get straight to it.

Sober Me: Well. I just wanted you to know that all the reasons you drink are in your head and you will have a life beyond your dreams once you stop. There literally aren’t any negatives and you won’t feel deprived! I promise you that you’ll almost immediately feel grateful and wonder why you waited for so long.

Drunk Me: OK.

She tilts her head and smiles politely. God, she is good at this.

Sober Me: What stops you from, uhm, stopping?

Drunk Me: What? Drinking you mean?

Sober Me: Yeah.

She makes a show of looking around her as if she is pondering the answer to something a toddler may have asked and she needs to find a way of explaining it so that the same three-yearold will understand. She gives off an air of superiority, or tries to anyway. She wants me to feel I can’t get to her but she seems to have momentarily forgotten that I do because I am her and therefore know precisely what she’s doing. She is a master at appearing honest and sincere and so good are her acting skills that she herself can no longer distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t.

Drunk Me: I don’t know, to be honest. I suppose if it was every day or if I couldn’t do all the things I have to do I’d need to stop, but I can’t really say it affects me that much.

Sober Me: But do you think you drink too much?

Drunk Me: Oh, sure! Definitely! What is the recommended limit? I don’t think many of us stay within it though.

She laughs again and does a little eye roll. She’s quite endearing with how she seems to offer honest and frank answers, it’s very easy to trust her because she doesn’t deny anything. When I put something to her she acknowledges it, appears to genuinely search for the answers and she seems to be engaging with me. I’m facing myself here and it’s crazy because I’m even fooling ME! But then that’s what I did all along. Sober Me should have known better than challenge Drunk Me. I don’t think anyone would get her, she is THAT clever and cunning. She is playing with me.

Sober Me: Do you not consider your drinking a problem?

Drunk Me: I would probably say I drink too much but it’s not a problem in that it’s not causing any actual problems. I mean, I have no brakes and I’d say I binge drink so obviously I need to think about that. But you know, it’s just who I am and I’m aware that I tend to go full throttle. I’m the same with food though! You should see my portions! They’re bigger – much bigger – than my husband’s! Isn’t that funny? He’s 6’2! 

Nice. Very slick. I have nothing. I can’t point out how she lost her kid or husband or got fired or crashed her car drunk. None of that has happened (YET). And that fucking trembling is some sort of condition. She’s offered that she binges and because she did that, I now have fuck all. The cogs in my mind are turning whilst Drunk Me keeps eye contact all whilst that friendly and polite little smile plays on her lips.

Sober Me: How did you feel this morning? And please don’t lie because I know you drank almost an entire three-bottle box of wine last night so I know you have a full-on hangover. 

Drunk Me: Haha, yes, I’ve felt better, truth be told.

Sober Me: Please listen. Please. 

I’m choking up again.

Sober Me: Ditch the act. I know you hate this and you’re exhausted by having to conceal how big this problem is getting for you. I know how terrified you are of asking for help even though you already know you can’t fucking fix this on your own. Now listen. 

She’s no longer smiling but I have her attention still.

Sober Me: This morning I woke up for the 280th time with a clear head and even despite this cold that seems to be creeping up on me, I felt so grateful I could have wept because I didn’t have a hangover. I was sleepy and didn’t want to get up but hubby had an early call so the coffee was already on. I felt happy because I didn’t feel shit standing in the shower or had to worry about collapsing, and then guess what? I had three mugs of delicious morning coffee and vaped – you know how you love coffee but can’t have it in the morning because it makes you feel even dizzier? Well, it’s beautiful and it’s every morning. This was my morning! I got myself to work and didn’t have to worry I’d pass out on the way or feel overcome by anxiety and I didn’t have to avoid talking with people because my mind is clear and alert. And I felt extra good because last night I went for an 8k run and I ran the whole way and it felt fucking amazing! This is your morning EVERY MORNING when you stop drinking. And then imagine what everything is like too. It’s all been a hoax! Trust me, none of the things you think the wine does for you is true, not a single one. It won’t take you long to discover that! And this is the best part because I think you might worry about it – you won’t have to go through life feeling pissed off because you want to drink and you can’t. You won’t want to drink! You will have lost nothing, everything will just become so much more amazing.

Her eyes are still on me, head tilted like before. I can’t read her and wonder if anything I’ve said has registered. Will she, like I eventually did, realise that this is precisely the morning she always wants to wake up to? And I haven’t even had time to get on to everything else.

Sober Me: That’s just the morning. There’s everything else too. It’s going to get so ridiculously good. Oh, and you joined the gym. 

Perhaps it’s a moment of bonding but this has us both laughing out loud.

Drunk Me: Yeah…. ..don’t think so. Nice try though.

Sober Me: You do hate it, that’s true. But you’ve done really well and last night you ran for nearly an hour. 

Drunk Me: I do miss running. 

My ears prick up. She misses running. Did I just detect a buying signal here? That’s good because I don’t want to mention anything relating to Bambino because I know she’d explode at me, so no matter how awesome that part actually is I can’t go there. She would go nuts at me and I wouldn’t have her attention anymore. But she misses running! This is safe territory.

Sober Me: It’s all coming back and it won’t even take that long! You’re about to discover something so amazing! 

I find it hard to keep still. Is she listening? As in, is she REALLY listening? Is the thought starting to take hold?

Drunk Me: Well, thanks for this and I’ll think it over. We’ve booked a weekend in Paris and another in Gothenburg coupled with a Foo Fighters concert. I’m not going to go to Paris and not drink wine. 

Sober Me: Yes you will! 

Now I’m actually jumping up and down with excitement.

Sober Me: Not only will you go to Paris and not drink, you’ll go sober to the Foo Fighters concert in Gothenburg too and I know it sounds crazy but it’ll all be so much better because you’re not drinking. You and hubby will have the best time! Honestly, I swear on my life! It’ll only be BETTER!

She makes a move to leave and picks up her handbag from the floor. She turns around just before she walks out.

Drunk Me: I don’t believe you. 

……….to be continued.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Staggering Statements

As I sometimes do, I read through my last blog post on Friday later that day. It’s terrible really how I call myself a writer yet click on ‘publish’ without proof reading and as a result often discover typos and stuff much later. I made quite a staggering statement within the post and only realised afterwards that this needed more thought: “I wasn’t born an alcoholic”.

What I know is this:

  1. Something happens in me when I take a drink that doesn’t appear to happen in most other people.
  2. I lose control completely.
  3. My drinking spirals quickly.
  4. I don’t think I’ve EVER been able to drink in moderation. I have that first drink and it renders me powerless – it is NOTHING to do with will power or strength, I quite literally cannot do anything about the force that is set in motion with that first drink.
  5. I become someone else when I drink that I don’t recognise when I’m sober.
  6. Unlike most other people, even when I have had a huge amount of alcohol, I don’t throw up and I keep going even after my brain has switched off the memory function in order to keep me alive (aka black-out).
  7. Drinking spirals in a way that has a devastating impact on my abilities – I basically spend my days too hungover to do more than barely function.
  8. The level of drinking in terms of the amount of alcohol I quickly escalate to is defined as “suicidal drinking” – this is how dangerous it is to drink the way I do.

There are probably more – many more – things to add to this list, but basically the bottom line is that I don’t drink like most people I know. Even one of the biggest drinkers I know, Poppy, doesn’t put away anywhere near the quantities I do and she also seems to choose when she stops. I can’t. I’m not saying that to shift the blame in any way or to make you feel sorry for me. I honestly cannot stop when I start. Something happens that I can’t explain and I’m sucked into a menacing, black storm cloud. I have NEVER poured the first drink with the intention of drinking myself to oblivion, yet I have NEVER managed to stop it going exactly that way. It’s dark and it’s terrifying. In my own opinion, which is based on over a decade of very thorough research (aka being a piss-head), I am utterly and completely powerless over alcohol. It has always been that way for me, from the very start and from the very first time I ever drank.

So to say “I wasn’t born an alcoholic” is a very troublesome statement to make because clearly there is something that somehow makes me different to most other people when it comes to alcohol, right? What happens to me doesn’t happen to hubby. Nor does it happen to Poppy or anyone else in my circle of friends who aren’t part of my sobriety tribe. In my tribe, however, most if not all claim this is true for them too. So what is it? What the HELL is it? If it’s not in our wiring, what is it that we have developed or acquired along the way that others didn’t? It would make a lot more sense that those of us who develop alcoholism were different somehow on a physical, biological level. AA defines alcoholism as ‘a physical allergy, a mental obsession and a spiritual malady‘. Via AA I also came to understand that an alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking if they start and at its most basic level this is why I do define myself as an alcoholic. It’s 100% true for me and what I consider the biggest difference between myself and a non-alcoholic. I genuinely cannot stop if I take that first drink and I can tell you this with unflinching conviction after a lifetime of trying to control it only to discover that this has never, EVER been possible.

For me, it’s like trying to defy the laws of nature. No more can I stop drinking or control how much I drink after the first one than I would be able to stop falling if I threw myself out of a high rise building. “Oh, I’ll stop falling after three floors.” Not gonna happen. Gravity means I’ll only fall faster and faster and I’ll fall until I hit the ground. That’s what alcoholism is for me – as undeniable as a law of nature.

So was I, or wasn’t I, born this way?

How I lose control would suggest that yes, I was. I don’t recall ever being able to control drinking and before I really spiralled into heavy boozing I was still a chaotic drinker. So I can’t say my powerlessness over alcohol is something that developed with time or got increasingly more problematic the more I drank. It was there from day one. My inability to control alcohol was as blatant the first time I drank in 1989 as it was the last time in January 2018. Sure, the last 13-ish years in that time span were severe and extreme, but my lack of control was never any different. I have never been able to drink in moderation and it’s nothing to do with choice because I just don’t have that choice after the first drink. It’s nothing to do with will power. I can say no to the first but I can’t say no to the seventh. I lose the ability to choose, I lose my free will and I say that because I have never voluntarily drunk myself into black-out. Drinking myself to oblivion has never once been my aim, and yet it’s what always happens. It’s not my choice, nor is it my will. So is it something physical?

Alcohol is an anaesthetic and many of us drink to numb how we feel. In many ways, this would make perfect sense in my case because I am a very emotional person. Everything I feel, I feel strongly and I always have. But no, I have never knowingly drunk to numb how I feel. Quite the opposite, actually. Alcohol was always an enhancer for me. So to say it was in anyway a crutch, coping strategy or self-medication simply isn’t accurate for me. Numbing pain was not my reason for drinking. So in my haze after nine glasses of wine, I don’t have a tenth because I’m hurting.

So I know I don’t drink because I lack will power and I know I don’t drink because I’m hurting. I also know that I don’t drink to fit in or to please other people. I’m a headstrong, stubborn woman and whilst I’m bragging I’ll also tell you I’m stronger than Hercules. I’d whip his ass. It’s not a matter of strength, this thing. So if it isn’t an issue of will power or strength or pain….. WHAT THE FUCK IS IT?!??

You know, perhaps I’ll be sitting here in 30 years and ask you the same question still. I’d love to know the answer. I suppose until the time an all encompassing, comprehensive and clear answer does appear, what remains important is this: I’m an alcoholic and therefore I can’t fucking drink. That’s cool though, I’m happy with this – more than happy. It interests me hugely, but matters very little where it comes from and how it came to be. All I know is that it’s there – or here, rather, in me – and what that means for me.

Thankfully, sobriety has proved to be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I can honestly tell you I don’t miss drinking one bit. There was a discussion on a sobriety forum over the past few days about Naltextrone. This is a medication to treat and/or control alcohol and opiate abuse and there are people who swear by it. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, because I spent my whole adult life trying to learn how to moderate my drinking and this does sound like a magical solution, but here it is: even if someone handed me a pill with the promise that if I took it, I’d be able to drink like a normal person….. No thank you. I can’t see the point and the reason I can’t is because I realised that alcohol never did any of the things I thought it did for me. It didn’t enhance my mood further, nor did it make fun more fun or happy happier. None of those things were true. All it is, is a shitty poison that numbs me and why the fuck would I want that even if I could “enjoy” it in smaller (aka normal) quantities? Nope. Thanks but no thanks.

Funny, actually, because we had Bonus #1 and Bonus #2 with us over the weekend (i.e. my stepsons) and they asked how I was getting on with the non-drinking. We ended up talking about not drinking at social events and I realised what I said only when it fell off my tongue:

Well, I find social gatherings uncomfortable and boring because I’m an introvert and prefer quiet. If I drink at a social event it just means it’s still uncomfortable and boring, but now I’m drunk.

True story, folks.

I believe there are many, many ways to get sober and because we’re human, different things work for different people. So I’m never going to stand here and tell you that the way I got sober is THE way or the ONLY way. No way (see what I did there). Explore and find what’s right for you. And because I mentioned Naltextrone, you can learn more about it by watching ‘One Little Pill’ – trailer here:

And Claudia Christian on Tedx Talks here:

Uhm, it might now seem like I’m on some kind of commission deal for peddling Naltextrone, which I’m obviously not. I’m just sharing stuff other people in my tribe swear by, and if it’s helped some people then it might help others too. It doesn’t appeal to me because I don’t actually want to drink so although I find all of this very interesting – intriguing even – it’s not something I feel would be worth trying. It’d be as pointless as taking a pill that’d enable me to drink arsenic and I can’t see any reason to do that either. Had you put this to me a few years ago, however, then the idea that I could keep drinking yet dodge the consequences and black-outs might have seemed like all my dreams come true! Not now though. Not anymore.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Disneyland Super Mama

Every so often in recovery and sobriety groups I am part of, someone will put to the rest of us that they feel out of sorts. It’s anything from emotionally frazzled and low to moody and full of anger. Someone recently told us how she one evening just felt out of control and had lost her temper for no real reason at her husband and kids. This is of course the absolute beauty of the tribe – we can throw anything out there that worries us and others will immediately offer their own perspectives and experiences. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it struck me recently how we perhaps in some ways expect sobriety to be the answer to everything. Do we on some level perhaps expect that now we’ve rid ourselves from this harmful thing we were caught up in, we’ll be perfect and serene beings who will always respond to any given situation in a textbook way? I can’t speak for anyone else but I think this is to some extent true for me.

Recovering from ANY addiction will inevitably mean we’ll go through at least some abstinence discomfort. With alcohol being a depressant it’s more often than not a very low mood and heaps of anxiety, and obviously in severe cases there is the risk of really quite dangerous physical withdrawal too. I can’t on top of my head remember the actual facts and figures, but I think it’s something along of the lines of ten days until the body (and mind I suppose) has fully expunged all traces of booze. I suspect it’s also highly individual but what I’m getting at is that I reckon most of us accept that INITIALLY we’ll be affected by these withdrawal symptoms. But then what? If it were as simple as just fighting through a relatively short amount of time to emerge on the other side and beautifully sober, then the world of recovery would look very different. Well, I guess it wouldn’t really exist because there’d be no need for it. No rehabs, no support, no tribe. I’m stating the obvious, I know, but it’s worth remembering: the hard part of recovery isn’t stopping. It’s staying stopped.

Can you tell, by the way, that I’m trying really hard to keep my sentences shorter? My natural writing style is to compose paragraph long sentences that no human would have the lung capacity to read out loud. Fun aside, I thought. I’m trying to be the best version of me. Yay!

Staying stopped. This goes back to the reasons why we drank in the first place. For me, alcohol was something I thought added extra sparkle and made life even better. Obviously not true whatsoever and now the idea strikes me as preposterous, but then it’s always easy to be a smart-arse with hindsight. So, anyway, in my case this means being aware of the times when my alcoholic brain is more likely to try to trip me up and for me this is basically a good mood. It’s hard to call it a negative thing that I’m generally a very cheerful person but that is my biggest trigger. It’s when I feel energised, excited and happy that I get the urge. Sure, it’s not often now but it’s important for me to keep my eye on it and I imagine I’ll always have to.

A common reason to drink among alcoholics that I often hear is that many people drank to numb their emotions. Booze is an anaesthetic so naturally if you drink you numb yourself and this includes numbing what you’re feeling too. I mean, how often do we not hear people (alcoholics AND non-alcoholics) say “I need a drink” when they are stressed out or have had a tough day? Even my mother who very rarely drinks, and when she does it’s quite literally half a glass of wine, might mutter “I need something stronger than coffee” to illustrate that alcohol is used to relax us. And then of course you have people who rely on alcohol for this very reason from the person who might un-wind with a glass of wine (just the one!) each night right across the spectrum to the severely depressed individual who desperately drinks to get away from feelings they can’t handle. Sobriety means we feel all our emotions fully, so imagine if you drank to cope. It’d be like living with extreme migraine without medication. For many people who abuse alcohol, alcohol is precisely that: self-medication. Many, many other addictions fall into the same category.

But what of the woman, in this case, who wondered if being in a stinking mood and losing her rag at her family for no apparent reason was a normal part of recovery? Who knows, right? As anyone who’s ever had a hangover will probably agree, we’re quite likely to be more grouchy the day after. And perhaps this was her day one or within that time span when alcohol is still exiting the body. So sure, it’s entirely possible I suppose. If this was the case, then perhaps withdrawing from alcohol was indeed a contributing factor to her lousy mood. Indeed, even if it was WAY after the last traces of alcohol and its effects on us were gone, it’d be quite normal to get ratty and unreasonably stressed if our usual go-to for stress relief has been taken away from us. So in some ways, if this was the case for her, perhaps this is 100% down to having stopped drinking. Perhaps she’d been calmer and kinder in this moment if she’d been able to get the relief she’d normally get from booze?

This is the thing though. Without the booze, we get to navigate life on life’s own terms and that means without anaesthetic. What I have come to understand is true for me, is that I can be a stressy, anxious, impatient, grouchy BITCH and it’s nothing to do with anything other than…. ME. Bad moods happen. Bad shit happens. And sometimes I respond to things in a way that isn’t at all calm or rational. Sometimes I lose the plot spectacularly. And guess what? That’s OK. It’s called being a human being. I’m Anna. I have lots of good qualities and lots of bad ones too. It’s nothing to do with alcoholism – we all have good and bad traits. Point is though, we need to accept all of that and wear our big girl pants. You fucked up? Lost your temper too quickly and yelled at your kid? Congratulations! You’re human. Now apologise and move on. No big deal, c’est la vie.

Sometimes I’m sure it IS the fact that being without something we were addicted to that’s making us bad tempered because we can’t turn to the thing we used to for calming ourselves down, but sometimes we might just have to accept that it’s completely normal – yes! NORMAL! – to be in a bad mood. I wonder if it’s actually detrimental to our recovery to get so hung up on every last little thing we feel and immediately point to alcoholism as the cause. So many times in AA meetings people would say “I always had the ism, then I added alcohol” and similar. What fucking ism? You’re human! Spend less time with Narcissus for crying out loud! Sometimes maybe, just maybe, you’re just in a shitty mood and act like a fucktard because you’re a fallible human being. Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I’m a very emotional creature, it’s just who I am and it’s got nothing to do with alcohol whatsoever. Perhaps it made me more likely to get in trouble with booze – now THAT I accept as it makes sense that those of us who experience the feels may be more likely to reach for an anaesthetic – but I wasn’t born an alcoholic. I don’t believe anyone is. I think we’re all human and some of us got addicted to – news flash – a highly addictive substance. Shock horror.

In a way I think I just expected everything to get all Disneyland when I removed alcohol from my life. I’m very fortunate and there are no big clouds in my sky beyond what could only be described as the very normal trials and tribulations of life. Perhaps for that reason I just naively assumed that without poisoning myself I’d turn into a supercharged godlike version of me who would be as serene as the Dalai fucking Lama in every situation. That I’d suddenly go into high gear and become an over achiever. That I’d within months of quitting drinking would become a fitness fanatic and have the beach body to end all beach bodies. That I’d wear down the keyboard on my laptop from typing one bestselling novel after the next and only take a break to collect the Nobel Prize for Literature. That I’d be a perfect and patient cupcake baking super mama. That I’d be the wife of my husband’s dreams, iron all his shirts and ALWAYS be horny. And so on – you get the idea, don’t you?

Sobriety, as it turns out, isn’t a magic trick. I am still an unreasonable grump bag in the morning and, oh yeah, I still have cellulite. Huh.

For me, therefore, it’s important to understand and accept that sobriety means ONLY this: freedom from an addiction that caused me lots of harm. It doesn’t mean I’ll be serene in situations that rile me, but it means I’ll be better equipped to handle shit. Just like I’m more likely to get stressed out if I have a stonking headache. Getting rid of the booze just means I can be the best I can be, not that I’ll suddenly be perfect or display qualities I never had before. It gives me the freedom to spread my wings, but unless I have the talent, determination and grit to write an outstanding novel, no amount of clean living is going to mean I will publish a book. Alcohol stole a lot from me and it stopped me from doing a lot of things. Recovery means I am no longer shackled. It doesn’t mean everything will now just fall into my lap, but it means I am now free to give everything my best shot. But I am still Anna and even though I really like me, I’m still just human and I’m good at some things and shockingly bad at others.

Hmm… Not doing so great with those long sentences, I realise. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in one day. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to read anything out loud.

Feeling everything after years of being numb can be overwhelming. In some ways I feel like I’m learning to live all over again. But it’s almost only positive. I have discovered I can be patient and determined, that I don’t need to be the sort of person who tosses stuff aside if she doesn’t succeed at a first, half hearted and hurried attempt. I am also 100% capable of being focused, which is quite a lovely surprise. It’s all new and it’s mostly good. I love how my life is turning out. Drinking was like being trapped under a heavy, wet blanket. Sobriety feels like I now get to be me. For real. Bad moods, cellulite and everything else that this means.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Counting Heart Beats

There’s a Swedish saying – “det blir vad man gör det till” – which roughly translates to mean that a situation will be what you make of it. I actually had a little anxiety episode last night. Classic Anna: that familiar knot in my stomach and then my mind kicks into gear and serves up all sorts of undesirable outcomes in a continuous loop that’ll play ALL night and keep me wide awake. Good news, however, is that Sober Me is a calm and rational person whose veins aren’t flowing with a powerful depressant! Without much effort I just told myself que será, será and got lost in the book I’m reading until my eyelids were heavy. My old buddy anxiety did of course spring to life the moment I turned off the light but it was freaking amazing how quickly I managed to get it to fuck off. As I felt my heart beginning to beat funny and a little too fast, I realised I could feel hubby’s heartbeat against my arm resting across his chest. So I counted his heartbeats in my head and also tried to breathe deeply and slowly. I’m too dumb to focus on two things at the same time so I had to abandon thinking about my breathing and just counted. I got to 100 and started over. I don’t think I got past 30 the second time. And that was it. I fell asleep and even though I did have slightly disturbing dreams, I had a solid night of shut-eye and woke up feeling rested and energised. Most of all though, I woke up free from the worry I felt last night.

And what was the worry cloud that appeared in my sky last night? Something sobriety related with my name attached to it appeared in hubby’s Facebook newsfeed. Now that in itself is OK, but this is a forum where I am as outspoken as I am on this blog and although I’m not hiding any of this, I’ve carefully considered how I’ve put it to various people. I haven’t seen any pressing need to get ‘alcoholic’ tattooed across my forehead or make big announcements, so it’s really just been a case of telling the people closest to me and in my immediate family and then anyone else as and when alcohol has come up really. I can’t think of anyone I’ve been in contact since I stopped drinking that I actually HAVEN’T told. Anyway. It’s ridiculous really, because I found myself worrying about PRECISELY the thing I want to take positive action to freaking banish: I worried about other people’s reaction. As in, people on Facebook I’m not even really in touch with – remember most people I actually have in my REAL life I’ve already told. So fuck that! Fuckety-fuck-fuck that. OK, it’s not quite as easy as that, even I understand that. I don’t want to hurt my son, for starters. I don’t think any 14-yearold would particularly like to have it “out there” that mum had a drinking problem, right? So obviously I need to tread carefully. But I also consider it my responsibility to show my son that mum has the cojones to stand up and speak out, as opposed to reinforce the very things I want to change by hushing it down and sweeping it under the carpet.

Someone has to be the first to say it. I’m obviously not that person because countless people have stood up and spoken out about addiction and alcohol abuse before me. What I’m saying though, is that I don’t want to be the person who looks down and hunches her shoulders to make herself invisible when it comes to this. I want to be the person who is brave enough to face the music and stand up for what I believe is right even when it means it’s fucking uncomfortable to do so. And this is NOT comfortable to talk about. Oh, the things I’d rather speak out about. How I wish that what I’m saying could be anything – ANYTHING – other than this. I mean, I don’t like drawing attention to myself as it is, so adding a bit of addiction to the mix isn’t exactly my idea of fun. No, there are a million other things I wish I could talk about, or rather, not talk about anything at all and just remain under my cork oak and smell the flowers.

One of my bonus sons (I’m lucky enough to have been blessed with two!) put something out via social media on World Mental Health Day a week or so ago. I mean, I love hubby’s sons like my own and as far as I’m concerned they shit rainbows, but the pride and admiration I felt for Bonus #1 at that moment had me tearing up. We knew of course that a few years ago when he was still at uni, he had a few episodes with panic attacks. Turns out it was a bit more to it than that and he’s been battling anxiety. His social media post basically accounted for his experience and how everyone else might just see him as a confident and outgoing bloke and how it’s hard for a young man to open up about something like this. He went on to emphasise the importance of reaching out and encouraged everyone to do so, highlighting that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and added the hashtag #manxiety. I don’t think anxiety or mental health issues are any easier for a woman than for a man, but men are still in this day and age largely brought up to be tough. Boys don’t cry and all that fucking rubbish. Anyway, that took courage to do and might not have been the easiest thing in the world for Bonus #1 to say, but it could just be that one person who really needs to see it sees it. To see someone like Bonus #1 – intelligent, confident, assertive, successful and outgoing – suffering from anxiety and really see that it’s not a matter of being weak or any such nonsense. Sometimes all it takes is for us to see that it’s someone just like us. Or someone we think really highly of, when it’s a case of can’t-believe-it-happened-to-HIM it might really have an impact. And then those old stereotypes and misconceptions can finally go where they belong: in the trash.

Addiction is of course deemed to be a disease, but unlike cancer or depression it’s something that, at some point at least, involves a choice. A cancer patient has no such choice. In recovery we are given the one thing a cancer patient wants: our life back. We have the choice – and I’m not saying it’s an easy one – to reclaim our lives. And very few, if any of us, ever drank at gunpoint. So as much as I do have a bit of first hand experience of how hopeless addiction can be and how difficult it is to break free, I feel it’s important to make the distinction or at the very least recognise why it’s not EXACTLY the same. It does require more knowledge and it does require more explanation – it’s not at ALL logical for a non-addict how addiction works and what it does, unlike perhaps cancer if we stick with the comparison. Cancer cells develop and spread regardless. But an addict puts the poison into her body. Why? Because it’s an evil thing, that’s why, and shit happens in the brain that can never be undone or removed. Well. Go read up on the subject – dopamine has a lot to answer for, my friends, and our brains light up more spectacularly than the Blitz. What I wanted to establish is that this is a complicated beast and it’s hard to talk about, and even more so because it has so much stigma and shame attached to it.

So yes, I felt a bit of an OH SHIT when I realised a post was public and had my name all over it. But this is where we come back to how things just are what you make of them. I could either panic and take down my whole Facebook account along with this blog in one frenzied swoop. OR I OWN MY SHIT. Am I supposed to be embarrassed? Dunno, I guess I am a little. It’s not the best thing in the world to cop to. Hey, check me out, I’m a raging alcoholic, woohoo! But it is what it is and if I am one more person who hides it, I’m one more person who makes sure the shame and stigma remain the same. So I made a new decision. I don’t need to be dramatic – this isn’t a gutter story, but even if I’d made it all the way there, it doesn’t need lots of choreography. It is what it is. The bigger I make it, the bigger it will seem and be. This is not all I am but it’s part of my life and it happened. It scared me and did me no good. I stopped. And then I wanted to turn my own experiences to something good. End of. No drum roll, just matter of fact.

Bambino first. Always Bambino first. We’ve had the conversation before and we’ll have it again. He gets it. But I’ll check again and then I’ll check again. No drama. It is what it is.

Do I need to make a blanket announcement? No, I fucking don’t. I’m not Beyonce and regardless of what my narcissism might make me believe, no one CARES! I’m not the freaking Queen and I don’t have a spin doctor. It is what it is. Nor do I need to apologise for making the decision to turn my alcohol abuse to something positive where I want to help others. Not one bit. It is what it is. What if someone I haven’t spoken to since “the good old days” suddenly sees that I have written something to do with addiction and sobriety? Good! First it might make them chuckle because if we haven’t spoken in a while it’ll seem very amusing indeed that Anna did that. Then they might read whatever the piece might be and discover holy fuck, she’s an alkie and she’s quit drinking. Or nowhere near as exciting as that sound – they might just think oh. Just that: oh. And then move on to the news story about plastic in our oceans, which is actually of real importance and concern.

I developed alcoholism. I used to drink a lot and now I don’t. Questions on that? Great! Let’s talk! No? Nothing strange there? Great! Enjoy your day.

Today I’m not going to drink.

9 Months

Nine months and one day, to be precise. Woke up yesterday with hubby in my face, his beard tickling my nose as he whispered “nine months today, congratulations baby” and kissed me. He’s one of those weird people who don’t have bad breath in the morning whereas I’m pretty sure my mouth smells like a small animal crawled in and died there overnight, so my instinct is to pull away. As much of a morning person as I am in that I LOVE mornings and tend to wake up and want to bounce up early, I’m also a bit of a grouch and during my first waking moments I am less tolerant of boundary breaches (aka attempts at human interaction). So hubby’s beautiful face an inch from mine the moment I open my eyes only to stare straight into his gorgeous baby blues isn’t the romantic movie moment it actually should be – he is THAT gorgeous and lovely and perfect and wonderful and sweet and sexy and lovable and generally awesome – because HE IS IN MY SPACE. Yes, I know, I’m a bitch and I should be sent straight to the naughty step for a time-out during which I should really consider being a nicer person and more appreciative of the fact that I’m married to the man with the world’s most perfect bottom who also happens to be the most wonderful man EVER. It’s unbearable – I’m unbearable – but can I for the record point out that I am not a people person? People exhaust me. Anyone else in the world tried to be in my face like that first thing in the morning and I’d have them shot. But it’s my best friend and he’s the love of my life and the person who annoys me the least out of these, what, seven and a half billion of us on the planet, so instead of throttling him I pull him into a hug and draw air from over his shoulder.

So I’m hitting the nine-month milestone during this smooth patch I’ve been talking about, and really, there’s not that much to say beyond the now normal flow of things I’m discovering in sobriety.

Hubby took me to the cinema last night and I guess the film was pretty fitting for the nine-month occasion: A Star is Born. Lady Gaga is beautifully talented and Bradley Cooper portrays a fairly likeable drunk. Oh, he is talented too, amazingly so. Everyone’s raved on so much about this movie that my expectations were sky high. It was a great film and it’s stuck with me – my head is full of it this morning – but I don’t know if it’d make my top ten list of favourite movies ever. Or maybe it would. I don’t know. The fact that I’m still thinking lots about it would suggest so.

So Cooper plays a rockstar who’s a drunk. Meets talented girl Gaga. He puts her in the spotlight. Gaga’s career takes off and eclipses his. You might have expected a story arch of resentment and jealousy from drunk Cooper here, but I don’t recall seeing any of that and if anything Cooper’s character seems happy for her and very supportive. What you might also expect is that Gaga’s star will be disappointed with Cooper’s drunk’s drunkenness and this you do get. Hubby squeezed my hand when Cooper on screen attends an AA meeting. I felt a sad twinge of recognition at meanness in drunk Cooper that the sober version then doesn’t remember or recognise as the person in black-out is someone he doesn’t know or resembles. Gaga only gets mad at him that once which might strike some as unrealistically patient and tolerant, but perhaps that’s the most accurate thing of all? That few families and friends of addicts blow up and give ultimatums? That most do precisely what Gaga is shown to do – forgive, support, move on and let live. I’m confused about the tinnitus – that seemed to be going somewhere but didn’t.

Of course Bradley Cooper is an alcoholic in real life, think I read somewhere he’s been sober for a decade or something, so that he portrays it convincingly should come as no big surprise. It was painful perhaps a little bit more for that reason. I think that’s where my high expectations came from – I just knew it would be something really, really special. Go see it, it’s a good movie, and let me know what you think. The music’s good too.

Nine months and one day. It feels good. I am happy.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Bog Standard Coffee

My patch of smooth flight conditions continues. I can’t honestly say there’s been any severe turbulence, however. Don’t even think there’s anything resembling moderately bumpy either. What’s important to keep in mind though, is that when I reached what I consider MY rock bottom, it was after over a decade of trying in vain to control something I am powerless over. By this I mean that I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I just woke up one morning, decided to stop drinking and that was that! The road leading up to that moment was long and really, really shitty. If I look back on these now 269 days of sobriety, yes, they have been mostly sunny as far as staying sober goes – I’ve not found it hard not to drink. Yes, a few close shaves, but I can’t for a moment look you in the eye and say it’s been a struggle. It would appear I set up camp on the Pink Cloud pretty quickly, but that was ME and and it only happened after many, many years of extremely heavy drinking.

My rock bottom wasn’t losing my child or husband or family or friends. It wasn’t losing my job or failing to pay rent because I spent all my money on booze. I didn’t drink in the mornings (well – not that many in the grand scheme of things, morning drinking hadn’t become part of my habit) or turned up drunk to work. Nor did I get behind the wheel drunk or neglected by child in a way that meant his basic needs weren’t met. Oh, it was bad enough! It was PLENTY bad! But what I’m saying is, I was lucky enough to reach my turning point before the consequences became truly devastating. Again, it was devastating enough, but it could – and would – have got so much worse. I am very lucky. I suppose an accurate way of putting it would be that I finally really saw where I was headed, that I realised that I was hurtling towards a really shitty, harrowing, indescribably awful rock bottom. I got a glance at it and it didn’t just scare me shitless, it made something inside me click. This, in combination with understanding how my view of what alcohol is and does was an illusion, allowed the pieces to slowly begin to fall into place. I didn’t want to. After wanting to stop (or moderate, rather – I wanted to be able to control it, not STOP stop) for so long, I just knew I didn’t WANT to drink anymore. This is very different to wanting to stop yet still also wanting to drink. If you no longer want to drink, stopping isn’t as hard. Or wasn’t for me.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to stopping and I believe it’s different for everyone. On this blog I can obviously only share what’s true for me. It’s something I’ll no doubt come back to time and time again.

When it comes to my sobriety, and in particular these patches like now when drinking couldn’t be further from my mind, is that I never want to allow myself to forget what came before 23rd January 2018. One of the numerous books I’ve read is ‘Alcohol Explained’ by William Porter. Like many other books I’m devouring I particularly like it because it breaks drinking down by really looking at what happens in the mind as well as the body, and thus offering – as the title suggests – an explanation of how we develop an addiction to alcohol. One of the recent chapters I read talks about how our memory fades, which of course is a universal fact – this happens with regards to everything we experience with time. But as human beings, we are actually wired to retain positive memories more than negative ones. This, presumably, is why we can fall back into drinking even after years of being sober – partly due to having forgotten how bad it really was I assume. This in turn goes to explain why we are more likely to stay sober only after hitting rock bottom (or, what rock bottom is for US rather – it doesn’t look the same for everyone, does it?) because the worse the memories, the harder it’ll be for our brains to fully bury them. Something along those lines. I don’t have it in front of me so can’t quote, besides, it was a long section anyway.

In the past, when I’ve fought with the Beast, I never managed to convince myself it was bad enough to stop drinking. I just needed to cut down or learn to moderate. Well, you know that old chestnut, eh? Right NOW in this moment of my life, I can’t think of a single thing that’d make me want to drink – honest to God. But what if, a bit further down the line, the horrors of the depths of alcoholism I sank to fade to the point where I can’t clearly recall how bad it was and felt? Or how you sometimes hear people tell you how they kind of felt “hey, I’ve been sober X years now, just this once won’t hurt” and then it went fucking Armageddon again. That scares me. It scares me and saddens me and makes me feel so full of sorrow and angst to not be able to say I know for a fact that I’ll always stay sober. I can’t guarantee it. I threw my life away before. Right now I’m happy and grateful and love my life, almost like I’ve been locked up for years and years and enjoying being free. That’s actually a pretty good analogy because I feel like that’s happened. I feel free. But what happens when this has just all become normal? When enjoying my morning coffee is just knocking back a bog standard cup of fucking coffee and no longer a moment I savor and feel joyous over after years of being unable to?

Well. I’ll just have to stay honest, humble and never forget that I will always have to work at this. I can’t take it for granted. No, it’s not a struggle, at least not right now. But as another blogger put it (and I can’t remember who, unfortunately): I’ve forced my addiction into a cage but I have to remember the cage isn’t locked.

Time for the weekend now and I can’t wait. Monday and Tuesday off next week and I’m looking forward to just four days with hubby and Bambino and just doing our thing. Life is sweet and I’m very, very happy. On the 23rd it’ll be nine months, another milestone to celebrate the best thing I ever did for myself and for those who love and need me.

Today I’m not going to drink.