When I hit my turning point (aka rock bottom) some ten months ago, it was different to all the other times when I’d felt I’d had enough. I suspect many addicts may say this but do correct me if I’m wrong – after all, I can only really speak for myself and account for how I see things. It felt different in that this time I was desperate and determined to break free. It’s such a tired old phrase, but it felt like I just knew it in my heart. It was over. I was done. I wish I could find a word for it – something to describe a light switch perhaps – just like I have a word for alcoholism itself: the Beast. Or perhaps ‘turning point’ is pretty perfect. After all, that’s what it was and how I still see it. To say ‘rock bottom’ feels a little dramatic because I hadn’t YET sunk to the sort of horrific situation the term implies, but at the same time I never want to EVER dismiss where booze was taking me or look back and say “oh, but I wasn’t that bad“. We all know how that story ends, don’t we? But I digress.
What I wanted to get to was how I immediately hit the AA meetings because I needed a firm anchor. I’d simply wanted to and tried to control it on my own too many times to take another chance. I suppose I had, unbeknownst to myself, actually sort of done the first three steps: accepted in my heart that I was powerless over alcohol, knew deep down I had to find another way and most importantly that I couldn’t do it on my own. What I also did, pretty much from the beginning, was be open about it. I figured the more people I told, the harder it would be for me to fall off the wagon. It was a pretty selfish decision – everyone I told became another set of eyes. I sort of snitched on myself, or on the Beast rather, so friends and family would be better equipped to understand my enemy and thereby more able to help me defend myself. It was all about putting down anchors for me and it was when I knew in my heart I was truly done that I began to throw them out all around my little boat.
AA meetings were brilliant. Not only did it help enormously to sit in those meetings and be surrounded by people who was powerless in the exact same way, it also meant there was something I had to get to which in turn meant I didn’t pour that first glass of wine. Just like someone told me how forcing themselves out for that walk helped in fighting depression, having AA meetings to attend forced me into new habits. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for the AA way of approaching sobriety, but there is much about it that makes perfect sense even though there are also things that just don’t sit right with me. My ex-sponsor seemed to be under the impression that I was being a stubborn brat who refused to see sense. In actual fact I desperately wanted to believe all that was said because early on I felt like AA was my only hope. Unfortunately a stay at a celebrity rehab to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds wasn’t available to me. Therefore I just ignored everything I actually felt and did my best to just swallow the dogma as it was fed to me, no questions asked. Oh, and my people pleasing nature does dictate I agree – not disagree – with stuff. So no, I wasn’t trying to pick holes in the doctrine of AA, I was doing my best to cover those holes up as quickly as they appeared to me.
Holding my hands up and admitting I’m wrong has never been an issue for me, suck-uppy people pleaser that I am. Further to that, having the strength to admit our wrongs is a quality I admire in others so it’s something I actually take pride in myself. Most of all, however, what I want more than anything is to figure out this addiction thing so I don’t give a hoot if I have to draw a million incorrect conclusions before landing at something that starts to resemble the answer to the riddle.
Oh, I know – I ramble on. I am terrible at using 500 words when 5,000 will do.
As you can probably surmise from the lengthy waffle above though, and my incessant excuses and justifications (oh please like me!), I am about to tell you how I was wrong about something. Next time, just ignore the first third of a post to cut the proverbial crap!
In the Tuesday meetings, there was this guy who always used to really irritate me. He always shared and he always went on for a good 15 minutes, which in an hour long meeting with 60-odd people in attendance I think is a little selfish and self indulgent. Give someone else a chance, please! Willow told me that in her LA meetings, they had a timer so everyone who wanted to say something had three minutes to do it and then RRRRRRRRRRRING time’s up, ta very much, now shut yer pie hole and sit yo ass down. Good idea, I thought. Anyway, this guy – who, I need to add, was actually a real sweetheart – would always say how his head was a radio station transmitting and receiving all frequencies at once. I think I got a little lost in how he described how a throat spray containing alcohol got him “funny” and therefore zoned out a little, but thinking back on it the dude made a lot of sense.
My mind has always been a fairly crowded place where my thoughts and impulses have never learned how to form an orderly queue or to politely wait their turn. It’s all at once. There is no order whatsoever. At times it can be as peaceful and serene as Waihi beach at night with the waves of the Pacific lapping the shore with rhythmic, murmuring brush strokes. Other times it’s as chaotic, frantic and loud as the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange. I suppose the main thing is I seem to have very little say in what I will wake up to. It’s fun to be me in that sense. I sort of peek around the corner and never quite know what I’ll discover. These are the inner workings of a thinker.
It’s also quite exhausting at times to feel everything so acutely. I mean, it doesn’t stop with just how I feel – I also absorb like a goddamn sponge what everyone else might feel too. Example: someone might act like a twat. Instead of brushing it off and moving on in the knowledge this is out of my control, I will feel deep sorrow because they must feel so awful inside. I’ll also feel so sad for them because they ended up looking bad and I want to fix it and sometimes I even make attempts to do so. I mean, what is up with THAT? Look, I’m doing my best to rein this sort of behaviour in, but in order to do so I first need to understand what it is and where it comes from. What would be ideal in a situation like that, would be to just focus on being the best I can be and accept that how other people act is 1) not my responsibility, 2) out of my control anyway, and 3) something I have to let go.
Yes, I get the analogy of the radio station. And yes, it’s probably quite true for me too.
What this has got to do with alcohol I suppose is probably obvious. Booze slows all of this down to a more manageable level. I never knowingly drank with this in mind or as my goal, but I think it was a by-product and probably a welcome one.
So what lead me to this? Well. Of course now I’m sober and that means I am being me with the radio mast proudly erected and receiving perfectly with crisp audio and surround sound. My father must have been the sound engineer because everything is set to maximum volume too. Because booze used to numb (and dumb) me down, it’s only really now that I’m discovering that I – at times when I might feel stressed about something – need to switch off. Or even when I’m not stressed at all, I need a break from the chaos. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a huge problem and it doesn’t get me pining for a drink, but it does illustrate how I in some ways can’t do it all at once. For example, I can’t be in the middle of a problem I need to solve and then sit down for a coffee and chill out and laugh and chat. When the noise gets too loud in my head, even hubby or Bambino whistling can feel like a scalpel in my brain.
I’ve got three ways of switching off:
- A long, brisk walk with music or an audio book in my ears.
- Losing myself in a book.
Alcohol will never become part of this list, just so we’re clear. I won’t be the first person to tell you that it does work as an anaesthetic when we’re stressed though – isn’t that the biggest stereotype of them all? “I need a strong drink.” Bollocks to that. But interesting to note anyway. Perhaps the glitter I felt alcohol scattered over me felt that way because it also relaxed me? Or numbed me, rather. An unintended side effect to all my celebrations that might just be bigger than I realised. Anyway. What I just realised also, is how important it is for me to switch off at night. I find it quite hard to get to sleep by just getting into bed and switching the light off. I need to read. It slows my mind to that one world of that book and shuts down all those other frequencies. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of minutes of reading for me to get sleepy. Other times I read for an hour, then still can’t sleep and switch the light back on and read until the small hours. Can’t help but feel so very grateful that these tools are so simple and close to hand. All the frequencies coming in at once might mean it feels like chaos sometimes, but I have my own little time-out areas.
The thing that makes me really happy about this is that I never consciously drank to still my mind. That in turn means that when my mind starts to get crowded my impulse isn’t to turn to booze. And so these time-out areas have taken shape all on their own. Not substitutes for booze or diversion therapy. Just the tools that emerged organically. That fills me with so much hope.
Well, there we go. Perhaps another piece of the puzzle.
Today I’m not going to drink.