Fresh Out of Hell

During those first few weeks and months of sobriety, I quite frequently had dreams that I was drinking again. I was so relieved and grateful to get away that I think it was my subconscious poking me by way of saying oh, check this out, here’s a nightmare to remind you. Every time I woke up with that sinking feeling and awful shame. I’d carefully look around only moving my eyeballs, scanning the ceiling and top half of the room around me with that familiar shitty feeling of trying to work out what happened the night before. Then the next moment I’d realise I’d once again woken up without a hangover and feel so relieved it made me tearful. It’s like with anything I suspect, when we escape something terrible and the horror is fresh in our minds because we’re fresh out of hell. During those early days – well, it’s still quite early days – those dreams would really shake me up and it was quite easy to quickly establish OH HELL NO, I ain’t going there again.

A long term sober blogger recently said how “the further I get from my last drink, the closer I get to my next one“.

Whilst we might think that the longer we stay sober, the safer we are (and I would imagine this is in many ways true), I really understood what this meant this morning.

There was a wine box and I’d poured a glass and in the dream it was just like my other drinking dreams in that my choice was gone – I’d already had some and the damage was done. Bambino came in and got pissed off with me in that typical teenager sort of way, when it’s disguised as anger and sulking but actually beneath it all is real, heartfelt hurt. And here’s the really scary bit that really proves to me that the brain I have today is the brain I had all along and the very same one that had me sinking into addiction – in the dream I was horrified I’d let Bambino down so made a show of pouring out the glass of wine, yet… …at the same time calculating if there’d be enough left to drink and when I’d be able to get to it behind Bambino’s back, because I was 100% going to drink it. I sort of don’t want to type it because it makes me shudder, but I always promised to keep this honest and this is the ugly truth. Well, the honest account of a very ugly dream anyway.

Nothing has changed, by the way – I still don’t want to drink, I still am absolutely rock solid in my conviction it does nothing for me and I still want nothing more than forever stay this way. Just wanted to point that out. This dream isn’t a build up of me increasingly toying with the idea of a drink. Quite the opposite and that’s what’s scary about it! I just wanted to highlight that this is something my brain cooked up that is in absolute opposition to everything I, in this moment, want and believe. Eesh.

Anyway!

Those early drinking dreams were awful because just like the one I had last night they always started with it being too late – i.e. I’d already had a drink and the wheels were set in motion without me having any way of stopping it. What made this dream interesting is how there was the added thought process: the manipulation and being shady as fuck in order to deceive (in this case Bambino) so I would get to drink. I know I said it before about those dreams whenever they’ve happened, how I reckon it’s my subconscious reminding me of where I was going and how grateful I should be that I got away. This one really did hammer the same message home – I don’t want to be the mother who does that again, the one who lies and hides to sustain that evil habit, the one whose heart breaks because she’s letting her son down yet can’t help herself. No thank you.

You’re so good, Mum. I’m proud of you,” Bambino told me when I got back from a run one evening last week.

God, so slow though!” I gasped, still out of breath and grumpily noting via Runkeeper that my pace is ridiculously slow.

So what! You’re doing it!

Bambino said it with that little-man sort of voice. Like he’s the adult telling me the child to see the bigger picture. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and says stuff like that to encourage me and it’s his way of letting me know he’s happy about it. No one in the world could possibly see me run and be impressed, honestly I am that slow. Anyway. That, right there, is the mum I want to be. The on-the-cuddly-side-of-medium-but-OK-fine-probably-large mum who ran 6k and now can barely breathe but damn it I did it. And I do it every other day, even when I don’t want to. And have my son see how I work hard at something and commit! THAT is who I want to be. And in sobriety this is who I am.

Isn’t it strange, that further down the line a drinking dream (or nightmare, really) is so much more evil in its nature? I would absolutely say that these almost 11 months into my sobriety I feel a lot safer than I did, say, at 11 weeks. Not only am I now used to it and the idea of having a drink is actually a very strange one, new pathways have formed in my brain and so old habits are all but gone too. It’s also natural and my normal to casually say “no thanks” and not think any more of it when offered a drink compared with earlier on when it was still strange and felt odd to order soda water. So yes, absolutely it is true for me that my sobriety seems to solidify with time. However, remember what I said about being fresh out of hell? Again, this I think is so natural. I was in an accident when I was about ten years old, got knocked off my bike by a car. I had nightmares about being hit by a car and when I had to cycle the same route after I’d recovered I was crying my eyes out because it had really traumatised me. I remember feeling so ill any time we drove past the spot and the black break marks on the tarmac from the car that hit me were there for months afterwards. I was scared for a long time. And then it faded and later on I never gave it much thought at all. No more nightmares and I’d happily cycle anywhere.

This is what we are wired to do! Our brains are programmed to fade out the bad stuff and hold on to the good bits. So whilst I feel more and more secure in my sobriety, chances are that how bad it got won’t seem as bad to me in five or ten years’ time as it still does now. Entirely logical, no? It would make perfect sense that someone who’s been sober for years and years could fall back! You feel secure and it’s been forever since alcohol was ever a problem in your life. You feel secure because you’re set in new habits and a new normal where a drink would be out of the ordinary. You feel secure because you look back and hey, stopping drinking wasn’t so hard was it? So you can probably just do it the once. So what. No big deal.

I can see how easily it could happen. You know, because I was so scared of falling back when I first escaped I told EVERYONE. I declared it to my family and friends and even my bosses because I figured the more people who know, the more chance there is that someone will blow the whistle if I come up against that enemy again: me. I have sometimes referred to all these people as my anchors. Getting sober will always have to come from me, but knowing I have a large number of people who are aware of my struggle with alcohol makes me feel so much safer. After all, the Beast wants to isolate me and get me on my own, so snitching on it instantly means it’s harder for it to get to me. Anna 1 – Booze 0. However, I actually wonder if it just doesn’t happen that way – the Beast is a fucking cunning creature and I doubt it’d try to get me when I’m anchored down. So I’m going to ask people I know who were sober for a long, long stretch what that scenario was when they picked up a drink again. I picture it being something unusual – perhaps you’re away with work or at some party or anything else that takes you away from your own habitat. And suddenly you’re offered one and it just happens, in one floating motion with no real thought behind it. Lights dimmed on those hellish memories of your rock bottom and a heightened sense of how strong you’ve been for all this time? Well – I’m just speculating here and simply because I just can’t see myself get a stash of booze and set to work on a Tuesday afternoon in the way I used to. Too much explaining for starters and no one enjoys drinking whilst having to justify it – that’s why us alkies prefer drinking on our own.

Thinking about the dream now, it makes me feel sad but most of all grateful that I don’t have to be her anymore. I don’t have to do that. There is nothing I miss about it and I’m glad the shame of it is so strong it lingers even all these months later. I hope it lingers longer still. Much longer. Forever, in fact. I’m going to create a list of things that I am grateful and joyous to be free of and find a way of carrying it with me or putting it up somewhere I will see it every day. At this point all of those things are fresh in my mind because I’m still fresh out of hell. Really spell out how I used to feel and what drinking felt and looked like. More thoughts to come on this, no doubt.

Feel free to share if you have dreams like that or something similar – I’d love to know.

Today I’m not going to drink.

13 thoughts on “Fresh Out of Hell

  1. Good morning, Anna. I’m new to your blog (excellent, by the way!) and new-ish to sobriety (six months now—wait, no, seven! Hurray.) anyway, this post was just exactly what I needed to read this morning. Almost mystically so.

    You see, I was toying with the idea of maybe trying to “moderate” over the holidays. Next week, there are three of the best parties we go to each year—one of them the Alliance Francaise group, and there is always lots of real, expensive, delicious French champagne, at the exquisite home of one of our wealthier members! Perhaps, my evil little weaselly booze-brain purrs, just perhaps I could make merry with JUST A GLASS or maybe two…? After all, I have been an exemplary tee-totaller since May, for goodness’ sake! *Pourquoi pas?*

    Your spot-on essay broght me up short, and changed my thinking. That divine, sparkling Dom Perignon would indeed be Heaven, but as sure as I am sitting here, I would not stop at two glasses, and would wake up the next morning filled with misery, shame, and remorse, and need a Bloody Mary as a wee hair of the dog…how do I know? Because this sequence has happened over and over for years, when I’d try to moderate (ho ho) after a period of abstaining.

    Thank you for giving me a much-needed wake-up! I’ll have what you’re having, thanks very much…more months of sane, serene, sobriety.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Aww, that’s so nice! I obviously can’t say what works for anyone other than myself, but that moderation thing I’ve never mastered…! I can see exactly what you mean and my brain would do the same thing – i.e. make me think a glass of something bubbly is a reward. It’s not easy to reverse those images. Six months is awesome!!!! And like you, sometimes here in the blogosphere – often, actually – I’ll read something I needed at that exact moment! x

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  2. :: I’d poured a glass and in the dream it was just like my other drinking dreams in that my choice was gone – I’d already had some and the damage was done. :: I think it’s best to avoid this all or nothing thinking. Yes, you should resist drinking at all costs, but in the event that you screw up somewhere down the line, stopping as soon as you realize you’re making a mistake is still success. A glass of wine doesn’t make you a drunk. Being a drunk makes you a drunk.

    Three years in, I still have the “whoops” dream frequently. I’ll be at a bar and have ordered a beer or a glass of wine, and sometimes even drank a bit when I realize “Whoops, I don’t drink any more.” Fortunately, in these dreams I always stop immediately. I think my mind is trying to tell me that being a non-drinker isn’t a big deal… so much so that I even forget I’m a non-drinker.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mm, yes, can see what you’re saying – good point. I just think if I did slip up (again!) and somehow ended up thinking “ah, I stopped!” I’d be in trouble because for me personally sobriety is a lot to do with accepting that this is the one thing I spent over a decade trying to do. I agree though that a slip shouldn’t be seen or taken as a huge failure and obviously stopping would be a massive success – it’s just I know I can’t stop! It’s never once been possible! Or at least, I have never been able to before. Hopefully my head will catch up and Dream Me will stop next time! 🙂 The dream was scary because Dream Me was very much Drunk Me and the intention was there to continue.

      Thanks for making me think – great comment – and how you in your “whoops dreams” (great expression!) put the glass down is really interesting! I wonder if Dream Me can’t because I in real life never could?!

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  3. I reckon that if your brain is telling you at some stage that you can possibly try drinking again and is only remembering the sugar coated good parts of drinking go back and read your old blogs. Seriously I could weep for the old me at the beginning, struggling and trying so bloody hard. You know why and how I fell off my wagon and also my fears for what would be triggers for me again but on my shitty days I reach out to my tribe or I read on here. XOX

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  4. I had my first drinking dream in a long time recently. I was ok about it – recognised it as “just a dream” phoned a friend and shared/joked about it.

    My early ones were where I needed to drink but couldn’t get one – normally in brutalist concrete city centres where every pub was closed. Then they moved over time to like yours, the recent one included, I look down and there’s half a glass gone. I’m drinking again and that’s it I’m blown.

    I’ve a friend who first got sober at 24 back in the 70s. He went over 18 years then just one Christmas (Boxing Day evening actually) he picked up a drink. Within weeks he was penniless sleeping on the beach in Mexico – took his business, his family, his home, his wealth – the lot. He used to frighten me with his story – it still does a bit but now I’m glad he did that to tell me about it and hopefully to mean I don’t have to drink today.

    Liked by 1 person

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