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.
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.