Let’s Call It a Tie, Shall We?

Ah!

…and that’s as far as I got this morning – just an “ah” – before the mechanic turned up to have a look at my car. As these things seem to go any time I’m involved, it’s already turning into a saga of one thing after the other – two mechanics down (each finding totally new problems) and tomorrow it goes to a third place for a full look-over. If it starts, that is. I love my car and would hate to have to trade it in for a younger model, but I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I get to it and with a longer drive to work it might just not work so well anymore with a car that almost always gets me from A to B.

Yesterday was my 15 months sober – yay! I don’t know what to say about this milestone except I’m in a really good place right now. Well, sobriety appears to be a bloody awesome place to be no matter the day, but right about now I’m fucking LOVING my life! I really am so fortunate and blessed – a wonderful home life with a husband to die for and my son and bonus sons, my health, my recovery, my friends and a job where I get to do something I really care about. Sorry for being such a smug cow, but… well, I am. I’m sure I could find things to whine about but even when I look for negatives they just don’t seem to stack up much, and even if they do they really aren’t much to worry about. Nothing that I can’t handle but here’s the thing – I can handle most crap life might throw my way because I’m sober now. It’s an absolute game changer. And there’s one thing I am yet to find anything negative about: sobriety. Seriously – zero, zip, zilch. Not that I spend much time looking for negatives, but you know what I mean. Right now is a good spot for me. Life sometimes sneaks in through a back door and I’m sure there’ll be new curve balls and challenges coming my way, but in this moment it’s clear skies and fairly turbulence free.

15 months on, I guess what I can say is that not drinking is just my normal. It doesn’t really occur to me anymore, it no longer feels strange or uncomfortable and whatever the situation may be that I find myself in I don’t really think about it in the same way. Of course this is good news, but I am also extremely mindful of how I am still equipped with the same devious brain I had along. That’s the very same brain that kept me prisoner to my addiction for most part of my adult life, so don’t for a moment think I’m sitting here telling you I have this sussed because I sure as hell don’t! The Beast will never die, it’ll never stop lurking around there in the shadows and the moment I stop being vigilant it’ll be ready to pounce and sink its claws into me – of this I have no doubt. I may have forced it into a cage but the cage has no lock – as someone once put it so perfectly – and I will never allow myself to forget that fact. That’s OK though, I’m cool with that. At 15 months I may not get into full battle gear each morning, but I keep my sword and shield close by in case I need them.

Work is good and shifts roll my way at a steady rate. I’m loving it. Even on days when I get a bit of vomit on me. Well, it was mostly water and I surprised myself by not being quite as squeamish as I thought I was. Most days are vomit free though and I continue to be inspired by the courage of every client who comes through those doors. No matter what happens next it’s a miracle every single time to me. How funny, in a way I wish I’d had Sober Anna of now to tell Drunk Anna of just over 15 months ago how that lowest, darkest point of my life was in actual fact my greatest moment. “I need help” were the best words I ever said even though they felt like shards of glass as I said them. 23 January 2018 was the day I began to turn my life around. Yes, my son is my greatest gift, but that day is a close second. Besides, I am only now a good mother because of it. Let’s call it a tie, shall we?

So there we are. 15 months and one day sober. Beast sitting pretty in (unlocked) cage. Bambino good. Hubby good. Health good. Work good. Anna good.

Best of all?

Today I’m not going to drink.

What Sparks a Light

Holy moly, that was LONG. But oh so worth it! A stretch of eight days at the rehab and my first terrifyingly tiring taste of a 12-hour shift, but strangely I walked away motivated and energised. Poor Hubby may disagree as I was starting to fade by 8.30pm Saturday evening, but even so. Turns out I’m quite the grafter when I’m not busy drinking myself into an early grave. Or, the following is true:

“You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.”

No idea who said it but I suppose that sums it all up – I so genuinely and oh so deeply CARE about this! Even when I am absolutely spent I could go further and faster. OK, so working out what these last three weeks’ 100 hours amounted to in cold, hard cash made me choke on my coffee, but that was never my motivation anyway. BANG ON! Maybe this will wear me out. Maybe I’ll lose interest tomorrow. Who the fuck cares! Right now it’s where I want to be and precisely what I want to be doing. I’m learning so much and beyond that I’m also growing – both in confidence and as a person. I’ve run the morning relaxation group a whole bunch of times and although it still gives me palpitations and makes me so nervous my hands tremble, I’m getting there and I no longer dread it like I did those first few times.

How do you feel about driving the van, Anna?” Beethoven asked.

You fucking kidding me? That thing?! In actual TRAFFIC? With seven or eight people or whatever it seats? How do I feel about that? Oh, lemme think…

No. Sorry, no chance, absolutely not,” I replied despite feeling quite bad I was blatantly saying no to a boss I’m desperate to impress.

I saw no point in giving half baked excuses, I ain’t driving that thing. I’m a terrible driver, not at all confident in city traffic and I wouldn’t be able to park even if I had an entire, totally clear runway at Heathrow at my disposal to park aforementioned thing. Sometimes you just have to be realistic and I just can’t see myself doing that. I’m sure I would get used to driving it, but I don’t think anyone would much appreciate an “outing” being driven around a loop and just back to rehab without stopping anywhere, given I can’t park to save my life. And don’t get me started on LANES and ROUNDABOUTS and other things that are to do with traffic rules and regulations. Unlike the relaxation sessions, this is where actual people could actually die. Whilst I can appreciate the clever psychological device of having a group of people in treatment return to the rehab with a renewed sense of THANK GOD I’M ALIVE, I find that slightly cruel.

What if we do some driving lessons?” Beethoven suggested and smiled.

Fine,” I sighed wearily, “but I’m not taking anyone out in it until I feel confident.

Good girl,” Beethoven boomed, “there you go!

Oh fuckety-fuck-fuck. Clearly I still have some way to go with the boundaries and standing firm. See how my resolute no turned to defeat? Bollocks. Well. If you spot an eight-seater van the colour of cafe latte full of terrified passengers who appear to be alternating between hysterical crying and being deep in prayer, giz a wave. Or honk if you’re happy and you know it. Or something. Perhaps make room the way you do for blue lights, I dunno.

Well. Time to catch my breath now – no work tomorrow! A few hours on Thursday and then three whole days off before I’m back on Easter Monday. I’m absolutely loving it, and the people I get to spend my days with make me happy and I actually refer to the clients as much as my colleagues, if not more.

I didn’t go to treatment myself, but I can tell you that there are no people I admire more than those absolute superheroes who somehow find the herculean strength to walk through those doors. There are moments when someone’s just come through them and they seem so beaten, so broken and so low – every goddamn time I want to just shout LOOK WHAT YOU JUST DID YOU ABSOLUTE CHAMPION!! Perhaps in that moment someone will feel utter defeat, yet they’ve just done something that makes me want to worship right there at their feet. It makes my heart soar every time. Hand on heart, I don’t know that I’d been able to do it. I don’t know that I would have had the strength to walk through those mirrored doors, much less last even 24 hours inside them. I’m not sure they realise just how much they inspire me, move me and fill me with such hope I could just weep of gratitude. Sometimes the human spirit just blows my mind. There really are so many truly beautiful moments. And let me tell you this – I spend time with these superheroes (colleagues and clients) who go into battle with the Beast with nothing but a fucking toothpick to defend themselves with, and I’m so immensely proud that I’m one of them even though I didn’t walk through those doors in the way some of them did. I never thought I’d say it, but being a recovering addict makes me feel proud because we are fucking AWESOME. These people know how to swing a sword, lemme tell ya.

Uhm, feeling borderline religious here… I really am turning into a smug hippie. Yuk.

Time to switch off now. Time for me. Time for family. Time to smile about all these things I have to be grateful for. Most of all I am grateful that:

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Glass or Two Behind

He needs no introduction, beyond saying – once again – he is the most wonderful man in the world, my best friend and the most decent human being I’ve ever met. My favourite human, in fact, alongside Bambino and my two bonus sons. Hubby, the great love of my life. We have talked so much and so often about my addiction and descent into the dark pit of alcoholism, and ages ago I asked him to give his perspective of what it was like to live with Drunk Me. Last night, after we spoke on the phone – me at home, him just having checked into his hotel in Dubai – it landed in my inbox. I asked Hubby’s permission to re-post it here and I’ve done so in its entirety, only removing Bambino’s real name and the area where we used to live, but those things are irrelevant here anyway. Some stuff is painful, some stuff very personal and embarrassing, but this isn’t a space where I gloss things over and nor do I hide anything. Not even the stuff that makes me blush or cringe (or both).

Proceed with caution!

So, with no further ado, Hubby’s frank account of life with Drunk Me – answering my question “What was it like living with Drunk Me?” warts and all, full disclosure:

Hi baby,

Thought I’d give this a go while on the flight to Dubai, so here I go.

Maybe just to start off with – you are the same wonderful person today as the first day I met you. It’s just that today, you are a better version of you. I loved you then and I love you now – even more so now if that is possible. There maybe some things in here that you’ll want to talk about further, and that’s great, happy to.

Drunk you was often a lot of fun. When I look back on the first few years of our relationship, we had many great times and may laughs along the way. We did some crazy shit too – [area where we used to live] orientation day where I think I piggy-backed you home for part of the way, making the taxi wait while we went into the sex shop, dancing the Swedish bygg, sushi making…………Getting to know you was arguably easier (or perhaps happened more quickly) fuelled with several sauv blancs. So for the first few years, living with drunk you was fun and a respite from the life I’d been trapped in while married. And of course the sex was awesome and at times risky, with inhibition levels lowered by higher amounts of alcohol.

But of course there were signals along the way that flashed amber, and perhaps red at times. I mean this relative to your drinking, not our relationship.

What first struck me was that you drank a lot, and quickly – no handbrake. I’ve always liked a glass or two of wine and would happily do this 2-3 nights a week, sometimes more. But I’d always buy wine I liked, and drank partly to savour the taste. When we drank together it was more about getting something nice down the neck in the shortest time possible. Most of the time I couldn’t keep pace with you, so I’d be a glass or two behind. Sometimes I’d try to slow you down to my pace, but I know that irritated you.

As time went on, I think I felt I needed to maintain in control by drinking less, as one of us needed to. In a way I felt I had to be the “sensible” one, and needed to look after you a bit in case anything got really out of hand. Thank god nothing ever did, but many nights I had to wake you on the couch and make sure you got to bed.

Of course I was worried about the health impact – for both of us – particularly when we were smoking too. More days than others it would be a hangover in the morning and feeling lousy for most of the day. I think I always saw it as a fun period that would end soon, or at least slow down a lot – but of course I didn’t really understand for you that was not possible. I knew that drinking that often and in that quantity must have been damaging for your health (and mine), but I always thought that when it slowed down to a “normal” level, it would all be OK.

One thing I observed was that you had (have) big dreams but it seemed booze was the thing holding you back. You are an incredibly talented writer with plenty of ideas – so the question was – why didn’t you get on and finish your book? I put it down to the drinking, and not having the wherewithal to follow through. Similar story for your running – something you always talked about as enjoyable times when you were at your best. And again for your work – where you’d seemed to have settled for something well below your capability, that didn’t really challenge you, but that you could do easily while at 50% power level. As a partner, you always want the best for the other and for them to reach their potential, so this was a little always something I used to think about. Now that you are on your sober journey, it seems like you’ve taken massive strides forward and becoming the person you are destined to be.

There was the impact on [Bambino] too. I worried for him, but I guess I thought that was what he knew of his Mum. Remember, I’m his responsible adult too so it’s as much about me as it is you. There were times when I was away that I’d text him and ask if you were OK, as I couldn’t reach you – that’s probably unfair of me to put him in that situation but I felt I needed to know you were OK.

Over the final year of the drinking, I think we began to argue more and more – and with more anger. That was a worry for both of us I think – when we woke we knew we’d argued but neither of had all the details – just that yucky feeling. I doubut that it was anything serious, but clearly it was not going to be sustainable at that level.

I think that’s about it for now. You’re a million times a better version of you now and I’m so proud of you for taking the step(s) that you have. It will only continue to get better from here.

Love you xxxxxxxxxxxx

Had Me Rolling

All in good time. That’s something that’s very good for my Schumacher brain to get used to and I’m doing my best by being as honest and authentic as I can be. A full time role has already materialised at the rehab but I have made it clear I won’t take it. Whoa, back up, back up…. Nah, you read that correctly. Yes, it is indeed what I want to do for a living but – and this is a huge but – it cannot be at a cost I can’t afford. It is. It’d mean I have one weekend in six off, and the working week is between 50 and 60 hours long. There is a 25-hour shift every week – work the evening shift, sleep at the rehab with the possibility you might be woken by the waking night person to deal with emergencies (and these do happen, as I’ve already seen) and then do the morning shift. On occasion this would be fine, but on a weekly basis and along with effectively sacrificing the quality time I have at weekends with Hubby it’s just not realistic.

This is more than I’m prepared to give. They are pressing on, Rio even offered to do the sleep-over part of MY shifts if it meant I’d accept, but for now I’ve said I’ll continue to take shifts on an ad-hoc basis – so far I’ve said yes to everything, so it’s not like I’m being a princess about it – and see where it goes. I cannot compromise my family life and balance in this way. A standard 40-hour week spread over painfully exhausting shifts, no problem, but that’s not what this is.

And that’s cool. Worst thing I can imagine when it comes to this would be to promise something that I’ll find too challenging to deliver. I think Rio was a little disappointed and God knows he pushed, pushed and pushed some more, but I also know both he and Beethoven appreciated my honesty. Besides, if I agree to more than I feel I can handle and sacrifice too much to do it, I won’t be any good for them anyway. Win-win. Rio did mention he’ll see if they can find a way to pin me down permanently for what I can do and get someone new to cover the shifts I can’t commit to. It’s mainly the 25-hour one because even if I wanted to, Hubby travels a lot and at 14 Bambino is too young to be completely solo like that.

So life will continue this way for a while and that’s awesome. I’m getting shifts at a steady rate with three or four every week and trust me, that’s brilliant. It does take it out of me and often I get home wired as well as absolutely spent, but with this arrangement (that of course also does allow me to say no, should I need to) I still have the balance I need. And oh, I still get quality time, albeit even this way much less, with Hubby and Bambino.

I took the relaxation group again yesterday and I didn’t die. I felt the fear and did it anyway (good book, by the way – “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” – look it up). Good, eh? And next time I might even go into it without my heart beating so hard I’m breathless! Because I’m still learning and finding my feet, I want to check off with either Beethoven or Rio or one of the therapists before I take a reading, poem or video clip to the group. Cherokee sent me the below clip recently. She said once, since I got sober, that she’s glad to have me back. I took this to mean she always loved me for who I actually am, and that perhaps my descent into alcoholism stole me away from her there for a while. If you can call best part of two decades “a while”, that is.

Anyway. Cherokee loves this series called Vikings, and this dude is an actor and plays one of the main parts. I watched it and loved it. The things he is grateful for I can sign my name to, I can totally relate to the fear of saying goodbye to “that life” and more than anything I can only echo his words: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We need to talk about these things – addiction, mental health, etc – and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m with him, and although I’m not a successful actor in my 20s I can still relate to every single thing he said. Er, I don’t have “hanger-on’s” but apart from that bit, I suppose. Let me assure you that there is a way out of the living hell that is addiction. It gets brighter, it gets better and one day you’ll sit there and look back and not believe, uhm, what you USED to believe.

It’s about 15 minutes long. WATCH IT. The guy talks a lot of sense.

As for me, today I’m most grateful for these things, in no particular order:

  1. I woke up without a crippling hangover.
  2. I don’t have to drink today.
  3. Bambino’s sense of humour – he had me rolling this morning, he’s just too funny.
  4. I’m a good wife and finally a present mother.
  5. I get to do something I’m passionate about for a living. Well, ad-hoc anyway!
  6. My new foundation from Bobbi Brown – I look all dewy! (Superficial, I know – sorry, not sorry).
  7. Feeling so enthusiastic and energised.
  8. Hubby’s delectable bottom. Oh, and his grrrrr-wanna-bite-them-they’re-so-good legs.
  9. Being alive.
  10. Cherokee – this amazing, kick-ass woman who is MY friend. She’s with ME! Smug as fuck.
  11. That I can now face my fears and do even the things that terrify me.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Stark Naked, I Swear

I crashed. I hit one of those bumps in the road that I – when I was in active addiction – avoided like the plague. I.e. the sort of bump that I’ve been avoiding my entire adult life, running away and hiding from any potential friction long before it could even form aforementioned bump. When we get sober, I think some of us have this little disillusion that our lives will just magically transform and be perfect – I hear it all the time in various recovery groups: “why am I still not sleeping well? I’ve been sober for weeks!” or that we are pissed off that even though we did that horrendously scary thing and got sober, we’re still in pain! That’s so unfair! Me, me, me!!

Don’t get me wrong – sobriety DOES transform our lives, of course it does. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t make us bullet proof. We still lose our jobs. Our partners still leave us. People we love still get ill. People we love even die. Whilst this may make us bitter as we may feel we deserved better for cleverly and bravely fighting our demons, I think it’s so important to remember that what sobriety actually means is that we get a shot at being the best we can be and be best placed to not just enjoy the happy times but best placed to deal with the shitters too. And that’s where I found myself this Saturday just gone.

I ran the relaxation group again that morning. For those of you who are used to talking in front of people and/or don’t get consumed by anxiety of doing so, it really is no big deal: sit in a circle with 20 people, let everyone know what we’re doing (ten minutes of being silent, then a reading and then we share our thoughts and experiences) and just lead and moderate the discussion. For ME, this used to be unthinkable. Saturday was the second time I did this and it all unravelled. The worst thing that could happen, DID happen. I lost control of the group, couldn’t bring it back in when the discussion turned chaotic and some of the clients ceased the opportunity to wreak havoc. No, it’s not my responsibility to recover for them – my responsibility in this instance is to facilitate a relaxation group. They’re adults, for God’s sake! It’s their responsibility to take the session (and their own recovery) seriously. They didn’t and it was a disaster. Any time I opened my mouth, to steer the conversation back to what it should have been or to ask people to speak one at a time, I got sniggered at, laughed at and it just escalated. I would have felt more comfortable if I’d walked into that room stark naked, I swear.

So here I am, pulling on my big girl pants and making myself do something that actually terrifies me. And it ends up exactly in that place that has had me running from this all my life: I failed. My inner voice had a field day, lemme tell ya. Oh you useless piece of shit, look how pathetic you are! You can’t do this – what a joke! Run away and hide so no one has to be around you, you ridiculous, embarrassing and utterly despicable little bitch. Go hide. Go scratch. Pathetic! Have a drink, obliterate yourself because that’s all you deserve, you fucking failure and ridiculous excuse for a human being.

That’s right. I am actually a very kind and caring person but to myself I am often the meanest piece of shit you could possibly imagine.

I walked away from it angry. I hated each and every one of those clients in that moment. I don’t fucking go to an AA meeting and begin sniggering and being disruptive if someone shares something I personally may think is a load of shit. I respect other people and I am there to recover. By the time I left, my anger had dissolved into that old, familiar feeling – the deepest sadness and the firm belief that I’m good for absolutely fuck-all. Got home, told hubby I’d hit the wall and needed a moment all alone and in silence to just land. I sat on our bed and cried my eyes out. I allowed myself to feel all the things the situation triggered in me. It was shitty and I felt utterly destroyed. Who was I to think I’d be any good at this? Just look at it!

Well. I’m done crying about it now. I think I can now see it for what it was. I did my best with the tools I had. I learned some very useful lessons. Rio, Beethoven and the therapists all hugged me and regaled me with stories of their own, reassuring me they’d all been there and that I’d indeed been good enough. Because what this was, was a bump in the road and one of those I can’t avoid. This is part and parcel of learning and growing. Yesterday when I walked back in through those doors, I ensured my back was a little straighter and I also put a new little strategy in place: I didn’t apologise to anyone for doing my job. Or for using up oxygen by breathing. I didn’t say “excuse me, sorry to interrupt your lunch, you’re next for meds, I’m so sorry to be a pain“. I said “right, you’re next, now please“. Progress, not perfection.

I needed to hit that bump. Be in a situation I find so uncomfortable I want to crawl out of my own skin or stick my fingers into my eyeballs and swirl them around just for the fucking distraction from the pain I feel. What this showed me was this: the worst thing I thought could happen DID happen, but actually….. ….the worst that could, and did, happen was nothing. No one died. I doubt they sat around afterwards having a good old laugh at how they shot me down. Or maybe they did! So what! I’m there to support them in their recovery but I’m not fucking there to recover FOR them. So yesterday I faced them all and I don’t know if it was my straighter back or lack of needless apologies, but dare I say it – I was in charge. And part of the reason why is because I hit a bump, crashed hard but instead of running and hiding, I picked myself up and got back in the saddle. Bring it, biatches. I’m done running and hiding.

Weirdly, I’m looking forward to Wednesday morning when I’ll take that group once again. Yep. Life is life and sometimes everything will fall into our laps and sometimes life will kick our asses. But sobriety does transform us and I’m quite happy – excited, even – to walk back into a situation that last time felt like that nightmare where you’re naked and on stage and everyone points and laughs. I kid you not. Sure, it does also make me feel a little sick but this is what I want to do, it’s what I believe in and what I’m passionate about and if it’s not worth fighting for, then why bother?

IMG_9958

Today I’m not going to drink.