Cloud Sweet Cloud

I started writing a comment on another blog, but realised it was turning into an essay. I also realised I had written it in such a rush – you know when you’re really excited about something and the words just tumble out in a torrent? – that it probably came across as though I was really rubbishing everything this writer had said. So I removed it and just left a comment saying thanks for sharing and making me think, because that’s what the post did. It was about what this writer referred to as “pink cloud syndrome”.

Personally, I call it “home” but probably without the syndrome bit.

In some sobriety circles, the Pink Cloud is this treacherous land you wander around in when you’re in early sobriety, some sort of high that will wear off and when it does your old demons are right there to dig their claws into you. In some meetings it’s almost whispered with a sense of ominous foreboding, where old timers will nod and give you knowing glances. Be afraid, dear. Be very afraid. It’s not real and soon you’ll see.

OK, so imagine you were paralysed from the waist down. For years and years you’ve not been able to use your legs. And then you suddenly can. Imagine the elation and euphoria you will feel – a high indeed! I’ll sign my name to it any day of the week, it was absolutely one of the first things I experienced when I got sober – hell, almost ten months on I still spend my mornings feeling grateful that I am clear headed, strong and hangover free. Had I not sunk into alcoholism, would I have felt that way? Maybe not, I’ll give you that. I probably wouldn’t have, any more than I walk down the street with tears of happiness streaming down my face because my legs carry me. It’s quite likely that if I’d never had the drinking problem I did, I wouldn’t have felt such overwhelming joy over something as simple as a cup of morning coffee. But do you know what? That’s neither here nor there because just like someone who lost the use of their legs for a while, I don’t think I’ll suddenly (or even gradually) forget all the things I so very nearly threw again. Call me naive (I’ve been called worse) but I think if you have ever tango’d with the Devil, you’ll hold on to life more tightly when you escape her clutches.

Yes, I set up home on the Pink Cloud. Almost immediately. That’s the beauty of sobriety – it delivers almost instantly. You’d think I’d just come back from having been in a war zone but that’s what it feels like. Yes, the joy and gratitude I feel may very well be the result of appreciating life more simply because my addiction was taking it away from me. Will I one day have forgotten where I was heading with my drinking? Will I one day begin to believe I can have “just one drink”? They say complacency creeps in and that’s when you fall right back down into your addiction.

Here’s what I think: I think you only fall back if you still believe that alcohol brings something positive to your life.

Before I got to 23 January 2018, I knew I had a problem but I still also wanted to drink. I made some death defying attempts at both quitting and moderating, each as fruitless as the other and I failed every single time. Why? It’s near on impossible to quit something you still want to do and I just don’t have that sort of will power. As for moderation, well, I’m an alcoholic and per definition I can’t stop if I have that first one. There were a few times when I quit drinking for a while – a few weeks usually and on a couple of occasions I managed a handful of months with my longest stretch being four-ish months. The physical well being would always kick in, of course, and I’d feel elated at having kicked my dangerous habit. But that wasn’t enough because I was pining for a drink. I was GASPING for a drink. It was all I could think about and it took a Herkulean effort to get through each day. Eventually, my alcoholic brain – Drunk Me – would win by telling me “look, you’re not an alcoholic, you can totally stop any time you want” and I’d go and celebrate by drinking myself to black-out faster than you can say Sauvignon Blanc.

So yes, I think I know what they mean when they warn you about the Pink Cloud, but I only think you’re ever in the danger zone if you still deep down want to drink. I mean, why would you be in the danger zone of doing something you really don’t want to do?

That’s the clincher for me this time around. I don’t know exactly how or why, but I guess it was just a perfect storm. I’d reached a point where I was so thoroughly fed up with drinking and how it made me feel that I just knew I was done with it. And at the same time I tried to figure out why I’d been drinking in the first place. What I discovered was that all the reasons I thought I had were utter bullshit, and of course once I no longer had any reasons to drink, well…

Will I suddenly – or gradually – start to believe that alcohol will bring me some sort of benefit? Even though I know for certain it never did? Would that even be possible? I know for a fact it doesn’t make fun more fun, and given that it’s a powerful depressant it CAN’T make happy happier. Or what about if I end up going through something deeply traumatic and difficult? It is an anaesthetic, after all, so it’d make more sense to fall into the pit then, no? Well. I’ve gone through a couple of thoroughly shitty patches and didn’t touch a drop because I was terrified that alcohol would make me feel even worse. So I suppose it strikes me as unlikely that I’d reach for the bottle then either as this was never my pattern anyway.

The Pink Cloud, as far as I’m concerned, is nothing other than LIFE the way we are designed to live it: healthy, sober and free. Mother Nature even equipped us with a kick-ass warning system to alert us to stuff that’s bad for us – that’s why poison generally speaking tastes bad. EURGH! NOT GOOD FOR YOU! SPIT IT OUT! Even this jaded old drunk shuddered the first time she tried booze. Can’t imagine many people taste alcohol for the first time thinking oh yummy! And doesn’t it speak volumes that we have to dilute it endlessly and add flavourings to disguise its foul taste? It wouldn’t actually be physically possible to ingest 100% pure alcohol – our bodies simply wouldn’t allow it.

Being on the Pink Cloud just means you live life as a human being. Yes, of course it’s going to feel amazing in every sense – literally every sense, given how alcohol numbs our senses – to be sober, but I think if you’ve ever sunk into alcoholism and then find your way out you’ll never lose sight of what you nearly lost. When I was drinking I was fully aware that alcohol was destroying me, yet I still drank. It’s our reasons to drink we need to remove. I truly believe that. Only when we expose the Beast for what it is can we move on. Clinging on for dear life on a mad white knuckle ride will never be freedom.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Humpty Numpty

Monday grouch extraordinaire. No time like the present to practice letting stuff go, and I find I’m getting quite good at it. I think when you have alcohol and all its countless negative effects swirling around in your blood stream, you get tangled up in bullshit more and bees are more likely to find their way into your bonnet and stay there. At least this is true for me. I used to hold on to the most ridiculous stuff. It has to be said that Sober Me also holds grudges but at least she’s selective. Drunk Me would hold on to any real or imagined slight and obsess over it for-goddamn-ever. It’s funny actually, because I don’t know how I did all of that – I think it’s one of the things I first noticed when I first got sober, how much hard work it was to drink and then cope with everything that went with it.

As much as sobriety has chilled me out, I’m still Anna and being Anna means I’m grouchy in the mornings and sometimes things piss me off. Booze or no booze, my people tolerance levels have always been, er… …somewhere near the shallow end, shall we say. Right now I am of the opinion that someone I work with is a dimwit. How hard can it be to freaking communicate simple matters? Instead we end up in situations where everything requires twice the work and triple the headache as several people rush around doing the same job and nothing is clear to anyone. This is just about where I realised this is not worth caring about, much less deserving of a spot on my list of fucks to give. Dimwit colleague probably does his best. If I end up having to do a bit of clearing up mess, no sweat. I’m around for how much longer? A couple of months? Six at most? That’s right – no fucks shall be given.

Hmm… Not quite working, I’m still feeling prickly and still very much feel he’s a frustrating and infuriating numpty. Perhaps I can help matters along by listing the things where I’m happier to give a fuck as opposed to stuff I can’t do much about aka work numpty?

Numero Uno: Bambino’s birthday cake. Another colleague showed me a picture of the birthday cake she made for her sister over the weekend, an impressive chocolate creation and apparently she held a speech too. My effort will in all likelihood be a dash’n’grab in Patisserie Valerie or Marks & Spencer, and beyond a ‘happy birthday’ I’ll probably just sob into Bambino’s neck because my baby is growing up too fast. He turns 14 tomorrow, which is so surreal. My little man.  Actually, thinking about it this way makes me realise how fucking great life is. All I have right in this moment to worry about is getting a cake for Bambino. That is the sum total of all my problems at this present time. I’m sure I could find a million things that’d keep me awake all night, but there we are. I’m trying to focus my energy on the stuff that actually matters. And just look – there are only really positive things. I just happen to be in a grouch Monday mood, which I suspect happens to most of us once in a while.

And drinking? Well, now THERE is something to really care about and be grateful for: it couldn’t be further from my mind. I never thought I’d hear myself say that. There may be times – in fact that seems inevitable – when it won’t be quite so rosy, but right now I’m floating along quite happily up here on my Pink Cloud.

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Most Precious Cargo

Like reading their blogs weren’t enough to get this hyperactive brain of mine perilously close to over heating, now my tribe are throwing thought grenades into the comments too! I don’t even know where to start and I won’t get very far as I’m right now sat at the Costa Coffee in Heathrow’s terminal 5. I’m waiting for hubby and can see from the screen that flight BA323 has just safely touched down and brought its most precious cargo back from Paris.

I mentioned the book ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction‘ by David Sheff in my last post. The son in question, Nic Sheff, published an accompanying book – ‘Tweak‘ – which tells the same story I suppose, but from the addict’s perspective. I finished the first and have started the latter. To say I’m gripped is an understatement. You’d think this fascinates me so much partly due to my own experience with alcoholism and that’s absolutely true, but addiction and what it does to people has always interested me hugely. My favourite book ever, which I must have read from cover to cover 50 times since I first picked it up at the age of 12 or so, is ‘And I Don’t Want to Live This Life‘ by Deborah Spungen. I could never quite put my finger on what gripped me so tightly, but perhaps it’s the addiction aspect – it is the account of Nancy Spungen’s life written by her mother. Nancy went down in the history books I suppose for being the junkie girlfriend of Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols). Vicious himself died from a heroin overdose before standing trial for murdering Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel in New York where she was found dead underneath a bathroom sink. Perhaps to the world she’ll be remembered for those things only (if at all), but the book is the story of a deeply disturbed girl and woman (barely – she died at the age of 20) who suffered intolerably from mental disorders that were never properly diagnosed but was in all likelihood schizophrenic. The book is her mother’s harrowing account of the family’s battle to get her help from when she was a newborn that didn’t stop crying to a young woman lost to hard drugs and chaos. Well. Set aside for a moment that I myself developed alcoholism, perhaps this was where my calling was all along? It sure does grab hold of me, always has.

So what got me thinking was how you have the alcohol and drugs conversation with your children and how of course David Sheff’s book’s has the overarching theme of a parent’s desperate guilt: what could I have done? What SHOULD I have done? What didn’t I do? Where did I go wrong?

…..and this is when hubby walked through and now it’s Friday morning….

One thing that comes up in Sheff’s book was how he always felt it was better to be honest with his son when they first had conversations about drinking and taking drugs. And Sheff himself dabbled in his youth and he shares the truth with his son. At one point they even smoke a joint together. This might strike some as really foolish, but I can absolutely see his thinking about the honesty. I wouldn’t have a drink with my son when he is underage and certainly not do drugs (that isn’t and never was my thing anyway), but I’ve always thought being honest with him will be much better than present him with some angelic (and desperately untrue) image of me as a teenager. But this is problematic and Sheff shows why with both his own approach and another: an example of when a school that gets this speaker in, some sports personality I believe. This person got in trouble with drugs but then got out of it and he’s there to illustrate to the students that even someone like HIM and all that. Of course he got out and made a success of himself. The problem with this is however that the message we unintentionally – both when we are honest and confess our own transgressions and with the even-HIM school speaker – send to the kids isn’t how awful booze and drugs are. What they see is that it turned out OK anyway.

Mulling this over actually scares me. My son has seen me drunk. And he knows – because I have been open about it – that I have banished alcohol from my life because it only causes me grief and I can’t control it. It’s a really hard balance – he is about to turn 14, by the way – because I don’t want to gloss it over and make him think I’ve just quit because I “over indulged”, nor do I want him to have to carry the enormous burden and pain of getting to grips with alcoholism. So I have as best I can outlined what my issue with alcohol is and why I now stay away from it. Of course Bambino is now at an age where he will more than likely encounter booze (and much worse) if he hasn’t already. Has he? Has he tried alcohol? Has he tried worse? Sheff’s son gets drunk for the first time at 11 and regularly smokes pot at 12. This is a smart and talented kid from a good family and the world at his feet and not a child neglected by their parents or growing up in a crack den. They are just an ordinary family. Sheff is clearly an involved and loving father and yet this happens right under his nose. This is, I suppose, the one message all of us have to really understand: we are the Sheffs. And the Spungens.

So Bambino. Is there anything in particular that puts him into what might be considered a risk group for falling into addiction? Yes, people, there is. He is a human being. That’s the number one risk factor. Besides this, he has divorced parents, like many other kids. He’s smart and kind and very, very funny. He does well at school without trying particularly hard (hmm… familiar – I nag him to do homework, yet I never studied at home in my entire life even at university) and gets in trouble for being a clown. Like his mother, he seems to feel strongly. In a way, I can sort of see a pretty ominous combination of traits – sensitivity and high intelligence is a pretty explosive mix, for example. But is it true to suggest that addicts are always emotional? Are they people in pain? I’m emotional but I’ve never been in pain beyond those times when there’s been a reason for it, like going through a divorce. I have never felt pain or “a hole” as Nic Sheff describes it that I needed to heal or fill. And I can’t say I ever drank to slow my over active mind or numb my feelings. Nor do I suffer like Nancy Spungen did. Help! Help me make sense of it.

What scares me the most about Bambino is that he is absolutely fearless. Reckless, even. I can 100% see him taking risks that would make most of us balk. In New Zealand, my sister-in-law’s husband commented on how his own two kids knew and respected something terrifying called “rip” and paid attention whereas Bambino just threw himself around. “Crazy, he has no fear whatsoever,” M commented as another huge wave engulfed skinny little Bambino and he emerged a few seconds later. Rip is where the water is pulled back out to sea and quite dangerous to get caught up in. It was explained to Bambino and he just nodded happily (and impatiently) and without a care in the world because the Pacific and its enormous waves and power just doesn’t bother him in the slightest. Go with it and wave to signal if he’s in trouble? OK, no problem. Now let me dive in. When 8ft long copper sharks swam only a couple of metres away from him, hubby and my bonus sons and the whole beach screamed and waved at them to get out of the water, Bambino shrieked with excitement and wanted to immediately get back out. OK, copper shark attacks are rare and apparently they always cruise along there, but Bambino didn’t know that. He wanted to touch them. That attitude scares me senseless.

For all intents and purposes, Bambino appears to be a completely normal teenager. A little on the reckless and impulsive side, but fairly normal, no?

Will MY drinking mean he will develop a problem too? Will it mean problem drinking has been normalised for Bambino? Monkey see, monkey do? And what will I do if he starts getting into trouble with it? Say if I begin to sense echos of my own drinking when he comes of age? What would the conversation I’d have with him be then? At the moment, we do talk pretty openly about it. I’ve even dropped the A-word by saying one definition of ‘alcoholic’ is an inability to stop when you start, whilst explaining this is basically my issue. We’ve talked about how alcohol, like other drugs, alters how you feel and slows and numbs both your mind and body. How it’s addictive too.

But how can I work out how I best get through to Bambino and best prepare him so that he can – better than I did – navigate his way through life and not slide down the slippery slope of addiction? Is there such a way? Let’s go back to the Spungens and the Sheffs. With Nancy, there were obviously other issues at play and perhaps the solution that may (or may not) have saved her from becoming a drug addict had been a correct diagnosis and treatment. Who knows. With Nic Sheff, though? Was there something his father could have done differently that would have put him on a different course? It doesn’t appear so.

Al-Anon, AA’s support network for friends and relatives of alcoholics and addicts, state the three Cs as a reminder to those who have a loved one who is an addict:

  1. You didn’t CREATE it.
  2. You can’t CONTROL it.
  3. You can’t CURE it.

This would imply that the problem comes entirely from the addict, right? And it would also go some way to explain why people who appear to have the most blessed lives still get dragged under with the same frequency as those with problematic backgrounds and/or upbringings. I guess the rich and privileged can afford better rehabs though. These points don’t tell us how we can prevent it, however. Is there such a formula? Teaching our kids about the dangers of alcohol and drugs doesn’t make any difference. That makes sense in a way, because I always drank despite knowing it was bad for me. For me it came down to crushing the reasons I thought I had to drink and removing those – if we don’t want to drink and have no reason to, we don’t. Do you agree? So I guess this is the bit I’m trying to focus on with Bambino. Talk to him about what we believe alcohol and drugs are and do and how it’s all bullshit. I don’t know if that’s the right way. And when I ponder the conversation Sober Me and Drunk Me might have if we take Drunk Me back to her teens and first had alcohol…. What would Sober Me say? But most importantly, what would it take to get it through to Drunk Me?

Answers on a postcard, please.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Clear Air Turbulence

Time is dragging this week. I’m feeling bored and restless and just want to make things happen NOW! I want to get going with working in the recovery services but need to hit that magic one year of sobriety first. Not only do I believe that achieving a year of sobriety really affirms it to your mind, I also know that people who remain abstinent for a year or longer are less likely to relapse. I tried to find a source for the figures, but it’s an article you have to pay to read that you can find HERE. It’s a study that spans over eight years with 1,200 addicts. Out of those abstinent for less than a year, only a third remain sober and those who manage a year or more this increases to half. So I guess what this means for me once I get to 23rd January 2019 is that I go from a 67% chance of relapse to 50%. Any time I look at statistics and figures for recovery I’m reminded of what I’m up against and that this isn’t something you tick off on a check list and just move on from. Sobriety will require work and I may as well get comfortable because this is for the long haul.

That makes it sound grim, doesn’t it? I don’t see it that way. To be honest, it isn’t exactly a thankless task now is it? Sobriety is an amazing gift. I get to wake up every morning hangover free and I get the opportunity every single day to be the best I can be. This is now always available to me, right there for me to take it and run with it. So when I say it’s for the long haul and will forever require a bit of effort and awareness, I actually feel about sobriety the way I feel when I find my seat on the airplane taking us to hubby’s native New Zealand. Where we are going – to the land of the long, white cloud – is so magical and so exciting that it doesn’t matter if there are a few turbulent patches or the queue at passport control takes forever. I don’t like flying and it’s 24 hours of it, but I know what’s ahead and it’s worth it a million times over. I’d sit on that plane for a week straight if it takes me to Aotearoa. And then I sit there on the steps leading down to Waihi Beach from the foot path late at night with hubby and listen to the roaring waves of the Pacific crash in. So does it seem like hard work that I on occasion will have to consciously battle the idea of that glass of wine and remind myself that its benefits are an illusion? I mean, in exchange for all the things I now get to have and enjoy because I’m sober? Not one bit, peeps.

As discouraging as that figure might seem, I think it’s helpful no matter how you approach it. Say you’re really struggling to stay sober and that first year is a huge battle. Then you get past the milestone and feel reassured that half of those who reach that are likely to stay sober. That’s got to feel good, right? That now it might begin to feel a little easier, that you don’t have to go about each day like a fight to the death. I’m only speculating here. Personally, where I find myself right now is at a stage where I can’t imagine going back to drinking and genuinely can’t find any reason why I would. I just don’t want to! Maybe I really need to look at that figure and remember that I’m far from safe? Remind myself that sobriety isn’t something I can ever take for granted? I do think you can have totally different experiences of this first year of sobriety and use that statistic in a positive way.

Then you have those who relapse after several years of sobriety. Remember Philip Hoffman? Actor who passed away a few years ago from what I recall was a heroin overdose. I vaguely remember that there was a discussion at the time around how he relapsed after many years of being clean. I don’t know if relapse figures and risks are the same for different types of addictions, i.e. whether an alcoholic is more or less likely to relapse than a cocaine addict or what have you. Anyway. On my literary travels through the world of books on addiction and recovery, I just finished ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction‘ by David Sheff and started the accompanying memoir by his son Nic Sheff, ‘Tweak‘. The former has now been adapted to the big screen as a film starring Steve Carrell that I can’t wait to see. This deals mainly with methamphetamine addiction, which I understand to be just about the worst and most difficult of them all to recover from. In fact, Nic is clean over a year twice yet relapses. Well, whatever the difference between various substances are when it comes to recovery and relapse, it does appear we’re more likely to remain abstinent if we manage to get some distance between us and that last drink or hit.

With relapses after many years of abstinence you may have to factor in the issue of what our memory does to us. We are wired to better remember good things and for bad things to fade away. This is called Fading Affect Bias (FAB) and can be defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which information regarding negative emotions tends to be forgotten more than that associated with pleasant emotions” (Wikipedia). Presumably this is why someone might look back on problem drinking and feel the consequences weren’t so bad after all and more clearly remember the perceived benefits. For me, the memory of always waking up and feeling wrecked is currently WAY stronger than any sense of what I enjoyed about drinking, but maybe it won’t always stay that way? This is where that 50% is handy as it highlights to me the very real and very dangerous possibility that I could relapse. Who knows if this was why Hoffman went back to using after many years clean, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we may be at our most vulnerable when we actually think we have it all sussed.

I suppose that’s it, really. My smooth flying conditions appear to continue but I’ll just have to bear in mind that clear air turbulence that doesn’t show up on the radar can happen at any moment. (I know lots about turbulence because I hate flying and try to reassure myself by knowing as much as I can in order to calm my anxious mind and irrational fears…)

Today I’m not going to drink.

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.