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.

Disneyland Super Mama

Every so often in recovery and sobriety groups I am part of, someone will put to the rest of us that they feel out of sorts. It’s anything from emotionally frazzled and low to moody and full of anger. Someone recently told us how she one evening just felt out of control and had lost her temper for no real reason at her husband and kids. This is of course the absolute beauty of the tribe – we can throw anything out there that worries us and others will immediately offer their own perspectives and experiences. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it struck me recently how we perhaps in some ways expect sobriety to be the answer to everything. Do we on some level perhaps expect that now we’ve rid ourselves from this harmful thing we were caught up in, we’ll be perfect and serene beings who will always respond to any given situation in a textbook way? I can’t speak for anyone else but I think this is to some extent true for me.

Recovering from ANY addiction will inevitably mean we’ll go through at least some abstinence discomfort. With alcohol being a depressant it’s more often than not a very low mood and heaps of anxiety, and obviously in severe cases there is the risk of really quite dangerous physical withdrawal too. I can’t on top of my head remember the actual facts and figures, but I think it’s something along of the lines of ten days until the body (and mind I suppose) has fully expunged all traces of booze. I suspect it’s also highly individual but what I’m getting at is that I reckon most of us accept that INITIALLY we’ll be affected by these withdrawal symptoms. But then what? If it were as simple as just fighting through a relatively short amount of time to emerge on the other side and beautifully sober, then the world of recovery would look very different. Well, I guess it wouldn’t really exist because there’d be no need for it. No rehabs, no support, no tribe. I’m stating the obvious, I know, but it’s worth remembering: the hard part of recovery isn’t stopping. It’s staying stopped.

Can you tell, by the way, that I’m trying really hard to keep my sentences shorter? My natural writing style is to compose paragraph long sentences that no human would have the lung capacity to read out loud. Fun aside, I thought. I’m trying to be the best version of me. Yay!

Staying stopped. This goes back to the reasons why we drank in the first place. For me, alcohol was something I thought added extra sparkle and made life even better. Obviously not true whatsoever and now the idea strikes me as preposterous, but then it’s always easy to be a smart-arse with hindsight. So, anyway, in my case this means being aware of the times when my alcoholic brain is more likely to try to trip me up and for me this is basically a good mood. It’s hard to call it a negative thing that I’m generally a very cheerful person but that is my biggest trigger. It’s when I feel energised, excited and happy that I get the urge. Sure, it’s not often now but it’s important for me to keep my eye on it and I imagine I’ll always have to.

A common reason to drink among alcoholics that I often hear is that many people drank to numb their emotions. Booze is an anaesthetic so naturally if you drink you numb yourself and this includes numbing what you’re feeling too. I mean, how often do we not hear people (alcoholics AND non-alcoholics) say “I need a drink” when they are stressed out or have had a tough day? Even my mother who very rarely drinks, and when she does it’s quite literally half a glass of wine, might mutter “I need something stronger than coffee” to illustrate that alcohol is used to relax us. And then of course you have people who rely on alcohol for this very reason from the person who might un-wind with a glass of wine (just the one!) each night right across the spectrum to the severely depressed individual who desperately drinks to get away from feelings they can’t handle. Sobriety means we feel all our emotions fully, so imagine if you drank to cope. It’d be like living with extreme migraine without medication. For many people who abuse alcohol, alcohol is precisely that: self-medication. Many, many other addictions fall into the same category.

But what of the woman, in this case, who wondered if being in a stinking mood and losing her rag at her family for no apparent reason was a normal part of recovery? Who knows, right? As anyone who’s ever had a hangover will probably agree, we’re quite likely to be more grouchy the day after. And perhaps this was her day one or within that time span when alcohol is still exiting the body. So sure, it’s entirely possible I suppose. If this was the case, then perhaps withdrawing from alcohol was indeed a contributing factor to her lousy mood. Indeed, even if it was WAY after the last traces of alcohol and its effects on us were gone, it’d be quite normal to get ratty and unreasonably stressed if our usual go-to for stress relief has been taken away from us. So in some ways, if this was the case for her, perhaps this is 100% down to having stopped drinking. Perhaps she’d been calmer and kinder in this moment if she’d been able to get the relief she’d normally get from booze?

This is the thing though. Without the booze, we get to navigate life on life’s own terms and that means without anaesthetic. What I have come to understand is true for me, is that I can be a stressy, anxious, impatient, grouchy BITCH and it’s nothing to do with anything other than…. ME. Bad moods happen. Bad shit happens. And sometimes I respond to things in a way that isn’t at all calm or rational. Sometimes I lose the plot spectacularly. And guess what? That’s OK. It’s called being a human being. I’m Anna. I have lots of good qualities and lots of bad ones too. It’s nothing to do with alcoholism – we all have good and bad traits. Point is though, we need to accept all of that and wear our big girl pants. You fucked up? Lost your temper too quickly and yelled at your kid? Congratulations! You’re human. Now apologise and move on. No big deal, c’est la vie.

Sometimes I’m sure it IS the fact that being without something we were addicted to that’s making us bad tempered because we can’t turn to the thing we used to for calming ourselves down, but sometimes we might just have to accept that it’s completely normal – yes! NORMAL! – to be in a bad mood. I wonder if it’s actually detrimental to our recovery to get so hung up on every last little thing we feel and immediately point to alcoholism as the cause. So many times in AA meetings people would say “I always had the ism, then I added alcohol” and similar. What fucking ism? You’re human! Spend less time with Narcissus for crying out loud! Sometimes maybe, just maybe, you’re just in a shitty mood and act like a fucktard because you’re a fallible human being. Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I’m a very emotional creature, it’s just who I am and it’s got nothing to do with alcohol whatsoever. Perhaps it made me more likely to get in trouble with booze – now THAT I accept as it makes sense that those of us who experience the feels may be more likely to reach for an anaesthetic – but I wasn’t born an alcoholic. I don’t believe anyone is. I think we’re all human and some of us got addicted to – news flash – a highly addictive substance. Shock horror.

In a way I think I just expected everything to get all Disneyland when I removed alcohol from my life. I’m very fortunate and there are no big clouds in my sky beyond what could only be described as the very normal trials and tribulations of life. Perhaps for that reason I just naively assumed that without poisoning myself I’d turn into a supercharged godlike version of me who would be as serene as the Dalai fucking Lama in every situation. That I’d suddenly go into high gear and become an over achiever. That I’d within months of quitting drinking would become a fitness fanatic and have the beach body to end all beach bodies. That I’d wear down the keyboard on my laptop from typing one bestselling novel after the next and only take a break to collect the Nobel Prize for Literature. That I’d be a perfect and patient cupcake baking super mama. That I’d be the wife of my husband’s dreams, iron all his shirts and ALWAYS be horny. And so on – you get the idea, don’t you?

Sobriety, as it turns out, isn’t a magic trick. I am still an unreasonable grump bag in the morning and, oh yeah, I still have cellulite. Huh.

For me, therefore, it’s important to understand and accept that sobriety means ONLY this: freedom from an addiction that caused me lots of harm. It doesn’t mean I’ll be serene in situations that rile me, but it means I’ll be better equipped to handle shit. Just like I’m more likely to get stressed out if I have a stonking headache. Getting rid of the booze just means I can be the best I can be, not that I’ll suddenly be perfect or display qualities I never had before. It gives me the freedom to spread my wings, but unless I have the talent, determination and grit to write an outstanding novel, no amount of clean living is going to mean I will publish a book. Alcohol stole a lot from me and it stopped me from doing a lot of things. Recovery means I am no longer shackled. It doesn’t mean everything will now just fall into my lap, but it means I am now free to give everything my best shot. But I am still Anna and even though I really like me, I’m still just human and I’m good at some things and shockingly bad at others.

Hmm… Not doing so great with those long sentences, I realise. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in one day. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to read anything out loud.

Feeling everything after years of being numb can be overwhelming. In some ways I feel like I’m learning to live all over again. But it’s almost only positive. I have discovered I can be patient and determined, that I don’t need to be the sort of person who tosses stuff aside if she doesn’t succeed at a first, half hearted and hurried attempt. I am also 100% capable of being focused, which is quite a lovely surprise. It’s all new and it’s mostly good. I love how my life is turning out. Drinking was like being trapped under a heavy, wet blanket. Sobriety feels like I now get to be me. For real. Bad moods, cellulite and everything else that this means.

Today I’m not going to drink.

9 Months

Nine months and one day, to be precise. Woke up yesterday with hubby in my face, his beard tickling my nose as he whispered “nine months today, congratulations baby” and kissed me. He’s one of those weird people who don’t have bad breath in the morning whereas I’m pretty sure my mouth smells like a small animal crawled in and died there overnight, so my instinct is to pull away. As much of a morning person as I am in that I LOVE mornings and tend to wake up and want to bounce up early, I’m also a bit of a grouch and during my first waking moments I am less tolerant of boundary breaches (aka attempts at human interaction). So hubby’s beautiful face an inch from mine the moment I open my eyes only to stare straight into his gorgeous baby blues isn’t the romantic movie moment it actually should be – he is THAT gorgeous and lovely and perfect and wonderful and sweet and sexy and lovable and generally awesome – because HE IS IN MY SPACE. Yes, I know, I’m a bitch and I should be sent straight to the naughty step for a time-out during which I should really consider being a nicer person and more appreciative of the fact that I’m married to the man with the world’s most perfect bottom who also happens to be the most wonderful man EVER. It’s unbearable – I’m unbearable – but can I for the record point out that I am not a people person? People exhaust me. Anyone else in the world tried to be in my face like that first thing in the morning and I’d have them shot. But it’s my best friend and he’s the love of my life and the person who annoys me the least out of these, what, seven and a half billion of us on the planet, so instead of throttling him I pull him into a hug and draw air from over his shoulder.

So I’m hitting the nine-month milestone during this smooth patch I’ve been talking about, and really, there’s not that much to say beyond the now normal flow of things I’m discovering in sobriety.

Hubby took me to the cinema last night and I guess the film was pretty fitting for the nine-month occasion: A Star is Born. Lady Gaga is beautifully talented and Bradley Cooper portrays a fairly likeable drunk. Oh, he is talented too, amazingly so. Everyone’s raved on so much about this movie that my expectations were sky high. It was a great film and it’s stuck with me – my head is full of it this morning – but I don’t know if it’d make my top ten list of favourite movies ever. Or maybe it would. I don’t know. The fact that I’m still thinking lots about it would suggest so.

So Cooper plays a rockstar who’s a drunk. Meets talented girl Gaga. He puts her in the spotlight. Gaga’s career takes off and eclipses his. You might have expected a story arch of resentment and jealousy from drunk Cooper here, but I don’t recall seeing any of that and if anything Cooper’s character seems happy for her and very supportive. What you might also expect is that Gaga’s star will be disappointed with Cooper’s drunk’s drunkenness and this you do get. Hubby squeezed my hand when Cooper on screen attends an AA meeting. I felt a sad twinge of recognition at meanness in drunk Cooper that the sober version then doesn’t remember or recognise as the person in black-out is someone he doesn’t know or resembles. Gaga only gets mad at him that once which might strike some as unrealistically patient and tolerant, but perhaps that’s the most accurate thing of all? That few families and friends of addicts blow up and give ultimatums? That most do precisely what Gaga is shown to do – forgive, support, move on and let live. I’m confused about the tinnitus – that seemed to be going somewhere but didn’t.

Of course Bradley Cooper is an alcoholic in real life, think I read somewhere he’s been sober for a decade or something, so that he portrays it convincingly should come as no big surprise. It was painful perhaps a little bit more for that reason. I think that’s where my high expectations came from – I just knew it would be something really, really special. Go see it, it’s a good movie, and let me know what you think. The music’s good too.

Nine months and one day. It feels good. I am happy.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Small Chunk Larry

According to Jason Vale (the author of ‘Kick the Drink …Easily!’) the concept of “Just For Today” and also counting our days sober is a bunch of crap apparently. Someone in one of the sobriety groups I’m part of put this to the rest of us today and asked what we think about it. I must confess I did start reading Vale’s book but felt it was just a rip-off of and a copy based on Allen Carr’s Easyway and therefore tossed it aside. Lots of people praise Vale for the same reasons as they praise Carr and also Annie Grace who wrote ‘This Naked Mind’. I suppose all three come at it from the same angle and Carr just happened to be the first. Anyway, this is not a book review so that’s neither here nor there. The question was what people thought about the idea of approaching sobriety with “Just For Today” in mind and counting our days sober.

Funny that – when I started my sober blog the title I used was precisely that: Just For Today. And I did go into it that way in the very early days of my sobriety. Over the first couple of months I went to AA meetings and the just-for-today philosophy is very much part of the AA approach.

The way I see it, is that it’s a really healthy way to go about the things that overwhelm us and sobriety when you first take the plunge on to dry land can absolutely seem like the most daunting of tasks. OK, I was petrified, filled with self doubt and hand on heart I didn’t actually believe for a teeny-tiny little second that I’d be able to kick the booze. So instead of floundering at the thought of A WHOLE LIFETIME SOBER [insert dramatic horror movie classical music here], a more manageable bite size day at a time feels more like something we are able to do. It’s easier to say that, and hell, I still do! I finish every damn blog entry that way, with that little line that is my little way of expressing gratitude and reaffirming my choice: today I’m not going to drink. The majority of days at this point, sobriety feels easy and light – more like a gift than something I have to do or work at – but it feels good to say it and it keeps me accountable to ME. A simple statement that reaffirms how I now live my life and intend to live it for its duration. And not drinking today isn’t so scary!

It’s a good way to approach a whole number of things – anything that feels too big or too much when we look at the end goal. My running app is based on the very same approach! You don’t run the full 10k in under an hour the first time. You start with running for 90 seconds, walking for 90 seconds and repeating a handful of times. I think the first time you only end up actually running for seven and a half minutes! See? That’s not that scary, right? A couple of weeks later you’ve built up to running for five minutes, walking for two. Last night I ran 15 minutes, walked one minute and repeated three times. 45 minutes!! YEAH! Next time it’s 17 minutes times three and that’s… hang on… 51 minutes – holy smoke! In three weeks, according to the app, I’ll be ready to run 60 minutes in one stretch and after that it’ll be speed intervals until I not only run continuously for the full hour but also cover those full 10k too. See? A tiny bit at a time. Running for 90 seconds to start off with doesn’t seem so bad, right? That’s something we can probably do even when we’re desperately out of shape! At that point, running 10k seems impossible and it probably would be, but when you do a little bit at a time and stick with it that way, all of a sudden you can do it. Although there is nothing sudden about it – you worked your way there and it wasn’t easy but you did it gradually, breaking the bigger task into smaller chunks. And there’s that quote, think it’s by Martin Luther King about how you don’t need to see the whole staircase to take the first step. You get my drift. It makes sense and I do think it’s a really great way to overcome and succeed at those things that at first glance seem too difficult and too overwhelming.

So I guess for me personally it was a really helpful way of looking at it when I first stood there staring at the battle ahead of me and absolutely paralysed at the idea that I would have to be sober for the rest of my life. When that still seemed like an insurmountable challenge, it massively helped to break it down and just think to myself that to hell with tomorrow and I don’t know what will happen then but TODAY I’ll be sober.

Before long, however, sobriety got hold of me and I hopped on to the Pink Cloud, where I’ve pretty much stayed – it was only a matter of a couple of weeks before I felt better than I had in over a decade just physically speaking. And mentally, well, if you stop drinking a depressant I suppose you can’t help but feel happy as fucking Larry, right? And so when I sat in AA meetings and people would say “just for today” and “one day at a time” I realised that it wasn’t sobriety that I lived through one day at a time, but actually my drinking days. THEN it really was a struggle to get through each day and all I could focus on was only that – tomorrow I had no energy to consider because all my strength was used to get through today with the crippling hangover and insane anxiety. So although it helped get me started, I soon discovered that AA’s approach did apply but in the exact opposite way to how they seemed to use it. Funny that, but then I’ve always been a very contrary little madam. Each to her own though, and I can only account for my own experience.

And what about counting days? Same thing really. Hitting one week was amazing. Getting into double digits at ten days was pretty cool. One month – champion! For me it’s been joyous and a real celebration to see that number confirming the time I’ve been on this awesome sober path. Now, however, unless I actually check my app, I couldn’t tell you the exact number of days but it’s in the region of 260. OK, I just checked: 261. It feels as good to see that number as it did to see two and 26. But I’m further in now and sober is the new black. It no longer feels odd to not drink every evening and I find I forget about it all most of the time. But whilst I couldn’t accurately tell you the exact number of days, I have my eyes firmly on the 23rd of each month and in just under two weeks I’ll hit the nine month mark. Perhaps in the future, I’ll forget and the 23rd will slip me by and it turns out I celebrate the year milestones only. I dunno, we’ll see. Anyway, when you manage to stick at it and sobriety feels goooooooood, counting the days is a victory and it feels great to see the number grow.

However, what if you’re struggling? Perhaps counting just gets you feeling shitty and defeated and deflated? Get to whatever number and then there’s a zero all over again. Well, I guess we all find our own way.

Actually, I don’t think it matters so long as we do what works for us. I think I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the moment someone tells you that their way is the only way, smile politely and thank them and then WALK THE OTHER WAY. Alright? There are lots of ways that have worked for lots of people. There’s the obvious, and perhaps best known, AA and I think it’s freaking awesome that the Fellowship has helped thousands upon thousands of people find their way to a sober life. But it’s not the only way and it’s doesn’t work for everyone – I only need to look around me to see proof of that. Don’t for a second pay any attention to “it works if you work it” – that’s bollocks on a grand scale. Of course it bloody works if you work it! Sorry AA, but this is ridiculous. If this were true, then I have a 100% success guaranteed method too and it works if you work it! Here it is: don’t drink alcohol! Tah-dahm! If you fail it’s only because you’re not following my instructions and so there’s something wrong with you, not my method. Each to her own. Every goddamn time.

A bit of criticism aimed at AA there, but show me any philosophy, method or ideology that is just pure perfection? We’re all different. And for the record, I think AA is fucking awesome and it works for a lot of people. So there. Just that one little line I don’t agree with but I know lots of people who achieved a very Happy Sober Ever After by following AA’s method, and I don’t really have anything other to say than it’s an awesome organisation.

That’s probably enough waffle for now – gosh, this really got me going. Baby steps when we feel overwhelmed = good. Counting days = mostly good too. I suppose that sums up my thoughts on the matter.

And here we go:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Smug Hippies

Help me. I honestly don’t know how to handle this one. Advice needed. Nothing awful, promise, just very important to get right. Have I mentioned that I wish I could have shown Drunk Me how wonderful it is to be Sober Me? How I often wish I could speak to Anna of, say, ten years ago and find some magic words that’d somehow flick a switch in her brain? WHAT ARE THOSE WORDS? And what is it that I can do, if someone I care about actually speaks those words “I need to stop drinking”?

I’ve called her Poppy on this blog in the past and she is someone I love to pieces. She frustrates the hell out of me, actually, because she’s such an amazing person – I honestly don’t know anyone kinder, more caring or loving than she is – and I sometimes feel wine robs her of so much. Silly situations she seems to get herself into, awful people that take advantage of her gentle nature and low moods further exacerbated by alcohol. Actually, I’m not going to wrap it in cotton wool – I love Poppy to bits and it pisses me off to see her trip herself up. I was keeping this to myself having promised myself to never preach the gospel of sobriety to anyone unless they specifically asked to hear it. When I was eyeball deep in active alcoholism, words of warning or even pleas for me to stop would – except for maybe the last two or three years – have achieved the opposite effect: I would have distanced myself from the people in question, possibly been utterly insulted and outraged at their audacity, then gone on my merry messy way. What do I mean by “except the last two or three years”? Simply that towards the end of my drinking I was so fed up with it but just didn’t see a way out, that had I been confronted I think I would probably have broken down with relief and gratefully surrendered.

Anyway. When Poppy and I spoke yesterday, she told me she’s proud of me for getting sober. And then came a question that to my mind might be what sales people might refer to as a buying signal.

When you first stopped, did you get really bad shakes?” Poppy asked.

For me to ask something like this, would mean that I secretly wanted to stop but wanted to first ascertain how crappy stopping would be. I could be wrong though. Often am, as we have established many times before. I told Poppy honestly how it did worry me and how if you drink heavily like I did it can be dangerous to quit cold turkey without medical assistance, but how it was in the end just a matter of a day’s severe hangover (and of course I am a veteran so have battled through many of those before) and then a few more days before I started to feel better, but nothing physically unbearable. Of course this was a long phone conversation during which we talked about lots of other stuff too, but the buying signals (as I interpreted them) kept creeping in.

The problem is that I have no confidence and wine helps me socially,” Poppy told me, “when I have a drink I light up“.

What I first wanted to SHOUT was how bloody amazing she is in her own right, and although she and I have had lots of fun, crazy, super silly times on the juice, it’s my Poppy I love because of all the things that make her HER. That’s nothing to do with wine or however loosened up and goofy we get when we drink. How I see her and how much I admire her is totally unrelated to alcohol. Of course now, with over eight months of solid(ish) sobriety under my belt, I obviously recognise that Poppy – just like everyone and everything else in my world – is much better without booze and I don’t actually like my Poppy more when she’s drunk. I like her just the way she is. She’s better, as we all are, without any goddamn wine. But I could see what she meant and as a shy introvert I think I also used to think alcohol broke down awkward social barriers at one point.

However, there was nothing social about the way I drank, home alone with my box of wine for company as I worked towards black-out, and I told Poppy this straight up. The social aspect just isn’t true for me. I told her though, how when I first stopped I initially felt really apprehensive about two weekend breaks we already had booked: Paris for hubby’s birthday and Gothenburg in June for a Foo Fighters concert. I mean, what kind of idiotic twat goes to Paris and has diet Coke? Who declines slipping into the warm and melty veils of Sauvignon Blanc in the city of love? Or heads to a Foo concert clutching a water bottle – come on! Oh hang on… I do! And it was glorious. 2018 has been so amazing and it’s been such a busy one, packed with those things I used to think you couldn’t do sober but it turns out that not only CAN you do them, they’re so much better!! I tried my best to keep a lid on the passion I feel when expressing how my life has changed so much. When I was still drinking I’m not sure I would have been able to stomach stuff like that, much less believe a single fucking word of it – after all wine was my FRIEND, remember, who I believed made everything more fun, not less. I began to tell Poppy how almost every morning I find myself feeling almost tearful with such intense gratitude and joy to have my life given back to me, but caught myself and instead just stated in more measured tones how I don’t miss always being hungover. No one likes an over excited preacher, plus I sometimes hear myself and want to vomit a little so God knows how I come across to other people. As I said, had Drunk Me been faced with Sober Me it may very well have turned into a punch-up with Drunk Me giving smug, tree-hugging Sober Me a good pummeling.

Although AA wasn’t quite right for me, there are many things I do whole heartedly agree with and one is that the only person who can determine if you have a drinking problem is you. Actually, I don’t know if I agree now that I think of it. What I do believe however is that very few people can successfully become sober until they truly want to stop drinking. I don’t want to be, and nor do I think I should be, the person telling another whether they should drink or not drink. Perhaps I went a little over board when I emphasised to Poppy that I don’t believe she’s anywhere near as bad as I was – yes, if she wants to hear how I’m finding sobriety I’ll bleat on until the cows come home, but I really don’t want to ram it down her throat unsolicited and I want to always make sure I just share MY view, MY perspective and MY experience. Never suggest similarities – if there are any, that’s for Poppy to decide.

Poppy described how she got annoyed with someone who’d made a remark about her drinking even though she’d not finished the bottle of wine she’d opened one particular evening. Truthfully I just told her I would NEVER have been able to do that. In fact, when I was drinking I would have rather said no to drinking full stop than be faced with only one little bottle! Jeez, one bottle of wine would just about get me in the zone and we all know what happens when I get in the zone. The zone is just the spring board. So I steered it back to me and outlined in all its awfulness how I can’t stop. Can. Not. Stop. It’s full-on madness, obsession, compulsion and a raging desire that I can’t control. Again, truthfully, I told her that this is in essence the root of my problem – my inability to stop if I start – and I always used to envy those fairytale creatures who can just decide they’ve had enough and leave it. WTF – how is that even possible? Never understood it. Anyway, I explained that this is in essence how I define what an alcoholic is – one drink is too many, 20 aren’t enough – and if she can actually stop drinking when she’s started she’s in a better place than where I found myself.

But then she said it.

No, Anna, I need to stop drinking.” She paused for a second. “I really need to stop.

Part of me wished I could have just hopped in the car, driven down to the coast and swept her up in my arms. Why didn’t I? Shit, I should have. Perhaps I am to Poppy what Tumbler was to me? Tumbler being a good friend and an incredibly talented lady who also happened to be an alcoholic and drank herself to death, but who I in lucid moments asked for advice. Tumbler sank deeper than I did, and despite brave attempts to get and stay sober, alcohol won in the end. Point is, it was comforting for me to speak openly with someone who themselves drank and also Tumbler could tell me how she went about stopping. Well. I’m trying to put myself in Poppy’s shoes and that’s what I also did when we spoke. I told her I can’t decide anything for her, but if she wants to quit I think it’s a wonderful thing as I believe we’re all – regardless of what our drinking habits are – better off without booze and if there’s anything I can answer or help with please just ask. Is that enough?

It’s so easy to slip into I-want-to-save-the-world mode when you find sobriety I think. You feel like your eyes have just opened and you’re seeing the world for the first time, so you want to spread the word so everyone can experience it too. Not the right approach though, no one likes a smug hippie. Well, perhaps some do, I dunno. But I’m trying the gentle approach for now and see where it leads. I don’t think Poppy is necessarily an alcoholic like I am or that she drinks anywhere near as much as I used to, but at the same time I don’t think people who don’t feel they have an issue with alcohol would think or say that they need to stop drinking. Who knows.

I need to think about this more.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Admiring Satan’s Ass

The sobriety section of my bookshelf is continually expanding and so far it contains bleak and often shocking tales of look-how-I-fucked-my-life-up and triumphant how-I-broke-free battle cries but most often a combination of the two. I suppose either on its own would be a pretty boring story, right? What’s so spectacular about light if it’s all you’ve ever known? Only someone who’s truly experienced darkness can convincingly preach about how magnificent life in the light truly is. And if darkness is the perpetual state of all you know and the light has never fallen on you, well that’s terrible in itself but as far as stories go that wouldn’t be particularly interesting either! Well, I think that’s how I view it because personally I find it quite uninspiring to be told how to quit smoking by someone who’s never touched a cigarette. Or listen to how great it is to be slim by someone who’s never been fat or yo-yo dieted. Darkness and light are dependent on each other and we can’t truly know one without the other, not REALLY. In my view anyway.

So here’s my boozy sobriety bookshelf to date:

Blackout: Trying to Remember the Things I Drank to Forget – Sarah Hepola

Mother’s Ruin – Nicola Barry

Drunk Mom – Jowita Bydlowska

The Easy Way to Stop Drinking – Allen Carr

Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions – Russell Brand

This Naked Mind – Annie Grace

Så Som Jag Minns Det – Mikael Persbrandt

Alcohol Lied to Me – Craig Beck

AnsvarsFULL – Camilla Kuylenstierna

Mrs D is Going Without – Lotta Dunn

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober – Catherine Gray

För Mycket Av Allt – Sanna Bråding

I’ve probably forgotten at least a couple but it gives you an idea. Personal journeys mixed with those stories that offer clear cut advice and/or instructions on how to break free from alcohol addiction. My favourites have got to be Russell Brand’s and Annie Grace’s books – this is quite funny as Brand is very much a spiritual 12-stepper and Grace is more in line with the we’ve-been-brainwashed school of thought as first pioneered by Carr. My least favourite is Bråding but now that I list both most and least favourites I discover that it seems to be a matter of who I personally like more than how much what they say resonates with me. Well. People buy people, I suppose. Plus Bråding’s story is – beyond how I find her an utterly annoying and self promoting attention seeker – probably also the one I can relate to the least. So is Persbrandt’s – these two are both Swedish actors, by the way – but I like the guy and he doesn’t seem quite so self absorbed and needy, he just puts it out there and it ain’t pretty. I don’t like it when people try to put lipstick on a pig, I wanna see that damn swine in all its gory non-glory. Just like I fucking LOVE and admire the hell out of people who own their shit even when it stinks worse than Satan’s ass.

story

I suppose my bookshelf further goes to show just how immeasurably important it has been for me to read other people’s stories, perspectives, views and experiences of alcoholism during my sober journey. I suspect I will never tire of this and luckily I will probably never run out of stories given there are countless alcoholics and all our stories are as individual as we are. That’s the law of circumstance.

And of course you have a plethora of blogs as wide and colourful as you can imagine (and then some), and I think I’ve just scratched the surface. In this sphere you find those kindred spirits I consider my comrades, those I chat with at the water cooler as we’re all slinging on our swords and shields in preparation for the day ahead. Well. Some of us are on the Pink Cloud and don’t have to swing that sword much, and some of us fight furiously from the moment we wake up and of course some of us who fall not just between those two camps but even further out on each side too. You can always be sure there are people you can learn something from and even when you hear stories that don’t look very similar to your own, you’re bound to be surprised, inspired and a little bit wiser. And sometimes sad too. Yes, AND hopeless and angry and frustrated and when you do it’s usually because you have had your own fill of it and only know it too well. I very rarely come away feeling nothing though, that’s for certain. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that’s never happened.

So there you are. Feel free to browse my ever growing book shelf and do let me know which must-reads I’ve missed out on that you have on yours. I have a life time of sobriety ahead of me so there is no problem if I end up with a reading list that in itself is long enough to be a book.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Like I’ve Been There Before

Blue skies, sunshine and even in this polluted city the air feels crisp and fresh this morning. I wish all days could be an autumn day like this. I’m sure old London town will get its usual large share of rain through the autumn months and so all the more reason to acknowledge and feel grateful for days like this.

One of the best things as well as probably the most powerful tool in staying sober, second only to a sincere wish to stop drinking, has been for me the opportunity to hear and read about other people’s experiences on this journey. Whether it’s the bloggers I follow (many of whom I have come to genuinely care for and think of as friends), people in AA or everyone on various forums and Facebook groups, they are all helping this old drunk stay on a better path. They might not know it but even when our stories, thoughts and experiences are complete opposites, they are a massive part of my sobriety. I want to scoop you all up, hug you and tell you how much I love you for what you bring to my life because it’s more than I can begin to tell you. You’re like perfect autumn days.

I’m lucky of course, in that I have a strong (amazing, even) support network consisting of friends and family, but no one can understand an addict like another addict. It’s absolutely priceless, in my view, to be able to share with people who themselves have been in your position even if it’s a slightly different kind of beast they are fighting. Sure, my amazing hubby DOES understand that alcohol does something terrifying and dark to me but he will never, EVER know what it feels like – how could he? It’d be the same if someone said to me “hey Anna, I can’t make myself stop running into this brick wall over and over even though it hurts me“. I’d like to think I am empathetic and open minded but unless I’ve had the same or a similar compulsion myself, how in God’s name could I truly GET what that’s like? So if you do – God forbid – ever find yourself in a place where alcohol or whatever it may be is dragging you under, please, as soon as you find a little strength go and seek out those who have gone through or are going through the same thing. There is strength in numbers.

Not everyone is blessed with the support I have. Not only is my husband quite extraordinary in how he has made it his mission to try to come to grips with understanding alcoholism and addictions in order to understand how I might feel and have gone through, I also have friends who show the same, unflinching courage and a family where no one has made me feel ashamed even once. I wish everyone could have exactly all of that and I hope you all do. I suspect not everyone does though, and in those instances it’s even more crucial I believe, to find your brothers and sisters in arms. If you like me are married to someone who will do anything to support you, have friends like Cherokee and a family showing you unconditional love and support that’s awesome – CONGRATULATIONS! – but even then I would strongly recommend expanding that safety net to include people who are in the same boat as you.

So there you have it, Anna’s tool box for recovery:

  1. A wish to stop drinking.
  2. A stellar support network that will spring to action when you ask for help.
  3. Your own kind – those who fight or have fought the same battle.
  4. Finding your feet and patience when you do – this too shall pass.
  5. Learn all you can.
  6. Pay it forward – refer to #3.

Looking at it, that bears echos of AA’s 12 steps but then I suspect no matter the label the approach might roughly remain the same. Logical, really: accept there’s a problem, ask for help, figure out its nature, find others who experience the same struggle, learn a better way, go on to help others in turn. Gosh, that does make it sound easy and it really isn’t, plus I don’t believe two people will ever tell exactly the same story but that’s of course the whole reason why it helps me to hear and read LOTS of stories from LOTS of people.

Another thing when it comes to alcoholism that I think is important to remember is that booze is different things to different people. My ex-sponsor was adamant that every alcoholic without exception drinks to numb pain and as much as I tried I couldn’t ever say this was truly the case for me. For me, stopping drinking was possible and really, the only way I could see, once it became clear that it did nothing for me. I thought it made everything even MORE fun and lovely and great. However, if alcohol had been my crutch and I’d used it to cope or to numb pain (much in the way my ex-sponsor described) then I would imagine it would have been a very different story when it comes to stopping. If the benefit of it is there… It scares me to think about it if I’m honest. Even if we all probably know on a rational level that alcohol doesn’t fix any problem and actually does the very opposite, it doesn’t really matter if there is relief IN ANY WAY. Shiiiiiiiit…. Perhaps it works in the same way though. For me, wanting to stop came when I knew whatever perceived “fun” had long gone, and so perhaps for someone who drinks to numb pain that desire to stop happens when it becomes clear the booze doesn’t give relief anymore. Regardless though, if you surround yourselves with people who are also fighting alcoholism and addiction, there will be someone who will have gone through something similar to you.

Go find those friends. Now. You’ll thank me in the morning.

Today I’m not going to drink.