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.

232 Days

I have nothing to say. Nothing at all. 232 days. Nothing spontaneously springs to mind around sobriety that I need to tell you.

When I scroll through various sobriety forums and Facebook groups, it’s really interesting to see how different people have different experiences and I often see myself in many of those who are more newly sober than I am. Makes sense given I’m still fairly early on in my journey and it wasn’t long ago that I stood in that spot. Quite often I smile when I read victorious exclamations and determined conviction from someone who’s been sober for, say, a couple of weeks. No, not smile as in scoff. I mean smile as in it makes me happy and I remember how it felt. How you are so overcome with gratitude and filled with awe at the life you have suddenly been given back that you just KNOW in your heart you will never drink again. For me this was of course when I went to lots of AA meetings and I got SO pissed off when the old timers would dismiss me in a you’ll-soon-see sort of manner. I was made to feel that this was wrong and only the Pink Cloud that I’d soon fall down from. I think I’m still on it. Perhaps I’m a little less evangelical now that the honeymoon period draws to a close and I also don’t feel tearful with joy every morning in the absence of that dreaded hangover that was my companion for so long, but it didn’t suddenly get difficult or dreary. Sure, once I came back to earth a little, I discovered that on occasion I’ll end up feeling down and all of those other less than amazing feelings that are part and parcel of being a human being, but it’s still not the hard slog that was described to me.

So you have those who at least seem to have effected that change in their thinking and genuinely no longer want to drink. But then you also have the people who clearly still do and therefore are desperate to moderate and really seem down about it all, and no wonder. No amount of will power and no amount of AA meetings and AA friends will help diddly squat if you still view alcohol as something that provides any kind of positive attribute. Only when you truly see alcohol for what it is and what it does for you personally do you have a chance – this is my absolute belief. Actually, I should rephrase “what it does for you” – only when you truly see what alcohol FAILS to do for you do you have a chance. Again, however, I can only speak for myself but this was what kept me firmly trapped. I held on to the belief that alcohol could do for me what it seems to do for non-alcoholics and wanted it to be part of my life too as a little golden edge, as we say in Sweden. Guldkant på tillvaron – adding a golden edge to life (roughly translated anyway) – that’s how I saw it and what I believed it could be. I saw booze as glitter you pour on to life to enhance and accentuate its brilliance. I’d see friends enjoy a couple of beers, laugh and enjoy the evening, and I wanted that too. Only I can’t because with the first something in me comes to life and this is ironic in the extreme because the thing that comes to life wants me dead. For me booze isn’t glitter – it’s napalm.

To be fair, I don’t think anyone can ever be in control of alcohol but I will concede that there are some of us – those of us who are alcoholics – who fare especially badly if we drink. I certainly don’t need to do any more “research” to establish that I can’t drink alcohol!

Anyway, even regardless of how long ago we made a decision to live a better life, there seems to be two distinct camps: those who punch the sky in a winner’s gesture because they truly feel drinking is pointless and they are free, and those who still yearn for that drink and feel miserable because each day is a fight to be sober. The more I learn about alcohol and addiction, the clearer it becomes that so long as we feel we have a reason to drink and that alcohol will give us some sort of benefit we will find it a miserable sacrifice to stop drinking. And that’s the bottom line for me – I reached a point where I truly felt I no longer had to. The truth was staring me in the face and I knew that booze only ever lands me in a stinking pile of shit. No glitter in sight, for me it was all an illusion and a pack of sweet lies that alcohol had me believing for the longest time. So stopping drinking for me is – so far at least – freedom. Refraining from doing something you no longer want to do isn’t hard at all, is it? I think I wrote earlier on in my sobriety that drinking seemed about as appealing as eating a pile of dog shit, and it is still true. At the same time I know how sneaky, cunning and baffling alcohol addiction is so there is no part of me that feels I can ever declare myself safe. In that sense, yes, it’s a day at a time, but it’s not a struggle in the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of way either. It just is. It’s life.

Right. Bit of a waffle but Wednesday is never my best day.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Elton John and the Hardest Word

Monday! I started by applying for a job with an addiction centre that hubby had happened across somehow. I just know I can be of much more use in a role I actually really care about because it’s closer to my heart. Or very close to my heart, full stop. I’m also in touch with an addiction charity as another way in would be to volunteer, but given I don’t have a money tree in the garden to pick shiny, new £50 notes off, the paid option would be much more viable. Or viable, full stop.

Got up early today. Hubby was leaving for Amsterdam and had to get out of bed at 4am and whilst I snoozed when he was in the shower, I found myself being unable to get back to sleep and got up just minutes after he left. By 6am I was showered, dressed and ready so spent the morning on the sofa drinking coffee and reading the news about the Swedish election. And so now, at 10.24, it feels like the afternoon and I’m a little spaced. In a really good mood though! Hold up….. Oh, hell no, not THAT again. You know, I’m so aware of it that even on a day like this when I actually feel really confident I won’t drink and don’t have the slightest little urge to do so, I am still conscious of the worry hubby might feel. Like this morning on my way in. I went to Sainsbury’s and picked up my usual smoothie and a couple of pretzels, carbs and fruit sugar to keep me fuelled up until the afternoon. Noticed they also had my favourite beef jerky – sweet and hot – and because they always run out, I picked up the whole lot. Nine bags. It all came to £21-something. And I almost felt a need to let hubby know exactly what I’d bought, because I wonder what his first thought would be otherwise seeing that transaction on a day he’s not going to be home. 20-odd quid would also be what a box of wine, a bottle of soda and some Dioralyte would set me back.

It’s the kind of transaction that sets off warning bells and I should know because I’m a cunning alkie who would – if I were indeed getting booze – prefer to pay cash and thereby be more likely to get away with it given the bank statement wouldn’t have quite so many damning entries on it. Or perhaps hubby doesn’t register these things at all and it’s just me who is really aware of it because I used to take such care and go to such lengths to disguise what I was up to. After all, when I talk to the people around me it’s rarely the things I thought they noticed that they tell me about now. Bullock, for example, didn’t at all reflect over how I drank two large glasses of wine when she drank one (which is the bit I remember stressing over and wanted to find a way around) but instead wondered why I was so keen to get rid of her when we left the pub (I didn’t want her to see that I was getting wine to drink at home). So who knows.

If I were to take a photo of my bag full of beef jerky and send to him, he’d probably feel bad for me and tell me I don’t need to do that. But I also don’t want him to worry. How do you fill the people who love you and worry about you with confidence after a life hiding, sneaking around, down-playing and lying about your drinking? It would seem this, like so much else, will take time. And to be fair, it makes me feel safe that everyone around me knows.

It’s a different feeling when you say goodbye to your friends at the pub and they have no idea you’re not heading home and going to bed like they are. Well, you are, but you’re making a stop to get more booze first and you can only pray that blacked-out you end up in bed at some point not too far north of midnight if there’s work the next day. It’s a helpless and hopeless spot to be in, to stand there and say goodnight to friends when they don’t know this, wanting to ask for help but not knowing how. It’s fucking heartbreaking to walk off from your friends, with urgency in your steps towards your own destruction, quite literally death defying determination to do something you actually don’t want to do but can’t stop yourself from doing. I can’t even begin to tell you how frightening that is, to feel the excitement at getting away to get drinking for real after the social warm-up at the same time as you’re filled with sorrow, fear and desperation, and wishing as you’re blinking back the tears that you could just say that one little word – help. Elton John, talented as he is, has it all wrong – ‘sorry’ isn’t the hardest word at all, ‘help’ is. Ask any addict.

But I did ask for help. FINALLY. After years of being scared I eventually ended up being so terrified I had no other choice but to reach out. And thankfully they all listened. Hubby, my friends and family – and let’s not forget the friends I’ve made e.g. via AA and This Naked Mind groups – form a safety net. I don’t even need them to do anything, not so far anyway, it’s just the security and safety I feel in them knowing. Alcohol is of course FURIOUS with me for snitching to everyone, because it’s harder to control me and abuse me when it’s no longer “our little secret”. For me, alcoholism has been exactly like an abusive relationship – your abuser always wants to isolate you and that’s what alcohol does too. Harder now when everyone around me know what’s up – hell, I’ve made it really difficult for myself to fall back and it’d get ever so awkward and difficult with all the questions! Well – that was really my intention anyway, to put down anchors and build walls before I get to a stage (if we ever truly do, that is) where I feel totally confident I’ll never drink again.

Yup, it’s tough shit, but here’s the good news, and I say this to all of you who may still be summoning up all your might and speak that little word – just short of eight months in, still quite new to fitness and still figuring out how to live life on life’s terms, I already have too much to lose. Life, already, has turned too magnificent to throw away. Last night hubby and I went for a run. Sure, I’m still building up but I ran for 20 minutes and then another couple of bursts of around five minutes each. That’s half an hour! And it’s not long ago that I struggled to keep going for three minutes. It’s still torture, sure, and sometimes I begin to feel overwhelmed doing this thing called living, but fuck me is it all worth it!

It’s important to remember though, that I had all of this before I sank into alcoholism on a big scale. The morning coffee would have tasted great, running would have felt awesome and my friends and family were as wonderful then as they are now, so it’s not like realising all these things now is suddenly a guarantee that I won’t drink again. I did it before, remember? I threw precisely all of that away. But maybe now, after wrecking myself the way I did with drinking, these are no longer things I take for granted and that’s why my morning coffee is enough to make me lyrical and beginning to feel physically strong gets me tearful with gratitude. This, I need to remember, if I get to a point where I just take it for granted again. Right now though, in this moment, it’s extraordinary to me that I find myself here – sober and counting all these blessings – and I don’t want to give it up again. For what? What good did drinking ever do for me? Uhm… Not a fucking thing.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Cowboys on a Bender

The question of moderation came up in a recent discussion. I am an alcoholic so needless to say the ability to moderate drinking is to me the holy grail. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I envy those of you who can enjoy that beer with friends down by the river on a summer’s eve, perhaps have another two or three, get a little giggly and silly and then wander home after enjoying a lovely evening like that. I mean, wander home and that’s THAT. Because I could of course join you, I could even (but not without effort, I hasten to add – you guys drink infuriatingly slowly) drink at the same pace and have the same number of drinks and laugh with you as we sit there watching the river flow by on its journey back to low tide, leaving the walk path wet in that little dip between the pub and that fancy big house someone just renovated where it always flows over its banks when the tide is high. Risky spot, their home insurance must be astronomical. And when you wander home and the evening is over, leaving our empty glasses behind, I make a stop at the off licence and buy at least one, but probably two, bottles of wine and take myself from pleasantly tipsy to roaring drunk and eventually unconscious once I’m back home. I don’t have that off switch, see.

For me, moderation doesn’t work. Actually, for me it doesn’t bloody exist. And I would go as far as to suggest moderation, whether you’re an addict or otherwise, is a myth. It doesn’t exist for those of you who aren’t alcoholics or addicts any more than it does for those of us who are. And how can I say this? What leap of utter lunacy has landed me at such an outrageous conclusion?

Well.

How about I said this to you: “I eat carrots in moderation.

Are those the words of someone who has no problem with carrots?!

Exactly. Isn’t that just so dumb??!

If someone said to me that they moderate how many biscuits they eat everyday, I would assume they are either trying to lose weight or ended up having too many if they didn’t keep themselves in check. If there is no problem, why would you need to moderate? That just doesn’t make sense. Someone whose drinking doesn’t spill over into the darkness of addiction and alcoholism NEVER has to consciously think about moderation. Why would you? I can’t imagine non-alkies pour their first drink and repeat in their minds like a mantra I’m-going-to-stop-at-four-drinks. Sure, normal drinkers may – and probably DO! – hear about recommended limits and consciously say no to drinks on a particular day because they went to a party two days before and think about how much and how often they drink, but that’s not the same thing as far as I’m concerned. Also, if I look at e.g. my husband, something happens to him when he’s had a bit too much to drink AND THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN TO ME – his body tells him to stop. He feels perhaps a little queasy, maybe lightheaded, even a little bit ill and if he were to force more drink down his neck he might actually throw up. His body goes YUK! Hold up, cowboy! My body (never mind my brain!) doesn’t do that. In my mind and body there is a raging desire, a thirst that can’t be quenched.

Can I also be clear on another thing here? Even when hubby goes on a bender (like on his stag do, during which he got VERY drunk!) the state he ends up in isn’t even near where I get to. I don’t think hubby knows what black-out is or has even been near it. After excessive nights out he might say his memory is a bit hazy but I can almost assure you he won’t have any nights where a solid block of hours are a blank, or a point in the evening after which he has no memory whatsoever. So I actually doubt a non-alkie could get to those stages us alkies get to, I don’t think your bodies would allow you even if you tried. You’d just end up puking in the gutter.

Anyhoo! I can’t speak for any alcoholic other than myself and I certainly can’t speak for non-alcoholics, but I can look at the difference between me and hubby. An alkie and a non-alkie.

Funnily enough, we probably have the first drink for the same reason. Let’s take today, because it’s a stunningly beautiful September Friday and the sun is shining. Come the evening, we’d both have that first drink because we’re happy and it’s the weekend and the wine will sprinkle a bit of additional glitter on our excellent mood. We’re relaxed and happy. Yes, that’s right, even after half a life spent getting wasted, I’ve never – NOT ONCE – poured the first glass of wine hoping I’d end up in black-out, fall over and knock my chin against the dining table and write a bunch of embarrassing nonsense on Facebook. Oblivion is never and has never been the intention when I take the first sip. Or gulp. Fiiiiiine *sigh* let’s be pedantic – the first few greedy, hungry gulps, plural.

The booze does what booze does and it numbs us into that state we take for fun – gets us a little loose and dopey, removes inhibitions and makes us giggly and goofy. I’ll concede that this bit is great fun – how could it not be? And right about here it IS like someone poured a bit of glitter on our already good Friday mood and chills us out even further now that the working week is out of the way.

Difference? For hubby this is now enough, this is the good place to be, and where he might either slow right down or even order a soft drink. He’s good and glittery. And so am I in that brief little moment but that’s not where I stay. For me….. I was searching my mind just then to work out how I can accurately describe it to you, and the image that comes to me is of a massive, furious, black tornado tearing across the plains in my direction – I’m directly in its path and it rips me away, throws and spins me mercilessly into a centrifuge of hell. That glittery feeling? That’s sort of like the train whistle when you hear it in the distance like an ominous warning echoing in the distance before the train comes roaring in. That’s all it is and it’s almost as brief. Or the spot where winds and temperatures form a terrifying force of nature. It does for hubby exactly what you see in booze commercials and he can appreciate the carefully selected wine that enhances his meal, whereas for me the damn steak I only eat because I have to and the wine could be fucking urine for all I care so long as I can keep drinking and go faster and faster until I know no more.

tornado

Moderation – I will have to ask hubby now, but I don’t think he would during an evening like the one I describe make a conscious choice to stop at a specific number of drinks. I think it just happens, that he just feels it’s enough and has no need to drink more, let alone faster and faster. When I have alcohol free beer I sometimes wonder if this is how non-alcoholics feel. I do, even now, take a few greedy gulps of the first one – I honestly do! And then quite quickly a few more. I am a bit thirsty, see, and the beer tastes so good! (Heineken 0.0 and Becks Blue are my favourites along with my absolute number one Birra Moretti Zero – yum!). The second, now that my thirst is quenched, is a lot slower and although it tastes just as nice, I’m now good. I may, but probably won’t, have a third. There is no need and the choice is all mine and I can do that thing I have never, ever been able to do with alcohol: I can take it or leave it! It isn’t important to me and if I ran out of beer it wouldn’t make me panic because I can have a glass of water if I’m thirsty.

I’ve started working out and I’m getting back in to running as well. Hubby has consistently always kept up with his fitness, but claims he’s put on a few pounds over the summer so wants to up his game a little. The other day he said he’s cutting back on things that typically make you gain weight and beer is of course one. But so are biscuits, chocolate and carb heavy meals, so he’s also cutting back on all of those things. This is of course conscious moderation but I maintain that this is very different from trying to moderate one specific thing. There is a difference between making adjustments to achieve a goal (cut calories to slim down, cut caffeine to sleep better, spend less to save up for something, etc etc…) and moderating something because we can’t control it or it causes terrible consequences. Hubby is just moderating things to lose a bit of weight and is possibly also a little spurred on by wifey who is suddenly working quite hard to get in shape. Like the other day when someone wore a pair of trousers that looked really good, I asked what brand they were. Sometimes those around us inspire us to follow suit. Hubby has, as I mentioned, always been into fitness so of course he’ll possibly feel a bit energised when his wife gets going. We are always affected and influenced to a greater or lesser degree by those around us, and when I drank, hubby ended up drinking more than he normally would too. Almost inevitable, I think.

But we were talking about moderation. Which I think is a pile of bullshit, but keen to hear your views. In particular I’d love to know if there has EVER been an alcoholic who learned to moderate and went on to drink like a non-alcoholic, with an off switch.

Does any of that make sense? Do you know what I mean when I outline my little theory on how moderation is a myth? Or perhaps I should say that for me, Anna the alcoholic, moderation is a myth because 1) those who would need it can’t do it, and 2) those who don’t need it….. …uhm… ..don’t fucking need it anyway!

Today I’m not going to drink.

Beats and Board Roles

You know when something happens at the right time? When you randomly happen to perhaps read something that is exactly what you need at that precise time? This morning someone on This Naked Mind Facebook group put up screen grabs showing the dramatic change to her resting heart rate now that she is alcohol free (or “AF” as everyone in the group puts it – I see that and think “As Fuck” but I’m getting used to it). It’s stuff like this that really brings it home how alcohol really does wreck our health. And no, I am not referring to you lucky lot who can enjoy it in a manner that can be considered normal, although in all fairness if you guys did cut alcohol out there’d probably be a little improvement in heart health for you too! In only a couple of months, this lady’s resting heart rate had gone from 66 beats per minute to 58! Given my night of palpitations and how my heart was on my mind, this was very well timed.

I do wonder now how my own heart health has improved. It obviously has, I know that, because I no longer experience palpitations during the day like I used to and only very rarely at night. It’s happened on one or two occasions, but still you can’t compare it to how I used to be when I was drinking. It would be so cool to see the graph tracking my heart then and now like this woman could though. See a line over the weeks and months showing how her heart is now so much happier.

If only I’d been able to stick to something, but that was of course the one thing boozing didn’t allow me to do. I’ll say it again: being a drunk is a full time job. It’s like with any other job really, only this one will eventually take over your whole life – it is quite literally the job you have to sacrifice everything else for: interests, friends, family, etc. You just cannot commit to anything else because alcohol demands ALL of you. You might be able to take up a hobby for a while, but you can never give it much time because, well, you already have your work duties to take care of, and using this metaphor those duties consist of ensuring there is a supply of alcohol you then consume in order to get yourself unconscious. How’s that for a career, eh? Perhaps I wasn’t the Oprah Winfrey of boozing, but I was definitely at CEO level with a bunch of non-executive board roles on my CV too – easy. The dedication us drunks demonstrate when it comes to drinking is astonishing and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that if I’d shown the same determination in a different career I may very well have gone pretty far because if you work as hard as I did to drink you almost can’t fail – trust me. I’d suggest this is true for any drunk worth their salt because being an alcoholic requires unyielding, relentless, hard graft.

But when I drank, drinking was of course – as it tends to be when you’re an alcoholic – my main mission whether I realised it at the time or not, and I simply therefore had no capacity or room for anything else. This includes continuing to use the fitness watch I got a couple of summers ago, and for that reason I don’t now have a record of how my resting heart rate might have changed like this lady on the Facebook group. Bit of a shame because it’d be really nice to see actually! As I said, I already KNOW that my whole freaking body is thanking me and given this heart of mine is in said body, I also know it feels better than it used to when I was keeping the vineyards of Marlborough New Zealand in business. Hm, perhaps now that I’m on such a good track I need to start wearing that watch again (especially as there are now runs and workouts to track too!) and use it to highlight how much good I’m doing myself now. Shame, it would have been good to see it in black and white, just like it’s good to see the selfies taken at each month milestone, but there we are. It’s not crucial, just sometimes nice to see hard evidence that confirms something you already know.

Sobriety – I hope – will now allow me freedom to not only pursue but also stick with all these good things, whatever they may be. I also hope that I will always be mindful of how my heart is happier now even though I don’t have any graphs to show the difference, but having said that, perhaps the palpitations I had the other night have the same purpose as those nightmares I now have sometimes – on occasion I’ve dreamt that I’m drinking again. Then I wake up and in that first second of disorientation I still have the horrible feeling of defeat of the dream but then realise it wasn’t real. Waking up from a dream like that gives me all this renewed hope and strength that I will remain sober.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Sandra Bullock’s Smile

It’s interesting – almost intriguing – for me to hear from those around me what they did see or notice when I was drinking. I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time Friday. I’m going to call her Bullock because she resembles Sandra Bullock quite a lot and for a long time I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who she reminded me of but then it dawned on me that she has the exact same features as that wonderful actress. Anyway. We were both going to the gym Friday morning (I work every other day when the people I work for are away so Friday was a day off) and decided to meet up afterwards for some light lunch and coffee. I’ve not seen Bullock since before I quit drinking. We don’t know each other that well but if feels like we do – perhaps it’s because we’re both immigrants and have our native Sweden in common that has meant there is an immediate connection, I don’t know. She’s one of those real salt of the earth people, perhaps that’s why I always liked her so much. Natural, open, genuine – you know, the sort of qualities you’d list as desirable traits in friends.

I mentioned the gym? Can you tell I feel ever so smug and virtuous? I do. I feel like super woman! I still have a few sessions left with Dimples but have now officially signed up with the lycra inferno just down the road, the same gym that hubby goes to, and Friday before meeting with Bullock I had the free PT session they give you when you part with your bank details. A young stack of muscle mass took me through a bunch of stuff but I missed Dimples. Unfair, I know, because you’re never going to have the same quality of instruction in a gym as you do when you have a PT focused on you, the whole you and nothing but you. I shouldn’t complain, and how much fun would it have been for a dude half my age trying to come up with some exercises for an old drunk? He did seem quite amused but at least he didn’t try to make me do burpees.

Yes, I am feeling VERY happy about this life decision of mine to get fit, healthy and strong. And so obviously I’m keen to talk about it, and especially so when Bullock herself had been to the gym Friday morning. It just didn’t seem right to just say I’ve decided to get fit – even though of course that IS true. It doesn’t tell the whole story. So we chatted away about getting into fitness for a while.

It’s been a strange year, in a good way,” I told her, stirring my coffee as I paused and wondered if there is no other way to drop the A-bomb than dropping it and realised there isn’t, “I quit drinking alcohol, which is a biggie for me.

That’s great,” Bullock said and smiled her identical-to-Sandra-Bullock smile, “what made you decide that?

Spit it out, Anna. What are you going to say, girl? The truth or some half baked nonsense about a health kick? Come on, now! Big girl pants pulled up, now go!

I’m an alcoholic.

Excuse me?

I’m an alcoholic,” I repeated and smiled.

Huh?” Bullock went and leaned a little closer, perhaps her hearing is as terrible as mine but in that cafe the acoustics are terrible so it’s probably hard to hear anyway.

I’m an AL-CO-HO-LIC,” I said and emphasised each syllable.

Oh,” Bullock replied, looked at me and smiled, “wow, I didn’t know that.

Well, how could she? Again I was met with the same response I’ve had over and over and over – kindness, sometimes a bit of surprise and interest. It was quite literally as though I’d just told her I have a bit of a cold – the experssion on her face was friendly concern. Just a statement of fact that didn’t warrant a huge reaction, just an acknowledgment that it’s serious but not met with a shock horror reaction. And then Bullock told me, equally matter-of-factly, about a battle of hers.

It’s funny, isn’t it?” she mused, “You just never know what people go through or who hides what.

True. You wouldn’t know from looking at Bullock that she fought the battle she told me about. It just goes to show how democratic these things are. And it makes me think of the tattoo someone in my family told me they’d get – a tattoo of a tree with a deep set of roots to illustrate how you don’t know what’s underneath given you just see the tree and not its roots.

You know, I was thinking about the last time we saw each other on my way here and wondered if you noticed at the time,” I said.

The last time we met up was at the pub and I was so aware of it at the time, just like I always was when I drank socially. I ordered a large glass of wine, Bullock ordered a small one. And then I ordered another when she was still working on hers. A large glass of wine in the UK is 250ml, a small 125ml. So I had four times the amount she did that time and remember feeling funny about it, as I always did in those situations. I’ll say it again – it’s no fun drinking with non-alkies when you’re an alkie, it’s fucking hard work and fills you with anxiety and stress.

No, I don’t remember thinking that,” Bullock told me inbetween mouthfuls of her eggs on toast, “but I did wonder what was going on when you were so keen for me to leave when you needed to pop in to the shop afterwards.

Lightbulb. THAT part I’d forgotten all about but suddenly remembered when she mentioned it. Yes, I needed to get a box of wine and I didn’t want her to see. And I remember her being hard to get rid of as we were both heading in the same direction home from the high street. I kept trying to say goodbye and Bullock kept saying she didn’t mind waiting when I popped in to get whatever I needed to get.

I remember now,” I said, winced at the shame of it and chuckled, “I needed to get wine and didn’t want you to know.

That makes sense now,” Bullock agreed, “it did seem like you didn’t want me to see what you were buying but I just didn’t understand what it was all about.

So she’d noticed something was off but not the bit I thought she may have paid attention to. It’s both interesting and cringe worthy to talk openly about these things now. The good thing about it is that I can now explain to people around me what was at the root of my strange behaviour. Like my sister-in-law M when we had the conversation and she could tell me what they’d seen, thought and suspected. It’s a weight off my shoulders, not only that I no longer have to drink but more importantly that I no longer have to hide, sneak around, manipulate and lie. Thank God for that, because it doesn’t feel good to do any of those things.

Has anyone else had these conversations with friends and/or family? Open discussions about what was going on and how it felt and was perceived for you and for them?

Today I’m not going to drink.