Back from the Edge

What I’m always intrigued to find out when I read any drinking memoir (currently reading ‘Girl Walks Out of a Bar’ by Lisa Smith) is how much someone drank. Sometimes I wonder if this is my addict’s brain hoping to be able to say “look! That person drinks more! That means you are FINE!” but I can report that except for some of the stories that involve other substances too, there have been few so far where the author has topped my levels. On occasion I find myself thinking they must be lying. One bottle of wine per day? Pah! You call that a drinking problem? Bloody amateurs! Truth of the matter is it doesn’t, uhm, matter. We’re all different and we all react differently too. I always feel a bit hesitant to divulge the amounts I used to drink just in case someone like Drunk Me might hear and take it to be “oh look! She drinks WAY more! That means I am FINE!” – that’d be terrible. At the same time I want to be open and honest about this and talking about the actual amount of wine I was drowning in is part of the story here.

Strangely enough, looking back it would seem the amount I drank remained pretty level for almost the entirety of the 12-13 years I drank heavily. When I first spiralled, it was gradual but it was also FAST. In almost no time I quickly worked my way up to and went from almost a bottle of wine a night to nearly two bottles in what can’t have been more than a matter of a year or so of almost everyday drinking, and that’s where I seemed to remain. My cruising speed seemed to stabilise at between two and a half and closer to three bottles and that’s where I seemed to stay. Oh, I know, it’s staggering amounts – I’m not saying otherwise – but isn’t it a little surprising that it didn’t creep further? Then again, perhaps it would have. I just can’t imagine hard liquor but I’m sure my friend Tumbler probably said the same thing at some stage before she found herself drinking Jagermeister before breakfast during those last few years before she lost her life to alcoholism. It’s not as if I ever saw myself drinking a cask of wine every night of the week either. Tomaydo, tomahto.

Before I met Hubby nearly six years ago, I did go under a few times. One particular moment sticks out in my mind of getting more wine as soon as I could stand up one day and I was shaking so bad and was so dizzy I felt my legs starting to give way when I was less than 50 yards from my front door. I think that’s the only time I thought I’d have to open one of the bottles there and then, right on the sidewalk out in the street, and take a few swigs to come right. I didn’t have to, but you can bet your bottom dollar I was into that bottle before I even took my shoes off after making it home those last few yards. I don’t know what time of day it was but probably not much past lunchtime. Hubby, unbeknownst to him, probably slowed me down. Never good to have a witness when you’re up to no good. So I probably have more to thank him for than just telling him I’m grateful for being my best friend – the fact that he just exists seems to have pulled me back from the edge a bit. I’m sure this is true for many alcoholics but I sank the deepest when I was left alone and unchecked and could drink the way I wanted to.

That was the amount I seemed to maintain over the majority of my heavy drinking days – around the two and a half bottles of wine per sitting. Before the dawn of Hubby there were patches – sometimes longer periods – of every single day, definitely. There were also times when I didn’t drink that often and even a longer period one year where I didn’t drink at all for nearly five months. I suspect many of us alkies have a drinking history like that, slightly patchy. In the years since Hubby came along I’d say I’ve probably averaged around four or five nights a week. To be clear though, there are very few instances when I’ve had a drink and it hasn’t lead to me getting completely blotto or in black-out. Apart from times when I’ve either not been able to as there was no more booze or we had visitors or similar, it’s always been a case of if I have one I’m a goner. One drink is too many, twenty aren’t enough – the story of my life.

Do you read this and think HOLY MOLY did she really drink that much? Or do you read this the way I read about one bottle of wine per day and think WTF that’s nothing? You don’t have to tell me but it does always interest me for some reason to hear what another addict’s/alcoholic’s daily intake looked like. Not sure why and whilst in the past it would have been in the hope I’d be able to say “hurrah! I don’t have a problem because just look how much SHE drinks! I’m nothing like that!“, that’s not the case now. I don’t want to drink again because 1) it only causes shit and has no benefits, and 2) if I start drinking I cannot stop.

So the book I mentioned at the beginning is actually one of those where I’ve gone HOLY MOLY, because Smith describes drinking wine and snorting cocaine from the moment she wakes up. There is no part of me – at least not right now – that is trying to use this as a favourable comparison though. It’s not better and it’s not worse. Addiction is addiction. Just like it might be easy to point to the end stage alcoholic on the park bench and say “but I’m not THAT bad” in some pathetic attempt at making yourself believe you’re a “better” drunk because you’re drinking a good wine and not strong cider out of a can in full view. Tomaydo, tomahto. I’ve said it before, but the only difference between me and the drunk on the park bench in this very moment is one drink. That’s all.

Today I’m not going to drink.

17 Letters

Let me tell you something: it feels fucking awesome to take action. Being in recovery, as far as I’m concerned, means I’m recovering the person I am meant to be. That person is not the lethargic super lush who could barely string a sentence together that I used to be, but this person who is here now – Sober Me, or rather…. just ME.

Two days away from being able to say ONE YEAR SOBER I’m not just talking about all the things I will do: tomorrow or starting next Monday or next month or next year, and not if or when. Let’s go, bitches! Carpe the goddamn diem! Now, today, in this moment. And so I did carpe the diem, and why not on a sunny and bright Monday such as this? New beginnings are upon me and I’m not just sitting here waiting for life to happen to me. A year ago, the Beast whispered to me “you’re not strong enough to withstand the storm“. I believed it. Not in a million years did I believe that I’d be where I am now, almost at that milestone I never thought I’d reach.

Today I’m telling the Beast: I AM THE STORM and you’d better believe it, you motherfucker.

I thought it’d be scary, but I was smiling to myself as I was walking down the high street this morning. With me I had 17 envelopes containing my CV and a cover letter. 17 because that’s how many envelopes I had at home, by the way. I went into 17 places – cafes, a charity shop, a bookstore, clothes stores, a health store and a florist – handing in those envelopes marked for the attention of the manager. My cover letter starts with the words “I am starting over!” and briefly explains I am turning a leaf and looking to become an addiction counsellor and whilst volunteering and studying within this field I’m looking for whatever hours and shifts they may be able to give me. I haven’t done this since I was a student and I think part of me thought it’d feel a bit ridiculous and like a bit of a defeat but it felt GOOD. It felt good taking charge of my situation and take action in order to get back out on the pitch. No more warming the bench up for the star players whilst they go get it. Time to join the game, I’ve warmed up and stretched and I’m ready to go.

Sure, I’m a little scared having to leapt off the edge without really knowing where I’ll land but although I don’t know whether I’ll land in hot water or on dry land, I know that Sober Me will land on her feet.

Let’s go grab this beautiful, awesome life by the collar and start up some exciting shit damnit!

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Today I’m not going to drink.

Play It Forward

I’ve always been a bookworm. Most of the time I have at least two books on the go, but most often three or four. Since I stopped drinking I’ve been devouring sobriety literature like a demon. Hey, I know! I know, I know, I know. I know it might seem like I’m really obsessive and compulsive, but guess what – when it comes to endorphins and nurturing my mind, I don’t think full throttle is a particularly harmful setting so I’m just going with it. I usually have a couple of books I alternate between at home and then another on Audible that I listen to during my drive to and from work. The sobriety books I’m reading are anything from drinking memoirs to fact heavy books on addiction and everything in between. Most recently, I’ve been listening to The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley, which is of the memoir variety and her style reminds me a little of Bridget Jones: it’s light, easy going and enjoyable. In fact, much better than poor ol’ Bridget as Pooley isn’t such a whinge bag and just strikes me as really charming. I think Bridget – as charming as she is – would do my head in very quickly, whereas Pooley I’d like to hang out with. The blog can be found here.

Anyway, I was reading some of Pooley’s most recent posts and in the comments section an expression I often heard in AA meetings was mentioned: “play the tape forward“. This is really good advice. We can all be clever when armed with that handy thing called hindsight, but playing the tape forward is all about foresight. It might seem like such a simple device, and I guess it is, but I wonder if it’s particularly useful in very early sobriety. It all comes down to understanding the Beast, I suppose and what the Serenity Prayer is all about too.

Let’s say if (or when) that pesky ping! pops in to my head and I suddenly really want to have a drink. My addictive brain might go on to show me glittering and romantic images of a sparkling spritzer by the river on a summer’s eve with my sexy husband or something like that – you know, one of my favourite drinking scenarios. My brain will do its best to show me the “good” parts of drinking, make me believe them and ultimately get me yearning for them. For an alcoholic like me, this is the time when it’s be useful – crucial and life saving, even – to play that damn tape forward. Because playing it forward means I have to confront those images that my addictive mind doesn’t want to know about – the binge drinking, the compulsion, the depths of addiction and the black-outs. Add all the other shitty things drinking brings too, which makes that tape go on for a very long time as they’re endless.

Right now, this seems to happen without much effort but I suspect there will be plenty of times when I’ll really have to remind myself of where booze will take me. What I’m saying is, that when I think about drinking, my brain immediately goes oh gosh no and plays a stream of crappy stuff to me. Right now, when I think of alcohol I think of the shit it will first cause me and then how it’ll kill me. That glass of wine and soda water doesn’t hold any of the promises I used to think it did, it just holds a deadly poison that only does me harm. I guess my inner cassette player currently has some sort of automatic mechanism that kicks in without me having to press play. Or forward, as it were.

Anyway, I just wanted to emphasise this because I think it’s a really good thing to do if we start to fall for the charms of the Beast. Because the Beast can be VERY charming. Like Bradley Cooper serenading you in his raspy voice as he’s strumming his guitar, then gets you out on the stage with him for a duet to thundering applause. Fucking awesome! Absolute magic. WAIT! Play the tape forward. It’s the bit where he pisses himself on stage you need to see. Or the heartbreaking garage scene. Uhm, I’m talking about the film, obviously – A Star is Born. Well, Cooper plays an alcoholic in it and it hits you right where it should, in solar plexus. Playing the tape forward is a good thing to do when we get sober because the Beast is as talented as Cooper and therefore it’s the end bit we need to keep sight of.

It’s astounding really. The downsides to drinking are so severe, so obvious and so immediate, yet in many cases we go on for years – decades, even – because all we allow ourselves to see is that first part. Somehow we close ourselves off to the dark reality of alcoholism and even when we’re in a really desperate state we still manage to convince ourselves that it’s somehow worth it. Trust me, I know. I look back now and shudder at where I got myself, yet I can assure you that I at the time considered myself pretty happy (and in truth, most of the time I was but addiction is addiction and it was breaking me down) and hardly ever knowingly poured myself that first glass with anything other than free will. I say “hardly ever” because there were indeed times when I did pour it and felt such sorrow, not understanding how I got there. Free will, my arse, yet that’s what I mostly believed. Those darker moments when reality came a’knockin’ I quickly knocked back the drinks to knock it right back to the back of my mind.

I hate to be a doom’s day prophet, but I fear there is very little we can do if our minds turn on us. For that reason, it’s good to have a bag of tricks and playing the tape forward is a good one to keep handy. Don’t give any thought to the first part and those lovely images, it’s the end destination you need to remember and it’s always the same one.

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Peaceful Day At Disneyland

Did I ever mention it’s really hard work being a drunk? I must have. Not just anyone can do it, you know – it takes some serious grit being an alcoholic. I imagine it’s less cumbersome working out how to have a peaceful day at Disneyland with 20 five-yearolds loaded on sugar than it is planning how to get through the day when you’re in active alcoholism. It’s not just all the stress of working out how to drink (where you’re getting the drink from, where and how to hide it, where and when to drink it, who to drink with and who to avoid) but also how to remain upright and somewhat able to go through the absolute minimum of motions during the day. Defer what you can, avoid anything more complicated than putting one foot in front of the other. And sometimes even that is a feat of champions, to be honest. I think the worst of it was to get through the hangovers, that painful part that were basically all the hours in the day when I didn’t drink. When I should have been living, really.

First off, I had the Hangover Kit and I’d buy these supplies usually at the same time as I picked up wine and soda:

  • Berocca (vitamin drink)
  • Resolve or Alkaseltzer (relieves headache, settles stomach)
  • Dioralyte (for rehydration – preferable to Resolve/Alkaseltzer as contains no caffeine)
  • Chewing gum (to disguise rancid wine breath)
  • Coconut water
  • Bananas

Obviously I was a seasoned drunk – a veteran, you might say – and quite often when it came to drinking I’d show signs of the organisational skills I very rarely display at work when I actually need them. Sometimes I’d have a glass of Dioralyte inbetween drinks during the drinking session itself in an attempt to rehydrate whilst dehydrating. Oh, it’s such madness! When else would I voluntarily do something really terrible to myself and simultaneously also try to mitigate the harm? It literally is like buying first a knife to repeatedly stab yourself with and picking up a medical kit to tend the wounds during the same shopping trip. FUCK ME. I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry – it actually makes me really fucking angry that I succumbed to this. But then wiser women than me have fallen before me, and wiser women than me will no doubt fall after me too. Unless I went into black-out (and let’s face it, in black-out anything can happen and I wouldn’t have a clue) I’d have a Berocca before bed too, in the pathetic hope I might feel alive in the morning.

The first step would be mixing a Berocca with Dioralyte and gulp down first thing. This was my idea of giving myself the best possible chance of surviving the day ahead. During the first half of the day I’d avoid coffee, despite morning coffee being one of my absolute favourite things in the world, because it makes me feel even weaker and dizzier when I’m hungover. Sometimes, if I had some coffee, I felt like I was swaying and vibrating – a sensation that is every bit as yucky as it sounds. I’d try to eat bananas and drink lots of coconut water – I think it was my friend Tumbler (who, incidentally and tragically drank herself to death) who advised me to ingest anything containing potassium. I recall her saying something about getting twitchy due to dehydration and something about potassium would help counter this. Save yourself convulsions really. It might all have been bullshit, the misguided and desperate attempts of us alcoholics to believe what we wanted to believe. Actually, it was the drinking that was bullshit, but I guess I wasn’t ready to accept this at the time.

I doubt any of the things in my Hangover Kit made much of a difference, actually. I think, as with many other things, much of it was in my head. Like if I knew I’d had some Dioralyte, which contains salts and minerals you typically lose when you have a stomach bug and helps you rehydrate, I’d feel calmer knowing I’d had some, thinking I had replenished some of my body’s desperately depleted defences.

Oh, God – just writing this makes me feel tired, desperate and sad and I’ve put almost one year between myself and this sorry existence. I remember it so well, though. With every word I just typed I felt all of it, perhaps it’s muscle memory and my whole body remembers exactly how it felt. Well, my body spent long enough experiencing it, so figures I guess. Good riddance. Please God, never let me lose sight of why I stopped drinking. Never let me forget. I’ll be ever so good, if you just grant me that one wish. Eek.

As for now, I’m still revelling in the realisation of how sobriety so easily puts life right at my feet. I’ve been thinking lots about what I want to do with it, this life. Don’t get me wrong, I consider the spot I’m in a pretty damn sweet one and to be honest if I never have or do anything beyond what I have or do right now, I’ll die a happy woman. Even so, now that drinking isn’t confining me to a miserable groundhog day style life of endless hangovers, why not aim a little higher? Like, you know, dreams and stuff. My little aha-moment Friday night extended to another realisation that positively made me shriek with excitement. I decided that perhaps that first book I write can be found much closer to home – here. So I printed off everything I’ve written in this past very-nearly-one-year.

The average novel is between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. When I was trying to give writing a shot four years ago, I stalled and got stuck somewhere around the 50,000-mark. It just seemed such an arduous task, such an awful amount of work and never mind editing and reshaping and reworking the whole thing over and over. As I always did when I was drinking, I fizzled out and that half baked, half completed first draft is still gathering the proverbial dust on my hard drive. I figured that if I ever decided to write about drinking and sobriety (not that I’m a sobriety ninja – I’ll forever be a work in progress on that score), perhaps there might be some stuff from this blog I could use. I doubt there’ll be anything I could just lift, but certainly plenty of material by way of subject matter (even like this when I’ve written about hangover strategies) that I might be able to knock into shape. Well. I decided to print off the whole damn thing so I can read through it all armed with some highlighters and sticky page markers. I was going to do this when I hit the one year sober anyway because I want to look back on this past year and relive it.

book

When I was done printing I had a HUGE, thick pile of paper. 400 pages of single spaced lines of words, words, words. I checked the word count. 260,000. And there it was again, sobriety placing a huge lightbulb right in front of me. Without even thinking about it and with no actual effort or having to make time, I’ve written three novels’ worth in this past year. No, no – I know, it’s just my blog musings and nothing I could ever publish, but it showed me how it’s entirely do-able to knock out this amount. Attempting to write a book is obviously a whole different process – plan the structure, fine tune the archs of the story I want to tell and craft each sentence carefully and then go over it another ten times. But still. That pile of paper containing MY words really showed something to me that I needed to see.

I can do this. I can so totally do this. I can do this because I’m sober.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Claw Your Way Out of This, Girl

Why did I keep on drinking for as long as I did even when I knew it was A) a massive problem, B) stopped me doing lots of things, and C) killing me? Who better to ask than Drunk Me?

Sober Me: How ya been?

Drunk Me: Fuck, can’t see properly. Don’t really want to talk, find it hard to focus. Feel dizzy, heart’s beating weird. Just need to keep as still as I can. Need to just breathe. Can we do this later? Just give me a couple of hours, I usually feel better by mid-afternoon.

Sober Me: Cool bananas, see you in a few hours!

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Oh for God’s sake, that’s so annoying! Now she’s cancelled! Can’t she at least have had the decency to call instead of sending a text message ten minutes before we were supposed to meet up? How rude! Here I am, arranging my day to suit her and now it’s all been a waste of time. Ah! She’s texted. We can catch up tomorrow, meet her at that cute pub on the river after work. Great.

And so the following day…

Sober Me: Hey! You been here long? I’m just going to grab a coffee, you want anything?

Drunk Me: Nah, just got here. Literally just got myself a drink.

Sober Me: Oh no, you didn’t. Nice try! Remember I’m sober now – SOBER YOU! – and you have lost your powers to fool me so you can drop the act and we’ll have an honest heart to heart. I know it’s your second or third. You necked the first and deliberately got here half an hour early so you’d get it down you quickly before I turned up, remember? Actually, why don’t you tell me? Second or third?

Drunk Me: Sorry, I’m so used to lying about it I didn’t even have to think about it, I forgot who you were there for a moment, Sober Me. Second. I’d be on my third but there was traffic coming down here so I wasn’t as early as I’d hoped I’d be. That really stressed me out actually!

Sober Me: OK, cool. Keep it straight, sister. I’ll try to get as much out of you before you get too fogged up. So, I just wanted to pick your brains really.

Drunk Me: Go for it.

Sober Me: First off. You know you’re an alcoholic, right? You’ve known this for a long time, haven’t you?

Drunk Me: Yup. 

Sober Me: But you continue to drink even though you deep down know it’s a huge problem and it’s likely to kill you.

Drunk Me: Yup.

Sober Me: Can you, in just one sentence, sum up the main reason why that is? Like, I don’t stop drinking because – and, you know, the main reason or whatever.

Drunk Me: Oh God… I don’t know! Hold on, let me think. Argh! I’ll come right soon, I’m still muddled and find it hard to tie my thoughts together when I’m hungover. It’s like my brain shuts down, like a wet tangle of threads I can’t connect. OK, right. Ready?

Sober Me: Shoot.

Drunk Me: I don’t stop drinking because I don’t know how.

Sober Me: How do you mean? As in, you don’t think you can?

Drunk Me: Kind of. I just don’t know where to start. It doesn’t seem possible, it’s just such a huge thing. It’s overwhelming. And no, I don’t think I’d be able to, I just can’t see it. And what a bleak existence, too! Imagine ALWAYS being sober. Eek!  

Sober Me: But you’re not physically dependent on alcohol, are you? So it’s not like you would truly need a medical detox or your doctor’s assistance to come off it?

Drunk Me: I get withdrawal symptoms, definitely, that’s what these hangovers are, right? But no, it’s rare that I get so ill I have to start drinking again just out of agony. But no, it’s not at a point where I have to drink in the mornings and when I do have the first drink it at least feels like I want it and not that I need it, if you see what I mean?

Sober Me: Mm… But you did also say just now that you’d come right soon, which implies you feel rotten and you’re drinking to make it go away.

Drunk Me: Mm… Don’t know. Uhm…. True, I suppose. Next question please.

Sober Me: Deny, deny, deny! You’re so funny. And a little stupid, but that’s OK – your brain’s under siege by your addiction so let’s move on. So you keep drinking because stopping seems big and scary, do I have that right? And also you don’t think you can?

Drunk Me: Yes. And it seems dull too. Drinking is fun and happy and cosy and glittery and warm. I can’t imagine those summer nights when Hubby and I sit in the evening sun and drink wine and chat and laugh without the wine. It just doesn’t work. Or sitting here on any evening during any season. I just don’t know what that even looks like. Why bother coming here at all?

Sober Me: To hang out with Hubby in a lovely spot and enjoy his company!

Drunk Me: I always enjoy his company! I just mean we could stay at home. 

Sober Me: Sitting here in a place that’s special to you both without drinking seems like a waste of time if you’re not drinking?

Drunk Me: Well, I mean… …that sounds a bit harsh! Not quite like that! 

Sober Me: Actually, that’s what I’m hearing! So, in essence you think life wouldn’t be quite so glittery and nice without drinking?

Drunk Me: Exactly! We – mostly me and Hubby – always have such a laugh when we drink. I don’t see how it would be the same. I look forward to it ALL THE TIME. I plan everything around it! When I’ll drink, where I’ll get it from, how to swerve any awkward moments, how to hide it, how to adjust everything else to fit in with my boozing. It’s always the main objective, like a big jigsaw I have to plan out all the time. Even getting here I raced to get here long before you so I’d be able to drink more.

Sober Me: That sounds like an awful lot of work to me. Stressful!

Drunk Me: Hah! That’s true, actually! I never thought of it like that.  

Sober Me: So meeting me without drinking….

Drunk Me: Well, you’d have to catch me on a day I’m not too hungover and also get in there before I have started drinking, so you’d be lucky. I always find excuses, cancel at the last minute or wriggle my way out of it somehow. All so I can drink the way I want to.

Sober Me: But what I was going to say was if there was no drinking involved you wouldn’t have any of that stress.

Drunk Me: Yeah, but then I wouldn’t have any of that other stuff!

Sober Me: What stuff?

Drunk Me: The excitement, you know – looking forward to drinking, being all happy and sort of energised by it, feeling perky and bouncy when I know I’m going to drink. 

Sober Me: But you’d be seeing me! 

Drunk Me: You’re me. Just sober and more bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

Sober Me: Smart arse. You know what I mean. You’d be seeing a friend or friends or whatever. Isn’t that the whole point of it?

Drunk Me: Oh shit. No, not for me. Holy crap, I just realised I wasn’t even thinking much about how seeing you, I was just happy because I was heading to the pub. That’s the main event for me. It just makes everything more fun! And gets conversation going and stuff!

Sober Me: So I’m just something that fits in around it? 

Drunk Me: As shitty as it sounds, yes.

Sober Me: How do you think your friends would feel if they knew that? If they knew they’re only peripheral and all you really care about is drinking? 

Drunk Me: It’s dreadful, isn’t it? 

Sober Me: Dreadful and stressful! Come on, don’t get sad. Look, I know you’re feeling helpless. It’s OK to say, you know, but I know this still seems way too scary for you. 

Drunk Me: It DOES make me sad! It breaks my heart because I love my friends, genuinely really love them. I don’t know how I ended up here! When did this switch happen? When did I go from being excited about who I was meeting up with to excited that I was going to drink? I feel awful. I keep picturing Lopez’s face if I were to tell her I was happier about getting to drink than seeing her. Can we stop? Change the subject! I can’t bear to think about it. Can we stop please?

Sober Me: That’s the nature of the Beast, my dear. Cunning, baffling and powerful. You need to claw your way out of this, girl.

Drunk Me: I just don’t know how! Where would I start? What would I say? Who would I say it to? It just seems so fucking hopeless. And impossible.

Sober Me: You think it is, yes. That’s your addiction talking. Just like it’s your addiction that makes the drinking more important than who you’re seeing. Can you tell me what the drink gives you that made you more excited about that than you were about seeing me today?

Drunk Me: Er… Well, I’m kind of getting a little buzzy and warm now. Excitable. 

Sober Me: I can tell, it’s like a little switch went on in you with that second drink. Now that you’re into your third you seem happier. You’re chattier too. And you’re suddenly drinking a LOT faster! You went from feeling sad there for a minute to really perking up. 

Drunk Me: I know! I’m kind of in the flow now! Definitely feel better! 

Sober Me: But is that because the alcohol has lifted you or is it simply that you feel less terrible? Describe how you actually feel.

Drunk Me: I don’t feel as unsteady as earlier. I’m no longer dizzy and I don’t feel anxious or stressed.

Sober Me: So this warm and buzzy feeling is actually better described as “not terrible” and perhaps that’s why it feels so good. I mean, would you say that you feel really wonderful or would you say it’s that you just don’t feel shit anymore? 

Drunk Me: Probably that I no longer feel like shit, now that I think about it. Yeah, that’s it. I can’t say I feel all that amazing, just not feeling quite so awful. Stupid, isn’t it?

Sober Me: No, not stupid. You’re an alcoholic, that’s all. This is all very serious though, you know that, don’t you? What you’re doing is dangerous. 

Drunk Me: Can we change the subject? You’re so boooooooring! Joking. I’ll stop. I will, honestly. Just not today. 

Sober Me: Let’s just leave it for now, I see you’ve started really guzzling so it’s probably better if you get yourself home. I’m obviously sober and it’s getting to that point where it’ll soon be having a conversation with a drunk person and that’s quite irritating. No offence!  

Drunk Me: None taken. I can still have a reasonably good conversation for a while, we can keep going. But if we’re not going to, I’d like to rush off before this buzz wears off so I can get more wine on the way home and keep on drinking. So you let me know – if we’re staying, I want to get another drink NOW and if not I want to hurry home. I hate having to break the flow!

Sober Me: Alright, let’s catch up again soon. I just really wanted to ask you what keeps you drinking. That’ll do for now. Try not to die today though, I still have things I want to ask you. 

Drunk Me: I’ll do my best, haha!

Sober Me: You must be made of steel. The way you drink does kill lots of people. Are you not aware of this, you nutter? Joking about it makes it go away a little though, right? 

Drunk Me: Sure does and I do know I’m sailing a bit close to the wind. Every morning at 4am when I lie awake and my heart is beating like crazy I think I’ve finally gone and done it. 

Sober Me: And yet you continue. 

Drunk Me: Yep. And speaking of which – gotta go!

I stand there for a while, watching Drunk Me head off. She’s walking fast, head held high again now that she feels better. I did watch her arrive and she never took her eyes off the ground, her steps unsure and she was holding on to her handbag in a way a nervous car passenger might hold on to their seat belt. It’s sad to watch. Both what alcohol reduces her to and how it’s what puts her “right” again. And I once again remember why I’m so grateful I don’t have to do that anymore. Every single day I am grateful. I’ll tell you what I’m not, though: bored! All Drunk Me’s fears were illusions. Every single one.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Heart Open, Soul Laid Bare

You’d think that I, as a recovering alcoholic, would have absolute shed loads of patience and empathy for those who are fighting addiction or mental health issues or both. Not so much. It’d appear my tolerance level is surprisingly low. This is not least illustrated by how frustrated I sometimes get with my friend Kitten who suffers severe depression, but also another person in my close vicinity who also suffers depression and panic attacks. OK, now you’ll in all likelihood think I’m a nasty piece of work and perhaps I am. Because I was never confronted about my own addiction I can’t give you any accurate answer as to how that might have gone down – I had the luxury of reaching my rock bottom on my own and broadly speaking I stopped when I’d had enough. In other words, I stopped when I was ready to and I stopped for me. Therefore I can only guess at what would have happened if someone close to me had cornered me, given me an ultimatum and I’d been faced with stop-drinking-or-else.

I don’t have to dig particularly deep to realise that I probably would have responded well to being confronted during the last three or four years. I’m pretty sure I would have broken down from sheer relief and agreed to fight with all my might to get sober – honestly. There were so many times I secretly almost wished something would happen, something that’d force me. It’s crazy to think now how shit scared I was of even attempting to stop drinking, but the sad truth is that I didn’t believe I’d be able to. It just seemed too high of a mountain to climb and I knew I wouldn’t even get to base camp. Inside I was crying out for someone to see how I was sinking, for someone to drag me out of it. Of course, we all know that the only person who can drag you out of addiction is YOU, but I imagine it’s probably common that people get to a stage where they almost hope the world will come crashing down – I certainly did. By ‘crashing down’ I don’t necessarily mean something huge or super scary, I mean anything that would force the spot light on to the real issue.

My rock bottom may seem pretty harmless to those who crashed harder than I did. It might even seem laughably kind to those who had to lose much more than I did. After all, I got away with “only” having hurt and scared my child, ensured I’d never achieved much, worried my husband and of course a generous helping of good old fashioned shame. I’d not lost my child, nor had I ever really put him in danger or had him go without (well – he went without a fully present mother). Despite being unable to be my best, I always managed to hold down a job. My husband never threatened to leave me, much less did. And my shame didn’t extend to losing my driver’s licence or being arrested. So in many ways I do appreciate that my rock bottom wasn’t as vicious and terrifying as it could have been. Oh… YET. Always remember YET.

It was just short of a year ago. January 22nd, to be precise, a Monday. I was so hungover I couldn’t get myself to work. Hell, I couldn’t even stand until well into the afternoon. Sunday evening had been a regular evening, I can’t remember what we did but it definitely wasn’t some big date night or party or anything like that. An educated guess would be we had gone to the pub for “a couple of drinks” and me knocking back probably three, then insisting we got more wine to have at home. At home I’d probably done my usual Anna and put away at least one and a half bottles more, guzzling away like there was no tomorrow compared with Hubby nursing one or possibly two glasses. And of course my tomorrow was horrific and brutal. I called in sick, or rather texted my boss who probably responded with his usual good natured and unsuspecting “poor you, hope you feel better soon“.

Late afternoon I’d showered, weak and shaky and frightened of passing out. Hubby got home in the evening and I don’t think we did anything, from memory it was an uneventful Monday evening. What I do remember clearly however, is the shame and guilt I felt not telling Hubby I’d failed to get to work. It’s weird actually, because stopping wasn’t on my radar. I knew I was eyeball deep in shit obviously, but still hadn’t seen my opportunity – or crash – to reach out for help and speak the words. It only happened when it happened and it was on a Monday that was like hundreds just like it. We were lying in bed in the evening, facing each other and chatting about the day as we normally do.

Can you tell me something, Anna?” Hubby asked.

I went cold, perhaps knowing what was coming. Perhaps I knew it was obvious.

Did you go to work today?

There it was. Inside me, that voice I’d heard so many times was positively screaming at me. Before it had whispered so often and pleaded with me but now it was a desperate cry, like when you scream yourself coarse. Do it! Say it! Reach out now. Do it now. He’s got your back. SAY IT. So I did.

No,” I said meekly and turned on my back, staring at the ceiling as though I was hoping my next sentence might be helpfully written across it. “[Hubby], I’m scared. I have to stop drinking. I’m scared of where it’s taking me.

There. The words that had been stuck in my throat for so long. Underneath the covers Hubby’s hand found it’s way over my stomach and grabbed me gently around the waist, pulling me a little closer.

Anna, you’re already there.

His voice was soft and kind, as usual his approach was balanced and fair and amazingly free of judgment. And it all spilled out of me. All I’d been hiding, how much I’d struggled, how desperate I was to stop. We went to sleep the way we always do, tangled up in each other, and I remember clearly waking up that way too on Tuesday 23rd January 2018. That was the day I made the most important decision in my life. I knew there was no turning back and I knew it was sink or swim. So I swam. It was only when I truly accepted that the game was up that I found the warrior in me, the woman who wants to live life fully and not have that dreadful, sorry existence with one foot in the grave. That was when I could push off, jump off the edge, let go of the railings. Thank God, is all I can say. Thank God.

That same evening I’d looked up a local AA meeting, an open one, meaning anyone can go and not just alcoholics. I collected Hubby from the train station and drove straight there. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own and also I knew Hubby would benefit from understanding better what I was up against. He always used to say I just needed to cut down. Don’t get me wrong, my drinking wasn’t a new topic and Hubby had told me on occasion he worried about me, but I don’t think he ever considered the A-word. In fact, the evening before when I let it all out he’d even said “but it’s not like you’re an alcoholic” – perhaps we both needed to understand it all, and I suppose AA meetings were the logical place to start. I knew in my heart there could be no half way house for me, so I went all in with my heart open and my soul laid bare.

Perhaps an accurate way of describing what rock bottom was for me would be to say it was the moment I finally felt hope that there could be another way. I saw clearly where I was going and it scared me senseless. I didn’t want my son to have to go on with Drunk Mum and I didn’t want Hubby to have to go on with Drunk Wifey. Nor did I want to BE Drunk Me anymore. I’d had enough. I felt done. For real, this time. Rock bottom for me was the moment I knew what I had to do. I knew in my heart I’m an alcoholic, I knew that moderation will never be available to me, I knew I had to stop and stop completely, and I knew it had to be now. I guess the correct term is acceptance. I accepted all those things, and what’s more, I embraced them. Believe it or not, saying out loud that I’m an alcoholic and accepting it in my heart didn’t fill me with shame – it filled me with relief.

Yet another way of describing this would be to say I truly accepted and understood my own limitations. Much like Hubby accepts and understands he is allergic to kiwi fruit, or how a diabetic accepts and understands they have to carry around an insulin pen. Sort of. The beauty of it all is of course that being an alcoholic doesn’t limit me in any way. You might think I’m crazy but I consider it a much worse tragedy to be allergic to a fruit as delicious as kiwi. Honestly. But that’s neither here nor there, because what I was getting at in this post is the importance of acceptance. And this is where I sometimes find I have zero tolerance with Kitten as well as Cupcake (named that way due to excessive sweetness). Kitten makes one maddening decision after the other and Cupcake, who once held up an entire flight by freaking out and having to be taken off, decides to book holidays abroad when she to date hasn’t managed to even go on a weekend away within the country.

What I find frustrating is how both on one hand seem to have clarity of their illnesses (depression for Kitten and depression, anxiety and severe panic attacks for Cupcake), yet have these mad bursts of absolutely failing to see that they plunge themselves out of the ashes and into the fire. As a recovering alcoholic with a black belt in denial you’d think I’d have more empathy in these instances. This is when it’d probably be really useful for Sober Me to try to talk sense to Drunk Me, who probably did over those last few years know there was a massive problem yet continued to deny, deny, deny. Isn’t that weird that this stuff winds me up? Or am I just a shitty old bitch? Who knows, but it struck me as a bit ridiculous. I will continue to try harder at that patience thing.

I suppose in all this rambling on, what I wanted to get at is how it for me was crucial to really accept the state of affairs. Whether you label it a problem or an illness, I could only stop when I’d accepted and understood what it was. And I’d also had enough, perhaps that’s even more important – the more I think about it even as I’m typing this, perhaps that was the real game changer. I’d had it.

Anyway. I count 23rd January as my important date. The last time I drank was 21st January 2018 but it’s the 23rd that matters to me because that’s when I really made the decision.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Old School Jazz Legends

Mm, I get by with a little help from my friends“.

How true that is. Although when I looked up the lyrics just then I realised those naughty Liverpool boys also sing “mm, I get HIGH with a little help from my friends” too, which now makes me like this less from the perspective of quoting it in a sobriety blog. To be fair though, many of the music legends I love the most seem to have had rather serious drug addictions and you’ll have to admit the Beatles are squeaky clean compared with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin if we just look at the 60s alone. Jeez, drugs and alcohol have really extinguished the flames of some extraordinarily talented people. That saddest of lists really is endless. Just imagine where Joplin could have gone. I mean, that powerful, gravelly, wise-old-woman voice coming out of that messy looking little girl! OK, young woman, but still. Just imagine where she would have got to once she’d added more life, years, experience and grit. And this can be said of so many. In recent times there is of course the tragedy of Amy Winehouse, who even in her early twenties had a voice and song writing talent that eclipsed even the old school jazz legends – just imagine how her talent and music might have developed.

It strikes me that these are pained geniuses, that their talent and creativity are perhaps enhanced by pain. I mean, would their work be half as interesting had they been straight laced and privileged average Joes? Gosh, this sounds like I’m now saying they’re better because they were drug addicts and that’s not it at all – I just wonder if it’s their pained and tortured souls that give them depth, that’s all. Unsurprising, I guess. Just a shame that giving full rein to their musical talents wasn’t enough to process their demons and heavier anesthesia was required. Things will sooner or later turn to shit if you more than dabble with drugs. And sometimes even dabbling is enough to sign a death warrant. After all, I don’t know if a single addict deliberately set out to become one.

Gosh, I should make GET TO THE GODDAMN POINT my New Year’s resolution! Where were we? Friends!

I just read functioningguzzler‘s most recent post about hitting her 11 months sober and she’s listed 11 reasons why life sober feels like magic. And as I sat here nodding – given I can relate to everything she said as usual – I also suddenly felt super excited. FG is special to me, you see. I’ve followed her blog since just a few months into my sobriety and these days she is a friend in real life too *sniff* – she’s my very own unicorn and as far as I’m concerned she fucking shits rainbows. Beyond an amazing friendship I know will last for life, she’s also my sister in arms. We got sober around the same time and we’ve gone through all the weirdness, struggles, victories and epiphanies of early sobriety together. We’ve fought this shoulder to shoulder. When I read her post about 11 months sober I was hit by this sense of excitement, and because I’m me and an emotional hurricane, I keep having to force back tears of joy that threaten to overwhelm me. We’ll both be hitting that huge milestone around the same time – me in 19 days and FG about 10 days after that – and it’s so exciting to share this. I keep getting images in my mind about us reaching a finishing line after a grueling race together, or coming back from war. Or two women high-fiving each other because we got somewhere we probably didn’t think we’d ever be. Well, I certainly didn’t.

Sobriety and the sweet victory of reaching milestones is always ours alone, because no matter what there is no one else who can do it for you, but it’s pretty cool to cross that line with people who have been through the same journey.

Obviously it doesn’t end there. One year sober is just that: one year. And with any luck, I’ll be around for many more. If I make it to my eighties, there’ll be at least 40 more years. If I get to 86 years of age, it’ll mean the second half of my life was lived sober. WITH ANY LUCK. And work. And determination. And humility. Lots and lots of humility. Never forget, Anna, the nature of the Beast. It’s always with me because it’s inside me. So this one year will just be one small section of a life I hope I have plenty left of. Like the first kilo when you need to shed 30 I suppose – important, yes, and amazing, absolutely, but only a small part of a much bigger journey. And let’s not forget I’m not quite there yet.

A year ago, I was 11 days sober and getting to one month wasn’t at all a given – in fact, I was surprised when I did! I won’t lie, I feel a lot more confident now and my sobriety no longer feels uncertain and fragile but the road is (and always will be – it’s called LIFE!) full of pot holes that I could so easily fall into if I don’t pay attention. So pay attention I will and I hope you give me an earful if I ever appear to lose sight of the things I must keep in sharp, unwavering focus. Those things are basically my own fallacies. Pretty much how you might take care when you exercise – Hubby has a troublesome calf muscle due to an old injury and in order to keep fit he has to adjust his exercise accordingly and not head out for long runs too often and hit the gym instead as a lot of running aggravates it. Or how you adjust the radiators in your home because some rooms get colder than others. Work with what you have – it doesn’t have to stop you, it just means you have to know yourself and find the way that works. What I’ve discovered is true for me is that it’s usually something to do with balance.

As we’re on to anniversaries, today is 67 months for hubby and I. I got him a card that had on the front “I love you more than food“. They always exaggerate on those things, don’t they? So today it’s pretty sweet being me – sober AND the most amazing man in the world still appears to want to be married to me. I’m frantically doing fist pumps as I type this with one hand. Honestly. Teehee.

Today I’m not going to drink.