The Story of Yet

Once in a while when I was still drinking, I’d do one of those online tests that are designed to tell you if you have a problem with alcohol (or even indicate whether you might be an alcoholic). As I’m pondering my next steps, or rather, my first few into the foray of recovery support, I was browsing around Alcohol Change’s website and they have one of those tests. It’s called “Check Your Drinking”. I’ve decided to hop back in time and become Drunk Me. Actually, Drunk Me would probably have tried to give answers based on how she wanted her alcohol habit to be – i.e. put the units that to my mind would have been OK (like “only” four drinks per evening) rather than the grim reality (that 11th glas is still on the side so perhaps ten and a half?). So I’m hopping back to Drunk Me before I quit drinking roughly a year ago, say, but with Sober Me checking the answers are entirely truthful.

Yes, I’m over 18. I’m female and fall into the age group 35-44. Let’s go.

  1. How often do I drink alcohol? At the far end is four times per week or more. That’s definitely me, and ironically Drunk Me’s healthy goal of only drinking max four nights per week is still at the naughty end.
  2. How many units of alcohol do you have on a typical day when you are drinking? Oh God, time to calculate. I’d usually get through most of a wine box, which is three bottles’ worth. The next day you’d be able to squeeze a glass out of the bag. So if a wine bottle equals four standard glasses of wine as per UK measures and one glass is therefore 175ml, this would put me at 11 glasses of wine. How many units in a 175ml glass? 1.9 units according to DrinkAware if it’s an 11% wine. That would land me at 20.9 units per day (the recommended limit is 14 units per WEEK – fun fact). The max answer is ten or more and I’m putting away twice that. Whoopsy-daisies.
  3. How often in the last year have you had six or more units on one occasion? Ah, this is why I usually gave up on these things as I felt they were aimed at some sort of goody two-shoes person who didn’t actually exist. I mean – who doesn’t have more than six? Who are these people?! The answer at the bad end is daily or almost daily. I guess so. I probably averaged five nights per week with a few exceptions so that’s closer to the truth than saying weekly.
  4. How often during the last year have you found you were unable to stop drinking when you’d started? There isn’t an option saying every single time so I’ll go with the most terrible answer which again is daily or almost daily.
  5. How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking? Slightly tough one as I somehow did manage to do the bits I really had to do. The problem is I never did anything well but I did mostly deliver what I was meant to in terms of at home and at work, so I’m not sure I can go with daily or almost daily. I frequently under performed (to my own mind at least) and I’m the friend who’d often cancel. I’ll go with weekly. Seems like a fair compromise.
  6. How often during the last year have you needed a first drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session? Finally a goody two-shoes answer! Never. I wasn’t there yet. YET YET YET YET YET YET. The story of yet. This might partly be because I just couldn’t. Or my addiction hadn’t quite forced me in to that corner yet. YET YET YET YET.
  7. How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking? Still no every-single-time option so I’ll go with daily or almost daily. Starting with palpitations and the sweats at 4am. Fun times.
  8. How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because of drinking? Ah, black-outs – I remember those well, hahr hahr. Not every single time but probably at least twice a week. So more than weekly but not sure it’d be accurate to say daily or almost daily. Well. It’s more towards the bad end. OK, fine.
  9. Have you or someone else been injured because of your drinking? If this includes emotionally then absolutely yes. Other than that I’ve amassed a plethora of mysterious bruises and scrapes that I at the time would have no idea how I’d acquired. Does that mean I should say yes? Or do they mean more severe stuff here? I think this means more serious stuff than stumbling around drunk and tripping on the rug. So no.
  10. Has a friend, relative, doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking and suggested you cut down? Yes – friends and relatives, playful hints here and there, the odd snide remark and the occasional you-should.

The results! *drum roll* I mean, do we really need to see them? Well, here it is!

My score is 31. I’m also told “Your drinking is already impacting on your health and wellbeing and you are at risk of alcohol dependence. You would benefit from speaking to your GP or an alcohol professional as soon as possible about your options for cutting down.” No big surprises there. If my score is 20-25 I’m invited to “sign up for four confidential Skype support sessions with an alcohol specialist to help you get back on track. This new service will help you to make choices that will improve your wellbeing and lower your risk” but my score is obviously way over this so wouldn’t apply to me.

How about that for a post that is stating the bleeding obvious! What can I say, I like quizzes! Oohhh how about I do it all over as Sober Me to see what they say about my current life choices?

Still female and in the same age bracket, hmpf. Other than that just one question pisses me off as it’s one you can’t answer if you never drink alcohol: question 2, obviously, so all I can do is stay at the good end and put the answer that most closely resembles the truth (1 or 2). Again, I don’t think we will have any prizes for guessing what the outcome is: my score is 0 and: “Drinking at this level means that you are unlikely to be putting yourself at risk of alcohol-related harm.” The only time I’m near the bad end is in the age group as I’m closer to 44 than I am to 35. You know what, I’ll still take it as a win.

Anyone else have anything to share that we all know already? Well. Sometimes it’s nice to just give ourselves a pat on the back for making good choices. Sure did with this. Yay me.

Today I’m not going to drink.

VIP Lounge Villains

Oh, here we go. Hello hormones! I’m so done with this – Santa, all I want for Christmas is the menopause, honestly. Even hot flushes must be preferable to this, surely. Uhm, obviously this blog is about how I’m navigating my sobriety so let’s just say that right now, in my current state, drinking would be like pouring jet fuel on a bonfire. The idea is as scary as it is comical, it’d literally be the worst idea in the world. Even back when I was drinking I would have been hesitant to pour wine on this sort of mood, honestly.

Dad sends a photo of how he’s made our beds at the little farmstead where we stay any time we go to Sweden, complete with the Union Jack blankets on top. OK, so I frequently tell my father I love him – shouting as loud as I can so he’ll hear me atop the pedestal I’ve placed him upon. Actually, when dad and I have a conversation it usually consists of shouting a lot as we both have terrible hearing, plus max volume is his default setting and always has been. Anyway. Just hearing from dad got me all sentimental and really missing him, so I got all weepy and fired off a little declaration of love. I think a little bit of how my heart ached came from one of my favourite bloggers who had written about her father and how she lost him four years ago. Whilst I’ve never been one to save on the love ammo and like to fire indiscriminately around me, I made another vow to never hold back when I feel love somehow. Be it that I was cheered up by the smiley lady at the bakery one morning or that Bambino randomly reached out and held my hand the other night when he was in the comfy chair and I on the sofa. I told bakery chick she put me in a good mood and I told Bambino that there was nowhere else I’d rather be. One day you might find it’s too late and I don’t want to stand there at the pearly gates (oh, who am I kidding, I mean of course the queue to hell’s VIP lounge) with a huge stash of love I failed to give.

Oh fuck, this now sounds like I’m trying to have you all believe I’m some zen hippie who spends her time meditating and uses the phrase “love and light” a lot. To be clear: I’m a right old nightmare of a person and difficult in a mindbogglingly large number of ways, but let me tell you this: if you’re someone I love I’ll make damn sure you know it and if you’ve made me particularly happy that day you can be certain I’ll say. And randomly it might come over me how grateful I am to know you and so I’ll come and let you know in my unfiltered, much too intense and over the top kind of way. Of this you can be sure so get ready to cringe and have your toes curl out of awkwardness.

So yes, when I’m like this, it’s enough to send me a photo of two beds with Union Jack blankets on them to have me tear up a little. Last night I ended up having an argument with Bambino and I was still seething this morning – I guess it’s karma that I have a son who argues and wriggles and twists things as skillfully as his mother, I’ve truly met my match there. Went to bed pissed off and woke up that way too, so this is me today: grumpy and emotional. A real treat, you might say.

Anyway, there we are. Hormones suck and this is what they do to me. When I’m hormonal everything gets an additional layer of emotion, which in lots of ways is totally unnecessary given I feel everything acutely as it is and really don’t need that. Eesh, imagine if I’d been drunk when Bambino and I clashed last night – a million times worse and I would have lost my rag. I can’t say I handled it perfectly but I managed a lot better and stayed way calmer than I’d been able to had I been drinking. And imagine if I’d been hungover today and therefore booze-depressed – it might have then pulled me down enough to NOT feel that sentimental joy thinking about Christmas and just ruined the whole thing. Maybe I would have felt too sad and only able to focus on the sad bits to text anything back at all beyond a heart emoticon or something. The best thing about texting dad and letting him know how much I appreciate him is that I did so sober! This means I don’t have to look at my phone tomorrow and cringe. It also means I meant it 100% as there’s no drunken bullshit in there. It’s just 100% me, nothing enhanced or numbed, just exactly what I felt without distortion.

Conclusion: Anna shall stay sober and spread the love this Christmas. Uhm, starting TOMORROW, alright? Nothing more off putting than someone trying to be kind whilst frowning – I think that might come off wrong. Barking at someone I love them might just be strange too. Yes, tomorrow I shall begin my festive cheer and today I’m going to just ride out this hormonal wave.

Apologies for the doom and gloom post but I really am in a really bad mood. Going to head out for a run as soon as Bambino’s on the train to his dad’s – I desperately need those endorphins. Honestly, I keep catching myself tensing my jaw, I think it’s where I carry stress and bad moods – after a while it aches and I have to remind myself to relax. I really am a grumpy old lady today but at least I’m a sober one. Holy smoke, I keep imagining what you’d get if you poured Sauvignon Blanc into this sorry mess! I don’t want to be flippant about it, but it’s a little bit comical actually. I imagine you’d get some sort of cartoonish villain.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Fine in the Fortress

I’ll start with how magical the park was this morning – here it is:

park.jpg

Environment conscious folk will hate me for this, but my morning drive to work is a sacred ritual. I don’t drive the quickest route, instead I take a longcut that takes me through London’s loveliest and second largest park. There are no manicured lawns or flowerbeds, just a beautifully wild and natural sanctuary that is filled with fallow deer that Henry VIII brought in for hunting when he took up abode down the road at Hampton Court Palace. Today is a cold and crisp morning and the sunshine and mist made the park look absolutely spell binding. I wish I could have been out walking or running, this is my favourite sort of day and I actually really begrudged how I’m not a billionaire or a desperate housewife. Still, having this on my (sort of) way to work and just a hundred yards from our front door is pretty goddamn cool. It’s a shame that the photo doesn’t do it justice, but then photos never do – I don’t think the magic of a moment can ever be fully captured that way. And for that reason I mostly stop myself from interrupting the moments – I very rarely pull out my phone as this for me feels like I’m not fully present, but this I just wanted to share because it was so very lovely. As for moments, sobriety lets me be in them. Had I still been drinking I would have been too busy trying to take the shortest route and generally staying upright. Yep, it’s a spectacular gift, this sober stuff.

Driving is kind of my meditation. It’s a time for reflection and when I sort through my thoughts. Concentrating on the road means there is no room for distractions like my phone or the TV or anything else that could be described as mindless, yet something I’m used to enough to allow plenty of brain capacity for a bit of mental hygiene.

This morning when I found myself feeling so grateful, I ended up thinking about how I used to structure my whole life around drinking. The things that didn’t fit I rearranged. Now that I’m sober, I’m forever discovering how I even invented “truths” about who I am and what I like/don’t like in order to keep drinking. For example, I used to hate speaking on the phone. This was mostly because I’d be so painfully aware I was slurring and also my glass would empty within ten minutes and that satisfying gush of wine from the box was so bloody obvious! Then the PSSHHHH! from unscrewing the cap of the soda bottle. Never mind how it’s quite hard work to hold on to any coherent train of thought – I’d quite literally find myself mid-sentence and having forgotten all about where I was going with something. I was all about texting and e-mailing. Problem was those would expose me just as much and my morning ritual back then wasn’t going through a magical park but in a panic reach for my phone and cringe at what I might have sent when I was drunk the night before.

Sober Me isn’t like that. Yes, I’m a creature who expresses herself best and most easily in writing, but I also like chatting on the phone. Last night I got my Cherokee on the line and I came off the phone after our long conversation feeling happy and content inside. This is the beauty of real life, real time interaction – it doesn’t always drain me, sometimes it enriches me. Who knew!

Speaking on the phone I’d written off in my drinking days as simply another thing that “just isn’t me“. Just like other Anna’s Drinking Truths like “I don’t like people“, “I hate socialising” and “I want to be alone“. It is true that I like my own company and sometimes I just need solitude because my brain does overheat with too much stimulus, but I actually also need people. You know, it was only yesterday when a kick-ass lady said something my inner autopilot immediately disagreed with. She said she too (what do you mean – TOO??) feels lost without her husband. And I discovered how I’ve almost trained myself not to need people. Not anyone. I’ve ingrained this in myself so deeply that it’s just how I have always viewed myself. When she said this (fine, fine – it was the lovely Katie from over at How I Killed Betty!), a lightbulb went off in me. Holy shitballs! I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that I don’t need anyone and so it’s almost like I freaking refuse to allow myself to feel any of these things. Even with hubby. I swear I’ve always been of the opinion that sure, if he left me I would never ever love again because he is IT, so that’d be devastating and shit. Bottom line though – I’d live. I wouldn’t love but I would live and I am FINE on my own.

Being a drinking alcoholic in social gatherings suck because I have to be so aware of how much I drink so I don’t lose control and also have to hide it. This is really hard work and not in any way enjoyable. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I hate socialising. The Actual Truth: alcohol made socialising stressful.

Living almost every day with a crippling hangover is thoroughly shit. I’d be weak, dizzy, shaky and unable to follow even simple conversations. That makes human interaction fucking painful. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I hate people. The Actual Truth: alcohol made me feel like death and when you do, any human interaction is painful.

Everything else, be it people or things or even eating (yes – eating!), gets in the way of drinking. Meeting with a friend for coffee takes me away from drinking = stressful, and meeting with friends with a hangover = stressful. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I want to be alone. The Actual Truth: being around people is painful because I’m either stressed out about drinking or so hungover I can barely function. 

And then the whole I’M FINE ON MY OWN. I mean, this is to a great extent true. And I do believe we need to be secure and happy in ourselves before we can ever be in a healthy relationship, but it’s also quite normal to need the people you love. I need hubby. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without him. As for Bambino – my world would collapse without him. The sun sets and rises with those two. I already knew that, I’ve never tried to make myself believe anything but. Still. To admit I depend on them, need them, that my heart can’t beat without them? WHOA. The I’m-fine-on-my-own thing isn’t so much of a Drunk Truth because I was like that since long before I ever drank a drop of alcohol, but as alcohol does with anything that’s negative it really enhanced it. The Beast wants me on my own, remember, so this was perfect – she’s a loner! Why, of course! Me, the bottle and impending death – that’s where it wants me to be.

What this does go back to is this thing I’m increasingly discovering, this fear of mine of being rejected. It appears I may have build myself a pretty impressive fortress over the years and I’m-fine-on-my-own is perhaps its very foundation? Up until pretty much the point that I realised this – uhm, just a moment ago! – the idea of needing other people made me squirm. I don’t recall this myself, but according to my mum the first sentence I spoke was “I can do it myself“. Actually, what I said was “jag kan själv” given I grew up in Sweden and didn’t speak any English when I was two years old, but there we are. I don’t know if that is telling or just shows what a stubborn and obstinate cow I am. Cute aside I thought.

As for Little Anna, I clearly remember being so scared when I was little, of losing my parents or anyone else in my closest family. The thought made me squirm with discomfort and terror, it absolutely petrified me and sometimes had me in such panic and angst I couldn’t sleep. And here’s the really sick and twisted truth that dawned on me too in these last 24 hours of revelations: I recently realised that none of that scared me so much anymore, because even though it’d be heartbreaking and I’d be desperately sad, I’M FINE ON MY OWN and in this case without them. Without everyone. Wow. Thank God I am unravelling this or I might have ended up in a fortress eventually that could never be torn down. Inspecting my heart it’s still needy and ready to love despite all my efforts to close myself off from the world.

This is interesting as hell to me. Scary stuff, this brain of mine. It can make me do things that I plainly don’t like or enjoy yet make me think I do. What else might it be capable of?

Today I’m not going to drink.

Like a Summer’s Eve

Just got myself in a total tailspin and it’s a good example of what my brain sometimes does to me. I don’t think I’d label this anything beyond Being a Bag of Nerves in much the same vein as my mother. Sometimes I’ll pick up the phone when she calls and she’ll exclaim “oh, thank GOD, there you are” because she’s done exactly what I do too. She’ll randomly note she hasn’t heard from me in perhaps longer than is usually the case. But instead of pinging me a text or calling me at the time she realises it’s been a while, she’ll instead fret like crazy and cook up various scenarios in her mind, including me having died a terrible death in some horrifying accident. This is precisely what I did this morning.

Hubby and I normally text each other several times over the course of the day, and his texts are like clockwork. He texts from the car when he stops at a traffic light somewhere on his way to work. Then he texts again to say he got to work. These are his clockwork, set in stone, routine morning text messages. Today I get the first as usual but not the second. It approaches lunchtime and I check Whatsapp. Nope, he’s not been “seen” since his first on-his-way-to-work text. I send him another I-love-you and follow up with a heart. Then I e-mail him on his work e-mail. Five minutes later and I e-mail again asking for a sign of life. By this stage, I have graphic images whirling through my mind of a crash on the motorway involving 20 cars and an overturned lorry carrying combustible materials. Then he calls back and AS USUAL he has been in back-to-back meetings and my heart rate has rocketed for no good reason whatsoever. I do this if I can’t immediately get hold of Bambino too – even though there is no reason to believe anything sinister has happened, in my mind there are scenarios served up that would terrify Stephen King himself.

Like mother, like daughter. We are worriers.

Alcohol or no alcohol, this is just the way I’m wired and although booze makes anything and everything a thousand times worse, this is something that just happens when I’m sober too. My mother very rarely drinks and when she does it’s a small glass of wine that she doesn’t even finish. And I seem to have in this sense grown up to be just like her. I mean, for God’s sake, of all the things I could have inherited: she is sweet, kind, gentle, loving, wise, strong, clever and every other lovely adjective I can think of. She is also as beautiful as a summer’s eve by Lake Fryken. Mum is an all round much nicer, slimmer and generally better version of me who can cook. In this sea of fantastic traits to inherit, I get her nerves. If I could have at least got her feet – they’re proper lady feet, perfectly shaped and perfectly sized at the end of her long legs and beautiful ankles. I don’t even have ankles – I have bloody CANKLES, the sort of bullshit where your calves just go straight to your feet. And my feet are what Tolkien visualised when he imagined the hobbits. But I got her nerves. Thanks.

Why is this relevant on this blog where I try to focus on sobriety and recovery? Well, it goes back to how I think it’s important to remember that getting sober doesn’t magically turn us into perfect super versions of ourselves. I mean, I couldn’t even begin to list all the amazing ways in which my life has become richer with sobriety. It is 100% true that getting sober has meant that life is fucking magnificent! What sobriety doesn’t change, however, is who I essentially am. I’m still me. It’s just that I’m awake, alert, clear and able to be the best I can be. It doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly challenge Paula Radcliffe in the next London marathon, but it does mean I can go for a jog and find I managed to wobble my way around the park without having to stop and walk. What I’m trying to say is that getting sober is one thing (and don’t get me wrong – it’s a FANTASTIC thing!) but accepting who we are is another and sometimes that’s much harder. Still, it’s a positive thing as whatever flaws, shortcomings and weaknesses I have in my baggage, it’s so much easier to carry it all around when I’m at my best.

Today I’m not going to drink.

On the Radio

When I hit my turning point (aka rock bottom) some ten months ago, it was different to all the other times when I’d felt I’d had enough. I suspect many addicts may say this but do correct me if I’m wrong – after all, I can only really speak for myself and account for how I see things. It felt different in that this time I was desperate and determined to break free. It’s such a tired old phrase, but it felt like I just knew it in my heart. It was over. I was done. I wish I could find a word for it – something to describe a light switch perhaps – just like I have a word for alcoholism itself: the Beast. Or perhaps ‘turning point’ is pretty perfect. After all, that’s what it was and how I still see it. To say ‘rock bottom’ feels a little dramatic because I hadn’t YET sunk to the sort of horrific situation the term implies, but at the same time I never want to EVER dismiss where booze was taking me or look back and say “oh, but I wasn’t that bad“. We all know how that story ends, don’t we? But I digress.

What I wanted to get to was how I immediately hit the AA meetings because I needed a firm anchor. I’d simply wanted to and tried to control it on my own too many times to take another chance. I suppose I had, unbeknownst to myself, actually sort of done the first three steps: accepted in my heart that I was powerless over alcohol, knew deep down I had to find another way and most importantly that I couldn’t do it on my own. What I also did, pretty much from the beginning, was be open about it. I figured the more people I told, the harder it would be for me to fall off the wagon. It was a pretty selfish decision – everyone I told became another set of eyes. I sort of snitched on myself, or on the Beast rather, so friends and family would be better equipped to understand my enemy and thereby more able to help me defend myself. It was all about putting down anchors for me and it was when I knew in my heart I was truly done that I began to throw them out all around my little boat.

AA meetings were brilliant. Not only did it help enormously to sit in those meetings and be surrounded by people who was powerless in the exact same way, it also meant there was something I had to get to which in turn meant I didn’t pour that first glass of wine. Just like someone told me how forcing themselves out for that walk helped in fighting depression, having AA meetings to attend forced me into new habits. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for the AA way of approaching sobriety, but there is much about it that makes perfect sense even though there are also things that just don’t sit right with me. My ex-sponsor seemed to be under the impression that I was being a stubborn brat who refused to see sense. In actual fact I desperately wanted to believe all that was said because early on I felt like AA was my only hope. Unfortunately a stay at a celebrity rehab to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds wasn’t available to me. Therefore I just ignored everything I actually felt and did my best to just swallow the dogma as it was fed to me, no questions asked. Oh, and my people pleasing nature does dictate I agree – not disagree – with stuff. So no, I wasn’t trying to pick holes in the doctrine of AA, I was doing my best to cover those holes up as quickly as they appeared to me.

Holding my hands up and admitting I’m wrong has never been an issue for me, suck-uppy people pleaser that I am. Further to that, having the strength to admit our wrongs is a quality I admire in others so it’s something I actually take pride in myself. Most of all, however, what I want more than anything is to figure out this addiction thing so I don’t give a hoot if I have to draw a million incorrect conclusions before landing at something that starts to resemble the answer to the riddle.

Oh, I know – I ramble on. I am terrible at using 500 words when 5,000 will do.

As you can probably surmise from the lengthy waffle above though, and my incessant excuses and justifications (oh please like me!), I am about to tell you how I was wrong about something. Next time, just ignore the first third of a post to cut the proverbial crap!

In the Tuesday meetings, there was this guy who always used to really irritate me. He always shared and he always went on for a good 15 minutes, which in an hour long meeting with 60-odd people in attendance I think is a little selfish and self indulgent. Give someone else a chance, please! Willow told me that in her LA meetings, they had a timer so everyone who wanted to say something had three minutes to do it and then RRRRRRRRRRRING time’s up, ta very much, now shut yer pie hole and sit yo ass down. Good idea, I thought. Anyway, this guy – who, I need to add, was actually a real sweetheart – would always say how his head was a radio station transmitting and receiving all frequencies at once. I think I got a little lost in how he described how a throat spray containing alcohol got him “funny” and therefore zoned out a little, but thinking back on it the dude made a lot of sense.

My mind has always been a fairly crowded place where my thoughts and impulses have never learned how to form an orderly queue or to politely wait their turn. It’s all at once. There is no order whatsoever. At times it can be as peaceful and serene as Waihi beach at night with the waves of the Pacific lapping the shore with rhythmic, murmuring brush strokes. Other times it’s as chaotic, frantic and loud as the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange. I suppose the main thing is I seem to have very little say in what I will wake up to. It’s fun to be me in that sense. I sort of peek around the corner and never quite know what I’ll discover. These are the inner workings of a thinker.

It’s also quite exhausting at times to feel everything so acutely. I mean, it doesn’t stop with just how I feel – I also absorb like a goddamn sponge what everyone else might feel too. Example: someone might act like a twat. Instead of brushing it off and moving on in the knowledge this is out of my control, I will feel deep sorrow because they must feel so awful inside. I’ll also feel so sad for them because they ended up looking bad and I want to fix it and sometimes I even make attempts to do so. I mean, what is up with THAT? Look, I’m doing my best to rein this sort of behaviour in, but in order to do so I first need to understand what it is and where it comes from. What would be ideal in a situation like that, would be to just focus on being the best I can be and accept that how other people act is 1) not my responsibility, 2) out of my control anyway, and 3) something I have to let go.

Yes, I get the analogy of the radio station. And yes, it’s probably quite true for me too.

What this has got to do with alcohol I suppose is probably obvious. Booze slows all of this down to a more manageable level. I never knowingly drank with this in mind or as my goal, but I think it was a by-product and probably a welcome one.

So what lead me to this? Well. Of course now I’m sober and that means I am being me with the radio mast proudly erected and receiving perfectly with crisp audio and surround sound. My father must have been the sound engineer because everything is set to maximum volume too. Because booze used to numb (and dumb) me down, it’s only really now that I’m discovering that I – at times when I might feel stressed about something – need to switch off. Or even when I’m not stressed at all, I need a break from the chaos. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a huge problem and it doesn’t get me pining for a drink, but it does illustrate how I in some ways can’t do it all at once. For example, I can’t be in the middle of a problem I need to solve and then sit down for a coffee and chill out and laugh and chat. When the noise gets too loud in my head, even hubby or Bambino whistling can feel like a scalpel in my brain.

I’ve got three ways of switching off:

  1. Running.
  2. A long, brisk walk with music or an audio book in my ears.
  3. Losing myself in a book.

Alcohol will never become part of this list, just so we’re clear. I won’t be the first person to tell you that it does work as an anaesthetic when we’re stressed though – isn’t that the biggest stereotype of them all? “I need a strong drink.” Bollocks to that. But interesting to note anyway. Perhaps the glitter I felt alcohol scattered over me felt that way because it also relaxed me? Or numbed me, rather. An unintended side effect to all my celebrations that might just be bigger than I realised. Anyway. What I just realised also, is how important it is for me to switch off at night. I find it quite hard to get to sleep by just getting into bed and switching the light off. I need to read. It slows my mind to that one world of that book and shuts down all those other frequencies. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of minutes of reading for me to get sleepy. Other times I read for an hour, then still can’t sleep and switch the light back on and read until the small hours. Can’t help but feel so very grateful that these tools are so simple and close to hand. All the frequencies coming in at once might mean it feels like chaos sometimes, but I have my own little time-out areas.

The thing that makes me really happy about this is that I never consciously drank to still my mind. That in turn means that when my mind starts to get crowded my impulse isn’t to turn to booze. And so these time-out areas have taken shape all on their own. Not substitutes for booze or diversion therapy. Just the tools that emerged organically. That fills me with so much hope.

Well, there we go. Perhaps another piece of the puzzle.

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Reasons Why

What?” Bambino asks and turns to me, “is alcohol really a drug?

The kid’s on lock down until after Christmas following his decision to get steaming drunk at the weekend. When I went for a run last night I put on a documentary about alcohol for him to watch. It wasn’t the best choice in that it showed alcoholics at the end stage after a lifetime of alcohol abuse so although useful in order to teach him some facts and home truths, I want him to be able to relate. How he was surprised to hear alcohol being referred to as a drug triggered a good discussion and also how else – even in small amounts – it harms the body, but whilst this is good, it’s not enough. Besides, most people do know that alcohol is bad for us but it doesn’t bloody stop us, does it? I would quite regularly feel my heart race and feel genuine terror that this time I might just have gone and broken it, that this time my number might just be up. I’d feel that and then I’d pour myself a drink the next day. Or even the same day. Or the next hour.

We engage in whatever shitty behaviour – drinking, smoking, drug taking or whatever – because of the perceived benefits, end of. Then of course if it’s an addiction that has us trapped or if we want to be cool in front of our mates, that’s secondary. The point is that the reasons why we shouldn’t is pretty much ZIP, ZILCH, NADA to do with it. The reasons we do it override the reasons why we shouldn’t and THAT is what we need to look at and tackle. As long as our reasons to go ahead override our reasons to refrain, we’re fucked.  

It’s like with smoking – the average toddler can probably tell you it’s dangerous to smoke, and I don’t think a single person in the parts of the world where health information is freely available tries a cigarette for the first time UNAWARE that it’s bad to smoke. As Bambino himself so eloquently put it when he was about four years old: “If you smoke, first you get sick and then you get dead.” As much as I love my child and think of him as the most glorious creation to ever inhabit this world, he was not some health guru at four years of age with access to insider information about smoking closed off to other people. No, most other four-yearolds could tell you this too. If you don’t believe me, ask to have an audience with a reception class at a primary school and see how many four-yearolds you can find there who don’t know smoking is bad. And it’s the same with drinking in that I think most people know it’s risky business to drink too much.

I wanted to see what it was like.

This is the reason Bambino gave for doing what he did, i.e. knocking back shots of vodka in his bedroom with a friend.

Perhaps I’ve just given myself a bunch of answers here. Maybe this is precisely what I need to go over with my son. After all, these are the conclusions I have myself come to in these ten+ months since I stopped drinking. Alcohol in my world came with a bunch of promises, like it makes fun more fun and happy happier. Bullshit like that, mostly. Many people drink because booze acts as an anaesthetic and will help push down painful emotions, which of course then in turn instead get amplified given the same anaesthetic also happens to be a powerful depressant. You can’t win. So it’s tearing down Bambino’s reasons TO drink I need to help him tear down, just like I tore my own down.

Bambino may very well grow up to be a responsible adult who can “enjoy” alcohol in moderate amounts and at a level that doesn’t put him in lethal danger on a daily basis. Unlike his mother. If that happens, great. But there is also a considerable chance this limitless nature of his comes from that very same mother and so in spite of his fairly young age, I’ll need to have this conversation with him many times over. Go through all of this the way I went through it myself. Look at what we’re made to think alcohol is and does and then with simple and easily accessible facts and figures show him how this is all a big fat mother of a lie. That’s where I need to start. Fuck, why is it so hard to see this clearly? Almost all documentaries show the dangers of alcohol. We need one to highlight what GOOD we believe alcohol does, which shows what bullshit it all is. We don’t ingest arsenic if we can help it because we know it’s poison, but few of us try having arsenic “to see what it’s like” because we’re not sold a bunch of lies about what good it would do. Alcohol is also a poison but we ignore the dangers because we believe there are benefits to it. Of course in Bambino’s case this might be more troubling than for kids who did not grow up with an alcoholic parent, but let’s just see if I can turn this into some sort of strength.

I want to find someone who I can sit Bambino in front of, someone he can relate to. And I’ll do my best to show him my own journey and how what the world is telling him about booze is a lie. I can’t bring myself to think about Saturday night and how badly it could have ended. Given how ill Bambino was all of Sunday, he would have had a serious amount to drink. At 14, was I really as childlike? He isn’t fully grown, and although there’s a hint of a tash on his top lip, he’s still very much just a BOY and he is still not taller than I am. His voice is still breaking, a slight vibrato making itself known but still not a deep man’s voice. He’s a child. I was roughly the same age when I first tried alcohol but for some reason Bambino seems so much younger, smaller and more of a kid. Which, presumably, means Bambino himself sees himself as the big man just like I before him thought I had it all figured out too.

Hmm…. Scare tactics do have their place, I do believe that, so I’ll be making sure Bambino understands the calibre of this particular dance partner. It is, more importantly perhaps, beginning to become clear to me that I need to approach this in much the same way as I dealt with it myself – by looking at the reasons why. And I should know how to do this, right?

The big lie of alcohol made me angry and bitter when I realised it had stolen so much from me. Now, however, when it’s attempting to steal from my son, this mama bear is working up a rage that I don’t recommend you get in the way of. Hell hath no fury and all that. I fought you off, you motherfucking beast, and now you think you can go after my kid? Oh hell no. Not without a fight you won’t, and trust me – you won’t find me cowering in fear again. I’ll fight you again and again. Or I will die trying. You won’t catch me giving up though so sharpen your claws because you’ll fucking need them.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Ten Times Filtered

And so it happened.

Can I just say one thing?” hubby asked as he made me pause mid-rage in an attempt to get me to draw breath and think through my response carefully, his hand gently on my shoulder and his deep blue eyes fixed on me, “Deal with this the way you wish your parents had with you. Alright?

Bambino, at the age of 14, got drunk. Not at a party, not in the park passing around a cheap bottle of plonk with his mates and not round the corner from Nando’s where he and his friends congregate. Oh no. He got drunk under our roof and right under our noses. It wasn’t a case of “tasting a little” either – he got full-on, dangerously drunk.

It was a weekend like any other and Bambino was just like he usually is (or shall I say, like he USUALLY APPEARS TO BE because right now I don’t know what to believe): happy, chatty and responsible. In fact, when we got up Sunday morning I thought to myself as I went about putting on some coffee that they’d been so good and kept it down. I actually felt really pleased that it’s all going so well and how Bambino is super good at making sure house rules are adhered to. Bambino had the same friend stay who was over last weekend too. This is normal – he usually has one or two mates stay over at the weekends and I always make a fuss of them and do my best to make them welcome. It’s just never occurred to me to search their bags at the door. Earlier in the afternoon there were another couple of boys over too, who left and like Bambino’s other friends they seem straight laced and all come and say hello and tell me thanks for having them when they leave, polite smiles on their faces. So to say I feel like a fucking fool is an understatement.

I was once a teenager too. I knew this was coming. I was roughly Bambino’s age the first time I chugged vodka from a bottle a friend and I had nicked from her parents (and later filled up with water). So it’s not like I was going around thinking Bambino is some little angel who will only taste alcohol once he is of legal age. Hah! That’s a lie. I didn’t see this coming. I did and I didn’t. I think I just didn’t see it happening this way, so brazenly and violently right in front of me. I feel so stupid I can’t even begin to tell you. But I can tell you how my heart was breaking when I last night checked in on Bambino before bedtime and tried to ask him if he’d felt like he couldn’t stop once he started. It was a stupid thing to ask and I don’t know what answer I expected. I got all this so very wrong.

As the coffee is brewing, his little mate emerges from Bambino’s bedroom.

I think he’s sick,” he tells me.

I go in and Bambino is hanging over the far side of his bed. On the windowsill there is vomit both outside and also inside that has trickled down the wall. I walk over to the foot of the bed and there is dark brown puke pooling on the carpeted floor and again some on the wall too. The stuff on the windowsill is like “normal” vomit looks. The stuff right where Bambino is, is almost black in colour.

Right, let’s get you breakfast and then I’ll take you home,” I tell Bambino’s friend who meekly agrees, “hopefully you won’t catch whatever he’s got,” I add and give him a friendly pat on the back.

He won’t look at me. This particular kid never says much though, I figure he’s just very shy, so I think nothing of it as I make him some toast and then go back in to Bambino.

I’m sorry,” Bambino mumbles, eyes half closed and with bits of that horrendous black vomit dried around his mouth and on his pillow, “I’m so sorry, mum, I couldn’t get up to the toilet.

Don’t be silly, these things happen,” I tell my poorly child and reach down and squeeze his foot where it sticks out from under the duvet, “but we need to get you in the bath so I can clear this up.

I draw a hot bath for Bambino and set to work, kitchen roll pushed up my nostrils but even so I keep gagging as I am super squeamish and have to get out of the room a few times to stop myself retching. His friend is eating his toast at the breakfast bar and won’t meet my eye, but he’s quite shy so I chatter away around him as I go back and forth between Bambino’s room and the bin with bags full of kitchen roll I’m using to scoop up the little mounds of black vomit. Underneath the breakfast bar is a built in wine rack and hubby points at them.

Maybe he was on the red vino?” he says to me and Bambino’s friend and laughs at the silly joke.

I laugh with him. Yeah, imagine that – it’s funny because Bambino’s vomit is dark and the idea is so ridiculous. Bambino’s friend doesn’t look up from his plate and he swiftly leaves when he’s finished. After thanking me for having him as usual.

Being a teenage boy, I suspect it’s pretty normal that cleaning isn’t very high up on Bambino’s list of priorities, so once I’ve soaked the carpet and scrubbed all the puke out we get to work on the rest. We retrieve socks and sweet wrappers from under the bed as well as a plate which has a couple of stale biscuits on it that at a glance have been under there for at least a month. We give the whole room a deep clean and I go to tidy up in Bambino’s wardrobe too, all whilst my poor boy is hopefully getting a nice long soak in a lovely hot bath. I couldn’t tell you if the thought was in my head, if I reached in because I was checking but perhaps the thought was there because there was no other reason for me to reach in there. And there is is. At the back of the shelf where his school jumpers live, is a litre bottle of Smirnoff triple distilled vodka. Filtered ten times. It’s about half empty. Of course. It makes perfect sense.

I knock on the bathroom door and my voice is dripping with a weird mixture of fury and sarcasm. The sort of tone I hope will make Bambino’s blood curdle. My most excellent cold, cunning and fucking MAD psychopath tone.

This SPA has closed. Bath time over, my friend,” I hiss.

Whaaat?” Bambino whimpers from the other side of the wall.

I push the door open so it bounces back off the shower wall. It’s a good thing it’s not locked because the force I use would have broken the lock, no doubt about it. How the shower wall (which is glass) doesn’t shatter is a miracle.

Right mister!” I bark, “Get yourself up, dry off and get dressed. We’re going to have ourselves a little chat,” I snarl as evenly as I can through my teeth and have to stop myself from screaming and kicking the wall.

It’s on my way out when I’m stomping towards the living room that hubby catches hold of me and suggests I should deal with this the way I wish my parents had. This is excellent advice but it’s not what I do. I deal with it in precisely the same way my parents did – I bring out the big guns.

Bambino really is terribly, terribly ill. He is struggling to sit up and any time he sips water from the glass I’ve placed in front of him it comes right back up into the bucket he is clutching on his lap.

Mum, I have to lie down,” he manages to splutter before water he’s just drunk gushes out of his mouth as well as his nose and into the bucket.

You’re not going anywhere,” I inform him.

I feel like I have cancer in my eyeballs,” he whines.

Good. So you should.

I want to ask him why, I want to know if this is my fault, I want to know where I’ve gone wrong and I want to understand if he is like me. Did this happen because he’s grown up with a mother who is an alcoholic? A mother who has fallen over drunk head first in front of him? A mother he has come home to almost daily with a glass of wine on the table in front of her? Has this happened because I normalised alcohol? Is this, finally, the result of my failings? The tragic, sad, heartbreaking manifestation of “monkey see, monkey do“? I want to hold him and tell him I’m sorry. I want to make it go away. I want to beg him not to be like me. I want to tell him how I nearly wrecked my life but how he shouldn’t follow in my footsteps. In my chest my broken heart is beating and it’s almost like I can hear the sound of broken glass contracting, loosening, contracting, loosening with each beat. No longer a thump-thump, but a crunching sound.

In this moment I am unable to gauge whether this is a case of what many, many other parents are faced with – a teenager who messed up and got drunk – and what happens as par for the course, or if this is something so much more awful than that. I find it impossible to separate this from my own addiction and what I’ve exposed Bambino to. I am lost. It’s like I’m in a little dinghy in the middle of a stormy sea. I don’t know where the shore is and I don’t know how to navigate my way home. I don’t know how to do this. I am a parent but if this was something you needed a licence to do, this would be the moment mine would be revoked. Disqualified. Barred for life. The sort of person used as an example – a bad one.

What we get from Bambino is a selection of cock and bull stories of how the vodka made its way into his wardrobe. At one point he claims a homeless person gave it to him but eventually it transpires one of his mates brought it in, who had in turn got it from yet another pupil in their year group who got it from an older sibling. Understandably he wants to protect his mates and initially takes the blame but after going through his phone, where he has somewhat unwisely stored both photo and video evidence, Bambino is eventually backed into a corner. I have turned into my father because it turns out it’s the only thing I know how to do. I come down on Bambino and I come down on him hard. One by one, I contact the other parents of the boys who were at ours the day before and the parents of the boy who stayed over. I explain what’s happened and how if I were them I’d want to know. On Bambino’s phone we discover photos from the weekend before where they’ve posed with a bottle of vodka. Not a litre bottle of Smirnoff but a smaller bottle of a brand called Glen. It’s not the first time. Of course this has happened on my watch, when not only Bambino but other children too have been in my care. I send the other parents the photos I’ve found as Bambino squirms and probably tries to make himself believe this is just a bad dream.

This is what scares me the most. You know, if I was still drinking, this could have happened in the same room as I’d be too hammered (and eventually blacked out) to fucking notice much at all, but this is when hubby and I are in the next room stone cold sober. We’re watching the X-Factor followed by our additional, new guilty pleasure I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here and then head to bed at about 11pm. And we don’t live in a mansion – this is a two bedroom apartment and Bambino’s bedroom is on the other side of the wall of the living room. They’ve been necking vodka and we had no clue. Not the foggiest. As we always do, we regularly stick our heads in the door to check if they are hungry, if they’re OK, and lastly when we’re off to bed to remind them to keep it down. I’m an alcoholic and imagine I have drunk more than most people. Yet my 14-yearold can get horrifically drunk in the next room and I have no idea. I feel humiliated at the thought that they might have just hid that bottle momentarily when I knocked and then sat there smiling politely back at me and saying goodnight.

Bambino is grounded. His laptop, PS4 and phone are confiscated. He is to go straight to school and straight home after. Between four and five is homework time and after that he can read until bedtime or find a hobby that involves being creative – I will take him to Waterstones and Hobby Craft if he wants to find something to do, but that’s as far as it goes. And his weekly allowance has been suspended. When we get back to London after spending Christmas in Sweden we will reassess. It’s tough and it’s merciless. I don’t think my father’s way was always the right way but I don’t know how else to handle this. Bambino has his work cut out for him winning our trust back. I don’t want to check his friends’ bags at the door (or his!) and I want to be able to trust him. I get that alcohol will make a few appearances and this was always going to happen, and I understand also the odd lie to protect your mates. But the audacity of this, the lies around everything else and some other things we found on Bambino’s phone I can’t so readily understand or forgive.

A million questions whirl around in my head. My heart crunches as it tries to beat. I’m really lost with this. I don’t know how to do this. The truth is I don’t know how I wish my own parents would have dealt with it. I do agree with hubby however, that it has to sting this time and if I were to just remove all his privileges for a week it just wouldn’t be enough. It has to hurt. The scary bit is that this never stopped me or made any difference (I don’t think anyway) to how things turned out with my own drinking. I had the strictest parents of all my friends and until I turned 18 – quite literally the SECOND I turned 18 – they turned up to collect me at 10pm whereas most of my friends regularly were allowed to stay the night at boyfriends’ houses and out the whole night much before then. Would things have been different with my drinking later on in life if my parents had been more relaxed, cut me some slack or let me run wild a bit more? This is the question I can’t answer – can you? Did how harshly I was kept in check make booze more desirable by making it such a taboo? Or if they’d been more chilled, would it have meant I would have spiralled much sooner? Perhaps what they did was perfect? So long as it was within their power they stopped me and thereby delayed my descent into alcoholism and of course, beyond when I was legally an adult there was nothing they could do. I don’t know – I genuinely do not know if they could have said or done anything that had changed anything.

Hubby’s suggestion was of course perfect. Deal with this the way you wish your parents had done with you. The only problem is that I don’t know what that would have been. I can’t see the answer. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. So history is repeating itself because I’m taking my father’s approach. I don’t want Bambino to ever take mine. Open and honest conversations will have to continue, but to be honest this is perhaps what cuts me more than anything else. Bambino KNOWS my story. He knows why I stopped drinking. He knows. And yet..

Feeling a little bit broken this morning but I know we’ll get through this. Bambino is a glorious little person and I just can’t imagine him not turning out great. He might be my son but I do hold plenty of hope he’ll take a good path. I want to believe with all my heart that this is a typical teenage thing and not a warning of things to come. One day at a time, as they say. And isn’t it lucky (yes, let’s find positives where we can) that Bambino’s mother is sober and therefore able to deal with this with a clear mind? I still get so much wrong, but at least I’m not drunk.

Today I’m not going to drink.