Never Quite Enough

At some stage I will get my arse in gear and create a link on this blog to my sobriety library – I am constantly devouring anything addiction and recovery related that I can get my hands on. The book I’m currently reading is definitely getting me to think. A LOT. Whilst I don’t like all the AA bashing, I’m not surprised by it – even the title makes it clear that the aim is to trash the theory behind 12-step programs. Although I don’t believe there is a one size fits all solution to addiction, I will never ever say anything negative about the fellowship and, in essence, I think AA encapsulates pretty much how I view recovery – acceptance, take stock, make good, live well and be kind. Well, that’s how I interpret it anyway. Say what you will about AA, it is a life saver and changer for thousands of addicts and as far as I’m concerned, even if just ONE person gets and stays sober that’s good enough. Just to make where I personally stand very clear, and although my path hasn’t been hugely AA, the fellowship is actually the reason why I got out when I did because I wouldn’t have known where else to turn initially (or rather, perhaps, EVER) and it was in AA that I truly understood my own addiction: “one drink is too many, 20 aren’t enough“. More, more, more.

The book is called ‘The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry’.

It does rip the rehab industry to shreds, and I’ll have to say a lot of it makes sense. Did you know, for example, that the standard 28 or 30-day or whatever it is stay at rehab isn’t based on any evidence that this time period is sufficient or a good start from an addiction recovery point of view? Nope, it’s based on the time limit set by medical insurance companies (in the US, presumably, which I suppose is the birth place of celebrity rehabs) – that’s where it comes from and has nothing to do with recovery in any way whatsoever. I doubt I’ll need to ask, but did you know “equine therapy” also has no proven benefit when it comes to recovering from addiction? Or tai chi or majestic surroundings – all very nice and lovely distractions perhaps, but none of that helps treat the cause for our addictions. I’m sure that it’d be much better to have a medical detox and be given a wonderful escape from everyday life, focus entirely on recovery and engage in various therapies for a month, but the issue with sobriety isn’t getting sober, it’s staying sober, and sooner or later – or in 30 days! – we have to go back to our normal lives. Lo and behold, success rates aren’t encouraging. Besides, with price tags in the tens of thousands of dollars, this sort of start to recovery isn’t exactly within the grasp for many of us.

The bit I was reading last night however, was about types of addicts and that’s what really caught my attention. During the Vietnam war, thousands of American soldiers got hooked on heroin. Of course, heroin is one of those devil drugs where physical addiction is established almost immediately – it’s quite literally enough to just use the drug a handful of times to become addicted. A bit like nicotine, in that sense – you become physically hooked almost straight away. As a comparison, getting physically addicted to alcohol takes a lot more time and effort – interesting side note, no? Anyway. Back in the States, over 90% of those heroin addicted soldiers went back to their lives and left the heroin behind. Only a small number remained addicts. Why? How is it that the vast majority of people physically addicted to a drug that is generally considered to be one of the absolute worst ones to escape, walked away? No celebrity rehabs in sight, by the way.

Look at Hubby. He’s just had a shoulder op and has a bag of prescription drugs sitting on his bedside table. His stash consists of: co-codamol, tramadol and diclofenac. Only diclofenac isn’t addictive out of this little trio of Hubby’s little helpers. Both medications prescribed for the pain, co-codamol and tramadol, are extremely addictive and a quick browse on the NHS website and a handful of other medical information websites tells me it’s enough to use co-codamol and tramadol – one on its own or both in combination – for just a matter of days to experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. These symptoms can include dizziness, the shakes, the shits, headaches and a few other unpleasant sensations. The effect of these two drugs is obvious: Hubby gets sleepy and quite spaced out. A bit woozy and not quite with it. Thousands of people get prescribed these drugs to treat pain after surgery or other medical complaints like chronic pain of some sort. As established, physical addiction can occur within just days, yet again as with the Vietnam soldiers addicted to heroin, the vast majority of people then finish treatment and walk away. Only a very small fraction continue taking the drugs either via drug dealers or dodgy websites or wherever else you can illegally get your mitts on prescription drugs.

OK, I get that this is probably obvious but I find this so incredibly interesting! What is clear is that anyone – so long as they are made of flesh and blood and the other necessary ingredients to qualify as a “human being” – can become physically addicted to a physically addictive drug. Correct? It doesn’t matter who you are, if you take enough of the drug, you will get physically addicted. Yet, some people can walk away and relatively easily so! The Vietnam soldiers addicted to heroin, for example. Withdrawing from heroin is apparently quite shitty with severe stomach cramps and all sorts of crap (literally) but as with many other drugs it leaves the system fairly quickly and when these soldiers were over the “hump” that appears to be it. I’m sure there were lots of issues and I doubt ANYONE gets back from war and “that’s it”, but in terms of the heroin use, that’s apparently what happened. They didn’t continue using the drug.

So it appears there are two camps here. Addicts and non-addicts. All of us can become physically addicted to a drug but only some of us are addicts in the truest sense, right? The difference is that the non-addicts seem to need a concrete reason to take the drug and when that reason is no longer there, also gone is the need for the drug.

And so for us poor fuckers who seem to be the true addicts, those of us who are a little different in our wiring and who I’m so keen to figure out. In this group, I can just about begin to see two additional camps: fleers and hunters. What unites us is that when the war is over or the pain has subsided, we still continue to take the drug. Besides, we didn’t need a war or physical pain to get started in the first place, did we? It all came down to, broadly speaking, one of these two things: 1) fleeing how we feel, which we either can’t stand or are uncomfortable with, or 2) we aren’t content to just feel enough, we chase the high to get more, more, more.

So according to Anna’s Addiction Index, I’m a hunter addict. My greatest trigger? A great mood! Chase that good stuff! Pour more wine on it! Sprinkle glitter everywhere! Go, go, go! I’m restless and want to move to the next level. It’s never quite enough where I currently am. More, more, more!

Some clever person posted something on This Naked Mind’s Facebook page yesterday. She said in her opinion addiction is never about the drug itself, but about what we’re trying to get away from and figuring that bit out. She put it really eloquently and this doesn’t do her words justice, but that’s the gist of what she said. I think she’s on to something. I’d go as far as to say that the physical side of addiction is the smallest, and by far the easiest part to deal with. OK, not meaning to sound flippant and I’ve had the shakes enough times to know how deeply unpleasant it can be and withdrawal should never be taken lightly. Alcohol can be very dangerous to withdraw from, shakes can progress into fits and convulsions and ultimately death. What I’m saying is that the physical addiction when dealt with in whatever way it needs to be dealt with – warm baths or emergency room detox – is done. When it’s done it’s done. When the poison is out of your system you are no longer physically in its grip.

Let’s look at a drug which is super easy to withdraw from: nicotine. 48 hours and it’s all gone. During those 48 hours the worst symptom you’re likely to experience is a slightly restless and empty feeling, kind of like feeling peckish. If Angelina Jolie or Bradley Cooper (depending on your preference) walked by just as you’re in the middle of it, you’d forget all about wanting that cigarette. That’s how weak nicotine is. So really, you don’t need the strength of Hercules to get through those 48 hours and you certainly don’t need a medical detox. Or nicotine gum, for that matter, which is only in existence to bolster what the government will have lost out on in terms of tax money from tobacco. You don’t need a chewing gum to fight off a craving so weak it doesn’t even give you a headache, OK? Trust me on this one. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that after those couple of days, it’s all in your head. Nowhere else. It’s not habit either – if breaking habits was so damn difficult it’d be illegal to drive from England to France. You switch to the other side of the road, bit weird to begin with but hardly DIFFICULT. It’s not the habit that makes stopping hard.

Actually, nicotine is a bad example because it’s actually the only drug that gives no high whatsoever. Nothing happens when you smoke. You literally just ease the slight discomfort caused by the previous cigarette. Terrible example. My bad! At least with heroin something happens (anyone? I can’t offer any input on that one) and with booze you get drunk. Nicotine? Hahaha! What a fucking con trick! If it didn’t kill so many people it’d be funny. Extremely expensive, tastes like absolute dog’s bottom and you have a one in two chance – 50%!! – of dying a very painful death as a direct result of smoking. You’d think there’d be some extraordinary high, no? If you’ve never smoked, here’s the secret: there is nothing. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. People smoke because they’re addicted to nicotine and kept that way because the economy would collapse if we stopped buying tobacco tomorrow. Just like the economy would collapse if we stopped buying booze. But I digress – let’s go back to Big Brother some other time though, eh?

I think the conclusion is something I think we’ve mostly agreed on whether we are AA superstars or follow other sobriety paths: there’s something that sets some of us apart, makes us “true addicts”. Is it the fabled addict’s brain? It’d make perfect sense to me because I can absolutely see how I’m wired differently to non-addicts. Something in the way I react that’s different perhaps. Sometimes I see it in others, perhaps a bit too much excitement at the mention of alcohol? I dunno. I think it’s also clear that addiction isn’t perhaps all that much to do with the physical side of addiction. Personally, I mostly sniffed around that part, didn’t quite experience the true depths of it, but then with alcoholism that’s usually right on the last stretch, right? So it would make sense that it’s in our heads. Those dopamine levels and all those pathways in our brains that get fucked up and re-routed? But the drug affects the dopamine levels and how our brains produce those, so why is it that MY brain goes into full-on Christmas time workshop at the smallest hint of a high and Hubby’s just doesn’t?

Just last night I suggested (and yes, I realise VERY foolishly and MASSIVELY irresponsibly) to Hubby after he’d told me he’s slept quite poorly since his operation:

Well, just take them anyway before bed because they’ll help you sleep better.

Nah, I’m not in pain,” he replied matter-of-fact.

They’re for pain, nothing else in his world. Therefore, unless he’s in pain to the point of being uncomfortable, why in God’s name would he take them? Me, I saw several additional reasons. I would personally have taken the two (yes, addictive) painkillers even if the pain I was in didn’t require it simply because I like that dopey feeling and knowing it’d send me to sleep. That didn’t even seem to occur to Hubby. Is it that non-addicts just prefer reality to feeling dopey? Fucking weirdos.

Is it an inner sense of being unsettled? AA seem to answer this part of the question with the neatly packaged “spiritual malady”. Perhaps true? Oh, I know I’m not exactly doing a great job of tying the loose ends together as I’m concluding this post but the truth is I don’t know how to. I’m just looking at all these loose ends. Perhaps I’ll never find the answers and that’s OK, but I do find it excessively interesting. I salute anyone who made it to the end of this post – I know I ramble….

Feel free to throw your two-pence into the hat. As always, gratefully received and I always learn so much more here in the blogosphere than any book could possibly teach me.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Ghosts In Broad Daylight

Hubby and I are very similar in many ways. OK, so he is actually the best person on the planet and I’m very far from that, but there are definitely ways in which we are almost too alike. I’m bossy and so is he. We both always and without fail believe that we know the best way to do something and as a result close ourselves off to alternative points of view. As a result, when we bicker about something, we both whinge about how the other person hasn’t listened to us. Or my personal favourite that I like to throw at him simply because I feel it’s good ammunition and allows me to wrap myself in the victim blanket: “you don’t HEAR me“. God, I really am pathetic. Luckily, we usually switch back pretty quickly to both admitting we were being dicks and then declaring our undying love for each other. Anyway, it’d appear that I can never ever again use that ridiculous victim line of not being heard, because it seems Hubby does and when we walked through the park yesterday he blew me away a little.

As we strolled along the path through the wilted ferns, we talked about a friend of mine who I’m really worried about. It’s Poppy and I have mentioned her before. It’d seem she’s being hit with those really bad consequences I personally escaped by the skin of my teeth. How I didn’t lose more is nothing other than insane luck. Anyway, she’s lost her driver’s licence after getting arrested in the morning for being over the limit. You know, I have no idea if I’m seeing things that aren’t there and perhaps she was just unlucky and it was a genuine matter of having had drinks the night before and being slightly over. That, unfortunately, isn’t TOTALLY uncommon and it CAN happen quite easily to almost anyone – we think we’re OK to drive but actually we’re not. Point is though, I don’t know for sure but on top of conversations with her daughter-in-law some time ago (who was desperately worried and told me about some pretty extreme levels of drinking – in fact, much worse than I ever got to) and some other things that have gone down, I just have that awful knot in my stomach. So we talked about what in God’s name I can do. I simply don’t know. Hubby listened when I told him how I worry that even this won’t be enough for Poppy to see that maybe it’s the drinking that’s the root of so many of her problems. Well, if it IS – after all, I can’t know for sure.

I’d be more worried that [her son and daughter-in-law] have moved so far away and she’s now on her own and can drink without anyone seeing it,” Hubby said.

What a guy. What a guy, who listens and who hears me. I’ve often said it that the worst place for an alkie is alone and unchecked (because that’s when we can drink the way we like to), and that’s what he pointed out. Well, I thought that speaks volumes for how keen he is to understand stuff and how much thought he has actually given to everything I’ve talked about. Plus it was a really good point that I didn’t quite think of.

How frustrating though – I feel like I’m just standing by and watching as Poppy goes down. I have already been through this with Tumbler and therefore familiar with waking up one morning to a string of R.I.P’s in the Facebook newsfeed. Actually, with Tumbler the news was broken to me via Messenger by a mutual friend before it became common knowledge and the wider circle began to post their sadness at her passing. “Did you hear that [Tumbler] passed away?” the message from our mutual friend Garbo read – what I felt at the time can only be described as an unsurprising shock. And maybe this is why – my own journey and Tumbler’s death – I perhaps project on to Poppy. I mean, I hope it’s true what Poppy herself says, that her drinking is under control and in moderation. I do want to believe that and desperately so. And yet I do go around with a knot of fear in my chest at the idea that it could happen at any time. I’ll get a message like that again or log on to Facebook expecting funny cat memes and instead being faced with devastating news.

To be honest, I feel like a traitor even writing this. Obviously I never use anyone’s real name or any other identifying details, but even so. Who am I to pass judgment? No one, that’s who. I should just accept Poppy’s view and let her live her life the way she decides to. And again – I have no idea and certainly not that much reason to believe her drinking is beyond “a little too much”. Hell, that’s what I had people believing about me for the longest time!! Even Hubby – and he LIVES with me and is therefore a primary witness – only ever used to say I just needed to cut down a little. It’s amazing how much you can hide even within the walls of your own home. Maybe it’s because I was hiding such an enormous issue that I, as we say in Sweden, see ghosts in broad daylight. I.e. things that actually aren’t there.

I’m going to be you,” I told Hubby and squeezed his hand as we emerged from the park and were walking towards the bridge to cross the river, “I’m going to be just like you with Poppy because it’s the best way I can think of, it’s the only thing I know that might work.

I glanced at Hubby who didn’t say anything in response. I squeezed his hand again, then lifted it to my lips and kissed his knuckles.

That’s probably the biggest compliment I can give you. You do realise there is nothing you could have done better, right? Any of that what-could-I-have-done-sooner is bollocks. You were honest and kind and I turned to you because I knew you would never judge me.

I know,” Hubby said and did his cute half smile.

I just don’t know any other way and that’s partly because Poppy says she’s fine (well – in terms of the drinking, that is) and who am I to say she isn’t? Just because I have a knot in my stomach that might have formed because of a million other things? Fuck me, this isn’t an easy one, is it? Check out the alkie who is now some sort of sobriety warrior and declaring who has or hasn’t a problem. It’s precisely what I shouldn’t be doing. So I’m going to be just like Hubby. I’m going to gently say to Poppy, when there is a good moment, that I worry that her drinking may be causing her problems at the same time as I underline I’m always in a corner and will do all I can to help if she ever needs me. Poppy did say to me many months ago that “no, seriously Anna, I need to stop drinking” but then that got lost again and whenever it came up she was back to claiming she’s all fine and all is well.

What gives me the heebie-jeebies is that this is the approach I took with Tumbler. At one point, I believe it was after her second DUI (how’s that for an echo?), a group of us got together and tried to help and support her. People told Tumbler they’d be there for her but she’d have to be sober when she called. I told her I was there for her and would always take her call no matter what state she was in. Tumbler, like alcoholics do, distanced herself and started lying about her drinking to most people but kept calling me. Nine times out of ten she was drunk. In fact, around the time she posted on Facebook that she was one year sober, I spoke to her – it was 9am in the morning where she was and she told me she was drinking wine. Sometimes I’ve regretted not taking that tougher stance because being softer just enabled her to still have someone to talk to even if she drank, given she didn’t have to hide it from me. At the same time I know that if I’d done that she would have distanced herself from me too and perhaps our conversations did make her feel a little better. I’ll never know. No one will ever know. What I do know is that neither approach worked because the one person who had the power to make Tumbler stop was Tumbler herself and she didn’t want to. Or rather, as she put it to me once: “I don’t think I will ever be able to.

This very dilemma was perhaps one of the biggest questions asked in the film we went to see Saturday morning: Beautiful Boy. It’s the story of a guy who gets hooked on methamphetamines along with alcohol, heroin and whatever else. It shows his father’s desperate attempts to understand, to help, to do the right thing. It poses the question of what we can do to help someone we love, but it doesn’t answer it beyond showing the absolute hell everyone goes through. In a scene from an Al-anon meeting (support groups for the people close to the addict) a woman talks about her niece who has just died from an overdose. She points out how she was already grieving her when she was still alive, but how it now makes more sense to do so. It’s heartbreaking.

So I can only emulate the best person I know, my husband, by trying to give to Poppy what he gave to me:

  1. Openly state I’m worried for her.
  2. Always be kind, always be there and never judge.
  3. Offer her hope by showing her it gets so much better.

And let’s face it, if Poppy’s problems with alcohol are all in my head, all I’ve done is being a good friend when she’s gone through some shit and waxed a little lyrical about the joys of sobriety.

Any views welcome as always.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Knobbly Bits and Bunions

Friday! And exactly two weeks until my last day in the job I’m currently doing. Let’s rephrase: two weeks left of the last job I’ve done badly. There. Whilst I’m very good at beating myself up and usually hesitant to make excuses for my own shortcomings by pointing at how I was balls deep in alcoholism, I do also have to admit to myself that the fact that I was able to do anything at ALL over so many years actually says something about how tough I am. Yes, on the one hand you absolutely can say I screwed up royally and I have no one to blame but myself for my sad CV. On the other, you could also recognise that just allowing for the basic functions (like, you know, standing up, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, etc) took serious effort. When I think about how I would answer the question of “how bad was it really?” the first thing that springs to mind is my cute Baby G watch. It’s a fat little watch and I love it, this is what it looks like:

babyg

Cute, eh? I bought it at Singapore Changi Airport on our way back home from New Zealand some years back. I like chunky watches because I have strange wrists – there’s a little knobbly bone that we all have but mine really sticks out – and in my head big watches look better on me. This knobbly part is sort of in the way and a smaller watch just doesn’t want to sit right on me, it’s exactly where you want your watch strap to be, really annoying. Metal straps (which I think are nicer than plastic or leather) just don’t work, because the watch either slips down below the knobbly bit uncomfortably close to my hand or has to be on tight too far up on my arm to avoid the pesky little hump. Here’s a picture of my weird wrists for additional amusement – well, just the right one but at least I’m somewhat symmetrical so I’m just as weird on both sides of my body. Having said that, the bunion on my right foot is considerably bigger than on the left one… I may have to do a little survey later, strip off in front of the mirror to ascertain which side of me is weirder. No, not to share here – don’t worry, just for my own enjoyment. Due to the bunion issue I fear the right side is already in trouble. Oohhh but I do have a nasty scar across my left knee from when I was knocked off my bike at the age of 10. Might be a close call, after all. Anyway, enjoy my weird knobbly wrist:

wrist

So anyway. I love that watch but I only used to wear it half of the year. Why? Because pushing three buttons in the right sequence to change the hour back and forth was simply too complicated for my foggy mind to cope with. No joke. That’s how fucked I was the majority of the time. Making a simple phone call was devastatingly difficult when I was muddled up, really took all I had to string together the words and try to absorb any information I was given. To spell it out – my drinking wrecked me to a level where adjusting the time on my watch was too difficult. At the beginning of this year I treated myself to an Apple watch, which ironically would have been a better choice when I was drinking like a sailor on leave, given everything is automatic and I don’t have to do a damn thing, but that’s besides the point really. But yes, I got the bigger screen version because of my wonky wrists.

I seem to be preoccupied with all these thoughts around what my drinking was really like from the amount of wine I used to drink to how badly messed up it left me. The good thing is that there are no positives to be found in there. I was thinking about this on my drive into work this morning actually – I do believe a lot of my view on alcohol was due to the brainwashing we all experience, but that alone obviously isn’t the reason why I’m an alcoholic. There must have been SOME good stuff. And sure, that feeling after the second drink – warm, buzzy and melty – I won’t deny was quite nice. It’s just that it never lasted long because I went full throttle into black-out, so it’s one tiny little nice bit in a freaking ocean of shit. It wasn’t even the hangovers that were the worst part, I think the really shitty and most awful bit was how stressful it all was – I was completely ruled by alcohol and I’ll tell you one thing: it ain’t a nice boss.

Well, let’s get back to that some time, shall we? The nice things about drinking. For me, the list is surprisingly short for someone who used to drink the stuff like a goddamn demon, but I want to keep this honest. I know of course that 99% of the stuff I thought alcohol was and did was all an illusion and I can honestly say nothing has changed in my view that I’d rather eat dog shit than drink again. I know it sounds insane – like would I REALLY if I was forced to make a choice – but I swear the dog poo is more appealing. It doesn’t increase my risk of getting breast cancer (and a bunch of other mean Cs) by 15% for starters so even at the outset it’s more appealing. Alcohol does nothing for me. Me – Anna. Perhaps you’re someone who does enjoy alcohol and never struggled with it in any way – good for you! Hubby is one of those people and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, if anything I find it fascinating – not in a patronising kinda way but just baffled by how he can have a couple of drinks and then be all thanks-that’s-enough and not be all stressed out. Wow. But yes, the nice things about drink is something to think over, I guess even if for me I’ll struggle to list even one beyond that brief feeling after two drinks.

Anyway!

The weekend is nearly here and it’s snowing in London today. Mostly rain and sleet but there was a lovely dusting of snow this morning but nothing too dramatic (the UK grinds to a halt any time someone spots a single snowflake). This afternoon Bambino has another trip to the dentist to have another couple of teeth pulled but these two are smaller than yesterday’s devil tooth so hopefully it’ll all be fine. And the weekend is wide open, which is nice and I think Hubby needs a breather after travelling all over throughout January.

Have a lovely weekend wherever you are.

Today I’m not going to drink.

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.

Hey Jude

For anyone who knows me even a tiny bit, it won’t come a surprise when I say I am an emotional tornado. Everything I feel, I feel strongly and although sobriety has definitely balanced me out a bit (I’ve even been described as CALM in the past year which is fucking hilarious but absolutely delights me!), I do often feel stuff right from my core and out into my fingertips. Like navigating my own feelings wasn’t enough, I also soak up the mood and atmosphere around me like a sponge. I can be in THE best mood, then there’ll be the slightest twinge of yuckiness and I crash into the deepest doom. Or I can be feeling low and apprehensive and then walk into a cheery situation and immediately be lifted so high I feel delirious. Exhausting, much? Yeah.

So I’m in the process of closing an old chapter and beginning a new one. I chucked in a job that sucks the life out of me and decided it’s time to start living and do something productive with my time. Just over a week ago I walked along the high street and handed in my CV and a I’m-starting-over cover letter to a bunch of shops and cafes. I mean, the whole thing is a little bit terrifying but I felt so positive and fired up and felt in my heart that all will come good. A knot of dread did form in my chest a few times over the past week any time I allowed fear to join the party – shit, I’ve messed up here, what if I can’t get a job, and so on. I always bloody preach how anyone who wants to work can find SOMETHING quickly and make a living so long as you accept you can’t always be precious about stuff, so there was part of me that worried it might not be as easy as I thought.

Then two magical things happened. A couple of days later I received a letter through the post, handwritten in beautiful calligraphy on the sort of letter paper I used to buy sets of when I was around 12 years old and had pen pals. It was from a store owner and she thanked me for dropping in my CV. She isn’t looking for staff but wished me luck with my new chapter and finished off with “your enthusiasm will serve you well“. Stuff like this fills me with joy and further enforces my faith in humanity. The second magical thing isn’t all that magical – I did offer my services after all – but still filled me with renewed hope. The owner of a little organic cafe rang me yesterday and I’m heading over to see her this afternoon to see what hours they may be able to offer me if she thinks I’m the right person to serve coffee. In my head, I keep thinking I’ll bloody love that sort of thing and I think it’s also really cool to go into something with absolute transparency – how many times have I sat in interviews trying to make it sound like “oh yes, this is for the longhaul and in 10 years’ time I see myself heading up a department“. This is so much nicer – I’m keen to do this and know I’ll enjoy it, and it’s to bring in some cash when I pursue a new career. What a relief, eh.

So I feel really good and know I’m making the right decisions. Sober Me is quite good at that stuff, just like I’m sure most of us are better at calm and rational decisions when we’re not constantly numbed and poisoned by a liquid depressant. This is all really positive. And when I’m down there today I’m going to pop in to the other store and ask to see Jude, the talented calligrapher who sent me the lovely letter, and tell her that I’m going to keep that letter with other things I keep as memories because it was a lovely thing to receive. What I’m actually going to do is frame it because I was so inspired by it, but I won’t tell poor Jude that because she’ll think I’m bonkers. To Jude I’ll just say it was a nice gesture that didn’t go unnoticed. Paying it forward is a wonderful thing, but paying it back is good too. It’s also good to know I was right in thinking I can make it work even if it might take a while before I find the right place for me in the world. And, I think I’ll actually be quite good as a barista. Nothing better than finishing the day knowing you did a good job and took pride in what you did, whether it was to oversee a multi-million acquisition or serve someone a cup of coffee.

Who else chucked in their job without having the road mapped out? What was the deal? How did it go? Did you also swing between top-of-the-world empowered and shit-your-pants scared?

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Tiny Bit of Hope

What is that one thing? The thing, if you could sum it up, that meant you could stop?” Hubby asked.

We were sitting as we often do, at opposite ends of the sofa, talking about life and, well, this time my sobriety. My one-year anniversary happened when he was away, so I guess it was especially topical.

It wasn’t just one thing,” I said as my mind went into overdrive, “it was a whole bunch of things that came together at the right moment.

But you keep saying how it was a stormy sea and how the waves parted at exactly the right moment and you saw your life line,” Hubby insisted and threw back at me the analogy I always use to describe the moment I saw my chance to ask for help, my way out. “What was it? And what could I have done that might have got you there sooner?

OK, so just so I’m clear on what you’re asking – you’re wanting me to articulate what made me stop drinking, what you did and what you could have done sooner to help bring it about?

Yes. What did it take for you to stop?

You do realise that if we find the answer to that question, we’ll cure the world of all addictions, don’t you?” I replied and smiled in a slightly smart-arsey kind of way, after all I’m the drunkard here. “Quids in if we crack that old chestnut and are able to provide a sure-fire answer. We’ll have high schools and streets named after us.

But, summarise it,” Hubby went on, “not the waves, not the life line, spell out exactly what it was.

It’s a good question though, isn’t it? I mean, when I was still trapped it would have been the one thing I would have wanted the answer to. In AA they often say that the alcoholic has to hit rock bottom before they can get sober. It sounds severe, doesn’t it, ‘rock bottom’? Makes you think of social services, homelessness and the park bench stereotype. It doesn’t have to be all those hugely devastating things though. I prefer to think of it as my turning point because it wasn’t a big or dramatic event, it was simply a combination of mainly two things: I’d fucking had it with drinking and at the right moment I saw my life line. Yes, like the huge waves in a stormy sea parted just as I glanced in the right direction and caught a glimpse of a life line, then swam furiously towards it. OK, less fucking poetic – Hubby asked me the right thing in the right moment and I saw my chance to finally speak the words: “help, I’m scared“. Is that somewhat clear? I was desperate to stop and just when I needed it there was a chance for me to ask for help so I did. Oh, and a third ingredient: a tiny bit of hope.

But what Hubby was asking and was trying to get at, was whether HE could have said or done anything that could have got me there sooner. After all, he now knows how I felt for many years and how often that little voice inside of me had cried out long before I was able to verbalise it myself. Could he have said or done something? Anything? I know I have pondered this before on this blog, but I think it’s such a hugely important discussion that it needs plenty of attention. Well, a bit further along now and I’m gaining clarity each day in terms of my own experience, and I feel I can give you at least SOME kind of accurate answer as to what you can do if you want to help someone you care about: not a damn thing.

There is nothing – genuinely nothing – anyone could have said or done that would have got me there sooner. Sure, threatening to take away my child or my home away or ultimatums of that caliber would certainly have scared me into stopping. FOR A WHILE. I don’t believe force is the answer. I’m sure there are people who stop against their will and white knuckle it for eternity, but what sort of life is that? I just don’t believe in that sort of thing – I truly believe that the only person who can get you out of addiction is YOU.

I have a son. He is my world. My sun rises and sets with him and I would die for him. No, really – I’d die for him. But I couldn’t stop drinking for him. I know this is a hard pill to swallow and even though I’m the drunk here, even I want to punch me in the face and scream at me YOU DON’T DESERVE TO BE A MOTHER, so I get how insane this is. That’s addiction, my friends. And besides, if the love for our children was the answer, then all we need to do is encourage all addicts to start families! Problem solved, no? Oh, that’s right – it doesn’t work like that. People lose EVERYTHING and still they drink or use. I’m witnessing a friend crash further than I ever have and she’s not even hinting at booze being anything to do with it. So along with “make babies” we can strike off most other ultimatums from the list of things that might solve the problem of addiction. Agree?

This is a key point, actually, when it comes to my sobriety. It’s worth pointing out over and over: I don’t believe the reasons why we shouldn’t drink have anything to do with it. What we need to focus on is why we feel we SHOULD. Most children can probably tell you that alcohol is harmful, just like they can tell you that smoking kills. The terrifying thing, however, is that even small children will also have a glamourised image of what drinking is and does and THAT, folks, is what needs changing. What kept me drinking was the simple fact that I believed it did something for me and although it was the negatives that were starting to outweigh my perceived positives that got me fed up with it and made me want to stop, what keeps me sober and happy today is knowing that there’d be more benefit to me eating dog poo. If I still believed there were benefits to drinking I’d feel deprived, pissed off and resentful. Actually, rephrase that: if I still believed there were benefits to drinking I would have started up again because that’s what always happened before. I think that’s the glaring difference this time – this time I deconstructed my whys and discovered the answer to each one was nothing.

Back to what Hubby or anyone else might have been able to say or do, though. Not a thing, really. However, there is something I do think made a difference: I felt safe. I knew he was there for me, I knew he supported me and I knew there was no judgment. When you feel that way, it’s possible to open up and be vulnerable. Who feels able to open yourself up if what you can expect is to feel even worse? When an addict feels judged or what have you, they clam up and off we go with the hiding and the dishonesty. Feel free to correct me if you feel I’m missing something or that I’m just getting all this wrong – I’d love to hear any views on this because let’s face it, I’m really just trying to figure all this out.

When it comes to being supportive, I’m not saying you should turn the other cheek until your head is spinning like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist. Watching someone you love slowly commit suicide by addiction is heartbreaking. You have every right and reason to say “I cannot do this” and walk away – absolutely. No one can demand of you to remain in that awful position that hurts you, and it’d be more than reasonable to refuse to keep coming home to a spouse who’s drunk every day. But I’m saying that if you want the alkie you love to turn to you and confide in you and be more likely to ask for help – be the safe harbour. Nearby or on stand-by. You can still let them know their drinking upsets you and worries you. You can still say that you can’t just watch and need to distance yourself. That’s totally OK and healthy – always look after yourself. As we all know, alcoholism doesn’t just hurt the alcoholic. Ironically, I honestly feel it’d be much worse to watch Hubby or someone else that I love fight alcoholism than doing so myself. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true.

There was also another safe harbour for me in some of my friends. Cherokee was someone I confided in occasionally. She never told me she thought my drinking was OK but I suppose there’s a difference between “you deserve better than that” and “stop drinking you terrible person“. She told me it made her sad to hear what I was doing to myself. Like with Hubby, I felt safe with her and that’s why I confided in her long before I even stopped. Both of them managed a pretty perfect balance of non-judgment and honesty. Compare this to how I might have felt about going to my Dad, who is quite an opinionated straight arrow – I told him, sure, but only once I’d got sober. I did sort of expect the lecture but all I got was love and support so perhaps I misjudged him, but still – point is I felt judged and therefore kept it to myself, just like I did around everyone else. I mean, saying “I’m an alcoholic” or that other little word – “help” – is fucking hard as it is.

So I suppose it wasn’t quite so biblical as I may have initially looked at me getting sober with huge waves parting and seeing a life line. Hubby had placed life lines all around me and any which way I’d looked at any which moment, one would have appeared. I do realise that now that I’ve really thought hard about his question. There is nothing more he could have said or done. He just loved me and honoured his promise of “for poorer”. I felt safe and so was able to reach out before plunging towards a much harsher rock bottom. I felt able to reach out. His question made me realise it’s nothing to do with “sooner”. Hubby and friends like Cherokee are the reason it didn’t become “later”. Or “too late”.

What made me stop can be broken down into three things:

  1. I’d had enough.
  2. I felt able to reach out and ask for help.
  3. I felt hope.

Perhaps that image in my mind of waves parting in the storm are more to do with that last bit – hope. That somehow I knew there could be a better life and I reached for it. I knew of course that those mornings I woke up hangover free I felt so good compared with a hangover – hope formed again in me when I started to see that my best friend Sauvignon Blanc was actually a lying, cheating and stealing bitch who was out to bring about my untimely demise.

Wow. This turned looooooong! Well, I had a lovely week off work and despite having lots of quality time to myself I hardly spent any time at all in front of my computer. Well. Now back to reality to sit out the last few weeks of my old job and figure out my first steps forward as I close the door on my old life.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Talk About It

Those words roll off my tongue quite easily these days: “I’m an alcoholic“. I find myself telling my story openly, freely and – actually – keenly. Sure, I find addiction a very interesting subject just based on its superb ability to hold our brains hostage alone, but beyond this I think the more we talk about it, the more chance others will have to get out of the dark pit of alcoholism. The more we talk and share, the more we will understand and the more we understand the better placed we will be to have empathy. And once we have understanding and empathy, perhaps the last thing the addict will have to worry about is the shame and stigma traditionally associated with being a drunk. I mean, clawing your way out of that pit is bad enough as it is without people judging you too. So I talk about it. A lot.

Went and got my hair done as it was once again starting to resemble the sort of hedge you get around derelict buildings, where green fingers stopped lovingly tending to it a long time ago. Hairdressers are chatty folk, aren’t they? Sometimes you see these articles or even books where e.g. flight attendants will disclose the worst instances of passengers’ behaviour. I’d love to read a book titled ‘Things I Only Tell My Hairdresser‘. They’re sort of neutral, aren’t they? Actually, I’m often way too open as it is, but because it struck me about hairdressers just now because, well, I only went the other day, and also you spend at least half an hour with them and actually (hopefully!) much longer than you ever spend talking with your doctor.

Well. There I was, having aforementioned hedge chopped and tended to by a lovely chick I’ll call Rosy because her hair was a really cool shade of dusty rose. We chatted as you do and I found out she works at this salon a couple of times per week and on the side runs her own business.

So what line of work are you in, then?” Rosy asked.

Ah, well…” I started, made a face and chuckled, “I quit my job Friday, so I suppose nothing right now, but I’m hoping to get into addiction counselling.

That’s great, really great!” Rosy told me and even stopped for a moment to place her hands on my shoulders, gave a little squeeze and smiled broadly.

A bit over enthusiastic I thought, but hey, hairdressers are always chirpy and bubbly, aren’t they? But this wasn’t just as-you-do chatter, and when she went back to separate out the next strands of my hair to cut, I found out why my future career had made her stop and smile.

You know, I grew up with addiction.

Oh wow, did you really? That must have been very hard,” I felt that old knot of sorrow in my chest like I always do when I hear these stories of the children who grow up with people like me for parents.

Yeah, it was. I was taken away from my mum,” Rosy told me but this didn’t make her stop what she was doing, “but she’s clean now. She went to rehab five times before it stuck and the last time was really her last chance and it was on condition that she also moved. The other times she’d come out and then her old dealers would come around with whatever.

Rosy told me matter-of-factly of a life growing up with parents who weren’t sober, being separated from mum and having dad in jail. Mum now in a different part of the country and dad in Spain. Stepmum and brother dead, both due to addiction and in the past couple of years.

Dad’s doing well. He got clean when I was five and has kept at it. Mum had to go to rehab several times over and now she has decided to drink again, which I’m really upset about but I think she feels she should be allowed that as long as she doesn’t go back on the drugs.

Do you think she’ll manage?” I asked.

I don’t know. She does drink every day. It’s hard because she gets really upset when we talk about it, I think she has a lot of guilt.

I told Rosy my story and imagined her wanting to plunge the scissors into my neck. I genuinely felt ashamed confessing to drinking for so many years and my son witnessing it so often. And quite rightly – I’m not trying to unnecessarily beat myself up here but I bloody SHOULD feel shame at that part, end of story. We talked and talked. Of course what I wanted to know more than anything else is how I best go about this for Bambino’s sake.

I have tried to bring about the conversation, but he either bats it away or tells me it wasn’t so bad, which is obviously something he only says not to upset me,” I said.

It’s so hard isn’t it,” Rosy agreed, “I have things to say about it but I can’t stand to see mum get upset. Dad has never given me any opportunity to talk about it at all.

And that’s the problem! Bambino might hold back on the old MUM YOU AWFUL DEVIL WOMAN HOW COULD YOU KEEP DRINKING AND HURT ME just to protect my feelings. Speaking to Rosy helped and when I got home I knew what to say and so I did. Bambino was sitting in the kitchen having cereal for an after school top up ahead of dinner (we get through Crunchy Nut like you wouldn’t believe) and I asked him to put his phone down. Full attention. And I said the things Rosy told me she’d wanted her parents to say to her, which is what I’d asked her.

Right, listen. I know you feel awkward and uncomfortable about this and I’m not going to force you to talk about it, OK, but I want to make something clear so you just know, alright?

Bambino nodded but was squirming a little.

No matter what you say, I know I’ve upset you with my drinking and that it’s hurt you.

Muuuum…!

No, let me finish, I need to say this to you.

Oh God, fine, go on then.

I know you probably don’t want to say anything because you worry I’ll feel sad or upset and I know you want to protect me. That’s utterly lovely of you and you’re such an amazing person for wanting to look after me, OK. But I want you to know how sorry I am and how unforgivable it is. No! Don’t,” I told him when he drew breath to protest, raised my hand to signal to hold on, “Don’t say anything, unless of course you want to, but there may come a day when you feel you want to tell me a thing or two. You might be furious with me or there might be something you really want me to understand about how you felt in all of this. And all I wanted you to know right now is that when you do, I will give you my full attention and I will listen. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it or if it upsets me to hear it. I will always listen when you want to say your peace. OK?

Alright, cool,” Bambino told me with a roll of the eyes as usual.

No, I can’t undo years of drinking by a nice little speech to my teenager. But I can make sure he gets to have his say when he is ready, and like I promised him, when that day comes I will listen. Until then, I won’t force the conversation or labour the point, but I will talk about it generally – we have to talk about this. You never know who might need to hear it. I needed to hear what Rosy had to say, hear another child (although Rosy is of course no longer a child!) who grew up with addiction. It helped me. And perhaps in some small way it was good for Rosy to hear an old drunk like me wanting to do better and help others, but perhaps I’m just being a bit narcissistic now.

Today I’m not going to drink.