The Best Answer

No run last night. To be honest, I don’t know if I have the energy to go tonight either. Work is beyond frantic and so it’s self care time at Casa Anna these evenings that follow days at the rehab – peace, quiet and sweet, sweet solitude. Blog, chomp down the odd cinnamon roll and generally just unwind. Hence I’ve declined Hubby’s run request via WhatsApp and will just go for a brisk, long walk. Sometimes a no is the best answer and as we all know, the days of Anna saying yes to everything are over.

Today I mostly went around with a colleague I hadn’t had a chance to get to know much – I’ll call her Raven because she has gorgeous, jet black hair – and like Work-Hubby, she is adding another fantastic layer of knowledge to everything I’m learning. Rio is like a machine gun and brilliant to learn from as he does everything to the letter, something the law abiding and rule loving little Swede in me massively appreciates. Hell, I don’t even cross the road unless there’s a little green man telling me I can do so, and Rio’s approach is therefore wonderful. It’s also awesome to learn that way as it means I from the outset get entrenched in good habits as opposed to taking shortcuts. He does seem to get quite stressy though – actually, make that agitated on occasion – and one second he’ll shove something into my hands only to rip it out of them a second later because he’s changed his mind or suddenly thought of something else for me to do – I’ve had to slow him down several times by gently stating that look, buddy, can I finish this task first. But hey, that’s cool. I like him enormously and obviously the man is taking time to show me so I’m not about to whinge about the speed settings. Work-Hubby and Raven are as calm and methodical as Rio is frantic and full throttle, and this gives me a perfect balance as I’m A) learning to cross all the Ts and dot the Is, and B) allow myself to slow down and find little tricks for remembering the whats, wheres, hows and whens. Perfect.

Many of my colleagues are in recovery. In a team of ten support workers there are only two people who are not in recovery (although this is a guess – I don’t know this for sure) and out of six therapists two are, as far as I know, in recovery. Finding out more about their stories is so fascinating, in much the same way as I find the blogosphere and various recovery/sobriety communities and groups so valuable. They are all incredible people and I’m just so freaking lucky to get to work and be around them, but what struck me today more than anything else is how Work-Hubby is the very embodiment of serenity. He came on his shift shortly before mine was over and as always he has a smile on his face and kind words for every single person he passes – greeting clients and asking how they’re doing today, greeting us colleagues and generally just lifting the atmosphere by his calm presence. This is a man with over 20 years of sobriety who only months ago buried his oldest son who died because of addiction, heroin I believe. Yet there he is, grateful for his own sobriety and appreciative of doing what he loves for a living, totally at peace and content with where he’s at. You don’t start complaining about banalities around someone like that. Well, they’re all like that and I get to be around them and mark my words – I am trying with all my might to soak up their wisdom and knowledge.

Oh God, this turned a bit gushy. Sorry ’bout that. I never did know when to tone it down, never mind turn it off.

Rio just rang me as it happens to swap tomorrow for Saturday. Cool bananas. I was looking forward to tomorrow and getting another day with Raven and Work-Hubby, but there we are. Verbal machine gun Rio on a Saturday it is. Every now and then he comes out with something that makes me laugh out loud with recognition, sometimes a little story or, like in today’s relaxation group, a saying. Today’s little Rio-ism is one I might get printed and framed because it’s just too good. He told the group this to round up a discussion around being a newcomer in AA or NA and feeling worried about sharing when other people have much longer sobriety than we currently do:

TODAY YOU ARE A PEACOCK BUT TOMORROW YOU MIGHT BE A FEATHER DUSTER!

It just doesn’t matter if we’re five days, five weeks, five months, five years or five damn decades sober – we’re only ever one drink away.

Today I’m not going to drink.

When His Eyes Go Squinty

How’s the cold? Is the grim reaper still lurking around?” Dad asks and chuckles. “Have you been at work this week?

Uhm, better,” I reply, “and I’ve been at work as usual. Have a new job, actually.

What? You changed jobs? Again? You switch jobs like a normal person changes their underwear!” he exclaims.

Dad’s of that generation where you do the same thing your whole life and not uncommonly staying at the same company too. He left school the moment he could, started as a dogsbody at the bank as a teenager and worked his way up – by his mid-twenties he was the bank manager, then a director and by the time he retired at the comfortably still-young age of 60 he specialised in investments, funds and insurance. Mum qualified as a teacher and spent most of her working life as a primary teacher, gaining qualifications as she went along within special needs. In Dad’s world you might go and work for a different company but changing the role you’re in beyond promotion is just plain weird. For him, my route is bewildering – how does one go from being a translator to then work as a personal assistant and then wind up working as a recovery support worker at a rehab? Makes no sense to him.

Because I’ve started as a volunteer and went into something completely new, I’ve held back a little on telling people – I wanted to find my feet a little before making any announcements or fielding questions.

At a rehab? They didn’t take you in then?” he teases.

Very funny.

Well, I guess you’re qualified,” he continues and although this conversation has ended up in the land of awkwardness I can hear the smile in his voice.

You’re right. It could easily have been me but there we are, I got myself out as it happens and now I can use that to help others.

Hm, perhaps a step too far. I’m not sure he likes it when I joke about it. Dad goes quiet for a moment, which is unusual for him. Mum has always said he has ADHD and how he’d be a fine example to demonstrate various hyperactive disorders. Seeing Dad still and/or quiet always freaks me out.

Feels good to turn my experience to something good!” I go on as chirpily as I can to lighten the mood again, “And I think I’ll make something very good of this,” I add.

Let’s hope so. You’re running out of jobs to try, you’ve bloody done them all!” Dad tells me and laughs in that way that I love when his eyes go squinty and his shoulders bounce.

Hats off to him. Not only is he of a generation that didn’t job-hop, he is also of a generation and upbringing where addiction is something that afflicts Bad People, those good-for-nothing twits who simply decide to throw their lives away. Yet here he is, being supportive and even making jokes with his only daughter, for whom he probably had so many hopes and dreams but who sank into alcoholism. Perhaps it’s his greatest sorrow? I know he’ll always love me, come what may, but I will never forget how addiction sends ripples and engulfs everyone in its path. I’d be very naive to for even a moment miss how much it has hurt him. And it’s not hard to imagine now that I’m a parent myself. The idea of Bambino following in my footsteps is a thought so painful it crushes my heart into a million shards of ice.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Don’t Wanna, Not Gonna

Do you have drinking dreams? I’ve had them every so often since I stopped drinking and they’re horrible. In the dream it’s already too late – I land in the dream and the scenario is that I’ve already been drinking. It’s so shitty and the shame, guilt and sadness are all so palpable it terrifies me. Then I wake up and because those dark feelings are so real I actually feel hungover, just for that first second when I open my eyes. And of course a moment later I realise it was a dream – or nightmare, rather! – and feel so grateful that this isn’t me now. I didn’t drink last night and I haven’t woken up with a crippling hangover. It’s such a relief. I have always thought of those dreams as my subconscious saying to me “Remember this, girl? Don’t you dare forget!“. It’s not a nice reminder given I have to relive the shame and guilt and horror of my actions but I’ll have to say it’s been very effective because the relief I feel at realising it was a dream is so deep it makes me a bit tearful. Tearful in the way you might be when you’re through the worst part of something, like how Bambino cried after the tooth pulling ordeal. Relief.

So the other night I had a drinking dream but it was the first of its kind and different from the ones I’ve had before. I dreamt Hubby and I were on holiday and I was going to drink. The intention was there and I had decided I would. That’s where I landed in the dream. I was walking down a supermarket aisle, perusing the bottles of white wine to find the kind I’d like. And then, in the dream, I’m holding a bottle of wine in my hands to read the label and my stomach turned. Don’t wanna, not gonna. And that was it. Dream Me decided not to drink because she actually didn’t want to.

The difference between the two types of drinking dream is of course that in one I don’t have a choice and in the other I do. I don’t know if this is significant, if it means I’m more solid in my sobriety and this dream shows this, but it was quite nice. I won’t allow myself to get cocky though – I think the moment I’m fooled into thinking I have sobriety sussed, or worse, I’m “cured”, I’ll be in a world of trouble. Anyone else having those dreams? Of either variety?

I’m sitting in a really noisy cafe this morning with Hubby. It’s the nicest place on the high street, a small independent, family run cafe and they serve the best breakfast. The acoustics of the place are horrendous though and it’s not as if this morning’s crowd is a bunch of university students on a pub crawl – just average Joes like Hubby and I having coffee and breakfast – but the sound levels are awful. I wonder if it’s the high ceiling or the brick walls, but it’s deafening. It’s bad enough when we’re actually just working on our laptops but to have any type of conversation would mean shouting at each other. And that’s what everyone seems to have to do.

Before the place filled up and we were able to hear each other, I asked Hubby if he ever worries that I’ll relapse. Because he is such a kind soul, I sometimes wonder if he hides his own worry from me in order not to hurt me. I really wanted to know, perhaps part of me wanted to really reassure him I feel so much more confident these days. He has a demanding job and I don’t want him to have the added pressure of a wife who might fall (or jump) off the wagon.

This isn’t a trick question and I don’t want you to worry about hurting my feelings, OK?” I said and looked into Hubby’s beautiful, soulful, big blue eyes trying to emphasise my point by unflinching eye contact.

OK.

Do you ever worry I’ll start drinking again?

No,” came the answer immediately and he tilted his head slightly as he held my gaze.

Really? Not ever? Not even when you’re travelling? Isn’t there any part of you that frets over me going for it when I’m alone like I used to?

No. You’re so set on this.

Wow. OK,” I said and couldn’t help smiling, “but how about this – what if you were away and we talked on the phone and you can hear me slurring and then I tell you I’m drinking. What would happen then? I mean, what would you feel?

I’d be shocked,” Hubby responded, deadpan and shrugged his shoulders. “Just really surprised.

God, you’re so fucking balanced!” I laughed, “this won’t make an interesting blog post AT ALL! I was after angst and fear and gut wrenching Greek tragedy emotion!

Hubby just smiled and for a moment I just got a little lost in how I love his perfect face (the man was carved by angels, I swear) and those gorgeous eyes through which you can just about catch a glimpse of his glorious soul. I snapped out of ogling Hubby and forced myself back to all my questions.

But wouldn’t you feel anxious, like get a knot in your stomach?” I insisted.

I’d worry for you, yeah.

Jeez, the man is unshakable. I’ve never known anyone to be so calm about things. It doesn’t matter what it is – if the whole world was on fire, he’d just take a look at the situation and figure out the best way to put it out. Me? I’d shout and scream and panic and freak out and flap around like a crazed seagull on amphetamine.

What about for YOU? As in what it’d mean for you and what YOU would have to live with? Wouldn’t you be worried about going back to where I was? And have a wife whose drinking is out of control?

Of course. I want you to be and feel your best. I don’t want to see you in a situation where you can’t,” he told me matter of fact.

OK, OK. Hubby isn’t one to get worked up, not even by a world on fire or a binge drinking, black-out lush wife. Just glanced over at him across the table from me, he has his focused work face on. Brow furrowed and staring intently on the screen. He isn’t typing so he’s probably looking through a presentation or something. My rock. My mother gave a perfect speech at our wedding celebration and I’m going to be as brazen as to copy in her lines below – they sum up the man I married:

For all the reasons I have today to feel grateful, one of the biggest is, that it is you [Hubby], that my daughter has chosen for her husband. You are a kind and caring person that stands steady even in the stormiest weather. I trust you and your love for her. I welcome you and your sons, [Bonus #1] and [Bonus #2], to our family, something I do with all my heart.

Her whole speech was amazing and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Even my stepmother pointed out how great it was, and she isn’t one to throw compliments around her and certainly not to her husband’s first wife. But those few lines sum Hubby up. Sweet Lord, this has turned into some sort of ode to the wonder that is Hubby, but he really is so utterly wonderful and I’m a very, very lucky lady. I sometimes wonder if he married me for the challenge.

Today I’m not going to drink.

400 Days

It’s hard to start with that title without feeling very happy and a little bit proud. I almost feel a little bashful. At dinner last night, one of Hubby’s work colleagues seemed a little embarrassed at how people were in awe at her impressive finish time for a marathon she recently ran. I feel a little like that right now, like I’m bragging or calling attention to myself by pointing out this milestone. Isn’t that silly? So I bloody SHOULD! 400 days is HUGE for me and I never ever thought I’d be able to say those words: I am 400 days sober. BOOM! At some point not too long ago – say, 400 days or so back in time – I would have resented having to be the sort of person whose greatest achievement is the number of days sober. That wasn’t me! I didn’t want that to be me. And yet, here we are and I can honestly say it makes me happier than I imagine I’d be if someone told me I had a book deal. Yes, this is me and I am proud of every single one of those 400 days. They are a testament to the woman I can be.

Another testament to the woman I am when I’m sober is last night. Literally the sort of situation that sends my anxiety levels sky high: a dinner with Hubby’s work colleagues. Not only am I the one who’s the outsider here in a group where everyone else already know each other well, but these are all super smart, worldly and very senior people in a global company. Around the table, most job titles started with either “Chief” or “VP”. Add lil’ ol’ me and I’m in absolute knots because I just KNOW I’ll embarrass Hubby by being ridiculous and thoroughly disastrous at making polite conversation. Being sober however, I never worked myself up beforehand because let’s face it, I haven’t been guzzling a depressant with anxiety as a side order for a long time. Sure, I felt a little nervous and yes, I would have been relieved if it had got cancelled, but I actually had a really nice time and it’d seem I didn’t wreck Hubby’s career by turning up. Somehow, sobriety allows me to relax and be quite calm. Yep, I felt myself blush when they all turned up and Hubby introduced me to those I haven’t met before and I’m sure my neck was blotchy (damn that v-neck top – bad choice, shoulda known!), but…. …no, it wasn’t at all the nightmare I always believe those situations will be.

It’s mostly a case of being self conscious I think. I stress over looking or seeming stupid, from the shoes I wear to how I speak. I also worry about my hearing which is shockingly bad (almost entirely deaf on one ear), which means in places where there is a lot of chatter or loud background music I’m screwed and can’t hear a thing. There was a live jazz band, I noted with horror as we walked in. I even worry about my nail polish. It’s a case of absolute terror in case I’m so ridiculous it reflects badly on Hubby, even though the man has never EVER insinuated that he is anything other than happy I’m his wife. Yet in my head I’m an embarrassment. Isn’t that just so fucking stupid? THAT’s the stupid part. No, I’m not a successful business woman but so what? I’m a nice person, period. What else could possibly matter? And I do have things to say, funny stories to tell and lots of stuff to talk about. I’m just like anyone else – no better, no worse.

Lo and behold – it was a lovely, lovely evening. I did freeze for a moment when I realised my seat was right in the middle of the table (my default coping mechanism is positioning myself on the sidelines and in the background), but I made the startling discovery that I am actually quite good company. At no point did I feel awful because I couldn’t initiate conversation, to be fair partly due to sitting next to a lady I do know reasonably well having met her many times before and she’s a chatterbox, but still. And eventually it came up: one of the people I met for the first time asked what I do for a living. I told him, along with the other five sets of eyes at this point aimed at me. It was easy and no, I wasn’t met with blank stares or distaste. Nor did I get probing questions as to why, something Hubby and I had talked about – after all, I’m friends on Facebook with Chatterbox and she was one of the people telling me congratulations when I posted a picture of my cake at my one year sober. It’s not hard to put two and two together there, right? I’ve stopped drinking and make a point of celebrating a milestone, and now I work in a rehab. It’s all cool though. And I refuse to hide my story these days. No, I didn’t go into that part because there was no need to and those questions didn’t arise, but even so.

Guess what? The only silly thing (that we all laughed at) was how my accomplished, successful, mega intelligent, worldly and executive board member Hubby seemed to have missed that my native Sweden is in the EU. I think he was probably joking but still, my point is that I didn’t leave feeling like an idiot or woke up this morning dying of shame because of the stupid things I might have said due to being too hungover to think straight. Or worse, having got a bit too drunk as I did at a wedding in Italy, where I last was around a couple of these people. Hubby did at the time reassure me no one had noticed but I wonder if that was one of those occasions when he was just trying to be kind and save me from feeling ashamed.

Being sober is a little like learning who I am all over again. Sober Anna is someone I wouldn’t have recognised those 400 days back. Hubby even describes me as “calm” these days, which is just too funny but appears to be accurate. Judging by last night it would seem I can hold my own and be reasonably fun company around people I in the past would have felt really intimidated by. Who IS this person?! No, I’ll never be a social butterfly but dare I say it – I really enjoyed last night. Stupid alcohol that had me believing I’m stupid and embarrassing when I’m neither. Good riddance.

So hurrah for 400 days that mark another little milestone of the best decision I ever made. If I’d read this when I was still drinking it would have made me sneer and think oh sod off you smug twat, but I can honestly say that being sober has transformed my life. I actually want to pinch myself.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Benny Hill’s Recipes

Who are you, anyway? Not that you’re speaking to me,” Madam mumbled whilst burrowing her head deeper into the puffy sleeve of her coat where she was sort of sleeping in the comfy chair in the rehab’s assessment room.

Well, you said you were tired so I thought I’d give you some peace,” I chirped.

Day 2 at rehab and once again I’m doing an admission, this time someone who has been pretty much forced there by a husband who’s had enough. The nickname Madam sums up her attitude. I think we can safely say that the idea of lots of sunshine stories is definitely an illusion I’ve abandoned. Myself and a colleague who I have decided to call Work-Hubby (he shares the same name, is bald and has a beard – just like Hubby) watched as a large SUV pull into the carpark, the type of car where replacing the tyres would cost more than buying my little car outright.

The doors of the rehab are those clever ones I think you get for police line-ups: mirrored on one side so you can’t see in but we could see out. In the front seat we can see there’s an argument going on, animated hand gestures and shouting (not that we can hear them but it looks that way although they might just be people who really like to enunciate). It’s the lady who is going to be booking into rehab for a stay. Then we witness the type of loop you might expect to see on high speed in a Benny Hill episode and we watch it several times over: the man comes out, gets the suitcase out of the boot, goes over to the lady’s side and opens the door for her to step out, she’s not budging, shouting and hand gestures ensue, he storms back around, chucks the suitcase back in, gets into the driver’s seat, more shouting and waving, start the car, then switch off the engine and repeat all of the above.

He’s had it, hasn’t he?” Work-Hubby notes sadly and shoots me a resigned glance.

It’s really sad to see and it’s the man – husband or boyfriend or whatever he is – that I feel really sorry for. Eventually he gets the suitcase again for the umpteenth time and makes his way across the parking lot. Amazingly, the lady steps out and slowly shuffles after him. We introduce ourselves and the man is friendly and seems so hopeful (perhaps relieved she’s finally come through the doors) and the lady is in a shitty mood as well as drunk. She’s rude to everyone and her partner gets the brunt of it. My heart breaks for the guy, there’s something so desperate in his eyes when he looks at either me or Work-Hubby. You can just see how hopeful he is that this is where he’ll pick his love up when she’s been through treatment and on her way back to the woman he used to know and misses so much. Please fix her. Please help her help herself.

I don’t know if I ever got really unpleasant when I was drinking but actually having said that, there were endless mornings when Hubby was in a mood still because I’d picked a fight and I had to try to remember what about. Let’s just be clear – she might be a glorious chick when she isn’t wrecked by booze and I certainly don’t think I was a better drunk. I know I wasn’t. Thank God that’s not me today and I never want to be there ever again.

Of course I prefer to look at here and now and be grateful, but it also made me wonder at which point Hubby might have snapped. Could that have been us? He loves me and I know he’d do anything for me, so I can absolutely imagine him getting me into a rehab and forcing me with ultimatums if he felt my life depended on it. Thank God I’ve never had to see Hubby that way, having to put his hope in the hands of a rehab to rescue me from myself. Just the thought of it breaks my heart. We focus so much on the addict but with risk of offending the whole world now, I genuinely believe it’s those who love us who hurt the most. I mean, I was probably too wasted to notice anyway most of the time. Our Father will probably get a little sick of me repeating myself so much today, but thank God I got out when I did. There is no difference between me and Madam. None whatsoever except a glass of wine – that’s all it would take.

This is my path. It feels so right and I know I can make a difference here. I’m not saying I’ll cure the world of addiction or have high schools named after me, but perhaps I’ll make just one person feel a little better or help somehow, even if it’s something as simple as showing kindness when they’re at their most vulnerable rock bottom.

Hubby is watching rugby on the sofa and we each have a beer in front of us. A Peroni for him and a Becks Blue (alcohol free – dahr!) for me. I really felt like one, really like beer now which is odd because I used to drink wine. In fact, the idea of alcohol free wine (or indeed the regular version) makes my stomach turn. Cool, isn’t it? Blogging and a beer, and I can still head out for a run later. Yep. #winning

Well, because I’m now passing time until the stupid rugby is over, how about a lesson in how to make Anna’s Perfect Cinnamon Rolls? Alrighty!

Crumble 50 grams of fresh yeast into a baking bowl. Melt 150 grams of butter in a saucepan and when melted mix in half a litre of milk and keep on the heat until it’s 37.5 degrees – stick your finger in to check and when it’s just a tiny bit warmer than your body temperature, i.e. when you can feel the warmth, that’s it. Pour into the bowl over the yeast and stir until the yeast has dissolved. Then chuck in 1,5 decilitres of sugar, a teaspoon of salt and a table spoon of ground cardamon. You need about 1,3 litres of plain flour and mix in about three quarters of that – in the end, as the dough thickens you really have to beat it with a wooden spoon and when the dough sort of comes off the sides of the bowl as you move the spoon, it’s ready to be left to rise. Sprinkle some flour over it and cover with a kitchen towel for about an hour.

Then mix a good helping of butter, sugar and cinnamon – I don’t know what quantities I use so I suppose you just go with a mix you like. I like tonnes of cinnamon but that’s just me.

When the dough is good to go (should have risen to about twice its original size), use some of the remaining flower and give it a good kneading. Then take about a third and use a rolling pin to spread it out to a square-ish shape. Spread the butter-sugar-cinnamon mix all over it (not too thick) and then roll it up so you get a swirl when you cut pieces about an inch and a half thick. Put those on to baking trays and once again leave to rise for perhaps an hour.

Then beat an egg or two (I usually end up needing two) and brush the buns before sprinkling sugar on them. Us Swedes have something called “pearl sugar” but if you can’t find this I reckon regular granulated sugar is fine. Or crushed nuts, whatever you like really.

Bake in the oven on about 220 degrees Celcius, bit higher if you don’t have a fan oven (250 probably). We have a fan oven and they seem to be perfect in 11 minutes or slightly less, bake in the middle of the oven.

Ta-daah! Now gorge. Oohhh check out Soberella here, alcohol free beer and sharing recipes on a Saturday evening. What has the world come to? It’s come to something really fucking good, that’s what.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Jingling and Clinking

Anna! Finally! How are you, girl?” Beethoven boomed as I walked into the reception at the rehab.

Great, really happy to be here.

The guy who I suppose is now my mentor – let’s call him Rio – came through with a clipboard and a big smile, shook my hand and without asking reached to my shoulder and took my handbag. For a moment I thought perhaps there’d been a mix-up and they were accidentally signing me in as a patient. Turns out this is a place where you jump in and get on with it. No chit-chat here and a hot second later I’m counting and carefully logging pills of a wide variety. This is a good thing, because I’m better that way – if I’m given any space whatsoever to hesitate, I melt into a pathetic little puddle. Big girl pants a good choice here.

Rio is an AA fanatic and any time I’ve been to see them he’s asked if I’m attending meetings. I’m not. When I have told him so he makes noises indicating impending doom but I’m not going to pretend I’m 12-stepping in an enthusiastic Fred Astaire manner when my path is actually more of a pick’n’mix and discreetly just bobbing my head to the beat. Never liked the dance floor, me. Drunk OR sober. Rio does seem to concede that we’re all different and thankfully it would appear that my CV doesn’t need to contain a detailed moral inventory a la Step 4.

Of course I can’t – nor do I want to – give any detailed account for what happened on this first foray into the world of addiction treatment except to say THIS WON’T BE EASY. If I had some naive dream that I was going to walk in, throw smiles around me and heal all the pain in the world, I’m certainly back on earth now with a loud thud. And I discovered something. Hardly news even to me that alcohol reduced me to a lazy bugger who always takes the easy route – hell, being in active addiction it’s the only way you can possibly cope – but as I was driving home I realised someone was knocking furiously on the door: the old Anna. Over the course of the day I often felt really overwhelmed, finding myself in several situations where I felt vulnerable and, quite frankly, really uncomfortable. OK, hand on heart, even a bit scared – being cornered by an angry man demanding I get him the stronger pills as the Librium gives him hallucinations was pretty intimidating. He stood too close and stared me down, holding eye contact in a way that was really threatening. Rio was, of course, nearby and quickly stepped in, calmly defusing the situation but even the air felt spiky. For a fleeting moment I felt I would prefer filing and making calendar entries, consciously thinking this is too hard. Too much to learn, too much to deal with. On the drive home, old Anna kept knocking on the door and eventually I opened.

It’s been a long time. A very, very long time. I’d forgotten what this feels like. For so many years I’ve operated in a thick fog and had got to a point where I’d accepted this silly notion that I CAN’T DO BIG THINGS. Well kick me in the crotch and spit on my neck – it’s a lie! I can and I will. This is daunting as fuck. If I keep on studying and learning and working in this field I’ll easily get to 90 years of age and STILL not get it all. It’s one of those, whaddaya call’em, oh, challenges! Yeah, you know those really difficult situations and obstacles you used to love and absolutely thrive on tackling. Come on, girl! Let’s shake some life into this little brain because I’m totally capable and although I may be a bit soft I’m also tough as nails. This will feed my mind, stretch me to my limit and probably beyond too. I’ve missed this. What’s the point of cleaning all the windows if I’m going to live with the blinds shut? As SatNav took me back a different route and I found myself panicking a little at being in a town centre I don’t know with lots of lanes and several roundabouts plus my beaten up little car giving worrying coughing fits, I shook my head and smiled. I’ve got this. I’m as good as anyone else and I can be really good at this. ……but it’ll require hard work and effort, LOTS OF IT. OK? OK, good. Let’s roll.

I suppose what my first day really underlined, and especially so during the intake process of a patient who was hostile and obnoxious to everyone but whom I instantly became very fond of – think Patsy Stone and you’re not far off the mark – is how addiction is not just a terrifying and baffling beast, but a very democratic one too. It doesn’t give a shit about titles. This will be tough. I have no doubt I’ll be sobbing in the toilets. But I also know that this is what I need to do.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Fizzly Rainbows and Reactions

Honesty feels fucking good. I bypassed my little pact with myself to not shove the A-word in the face of my soon-to-be ex-bosses, but there was a lovely moment this morning at work and out it came. Quite unplanned and, as my recovery in itself, quite unexpected. Lady Boss popped in to say goodbye as she won’t be around tomorrow, which is my last day with them. She told me about something very exciting that she is on the cusp of achieving so the context of our brief chat was, you know, good stuff. A hug followed and I told her thanks for having me. Perhaps I squeezed her a bit extra because in that moment I got caught up in how much I actually really like this woman and part of me felt really sad that it was her (and her husband) of all the bosses I’ve had that I let down. I mean, on top of my head two people I’ve worked for in the past were complete douche-bags so it’s not as if I was left with limited choice. But it is what it is.

It’s been lovely,” she said, “sorry it fizzled out.

My take is this: yes, it fizzled out and I would imagine their view would be fairly aligned with mine. It fizzled out because I simply wasn’t performing and at some stage I suspect they just felt exasperated and resigned about it but too busy with everything else to be able to do more than give me the occasional pointer and hope it’d come right. Something like that. It all just ended up a little set adrift. And to be clear and to repeat what I’ve always said – this is all on me. Honestly, put this job and these bosses to anyone and they’ll agree it’s a lovely little number, this gig. Anyway, I think “fizzled” is spot on. The first couple of years I was operating on autopilot and too muddled to even perform the simplest tasks – what I got right was almost fluke and based on winging it. And it’s only so long you can get by in that way, sooner or later the wheels will come off the bus. I’ve beaten myself up plenty for not using this past year (when I’ve been sober) to pull it all together and I don’t actually have anything resembling a valid reason for failing to do so.

Again, I’ve said it before, that in an ideal world I would have gone to them both a year ago and told them I was trying to get sober after over a decade of killing myself with booze, please have a little faith in me and I’ll put this right and be really great. Of course that’s with that wonderful thing called hindsight. And it’s not as if I didn’t want to – I had the conversation playing out in my head hundreds of times, how I’d put it and what I wanted to say. There was just one thing stopping me and it’s the one thing only hindsight could ever deliver: there was no part of me, a year ago, that believed I’d actually be able to do it. Well, you don’t need to be an alcoholic to understand the dilemma – tell the boss you’re an alcoholic trying to get sober against all odds, then fail to get sober and, well, you’re going to get fired in a hot second right? And then you’ve rendered yourself ENTIRELY unemployable and left with the end stage park bench stretch for the remainder of the race. Cue loss of all else that matters in quick succession. Eek, it all goes to show how dishonest we become when we’re in active addiction. Dishonesty is something I absolutely hate, always have. I imagine most people do and addiction is ugly like that because it forces you into a very uncomfortable corner.

But even if I didn’t ever have The Conversation with them? I had ample opportunity to just get on with Operation Get My Shit Together. I didn’t do it. I honestly have no good answers as to why. I look back on this past year and it’s been all about my recovery. I don’t like placing the blame anywhere other than at my own front door though, because I just don’t believe it CAN be placed elsewhere – lots of people go through lots of stuff and still honour their responsibilities and commitments. They get on with it. I didn’t. I don’t know why, despite really searching my mind for the answers. Maybe I felt a bit hopeless, that I’d lost my grip and slipped so far I couldn’t rescue it? Possibly. Actually, make that probably.

Anyway, that hug was the moment. Lady Boss’s take on it was correct and it felt to me like the right time to say it wasn’t “it” that fizzled, but rather ME who was fizzled for a long time. OK, OK, perhaps selfish of me to whine and point to excuses-excuses-excuses after all when in fact I was going to just own this and take it on the chin, but I didn’t even attempt to stop myself.

It did fizzle but it was all me,” I spluttered, conscious that she was in a rush, “I did want to say before but I was eyeball deep in alcoholism. I’m awake now though!” I quickly added and felt a bit silly.

That makes sense,” Lady Boss replied, lovely brown eyes all twinkly as usual and then she perked up, “oh! Let’s have lunch! I have something to show you where your view as an alcoholic might be useful!

And she was off and I felt joyful, relieved and… …really quite good. Honesty has that effect, doesn’t it? No matter what it is we share, it’s so terrible to have something to hide that even admitting to something that once filled us with heavy, thick shame can be uplifting as the weight of our shitty secrets evaporates.

Hindsight. Sneaky motherfucker, that one. Anyone reading this who’s still trapped in their addiction, take note. I’ll be straight with you though – the reason I held back for the longest time wasn’t primarily fear of what other people might think. The biggest reason for me was that “coming out” would force me to do something about it. However, we’ll get to that. My point is both are bollocks, but please don’t allow shame to be what keeps you trapped – you’ll be amazed at how loving and kind a place this world is. Truly. Maybe I’m just extremely fortunate, but I can report that not a single person I’ve told I’m an alcoholic has spat in my face or screamed at me to get out of their sight. I’d like to submit testimony that the reaction has been 100% positive and if anything I’m closer to absolutely everyone I know as a result. Figures, doesn’t it, now that I don’t have a dirty drinking habit I always have to prioritise and hide at the same time. Scariest person to tell? Dad. Reaction? Told me it made him incredibly happy to hear I’d stopped drinking.

This, you see, is the fucked up thinking our addict’s brain will have us believe for the longest time. I was also scared of telling Hubby. My crazy ass brain had me thinking he’d somehow balk at the A-word and want to leave me, that it would somehow be worse to be married to a person who is brave enough to face their demons and fight them, than a person who clearly has a problem and keeps on destroying herself. Yep, that’s what addiction does – it makes us a little mad.

Also scary to tell: other family. Reaction? Hugs and heartfelt assurances of how proud they are of me for dealing with a problem. Then friends. Reaction? Hugs, hugs and hugs. Words of encouragement but also of questions: why hadn’t I let them know before so they could have tried to help me? Go figure. And, oh, we’re all now even closer because there is that little corner of my heart that used to be closed off and boarded up but where they can all go and know they know all of me because now I let them.

Wow, I almost forgot the worst person to tell of them all! Me. Oohhh now THAT was pretty daunting. You see, there was a long list of things I was scared of and now that I have that lovely new buddy called hindsight it all seems so fucking insane. Well, it is insane. It’s madness in it’s most concentrated form.

When I drank, I was scared to get in the shower in the morning because I felt so unsteady, shaky and weak. Having coffee in the morning made me feel even dizzier. Every journey to work I knew I was over the limit still. Some days I couldn’t see properly. Each day was painful because I was so wrecked even the simplest task was overwhelmingly difficult. I avoided conversations because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep upright, never mind process things spoken to me or formulating a response. Often, I avoided going to the loo because I didn’t trust I’d be able to get there or back to my desk without collapsing. Sometimes I seriously wondered if I could hide under the other desk in the office until the worst shakes and palpitations wore off but then thought that’d be a bad place to die. I’d think this at home too, sometimes going to bed fully dressed when Hubby was away as I didn’t want Bambino to find me naked as well as dead. Dressed and dead seemed a little less terrible. I sometimes wrote notes to myself because I don’t know who I become in black-out or what that person will do. “Don’t post anything on Facebook” or “Don’t go outside“. I sometimes double locked the door and hid my own keys – from myself. Oh, I know, talk about dangerous but I think the fire scenario was the least of it actually. Holidays were like everything else just stuff that got in the way of drinking. Even family and friends – all of whom I love so dearly – I would see in a rush, impatient to get away so I could drink. Oh, drinking WITH them? Hah! Don’t be daft.

I could go on but don’t think I need to. Obviously you can see what a world of wonder and pretty rainbows I had to leave behind. This is addiction though. And at least it was all pretty familiar, just like Katie over at How I Killed Betty once described depression in this post as a dark and murky pit at the bottom of a well – there might be light at the top but the way up is long and difficult and at least you know it down here, in a way it’s more comfortable than what might wait above. Although I’ve never experienced depression, I can so relate to this because I thought why the hell would I even attempt to climb out? My addict’s brain had me convinced that not drinking would be shittier than my ever shrinking alcoholic’s world.

Now? Mm, I don’t think I need to tell you. Over a year in, the novelty still hasn’t worn off and even now I get tearful with gratitude. I wake up feeling clear headed, steady and strong. As I shower, the smell of freshly ground coffee beans and that magical java brewing finds my nostrils as I come out and dry off. I have at least two mugs of it as I put on mascara and look out over the tree tops through our livingroom window. Not a single feeling of regret at things I may have said or done but can’t remember or having to pretend I do. It’s bliss. Hubby and I get up to all the things we always did with the exception that we now also go running together. I run around the 7k loop with relative ease and it is nothing short of glorious. I wash my face before bed and use beauty products like serum and night cream. I can plan ahead and when my tomorrows become todays I do the things I set out to do. I’m no longer a slave and I have all this time. The words flow in tumbling torrents from my fingertips and I recently discovered that over this first year sober I’ve written – by way of word count, not quality! – three books’ worth. I’m no longer winging it and forever fretting over what or where something will go wrong as a result. Bambino now has a really great mum and no longer just alternating between two versions: hungover and ill tempered or drunk and over compensating. And, man! All this honesty! The freedom to just be me!

Enough said, right?

Enough is a good word. I’m Anna. I’m me. That’s enough. I’ll never be a person who thrives in big social situations and like the bull Ferdinand I’ll always be my happiest when I’m just sitting under my cork oak and smelling the flowers instead of joining in. I’m terrible at some stuff and quite great at other things. And that’s cool. Alcohol never made any difference to any of that anyway and I don’t think I ever consciously drank to get more confident anyway. I thought alcohol was glitter to be sprinkled on life. This will amuse anyone, but that not-so-rainbowy world I described was one in which I genuinely felt happy. Honestly, I did. But that’s just what my journey happened to look like and I never drank to escape bad feelings or misery, I drank because I thought it’d enhance happiness. Isn’t that just the craziest thing of all of it? I was happy, yet I poisoned myself in a way that nearly destroyed me and stole so much from me, and I am honestly amazed that I am even here.

Well. It’s all very exciting. I may never collect the Nobel Prize for Literature and obviously it won’t become any more likely until I actually write something, but the point is I’ve shed the chains and I am now able to give things a really good shot. I no longer have to fantasise about those things or just talk the talk. I may never walk the walk but I can fucking try! And why the hell not!

The time is now!

Today I’m not going to drink.