Monday in Eden

It’s Monday and it’s a good one. I say this in an attempt to convince myself I’m in my usual good mood. Hah! Pretty obvious I’m not, eh? Not in a bad mood exactly but feeling distinctly prickly and impatient, which is almost always the case when this she devil is hormonal. That bloody Eve and her fucking apple appetite – if it weren’t for her us women wouldn’t have to put up with this menstrual cycle nonsense or the pain of childbirth or any of that. I wonder how having children would have gone down in Eden though? You just collect them like you would a parcel at the Post Office? Or we’d all have rubber band vaginas that wouldn’t stretch too far or snap or tear? Bet Eden ladies would just have their rubber minkies just snapping back to perfect and tight and provide perfect bladder control even during the most relentless sneezing fit? Oh I don’t know, but then Eden also sounds like a really boring place if apples were considered such a taboo there. Yes, I’m a total delight this morning. Sorry Eve, I’m sure you did your best.

A recent conversation really got me thinking. Alcoholism and depression. Being challenged is very good for me, because I think I’m always right so I’ve really given this lots of thought over the past day. As usual, I can only speak for myself so I’ll have to start there.

I’m an alcoholic. I didn’t drink because I had a terrible childhood and I didn’t drink to cope with stress or pain or life. In fact, the times when I’ve gone through something shitty I’ve largely stayed away from alcohol because I was always terrified I’d end up feeling much worse. I had it in my head (and I don’t know where it came from) that alcohol enhances everything we feel, and so when I felt down I steered well clear of the stuff. When I look back on the past 20 years, there are two bad patches where I went through serious shit storms. Those also happen to be the two longest dry spells when I almost entirely stayed away from alcohol. It’s not a coincidence. Now I obviously know that this statement I had in my head is only half true: all alcohol does is numb and depress us, so yes, it’ll enhance how shitty or sad we feel but it can’t ever make us happier. After all, it’s a depressant so by default that just isn’t possible. It can only ever make you less happy or sadder. My number one trigger was (and is) a good mood. Booze to me was the illusion of a positive addition to life, I’ve referred to it before as glitter and that’s how I saw it when I was eyeball deep in my addiction. Crazy, isn’t it? I’d point to anything other than my BFF Sauvignon Blanc as a problem – I only saw the truth when I had no other choice and couldn’t lie to myself anymore. It was never my BFF – it was my worst enemy and it was out to kill me.

Beyond this however, I didn’t drink the way most of the people around me drink. I binge. When I start, something happens in me and I cannot stop. I either drink until there’s nothing left to drink or until I pass out – whichever happens first. And because I was really fucking awesome at being an alcoholic, I always made sure I had an ample supply. It takes over with terrifying force that I have no power over. I am powerless over alcohol and I always was.

Was I depressed? Sure – with every hangover I felt low, anxious, paranoid, vulnerable, scared and unsettled. But this was a by-product of booze when my whole system was awash with this powerful depressant. Do I feel depressed when I don’t drink? No. Sure, I have bad days and sometimes I get upset or angry about stuff as we all do, but I have never experienced depression per se. I.e. a hopeless state of feeling low and all those other things for no reason whatsoever. I’ve never cried for five hours without understanding why, which is how my friend Lopez described her depression. Another friend, Kitten, is right now battling a patch of severe depression and she is a tee-totaller. So when I refer to depression, I refer to the illness that comes from within. Not the kind we put into our system. The way I see it for me personally and my own experience is that something in my wiring means that I can’t find the off-switch when I start, and also that I am a human who got addicted to a highly addictive substance. I kind of relate to the first two parts of AA’s take on it: a physical allergy and a mental obsession. It 100% feels that way to me. AA’s third bit says it’s a spiritual malady but I just don’t know about that one. Perhaps one to explore further but it does imply pain somehow and that just wasn’t why I drank. I have never filled up that glass of wine in order to stop feeling bad about something.

But there is a link, although I don’t think this would come as news to anyone. If you ingest a depressant, you will end up feeling depressed. And alcohol is also an anaesthetic, so it would also make sense that someone might turn to it to escape depression or any other type of pain or stress.

Because I wanted to get some facts, I hopped on over to The Royal Society of Psychiatrists. This is what they say:

What is the connection between depression and alcohol?

We know that there is a connection – self-harm and suicide are much more common in people with alcohol problems. It seems that it can work in two ways:

  • you regularly drink too much including (including ‘binge drinking’) which makes you feel depressed OR
  • you drink to relieve anxiety or depression.

Either way:

  • Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.
  • Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty.
  • Life gets depressing – arguments with family or friends, trouble at work, memory and sexual problems. 

Remember what I said? I’m always right. Oh, stop! I’m KIDDING! But this does point to how I see it: if you drink a depressant, it’ll get you depressed and if you are already depressed you might be inclined to self medicate with Uncle Booze the anaesthetic. It also makes sense that it makes us more likely to become depressed, given it affects the chemical balance in our brains – depression by definition in the biological sense is, after all, a chemical imbalance in the brain. This all makes sense to me. What do you think?

I’ve heard before about the presence of alcohol in suicides, I can’t remember the figure on top of my head now…. I’m going to look it up…. Oh damn… I wanted the percentage of suicides in the UK 2017 where alcohol was present, but I’m struggling to find it strangely. So unfortunately I can’t quote it because I simply can’t remember what the percentage I’ve heard before is, but I do remember it’s a huge number. It’s sort of logical though. No matter how much you want out, taking your own life must be 1) scary as hell, and 2) hard to put in action. But when you’ve come up with a modus operandi, you still have to go through with it and what better way than calling in Uncle Booze again to numb your senses. Alcohol is perfect for that little thing called fear, which is why we’re much more likely to do stupid shit when we’re drunk. What I can find online are some other interesting facts around alcohol and suicide though.

The Samaritans tell me:

The link between alcohol misuse and suicidal behaviour is well established. The risk of suicide is up to eight times greater when someone is abusing alcohol. Alcohol can reduce people’s inhibitions enough for them to act on suicidal thoughts and it can increase impulsivity, change people’s mood and deepen their depression.

The Oxford Academic has published a paper called ‘Association Between Alcohol Misuse and Suicidal Behaviour which states as follows:

Intoxication and psychological distress

Alcohol has a biphasic effect on emotion, with low doses often ameliorating negative affect, but higher doses producing central nervous system depressant effects (Hufford, 2001). Many adults and adolescents believe alcohol can be used as a form of self-medication, but unfortunately this effect reverses itself at higher levels of intoxication (Pihl and Smith, 1983), and can precipitate suicidal behaviour. Borges et al. (2000) found that alcohol’s effects were mainly on suicidal ideation and unplanned attempts rather than planned attempts, thus lending more evidence to the theory that acute intoxication is more significant, in relation to suicide, than chronic abuse.

To me, this underlines that alcohol is, ahem, very VERY bad for us. Sorry to be flippant – these are terrifying facts. If we are not depressed it’ll hugely increase our chances of ending up there, and if we already are it will make us even more unwell and much more likely to act upon dark thoughts. It numbs our senses. Scary shit, no?

The question still remains as to whether all alcoholics are depressed. Personally, my drinking days were dark – my reasons for drinking may not have been to self medicate but Oh Ehm Gee do I know what it’s like to feel like death both inside and out the next day! Because I don’t feel that way when I don’t drink is why I’ve come to the conclusion that the low mood, anxiety and everything else I felt with my hangovers were a direct result of the alcohol. Sober Me can be in a morning grump or, like now, a little ratty because I’m hormonal, but in general I don’t feel low or any of those things. Never have. Research and studies seem to point to how alcohol gets us depressed and/or increases our risk of developing clinical depression, as well as showing evidence of alcohol and drug use as a form of self medication. I can’t, however, find anything to suggest ALL alcoholics drink to drown their sorrows. Unless of course you look at what addiction is: relieving the discomfort of the previous drinking session or hit, which may or may not take the form of a low mood. We’ve become dependent on it – physically or mentally or both. Habit also has a lot to answer for. And of course, chuck in the reasons we tell ourselves we have to drink. I fucking celebrated the neighbour’s cat’s birthday – I always found a reason to propose a toast. If there wasn’t a reason I invented one – cue aforementioned cat.

So much to make sense of I suppose. What do you think?

This is turning out to be very long, but there’s one thing I really wanted to tell you so please bear with me for a short while longer… Yesterday I was heading out for a run. I love running in the rain but not in a sky fall where it comes down so hard you can’t even see. Well, 20 or so minutes into my run, the heavens opened. I was already hormonal and in a bit of a shitty mood so I needed the endorphins going, there’s no better way to get me feeling really good than a long run. So I actually got really pissed off, or rather, disappointed because I needed that run. Muttering to myself, I stood under the nearest tree for a while and then sprinted across the fields hunched as the heavy rain whipped the shit out of me. As I got back to “our” end of the park it suddenly stopped. I was SO annoyed and completely drenched. And then I looked up and saw the most perfect rainbow and it felt like it was some higher power telling me to get some perspective. It seemed to end roughly where hubby’s gym is and that’s where he was at the time, my very own pot of (heart of) gold. I pulled myself together and felt instantly happier. It honestly made me feel all light and happy inside and as though it was a sign. Silly perhaps, but sometimes we get just what we need exactly when we need it and in that moment of hormonal aggro and being soaked to the bone, I needed a rainbow.

rainbow.jpg

Today it isn’t raining so I’ll be heading out for the full hour.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Counting Heart Beats

There’s a Swedish saying – “det blir vad man gör det till” – which roughly translates to mean that a situation will be what you make of it. I actually had a little anxiety episode last night. Classic Anna: that familiar knot in my stomach and then my mind kicks into gear and serves up all sorts of undesirable outcomes in a continuous loop that’ll play ALL night and keep me wide awake. Good news, however, is that Sober Me is a calm and rational person whose veins aren’t flowing with a powerful depressant! Without much effort I just told myself que será, será and got lost in the book I’m reading until my eyelids were heavy. My old buddy anxiety did of course spring to life the moment I turned off the light but it was freaking amazing how quickly I managed to get it to fuck off. As I felt my heart beginning to beat funny and a little too fast, I realised I could feel hubby’s heartbeat against my arm resting across his chest. So I counted his heartbeats in my head and also tried to breathe deeply and slowly. I’m too dumb to focus on two things at the same time so I had to abandon thinking about my breathing and just counted. I got to 100 and started over. I don’t think I got past 30 the second time. And that was it. I fell asleep and even though I did have slightly disturbing dreams, I had a solid night of shut-eye and woke up feeling rested and energised. Most of all though, I woke up free from the worry I felt last night.

And what was the worry cloud that appeared in my sky last night? Something sobriety related with my name attached to it appeared in hubby’s Facebook newsfeed. Now that in itself is OK, but this is a forum where I am as outspoken as I am on this blog and although I’m not hiding any of this, I’ve carefully considered how I’ve put it to various people. I haven’t seen any pressing need to get ‘alcoholic’ tattooed across my forehead or make big announcements, so it’s really just been a case of telling the people closest to me and in my immediate family and then anyone else as and when alcohol has come up really. I can’t think of anyone I’ve been in contact since I stopped drinking that I actually HAVEN’T told. Anyway. It’s ridiculous really, because I found myself worrying about PRECISELY the thing I want to take positive action to freaking banish: I worried about other people’s reaction. As in, people on Facebook I’m not even really in touch with – remember most people I actually have in my REAL life I’ve already told. So fuck that! Fuckety-fuck-fuck that. OK, it’s not quite as easy as that, even I understand that. I don’t want to hurt my son, for starters. I don’t think any 14-yearold would particularly like to have it “out there” that mum had a drinking problem, right? So obviously I need to tread carefully. But I also consider it my responsibility to show my son that mum has the cojones to stand up and speak out, as opposed to reinforce the very things I want to change by hushing it down and sweeping it under the carpet.

Someone has to be the first to say it. I’m obviously not that person because countless people have stood up and spoken out about addiction and alcohol abuse before me. What I’m saying though, is that I don’t want to be the person who looks down and hunches her shoulders to make herself invisible when it comes to this. I want to be the person who is brave enough to face the music and stand up for what I believe is right even when it means it’s fucking uncomfortable to do so. And this is NOT comfortable to talk about. Oh, the things I’d rather speak out about. How I wish that what I’m saying could be anything – ANYTHING – other than this. I mean, I don’t like drawing attention to myself as it is, so adding a bit of addiction to the mix isn’t exactly my idea of fun. No, there are a million other things I wish I could talk about, or rather, not talk about anything at all and just remain under my cork oak and smell the flowers.

One of my bonus sons (I’m lucky enough to have been blessed with two!) put something out via social media on World Mental Health Day a week or so ago. I mean, I love hubby’s sons like my own and as far as I’m concerned they shit rainbows, but the pride and admiration I felt for Bonus #1 at that moment had me tearing up. We knew of course that a few years ago when he was still at uni, he had a few episodes with panic attacks. Turns out it was a bit more to it than that and he’s been battling anxiety. His social media post basically accounted for his experience and how everyone else might just see him as a confident and outgoing bloke and how it’s hard for a young man to open up about something like this. He went on to emphasise the importance of reaching out and encouraged everyone to do so, highlighting that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and added the hashtag #manxiety. I don’t think anxiety or mental health issues are any easier for a woman than for a man, but men are still in this day and age largely brought up to be tough. Boys don’t cry and all that fucking rubbish. Anyway, that took courage to do and might not have been the easiest thing in the world for Bonus #1 to say, but it could just be that one person who really needs to see it sees it. To see someone like Bonus #1 – intelligent, confident, assertive, successful and outgoing – suffering from anxiety and really see that it’s not a matter of being weak or any such nonsense. Sometimes all it takes is for us to see that it’s someone just like us. Or someone we think really highly of, when it’s a case of can’t-believe-it-happened-to-HIM it might really have an impact. And then those old stereotypes and misconceptions can finally go where they belong: in the trash.

Addiction is of course deemed to be a disease, but unlike cancer or depression it’s something that, at some point at least, involves a choice. A cancer patient has no such choice. In recovery we are given the one thing a cancer patient wants: our life back. We have the choice – and I’m not saying it’s an easy one – to reclaim our lives. And very few, if any of us, ever drank at gunpoint. So as much as I do have a bit of first hand experience of how hopeless addiction can be and how difficult it is to break free, I feel it’s important to make the distinction or at the very least recognise why it’s not EXACTLY the same. It does require more knowledge and it does require more explanation – it’s not at ALL logical for a non-addict how addiction works and what it does, unlike perhaps cancer if we stick with the comparison. Cancer cells develop and spread regardless. But an addict puts the poison into her body. Why? Because it’s an evil thing, that’s why, and shit happens in the brain that can never be undone or removed. Well. Go read up on the subject – dopamine has a lot to answer for, my friends, and our brains light up more spectacularly than the Blitz. What I wanted to establish is that this is a complicated beast and it’s hard to talk about, and even more so because it has so much stigma and shame attached to it.

So yes, I felt a bit of an OH SHIT when I realised a post was public and had my name all over it. But this is where we come back to how things just are what you make of them. I could either panic and take down my whole Facebook account along with this blog in one frenzied swoop. OR I OWN MY SHIT. Am I supposed to be embarrassed? Dunno, I guess I am a little. It’s not the best thing in the world to cop to. Hey, check me out, I’m a raging alcoholic, woohoo! But it is what it is and if I am one more person who hides it, I’m one more person who makes sure the shame and stigma remain the same. So I made a new decision. I don’t need to be dramatic – this isn’t a gutter story, but even if I’d made it all the way there, it doesn’t need lots of choreography. It is what it is. The bigger I make it, the bigger it will seem and be. This is not all I am but it’s part of my life and it happened. It scared me and did me no good. I stopped. And then I wanted to turn my own experiences to something good. End of. No drum roll, just matter of fact.

Bambino first. Always Bambino first. We’ve had the conversation before and we’ll have it again. He gets it. But I’ll check again and then I’ll check again. No drama. It is what it is.

Do I need to make a blanket announcement? No, I fucking don’t. I’m not Beyonce and regardless of what my narcissism might make me believe, no one CARES! I’m not the freaking Queen and I don’t have a spin doctor. It is what it is. Nor do I need to apologise for making the decision to turn my alcohol abuse to something positive where I want to help others. Not one bit. It is what it is. What if someone I haven’t spoken to since “the good old days” suddenly sees that I have written something to do with addiction and sobriety? Good! First it might make them chuckle because if we haven’t spoken in a while it’ll seem very amusing indeed that Anna did that. Then they might read whatever the piece might be and discover holy fuck, she’s an alkie and she’s quit drinking. Or nowhere near as exciting as that sound – they might just think oh. Just that: oh. And then move on to the news story about plastic in our oceans, which is actually of real importance and concern.

I developed alcoholism. I used to drink a lot and now I don’t. Questions on that? Great! Let’s talk! No? Nothing strange there? Great! Enjoy your day.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Elton John and the Hardest Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I’m not going to drink.

Bambi In the Zone

OK, now where did THAT come from? Yep, still getting used to feeling what I’m feeling without anaesthesia and last night out of nowhere I’m suddenly having weird dreams and waking up with heart palpitations. I suppose you could say that when it comes to doing life now that I’m sober, I’m a little bit like Bambi on that dang ice trying to figure it all out, almost fascinated by my own lack of balance. I never find it slippery in the places I expect to and go flying at times I expect to have a good grip. In this case of a bad night, if I’d never taken the plunge in to alcoholism, perhaps it’d be nothing more than righty-oh, just a shit night and nothing else to think about. Slept badly, s’all. Instead, here I am on high alert and a little perplexed as to why my heart suddenly decides to engage in a furious tango in the small hours. One of my greatest fears is suffering mental ill health and given depression and alcoholism appear to like each others’ company, I am forever twitching those curtains in case the big D is lurking around outside, waiting to be invited to the party.

All I try to do is allow what I feel to be, well, felt. I don’t have a metal detector or a body scanner, nor do I ask to search bags – all emotions are welcome, even if they’re carrying explosives.

Do I feel low? Nope. Do I feel inexplicably sad or anxious? No, can’t say that I do. Yes, there is a restlessness and sense of frustration, impatience I guess to get STARTED. Or rather, I feel frustrated that I’m not already GOING! I want it all NOW! I’m ready to go but I don’t quite know where, all dressed up for the party but where the hell is it?! But how else could I possibly feel? I spent over a decade having to focus on just getting through the day and trust me, even since I have worked part time it’s been a freaking challenge. There just isn’t that energy to spend on the motions you go through when it takes all your might to stay upright and make it seem like you are functioning. Well, we all know now that I didn’t fucking function at ALL, but even so. Now I get that bit for free, because keeping upright isn’t difficult – I wake up feeling strong and healthy and it’d actually require more effort to stay in bed when my whole body is filled with this lust for life and wants to move, work, feel, BE. Case in point – waking early at the weekend and exhausted, jet lagged hubby mumbling I should just stay in bed and snooze with him for a while longer, but just HAVING to bounce up because I am alive. I’m ALIVE! Isn’t that just the most magnificent thing? That morning coffee, man – it still gets me feeling delirious with happiness, I swear. Well, there was no bouncing up this morning because I slept badly and my heart was being a dickhead, but even when I’m tired and it’s hard to get up I’m still light years away from what my mornings used to be. And the morning coffee still tasted like heaven.

Where am I going with this? Perhaps I’m trying to show that I’m actually going through a learning curve, that I’m learning to live again and getting used to feeling the stuff you do when you’re human. And that includes – does it? I don’t know – sleeping badly once in a while. Being sober has brought with it that I take my new, full of energy self – yes, even today because by the time I’d had my morning coffee I felt awake and ready to go – to work. Now I’m one of you! I’m there for the hours required to do a job. And it turns out that when I’m not fighting to get through the day, what I get paid for is about as challenging as pushing a pile of papers back and forth across my desk. This is, in fact, pretty much what I do. There is at least one source of my frustration. I just know I can do more, give more. I’m actually pretty awesome. Yesterday the other desk in the office had to be cleared and I sorted it all and wiped all of that corner down so it’d be clear, clean and inviting – I felt more productive than I have in years. My lovely bosses called me a star and yes, I’m very efficient with a cloth when I get in the zone, but FUCKINELL I CAN DO SO MUCH MORE!! This isn’t their fault, obviously – they are, as I say, lovely – but I need to do something because I can be a star with more than a cloth. I know I can.

Now, now, now – this is my nature. And my nature hasn’t always proved to place me in the best of situations, nor make particularly good choices. Right now I’m Bambi, slipping around in my life and working out how to do this thing. It makes me giggle as often as it makes me furrow my brow. Maybe I just need to stick with this, frustrating as it is, and allow myself to truly get well before I throw myself head first into something else. Just breathe for a while and let these positive changes happen steadily and become my new normal little by little. Hell, I’ve gone from “suicidal drinking” (yes, it’s a thing) to being sober and from struggling to stand up to getting into running again and joining the gym. Fuck me, I know I should just slow down a little and take a look around me. Let this stick. You know, just weeks into sobriety I was feeling on top of the world, much like the newly converted – I saw the light and I was in Nirvana – and I “knew” I never wanted to drink again and sink back into active addiction. I felt brave, I felt confident and I felt so fucking cocky I may as well have pranced around in a peacock headpiece for my own little carnival, steel drums and all. I was so high on excitement at feeling so good again that I think I probably expected that OK, that’s that, done, box ticked, now what? Next!

Not quite like that. Yes, it’s incredible to find yourself in sobriety and I wish everyone could feel the joy I feel now, but sobriety for me also means I now have to get used to navigating this life that’s been returned to me. It’s all positive, of course it is, but it’s still down to me to make it work, whether it’s a bad night’s sleep or discovering that my body is getting stronger when I run and work out. Dimples incorporated what she called “a LITTLE run” last time I saw her – this particular circuit consisted of running around the block and then two other exercises back at her gym that I’ve already forgotten the names of but involved getting my feet in these hanging contraptions and attempting to get my body to obey with fairly disappointing results. She ran with me and it took it out of me completely to just run (OK, fine, slowly JOG) around the block which took roughly 4 minutes – hardly a marathon, is it? – a total of just three times. Dimples chatted away merrily and there wasn’t even a hint of breathlessness or rosy cheeks beyond her usual healthy complexion. Me? I was beetroot red with sweat pouring off me, gasping for breath and unable to speak. Like with everything else right now, I have to work at it and I have to make it work. It won’t happen unless I do it over and over and push myself. I have two sessions left with Dimples and then I’ll be flying solo. With the rest there’s just me. Well, I have hubby and I have friends, but when it comes down to the wire it’s ME who has to do all of this and figure out how to do life again.

Sure, I’m over analysing a lot – in some ways I feel like a baby, wide eyed observing the colourful objects in a mobile over my cot, marvelling at shapes and patterns that I’m seeing for the first time. With this bad night’s sleep too – like when a baby suddenly is frightened by the vacuum cleaner, it’s all new and unfamiliar. And then, you learn. Little by little. Perhaps that’s what I need to focus on, just allowing all this to take the time it takes.

decision

Today I’m not going to drink.

 

 

Sandra Bullock’s Smile

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m an alcoholic.

Excuse me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Self Centered Pity Party

Holy crap – welcome, folks, to Anxietyville! It’s not a fantastic place to be but is where I have spent much of the past three nights. I’m not letting it get the better of me, and besides, a good mood is my trigger rather than feeling on edge so perhaps I’m safer than ever?

My son has a complicated relationship with his father. I don’t want to go into detail because again I don’t want to put anyone in an awkward situation if this blog ever did wind up in front of people I’m actually writing about and so I want to keep it as anonymous as I can and disguise everyone as best I can, and ideally beyond recognition. At the very least, I don’t want to air anyone else’s dirty laundry, just my own. So, suffice to say it’s been a difficult year and a half during which my heart has ached for Bambino. It would seem they are now finding their way back to each other and whilst this is freaking amazing news, it also fills me with dread because it would take so little for it all to fall apart again. I don’t think my ex-husband would disagree if I do say openly here that I’m not his favourite person and he therefore refuses to speak to me. This is OK, of course, but does make things slightly tricky if we’re now approaching a situation where we are co-parenting again. So anyway, Bambino spent the night at his dad’s for the first time since January 2017 and they had planned quality time together Monday, after which Bambino was meant to come home. I got a text in the afternoon saying he was going to stay another couple of nights.

I really have to rein myself in – this is a good thing! A really GREAT thing, even. But his text had tinges of what didn’t sound like Bambino and I had a real battle on my hands staying calm and telling myself all was well. In the end he did call me and I was reassured he was fine and it was nothing at all like the sinister scenarios that my mind cooked up. Still. My 13-yearold sends brief text messages to inform me he’s not coming home. If he stays the night at a friend’s place I won’t allow him unless I am in touch with the adult(s) in charge. OK, it’s his father, but even so, this doesn’t sit well with me but I guess I just have to suck it up. He’s coming home today, or at least that’s what he told me yesterday, and I do hope this is the start of spending time regularly at his dad’s again. A fractured relationship with a parent can fuck us up endlessly and it’s the last thing I want for my son. Says the alcoholic. But you know what I mean. This is a real test for me and I am doing my very best to let it go, hold back and focus on what’s important here. This I am obviously much better placed to do sober (just imagine what pouring wine on this would be like) and any anxiety I feel is totally irrelevant. I think it’s true what they say in AA, how us alkies are incredibly self centred – Drunk Me certainly is – and this is a fine example of a situation where I have to give myself a slap across the face and grow some balls. This is not about me or how I feel. Not one bit.

Hubby is still away and this morning I really, really missed him when I had my morning coffee. This is our little morning ritual, see. Whoever’s getting in the shower first sticks it on, by the time we’ve both showered it’s brewed and ready and we have our little morning chat on the sofa. It’s not like it’s ever been a case of agreeing to do this, it’s just what we do and this morning when I sat there on my own in my empty home I really wished hubby could have been there.

OK, that’s enough now – I’ve had my pity party, so let’s move on!

I’m really keen to put my drinking to good use. I mean, it did me no good whatsoever, so it’d seem like a waste to have fought as hard as I did to drink for no reason. Yes, being an active alcoholic is really, really tough – I know I’ve said this a hundred times, but I can’t stress it enough – and I have nothing to show for it. What I do have is the gift of sobriety that I intend to hold on to with all I have, and I feel such a strong desire to reach out and help other alcoholics who are still suffering. I know there has to be a place for me there, that perhaps I can just reach that ONE person and show that I know what it’s like to be there but also that there’s a way out. This is something I need to pursue, whilst never losing sight of the work I will have to continue to do myself to remain sober and have the life that I want.

And life really is so amazing when I don’t poison myself. No black-outs that I have to figure out like a detective, no days wasted to crippling hangovers and no alcohol induced anxiety or low moods. Now I’m just my usual delightful hurricane of emotions but sober I can bloody deal with them. Please, never let me lose sight of this, never let me lose my grip.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Guerrilla Tactics

It’s a beautiful Monday morning and London seems to be going in to that seam between summer and autumn with a freshness to the air that feels so good after the humidity of the past months. Still humid and a little muggy and I sweated a freaking ocean on my run yesterday. When I say ‘run’ I refer to the total of 12 minutes I actually jogged. Have a 10k app that is supposed to get me up to speed again. Or not speed perhaps, just get me to a state where I can chug along 10k without having to stop jogging and walk. All in good time. But yes, a gloriously beautiful morning here.

You could say that where I am right now is like the scene from Jaws, think it’s the first one with that woman swimming along and you hear the ominous music that signals the approach of Sharkie-doo with the camera shot zooming in on her from deep in the water below:

  1. Beautiful day.
  2. I feel rested, content and happy.
  3. Add feeling of additional physical wellness due to PT sessions and getting back into running.
  4. I have tomorrow off – albeit standard August procedure, not my Drunkard’s Planning.
  5. Hubby is at Heathrow about to board a flight to the States.

jaws

Oh yeah, I’m that chick in the water and Sharkie-doodle-doo is lurking in the depths below. Do I trust in strength I want to believe I have? Or do I ask for help? I didn’t fucking plan to develop alcoholism! If it had been part of the plan I wouldn’t have moved abroad, because right about now it would be really good to speak the following words:

  1. Hey Mum, I’m OK so don’t worry, but today is a tight spot for me so I’m staying with you for a few days until hubby’s back. 
  2. Dad! How’s it going? Let’s go moose spotting and don’t drop me home until after 11pm because I’ll never want to start drinking that late. 
  3. Hi there brother D, I’m sorry to do this to you but I’m not home dry yet so I’m going to camp out in your spare room. Thanks. 
  4. Cherokee, I feel a tad wobbly so would you mind babysitting me? Yep, I know, ridiculous but all I need is just your presence and we’ll have a nice time I promise.

Well. Those luxuries are far away and so I’ll just have to make do with the anchors I do have and I feel cautiously confident it’ll be fine. There are people I can reach out to here too should I need it, but it never hurts to have a plan and I do. Groceries arrive between 3 and 4pm (can’t be drunk). Window man is over at 5pm to measure everything up (can’t be bloody pissed for that, now can I?). Going for a 10k walk (not possible even with the THOUGHT of booze in my head because the only place I’ll walk then is the fucking store).

The heaviest anchor is Bambino, who is arriving back today after staying at his dad’s last night. I’ve been as open as I can with him and have explained everything except the A-word and just a couple of days ago I received a hug from him with the words “you’re doing well, Mum, I’m proud of you“. It was after I’d been for a gym session and walked back in, and I can promise you that he wasn’t referring to how many squats I’d done. My kid is over-joyed because I’ve quit drinking – if I then decide to take up knitting or train spotting he doesn’t give a honking hoot about. I don’t even think he’d care if I decided to join the circus so long as I’m sober. He might not spell it out but it was me quitting drinking that he meant and nothing else. In a way that makes me want to punch myself in the face. No 13-yearold should ever have to tell their goddamn parent they’re proud of them for not getting smashed on a daily basis anymore. But there we are, I can’t change any of that now, but what I can do is continue to show my boy that I want to be the best I can be and that I’m working hard at this. For all my failures and everything I’ve fucked up, this is my little chance to show him I can do and be better. Not even this rotten drunk would get drunk in front of Bambino now. Not behind his back either. Never again. For such a skinny little twig he is the heaviest anchor of them all.

I’ll be honest, there is no ping! in my head. I’ve felt like this every time hubby’s been away though. We talked about it last night, how I’ve felt a bit vulnerable each time he’s gone away with work but how it’s been fine in the end. Reality has never lived up to my worries beforehand. It rarely does, right? Perhaps it’s a good thing though, to worry like this? I’m going to see it that way I think, that it’s positive that I’m aware of the fact that this is really my weakest point – solitude and a good mood – and I’m just getting myself a little worked up but that the sense of vulnerability is actually serving me well. The Beast doesn’t fight fair, it’s all guerrilla and surprise tactics, but it’s always harder for it to get me when I’m anticipating an attack. The Beast would be much more likely to get me when I don’t expect it. See? I’ve got this.

I’ve been nervous before when hubby’s gone but when push has come to shove it’s actually been fine. That’s the thing with worrying. Like when I have to have a needle. It’s the size of Burj Khalifa in my head but then turns out it’s no big deal at all. Someone said that worrying is like a rocking chair: it’ll keep you occupied but won’t get you anywhere. Well, that makes worrying seem really pointless, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that when it comes to alcoholism it’s actually another tool. OK, hopefully I’ll always discover that hey, I was fine in the end and any worry I felt was totally needless, but better that than getting ambushed by a monster that doesn’t play fair.

There’s one thing I’m really determined to get right, and again hubby and I spoke about it last night. As much as it’s OK to need those around you, I can’t bloody make my sobriety hang on other people. Hubby is my bestie and I have this whole army of amazing friends and a kick-ass family, but THIS IS MY FIGHT. They can come watch and they can cheer me on and even wipe my brow and hand me a bottle of water, but I can’t remove my gloves or flee from the ring if they leave the arena. I have to keep fighting even when the whole crowd is cheering on my opponent. Go Sauvignon Blanc! Finish her! Even then I have to fight. So me being sober today has to come from me. I have to focus on that I don’t want to drink and not worry because I’m flying solo for a few short days. No, I can’t go and stay at Mum’s, nor can I have a babysitter. I just have to pull on my big girl pants and show who’s boss.

Most of all, I’m reminding myself why I don’t want to drink. I’m forcing myself to in my head list positive things that drinking would bring – there aren’t any, only lots of bad shit. Nothing else.

I’ve got this.

Today I’m not going to drink.