Disneyland Super Mama

Every so often in recovery and sobriety groups I am part of, someone will put to the rest of us that they feel out of sorts. It’s anything from emotionally frazzled and low to moody and full of anger. Someone recently told us how she one evening just felt out of control and had lost her temper for no real reason at her husband and kids. This is of course the absolute beauty of the tribe – we can throw anything out there that worries us and others will immediately offer their own perspectives and experiences. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it struck me recently how we perhaps in some ways expect sobriety to be the answer to everything. Do we on some level perhaps expect that now we’ve rid ourselves from this harmful thing we were caught up in, we’ll be perfect and serene beings who will always respond to any given situation in a textbook way? I can’t speak for anyone else but I think this is to some extent true for me.

Recovering from ANY addiction will inevitably mean we’ll go through at least some abstinence discomfort. With alcohol being a depressant it’s more often than not a very low mood and heaps of anxiety, and obviously in severe cases there is the risk of really quite dangerous physical withdrawal too. I can’t on top of my head remember the actual facts and figures, but I think it’s something along of the lines of ten days until the body (and mind I suppose) has fully expunged all traces of booze. I suspect it’s also highly individual but what I’m getting at is that I reckon most of us accept that INITIALLY we’ll be affected by these withdrawal symptoms. But then what? If it were as simple as just fighting through a relatively short amount of time to emerge on the other side and beautifully sober, then the world of recovery would look very different. Well, I guess it wouldn’t really exist because there’d be no need for it. No rehabs, no support, no tribe. I’m stating the obvious, I know, but it’s worth remembering: the hard part of recovery isn’t stopping. It’s staying stopped.

Can you tell, by the way, that I’m trying really hard to keep my sentences shorter? My natural writing style is to compose paragraph long sentences that no human would have the lung capacity to read out loud. Fun aside, I thought. I’m trying to be the best version of me. Yay!

Staying stopped. This goes back to the reasons why we drank in the first place. For me, alcohol was something I thought added extra sparkle and made life even better. Obviously not true whatsoever and now the idea strikes me as preposterous, but then it’s always easy to be a smart-arse with hindsight. So, anyway, in my case this means being aware of the times when my alcoholic brain is more likely to try to trip me up and for me this is basically a good mood. It’s hard to call it a negative thing that I’m generally a very cheerful person but that is my biggest trigger. It’s when I feel energised, excited and happy that I get the urge. Sure, it’s not often now but it’s important for me to keep my eye on it and I imagine I’ll always have to.

A common reason to drink among alcoholics that I often hear is that many people drank to numb their emotions. Booze is an anaesthetic so naturally if you drink you numb yourself and this includes numbing what you’re feeling too. I mean, how often do we not hear people (alcoholics AND non-alcoholics) say “I need a drink” when they are stressed out or have had a tough day? Even my mother who very rarely drinks, and when she does it’s quite literally half a glass of wine, might mutter “I need something stronger than coffee” to illustrate that alcohol is used to relax us. And then of course you have people who rely on alcohol for this very reason from the person who might un-wind with a glass of wine (just the one!) each night right across the spectrum to the severely depressed individual who desperately drinks to get away from feelings they can’t handle. Sobriety means we feel all our emotions fully, so imagine if you drank to cope. It’d be like living with extreme migraine without medication. For many people who abuse alcohol, alcohol is precisely that: self-medication. Many, many other addictions fall into the same category.

But what of the woman, in this case, who wondered if being in a stinking mood and losing her rag at her family for no apparent reason was a normal part of recovery? Who knows, right? As anyone who’s ever had a hangover will probably agree, we’re quite likely to be more grouchy the day after. And perhaps this was her day one or within that time span when alcohol is still exiting the body. So sure, it’s entirely possible I suppose. If this was the case, then perhaps withdrawing from alcohol was indeed a contributing factor to her lousy mood. Indeed, even if it was WAY after the last traces of alcohol and its effects on us were gone, it’d be quite normal to get ratty and unreasonably stressed if our usual go-to for stress relief has been taken away from us. So in some ways, if this was the case for her, perhaps this is 100% down to having stopped drinking. Perhaps she’d been calmer and kinder in this moment if she’d been able to get the relief she’d normally get from booze?

This is the thing though. Without the booze, we get to navigate life on life’s own terms and that means without anaesthetic. What I have come to understand is true for me, is that I can be a stressy, anxious, impatient, grouchy BITCH and it’s nothing to do with anything other than…. ME. Bad moods happen. Bad shit happens. And sometimes I respond to things in a way that isn’t at all calm or rational. Sometimes I lose the plot spectacularly. And guess what? That’s OK. It’s called being a human being. I’m Anna. I have lots of good qualities and lots of bad ones too. It’s nothing to do with alcoholism – we all have good and bad traits. Point is though, we need to accept all of that and wear our big girl pants. You fucked up? Lost your temper too quickly and yelled at your kid? Congratulations! You’re human. Now apologise and move on. No big deal, c’est la vie.

Sometimes I’m sure it IS the fact that being without something we were addicted to that’s making us bad tempered because we can’t turn to the thing we used to for calming ourselves down, but sometimes we might just have to accept that it’s completely normal – yes! NORMAL! – to be in a bad mood. I wonder if it’s actually detrimental to our recovery to get so hung up on every last little thing we feel and immediately point to alcoholism as the cause. So many times in AA meetings people would say “I always had the ism, then I added alcohol” and similar. What fucking ism? You’re human! Spend less time with Narcissus for crying out loud! Sometimes maybe, just maybe, you’re just in a shitty mood and act like a fucktard because you’re a fallible human being. Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I’m a very emotional creature, it’s just who I am and it’s got nothing to do with alcohol whatsoever. Perhaps it made me more likely to get in trouble with booze – now THAT I accept as it makes sense that those of us who experience the feels may be more likely to reach for an anaesthetic – but I wasn’t born an alcoholic. I don’t believe anyone is. I think we’re all human and some of us got addicted to – news flash – a highly addictive substance. Shock horror.

In a way I think I just expected everything to get all Disneyland when I removed alcohol from my life. I’m very fortunate and there are no big clouds in my sky beyond what could only be described as the very normal trials and tribulations of life. Perhaps for that reason I just naively assumed that without poisoning myself I’d turn into a supercharged godlike version of me who would be as serene as the Dalai fucking Lama in every situation. That I’d suddenly go into high gear and become an over achiever. That I’d within months of quitting drinking would become a fitness fanatic and have the beach body to end all beach bodies. That I’d wear down the keyboard on my laptop from typing one bestselling novel after the next and only take a break to collect the Nobel Prize for Literature. That I’d be a perfect and patient cupcake baking super mama. That I’d be the wife of my husband’s dreams, iron all his shirts and ALWAYS be horny. And so on – you get the idea, don’t you?

Sobriety, as it turns out, isn’t a magic trick. I am still an unreasonable grump bag in the morning and, oh yeah, I still have cellulite. Huh.

For me, therefore, it’s important to understand and accept that sobriety means ONLY this: freedom from an addiction that caused me lots of harm. It doesn’t mean I’ll be serene in situations that rile me, but it means I’ll be better equipped to handle shit. Just like I’m more likely to get stressed out if I have a stonking headache. Getting rid of the booze just means I can be the best I can be, not that I’ll suddenly be perfect or display qualities I never had before. It gives me the freedom to spread my wings, but unless I have the talent, determination and grit to write an outstanding novel, no amount of clean living is going to mean I will publish a book. Alcohol stole a lot from me and it stopped me from doing a lot of things. Recovery means I am no longer shackled. It doesn’t mean everything will now just fall into my lap, but it means I am now free to give everything my best shot. But I am still Anna and even though I really like me, I’m still just human and I’m good at some things and shockingly bad at others.

Hmm… Not doing so great with those long sentences, I realise. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in one day. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to read anything out loud.

Feeling everything after years of being numb can be overwhelming. In some ways I feel like I’m learning to live all over again. But it’s almost only positive. I have discovered I can be patient and determined, that I don’t need to be the sort of person who tosses stuff aside if she doesn’t succeed at a first, half hearted and hurried attempt. I am also 100% capable of being focused, which is quite a lovely surprise. It’s all new and it’s mostly good. I love how my life is turning out. Drinking was like being trapped under a heavy, wet blanket. Sobriety feels like I now get to be me. For real. Bad moods, cellulite and everything else that this means.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Smug Hippies

Help me. I honestly don’t know how to handle this one. Advice needed. Nothing awful, promise, just very important to get right. Have I mentioned that I wish I could have shown Drunk Me how wonderful it is to be Sober Me? How I often wish I could speak to Anna of, say, ten years ago and find some magic words that’d somehow flick a switch in her brain? WHAT ARE THOSE WORDS? And what is it that I can do, if someone I care about actually speaks those words “I need to stop drinking”?

I’ve called her Poppy on this blog in the past and she is someone I love to pieces. She frustrates the hell out of me, actually, because she’s such an amazing person – I honestly don’t know anyone kinder, more caring or loving than she is – and I sometimes feel wine robs her of so much. Silly situations she seems to get herself into, awful people that take advantage of her gentle nature and low moods further exacerbated by alcohol. Actually, I’m not going to wrap it in cotton wool – I love Poppy to bits and it pisses me off to see her trip herself up. I was keeping this to myself having promised myself to never preach the gospel of sobriety to anyone unless they specifically asked to hear it. When I was eyeball deep in active alcoholism, words of warning or even pleas for me to stop would – except for maybe the last two or three years – have achieved the opposite effect: I would have distanced myself from the people in question, possibly been utterly insulted and outraged at their audacity, then gone on my merry messy way. What do I mean by “except the last two or three years”? Simply that towards the end of my drinking I was so fed up with it but just didn’t see a way out, that had I been confronted I think I would probably have broken down with relief and gratefully surrendered.

Anyway. When Poppy and I spoke yesterday, she told me she’s proud of me for getting sober. And then came a question that to my mind might be what sales people might refer to as a buying signal.

When you first stopped, did you get really bad shakes?” Poppy asked.

For me to ask something like this, would mean that I secretly wanted to stop but wanted to first ascertain how crappy stopping would be. I could be wrong though. Often am, as we have established many times before. I told Poppy honestly how it did worry me and how if you drink heavily like I did it can be dangerous to quit cold turkey without medical assistance, but how it was in the end just a matter of a day’s severe hangover (and of course I am a veteran so have battled through many of those before) and then a few more days before I started to feel better, but nothing physically unbearable. Of course this was a long phone conversation during which we talked about lots of other stuff too, but the buying signals (as I interpreted them) kept creeping in.

The problem is that I have no confidence and wine helps me socially,” Poppy told me, “when I have a drink I light up“.

What I first wanted to SHOUT was how bloody amazing she is in her own right, and although she and I have had lots of fun, crazy, super silly times on the juice, it’s my Poppy I love because of all the things that make her HER. That’s nothing to do with wine or however loosened up and goofy we get when we drink. How I see her and how much I admire her is totally unrelated to alcohol. Of course now, with over eight months of solid(ish) sobriety under my belt, I obviously recognise that Poppy – just like everyone and everything else in my world – is much better without booze and I don’t actually like my Poppy more when she’s drunk. I like her just the way she is. She’s better, as we all are, without any goddamn wine. But I could see what she meant and as a shy introvert I think I also used to think alcohol broke down awkward social barriers at one point.

However, there was nothing social about the way I drank, home alone with my box of wine for company as I worked towards black-out, and I told Poppy this straight up. The social aspect just isn’t true for me. I told her though, how when I first stopped I initially felt really apprehensive about two weekend breaks we already had booked: Paris for hubby’s birthday and Gothenburg in June for a Foo Fighters concert. I mean, what kind of idiotic twat goes to Paris and has diet Coke? Who declines slipping into the warm and melty veils of Sauvignon Blanc in the city of love? Or heads to a Foo concert clutching a water bottle – come on! Oh hang on… I do! And it was glorious. 2018 has been so amazing and it’s been such a busy one, packed with those things I used to think you couldn’t do sober but it turns out that not only CAN you do them, they’re so much better!! I tried my best to keep a lid on the passion I feel when expressing how my life has changed so much. When I was still drinking I’m not sure I would have been able to stomach stuff like that, much less believe a single fucking word of it – after all wine was my FRIEND, remember, who I believed made everything more fun, not less. I began to tell Poppy how almost every morning I find myself feeling almost tearful with such intense gratitude and joy to have my life given back to me, but caught myself and instead just stated in more measured tones how I don’t miss always being hungover. No one likes an over excited preacher, plus I sometimes hear myself and want to vomit a little so God knows how I come across to other people. As I said, had Drunk Me been faced with Sober Me it may very well have turned into a punch-up with Drunk Me giving smug, tree-hugging Sober Me a good pummeling.

Although AA wasn’t quite right for me, there are many things I do whole heartedly agree with and one is that the only person who can determine if you have a drinking problem is you. Actually, I don’t know if I agree now that I think of it. What I do believe however is that very few people can successfully become sober until they truly want to stop drinking. I don’t want to be, and nor do I think I should be, the person telling another whether they should drink or not drink. Perhaps I went a little over board when I emphasised to Poppy that I don’t believe she’s anywhere near as bad as I was – yes, if she wants to hear how I’m finding sobriety I’ll bleat on until the cows come home, but I really don’t want to ram it down her throat unsolicited and I want to always make sure I just share MY view, MY perspective and MY experience. Never suggest similarities – if there are any, that’s for Poppy to decide.

Poppy described how she got annoyed with someone who’d made a remark about her drinking even though she’d not finished the bottle of wine she’d opened one particular evening. Truthfully I just told her I would NEVER have been able to do that. In fact, when I was drinking I would have rather said no to drinking full stop than be faced with only one little bottle! Jeez, one bottle of wine would just about get me in the zone and we all know what happens when I get in the zone. The zone is just the spring board. So I steered it back to me and outlined in all its awfulness how I can’t stop. Can. Not. Stop. It’s full-on madness, obsession, compulsion and a raging desire that I can’t control. Again, truthfully, I told her that this is in essence the root of my problem – my inability to stop if I start – and I always used to envy those fairytale creatures who can just decide they’ve had enough and leave it. WTF – how is that even possible? Never understood it. Anyway, I explained that this is in essence how I define what an alcoholic is – one drink is too many, 20 aren’t enough – and if she can actually stop drinking when she’s started she’s in a better place than where I found myself.

But then she said it.

No, Anna, I need to stop drinking.” She paused for a second. “I really need to stop.

Part of me wished I could have just hopped in the car, driven down to the coast and swept her up in my arms. Why didn’t I? Shit, I should have. Perhaps I am to Poppy what Tumbler was to me? Tumbler being a good friend and an incredibly talented lady who also happened to be an alcoholic and drank herself to death, but who I in lucid moments asked for advice. Tumbler sank deeper than I did, and despite brave attempts to get and stay sober, alcohol won in the end. Point is, it was comforting for me to speak openly with someone who themselves drank and also Tumbler could tell me how she went about stopping. Well. I’m trying to put myself in Poppy’s shoes and that’s what I also did when we spoke. I told her I can’t decide anything for her, but if she wants to quit I think it’s a wonderful thing as I believe we’re all – regardless of what our drinking habits are – better off without booze and if there’s anything I can answer or help with please just ask. Is that enough?

It’s so easy to slip into I-want-to-save-the-world mode when you find sobriety I think. You feel like your eyes have just opened and you’re seeing the world for the first time, so you want to spread the word so everyone can experience it too. Not the right approach though, no one likes a smug hippie. Well, perhaps some do, I dunno. But I’m trying the gentle approach for now and see where it leads. I don’t think Poppy is necessarily an alcoholic like I am or that she drinks anywhere near as much as I used to, but at the same time I don’t think people who don’t feel they have an issue with alcohol would think or say that they need to stop drinking. Who knows.

I need to think about this more.

Today I’m not going to drink.

October Piggy Back

Another Monday and unlike last, it’s a good one. Last Monday was super shitty. Today is just… ..normal, I guess. I’m not in a mood in either direction, I suppose I’m in that weird space inbetween that used to be so alien to me: the middle. Not euphorically happy or devastatingly sad. Just a standard, nothing-to-report, uneventful FINE. Is this what the third gear feels like? Strictly speaking it’s not entirely true because I’d still say there is excitement in me, a sense of joy and freedom – just not overwhelmingly so. Just, sort of, life’s great! I slept badly and had weird dreams but when you don’t have a hangover, once you’ve had that shower and got some coffee inside you, it’s all good. Think I may have a cold lingering – Bambino came back from his dad’s yesterday and had a temperature. I can always tell when it’s genuine sickness – as opposed to Playstationitis – because Bambino gets all needy and cuddly when he’s poorly. He’s just not an affectionate kid, never has been. Not at all like my nephews who are all about the hugs and snuggling. Bambino will endure a hug, but he’s never, not even when he was tiny, been the kind of kid who’d nestle into my arms and stay put. When he’s unwell, he does though, and this morning I got a lovely, extended embrace, the kind when he stays in the hug for a while. He was boiling so I sent him back to bed. He’ll be an adult soon enough and can struggle through forcing himself into work when he’s unwell then.

This third gear stuff though, it’s really quite lovely. When I was drinking and all emotion was numbed, it’s a different story. I never consciously drank to numb any feelings of course, if anything I drank for the opposite reason – to enhance how I felt – but this is inevitably what happens with booze. It puts a wet blanket over everything. So to feel anything at all, everything needs to be extreme and powerful. Gentle simply can’t get to you when you’re anaesthesised. I always used to put it down to my personality, that I’m just one of those people who feels everything to extremes. This is of course true – I do! – but now I get to experience that bit between the highs and lows. Drunk Me would have scoffed at this and wondered why anyone would bother, so when I write this it suddenly seems like it might not make sobriety seem so appealing from that perspective. I was never interested in that middle bit, you see. That middle that I find myself in today: feeling fine but not ecstatic, looking forward to the gym or a run later (haven’t decided which) but nothing going on that’s explosive, extravagant or note worthy. Sure, sometimes I was really fed up and envied anyone who could be more level than I am, but ultimately I always felt grateful that what I feel I tend to feel strongly. So if I were to travel back in time and tell Drunk Me how lovely it is – lovely but not extraordinary – to just have a bog standard Monday in the hope that she might come to her senses (quite literally) and want that too, Drunk Me would have turned her nose up and poured that wine.

I just don’t know how to sell the middle except to say it’s freeing. Freedom.

But that’s half the problem, if not most of it: Drunk Me would have thought she still had reasons to drink – ceeeee-leeeee-brate good times, come on! – and if all I were to offer her were nondescript Mondays, God knows if she’d even let me finish. It would have seemed like madness to give up something I associated with fun, happiness, relaxation, madness and giggles to just get… ..ordinary. Having said that, Drunk Me was increasingly and desperately tired of waking up feeling like death. And true enough, discovering nights of solid, quality sleep and waking up clear and alert was more than enough to send me giddy with joy and gratitude almost from the word go. And I suppose that’s what’s so lovely about a day like today. I don’t need anything else today. I don’t need extraordinary to blow me away because feeling healthy and well is enough. It’s more than enough.

October is here, and of course with it goes Sober For October. Lots of people do it, some for charity and others just to give sobriety a whirl or lose a few pounds. Hubby is doing it and is abstaining until Boy #2’s birthday at the end of the month – he’s booked a father and son day and it’s a cocktail making course, but this still leaves almost four weeks. Hubby doesn’t have a drinking problem, he is one of those mythical creatures with an off-switch. He can have a beer. He can have a couple of beers. He can have five beers. Or he can have nine beers and finish off with tequila shots. But it’s his choice. I’ve seen him tipsy on occasion, full on drunk a handful of times, but I don’t think he knows what black-out is beyond what I’ve told him. He’s probably what you’d call a very average, normal drinker. A few beers here and there, wine with dinner sometimes. At a guess he has a small amount of alcohol (small to my mind being two or three drinks) perhaps three evenings per week. When we first met he tried to keep up with me but soon discovered he couldn’t function at the level I was at so he stopped trying to match me drink for drink. Still, until I stopped drinking, the years we’ve been together he drank more than he has at any other stage of his life including the messy teenage and early 20s years. Of course now that I’m not guzzling wine like there’s no tomorrow, he’s back to drinking at a level that falls well within recommended limits but he wants to lose a few pounds so is hopping on the Sober For October bandwagon. Not that he needs to, he is perfection in every way in my eyes, but I think it’s good for everyone to go sober-curious here and there.

Because he is a man and life is unfair, he’ll probably shed three or four kilos based on cutting those few beers alone, but I suspect he’ll also notice a difference in health overall. He has a fitness watch that tracks his heart rate – even at his moderate drinking levels, I’ll bet his resting heart rate will come down a tiny bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can suddenly do more at the gym and ends up finding he can run a little further and a little faster. Anyway. On the one hand I think Sober For October is a little ridiculous as it shouldn’t be a challenge if you drink like my husband. On the other, it’s a great excuse for anyone to have a go at the sober thang. Of course, it also gives a great little excuse and cover story for those of us who perhaps have a drinking problem, to piggy back on it, hide amongst “normal” drinkers and point to the challenge instead of facing questions that feel too personal. It’s a good thing.

And me? 251 days today and I am so grateful. Stopping drinking is the best decision I ever made. Yes, you can of course say that having Bambino and marrying hubby were my best decisions in life and whilst this is 100% true, without my sobriety there would be no life in the first place. Winning. That’s what sobriety is for me, with all its ordinary, bog standard Mondays and all: winning at life. Fucking awesome if you ask me.

Today I’m not going to drink.

High Fives and Potassium

Somewhere right now, this very morning, there’s a woman who is at a guess on to her second or third ready mixed gin and slimline tonic. Is she a neighbour? Or did she head to a supermarket sufficiently far away that she wouldn’t run the risk of bumping into someone she knows? Did she drink an insane amount last night and now desperate to escape the hell of a hangover? Had she even planned all this and booked today off in advance? I tried not to look because I know how those looks hurt. I went about my business as quickly as I could because I know how that shame burns inside, doing my best to appear as though it could have been fresh bagels and a pint of milk she clutched close to her chest. Four cans of two types of ready mixed gin and tonic, one a can with some pink pattern (very feminine!) that I don’t recall having seen before. No eye contact, I made sure of that to spare her the pain of human interaction but perhaps I was frightened of the emptiness and sorrow I might find there. I tried not to see, wanted to allow her invisibility because I know oh so well what it’s like to be closed off in your addiction. I know what it’s like to hand over your dirty haul to the check-out person and how it’s more painful if they are nice and friendly. Cold transaction, anonymous and invisible, eyes to the floor, fight to keep shaky hands steady to put a card to the reader, hope your presence never registered and you’re forgotten even before you leave.

It’s amazing how much you see even when you make a conscious effort not to and look away. It’s also amazing how much you can feel and how no amount of effort will afford you respite from sadness.

Damp hair combed back, face free of make-up and a gentle scent of something flowery and fresh that trailed behind her. Showered. Recognised the running tights I’ve been waiting for to hit the Sweaty Betty sales because I already have a patterned pair and they are ÂŁ95 so I can’t quite justify another pair full price. Wedding ring and a pretty impressive engagement ring capturing the light in a way her eyes didn’t. Not that any of this matters. I wouldn’t have felt more sad if she’d been wearing a fucking tiara or if her clothes had been dirty and torn. What breaks my heart is how I think she felt, how I think I might know what was going through her mind. Did she clock me? Did she notice how my eyes fell on the cans and how I immediately averted my gaze? Or was she too caught up in feeling too shamed, broken and dirty to take anything in?

I’d got my pretzels from the bakery section (creature of habit much?) and was standing by the fridge with smoothies, slightly dismayed that Gorgeous Greens was out and instead settled for a much smaller bottle of Naked Green Machine which I don’t like as much because it contains banana and I fucking hate banana. Good for you though, and during my drinking days I forced myself to eat them or drink smoothies containing them because I’d heard or read somewhere they contain potassium and this apparently helps put you right when you destroy yourself with alcohol. When I stood there was when I noticed her, she had her back to me and was surveying the chilled alcohol section and in particular the selection of small, ready mixed cans – G&T, Pimms, rum and coke, Jack Daniels with whatever mixer, etc.

Would I even have noticed or paid any attention if that hadn’t been me not so long ago? Although, to be fair, morning drinking I never QUITE fell into. Still. On the relatively few occasions that I did, it was never wine or beer – the mornings I did suffer so badly I resorted to drinking, it was… bingo…. the ready mixed gin and tonics in their pretty, pretty packaging. When you’re truly in the seventh circle of hell and feel so goddamn awful you can barely stand up, when your heart is beating so hard and fast it feels like it’s about to jump out of your chest and you’re genuinely terrified that you’ve finally gone and broken it – in that moment you need to get something in you FAST. It’s that or landing in the back of an ambulance under the guise of a “panic attack” or anything else that can be blamed on anything other than your drinking. Although it IS panic and I guess ‘attack’ is pretty accurate too. Weak people don’t become alcoholics – they don’t have the strength. It requires a serious, hard core badass to not only swallow but also hold down alcohol before breakfast. Beer is too gross in the morning and wine is too sharp. Those ready mixed, feminine, sweet, gentle G&Ts though – perfect. Sure, the alcohol content is enough to make you shudder, but if you try hard enough it’s not much worse than a Red Bull. They’re easier to hold and you need to keep them down if you’re going to be put back together again. And you can chug one of those small-ish cans down in two or three brave swigs.

Well. I think you can probably tell that this is something I remember very, very well. And whilst THAT sort of morning was in the grand scale of things for me quite rare, the shame is the same when you only put a box of wine and a bottle of soda into your basket on a Tuesday afternoon. Eyes to the floor.

I wonder now where she is and how she is. It’s a couple of hours ago. Through three by now? Race through the first in a panic and desperate but futile attempt to stop the terror, feel immediately calmer when it’s not only down but seems to stay put? Then more slowly through the second. And now the beast is waking. Four cans? Don’t make me laugh! All gone by lunch time if not before. Head out and get on the wine. Blacked out by early afternoon. Perhaps even sleep. Then back again. Twice in one day. This would have been a very extreme example for me, but it has happened and more than once. Had I not stopped this would soon have become my daily routine. That window of time between the last drink and starting again was shrinking more and more. And this isn’t where it ends. This is where you still shower. And buy Sweaty Betty gym gear. And have a marriage and a family. There are even more horrifying depths you can sink to. And you do. Without mercy and without exception. Unless you find your way out.

Or, I have it all wrong! She’d showered after hitting the gym at 6am and was just buying a smoothie. She’s going to have some friends over later. Or her husband loves G&T and she needed to get a bunch for this evening. Could be it? I could have seen something that wasn’t there, but there was something about her demeanor, her way and her eyes. Eyes to the floor. Oh well, I could be wrong. I often am.

Now I look up. I see the world around me and I wonder if it was always this way. People smile at me. Not just polite little smiles the way you politely smile when you end up having eye contact, I mean full on SMILE smiles. I think on the park there is an unspoken female code that seems to happen just by default. Pass another female runner and be met by a smile. Almost without fail. But beyond this too. On a run last week, I think it might even have been the run when I ran for 25 minutes without stopping for the first time, as I was approaching home, I passed this lady. She was in smart work clothes and looked like she’d just come off the bus and was heading home. Just before passing she gave me this SMILE smile. I smiled back as best I could through my pain and panting. Perhaps she felt the way I do when I pass someone I can tell is working really hard – when I do, I feel a real sense of “hey you, you’re doing great!” and feel happy. Perhaps it was a smile of encouragement? There was a young woman I passed probably a month ago, when I was struggling to keep jogging for more than a couple of minutes in one go. She was struggling too but I’ve never seen anyone look so determined (or pained!). Very large chick and everything wobbled and bounced but she kept at it. I gathered what little breath I could, tried to smile but it was probably a grimace and hissed “good work!” just as we were a metre away from passing, neither of us going fast and both freaking dying. “You too!” she gasped, smiled and raised her hand in a high five. GIRL POWER! Stuff like that makes me so happy. Anyway. Now that my eyes are no longer on the floor the world seems to be such a friendly, loving and kind place. It’s pretty spectacular actually.

So it makes me feel so sad when I see someone whose eyes are on the floor. I wish I could show them what they’d see if they looked up.

Today I’m not going to drink.

For the Sexy Bunch

More than once I’ve bleated on about the importance of my tribe, but it really cannot be over emphasised how valuable it’s been for me to find others who are also sober (or trying/wanting/fighting to be). There’s always a nugget of truth in other people’s stories and sometimes an absolute juggernaut of clarity that hits you in solar plexus like a meteorite. My tribe can be found here in the blogosphere, in FB sobriety groups and other sobriety “clubs”. In a FB group I’m part of someone posted the best thing I’ve seen in quite a while. This particular soberista had been on a tour to a gin distillery and had posted the below photos – I am posting them here with her permission to nick them and a promise not to make any mention of her name plus use my own words. This obviously goes without saying but we’re strictly speaking strangers so sometimes it’s reassuring to underline online etiquette. Us sober folk never out anyone other than ourselves, such is the Law of Sobriety. Besides, in all my blogging years – these past eight+ months on here and the previous decade elsewhere – I’ve never named anyone except myself, always using nicknames plus ensuring I never make anyone identifiable.

Anyway. This lady described this fancy tour in the sexy gin distillery – hey, gin really IS bringing sexy back, isn’t it? Don’t know about where you are, but here in the UK it’s currently THE drink for yoga loving, health conscious women. Oh yeah, fuck wheat grass and quinoa – hard liquor is where it’s at! That’s its current marketing target audience, it seems. Fewer calories than wine (because if we’re thin we’re better, right, so what better way than shaming us into choosing one particular drink over another?) and you should see the vast selection of tonic water you can now get – the mixer is now an entire market in itself, it’s insane! Forget tired old Schweppes – Fever Tree is where it’s all at now, heard of it? You must have! You can barely set foot in a pub here in the UK without its logo raining down on you like confetti in the shape of beer mats, garden furniture umbrellas and napkins. Anyway, it’s HUGE, and gin has made an amazing job of reinventing itself as the drink to be seen with – it helps to have sexy friends and Fever Tree has proved a perfect, sexy wing man. So this tour in the distillery was of course ramming all of that home apparently – it was sexy, cool and sophisticated and the tour guide spoke with reverence about the various stages of distillation and the TLC and expertise going into each part of the process to produce this magnificent, sexy motherfucker of a drink. Gin – the drink for the intelligent, successful and sssssssexy bunch! Yeah!

The finest ingredients, the most refined distilling process, the best qualified people to do it all and everything about it is just top fucking notch. And then they add the key ingredient. This:

Amazingly, according to the lady who posted it, the guide proudly pointed this barrel out too. It wasn’t like my sober tribe friend had sneaked away from the group and found this damning piece of evidence after breaking and entering any “staff only” or “top secret” area closed to the public and then bravely exposed them for using poison that could kill us. Oh no, in full view. Ethanol is the new black, friends! Complete with symbols to illustrate that this is a hazardous, dangerous, poisonous and highly flammable ingredient. Come on, think about it, how many things in your fridge, freezer, cupboards and larder have symbols like this? On stuff you add to things you eat or drink? Would you sprinkle a herb that had a label saying it’s flammable on to stuff you’re cooking? Never mind eat it? Serve something poisonous to your family? Encourage someone to ingest something that’s actually a dangerous substance? I mean in a non-want-to-poison-them kind of way.

She’d worded it so perfectly – it literally is one of those things you could see going viral because it hits the nail on the head so goddamn perfectly – but again, if this ever got shared it’ll be for her to do so herself, not me or anyone else. She kindly let me nick the photos, so that’s what I’ve done and so all I can do is give photo credit to a fellow sober sister. Even without her eloquent, hard hitting words, can you see what I mean though? Can you imagine the tour she was on? And in contrast with this barrel? Perhaps only a sober drunk like me will react like this. Are you one of those magical unicorn moderate drinkers? What do you see when you look at the images? Is it just a case of “well yeah, so what” or does this have a bit of an effect on you too? For me, when I saw this, it just summed up how I feel so perfectly it made my jaw drop – quite literally. I read the post with my mouth open. Awesome!

Do you know what? I realise it’s probably hugely irritating to read this if you are indeed one of the people I know in real life and who therefore would have witnessed how I used to drink. Nothing worse than double standards, is there? And here I am, an alcoholic who put away amounts of wine so staggering it’s a small wonder there’s anything left for you lot to drink at ALL! And now I’m preaching and ranting about how poisonous alcohol is! I get it – it’s enough to throw up in your mouth a little. Or a lot. But there we are. I’m sorry, not sorry – these are the things I’m beginning to see. I do want to show the same kindness, courtesy and respect I have myself been afforded by everyone around me, and therefore want to make it clear that I judge no one. I frequently enjoy going to the pub with hubby and friends and I would never start a righteous sermon or condemn anyone else’s choices. I do understand that some of you are able to handle alcohol in a way that I never could. I also accept that some of you enjoy it. It’s not for me to question any of that, so can I just be clear on that the problem drinking I refer to on this blog is my own! Gosh, I’ve enviously glanced over at you my entire adult life wishing I had an off-switch like you seem to.

Having said all of that, here’s an interesting one… If someone told me they could cure me of alcoholism, wave their magic wand over me or do a medical procedure or give me a pill, leaving me JUST LIKE YOU. Transform me into being wired the way you non-alkies are so that I could skip on over to the pub this afternoon, have a couple of beers with hubby and then go on our merry way without me then necking a couple of bottles of wine back home, instead just enjoy booze the way hubby can… Would I want that? No. Honest to God, hand on my heart, I swear on my son’s life – no. This, though, probably comes back to how I no longer have any reasons to drink because all of those did a runner on me. It doesn’t do anything for me, there’s nothing positive about it. Would I want those positive things I once THOUGHT alcohol gave me if I could have them with no consequences health- or otherwise? I.e. add to the fun, sprinkle glitter on life, make happy happier, etc. Sure! Absolutely I would! And why the hell not? But that was all in my head and in reality wine does none of those things for me, so it’s an irrelevant question.

Anyway. There is part of me that wonders if, in the future, my son will sit there with his grandchildren and tell them about a time when alcohol was legal. And not only legal, socially acceptable as well as encouraged! And his grandchildren staring at him and laughing out loud at old booze adverts glamourising alcohol. Perhaps he’ll say “Mum had a tough time with it, she made a descent into alcoholism, but fought her way out just as the tide was turning and alcohol started to become less acceptable. But you know, kids, when she quit, it was actually still the case that she had to explain why she no longer drank alcohol – can you believe it?!“. I do wonder if my son will be telling that story and whether he and his grandchildren will laugh at those insane adverts like we now look back on cigarette adverts from the 70s that attempt to make smoking sexy. Or even at how crazy it is that the soberista who shared about the gin distillery tour was also shown – by the tour guide!! – the poisonous ingredient without it seeming all that crazy to anyone that poison was added to something we’re going to put into our bodies. I wonder.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Eyeball Deep In Denial

As I continue my inventory of my past and survey my experiences and people I’ve known, I stumble across my last e-mail exchange with a friend I’ve previously referred to on here as Linda, which of course isn’t her real name. I much prefer the monikers I come up with, so from now on I’ll call her Tumbler. This is a reference to her pouring the largest amount of whisky I’ve ever seen anyone drink from a tumbler. I’m never been a whisky drinker but it’s usually a shot of, say, 25ml right? Tumbler poured aaaaaall the way to the top as you would a glass of water. Just like my glasses of wine were more like pint glasses, but THAT part I conveniently ignored and focused instead on how she poured all that whisky. Fuck me. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Our last e-mails are from April 2014. As I more and more discover is the case, my alcoholic, eyeball deep in denial brain has added its own spin on what we said to each other in terms of what was stored in my memory.

This is how my alkie brain would have me think back on it:

Tumbler tells me about two serious relapses, one during which she nearly died due to taking strong painkillers with all the booze and another where she got locked up at a psychiatric ward.

This is what is actually said and the bit that my denial has stripped from my conscious is that she, the alkie, is deeply worried about ME. I mean, what the hell? I’m FIIIIIIIINE! Someone had posted something alcohol related on my Facebook page, I think it was champagne glasses and “cheers to you!” for some reason – not sure what the context was and my birthday is in February so can’t have been that. Anyway. Tumbler had taken it upon herself to comment that I should NOT have alcohol to celebrate and also then went on to contact the person who’d posted the champagne comment (who was a mutual friend) to say she shouldn’t post stuff like that because I, Anna, was sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Now this was of course totally true! It takes one to know one, and just like I can spot a fellow problem drinker, Tumbler had sniffed me out like a blood hound. So it was me who started the exchange. It’s fascinating to read now. It makes me cringe and it makes me squirm. I was SO ready to speak with Tumbler about HER problems but was still entrenched in my stubborn denial and belief that I just binged a little too much. OK, deep down I knew – of course I did – but I pushed all of that away so deep down I was able to ignore it. And of course felt really offended that she would think I was in trouble! Perhaps I also conveniently forgot that just like she confided in me, I also confided in her and perhaps my tongue had loosened given we were both drunk during some conversations. Me in London, she in Florida.

Here it is, and I’m so ashamed of it I can barely make myself put it here, but this is the Era of Brutal Honesty. I’ve left out the irrelevant bits, where we talk about our kids and work and stuff, only leaving the booze related conversation. Read and weep!

Anna to Tumbler:

I don’t know how to interpret your comment on my Facebook, that I actually removed – I got a couple of messages asking me if I’m OK, not because of the post itself but because of your comment, kind of “what does she mean?”. So I suppose I’m asking you! 🙂 Was just wondering what you hinted at that is “off the wall” and/or what it is about me that “needs to be straightened out”?

Tumbler to Anna:

I’m surprised my comments on your Facebook are so sensitive. It also worries me as it feels as though you’re constantly trying to protect yourself from other people worrying about you. But we ARE worried about you. You have said yourself that you have no breaks.

Anna to Tumbler:

I think, hand on heart, that I’m generally sensitive to criticism which isn’t a great quality to have. My spontaneous reaction if anything is questioned, regardless how tactfully, is to get my heckles up. Well, before I have thought it through anyway. When someone asked if I was OK, I thought perhaps I’d posted something when I’ve been drunk and you’d got worried for that reason – THAT would be the only thing I’d be sensitive to. Do you see what I mean? In the moment I wondered so I asked and underlined that everything’s fine. And I don’t blame you, just so you know! After all, no breaks.

Tumbler to Anna:

I know full well that you have to hide the boozing in order not to be exposed to the wrong people, that’s what I had to do for many years. And this worry that you’ve written something on FB when drunk I also recognise fully, there’s a fear there. I am so glad I openly went out on FB about my addiction because no one can use it against me today.

But I have recently had two serious relapses. I’d been drinking one evening but felt I hadn’t had enough and because I didn’t have the energy or ability to get more alcohol I decided to munch my Oxycodone, a narcotic medication my spine doctor prescribes so I’ll be able to get to sleep. It’s for my chronic ache and I take one pill every evening. This evening I took several and it ended in me not breathing. Luckily D was at home, he’d just got back from a trip. He discovered I wasn’t breathing and did First Aid until the ambulance arrived. I have no memory of what happened between when I took the pills and waking up in the ambulance. Had to stay at hospital for three days and D was busy covering up what had happened as he had to get our staff to take my shifts. :/

Just three weeks later I’d drunk so much D ended up calling the police who took me to the psych ward. He didn’t think I’d go voluntarily and I was furious as three police officers came to get me and handcuffed me. So I was at the psych ward for three days and D had to once again ask our staff to cover my shifts as well as hiding from everyone what had actually happened. After the first day when I was battling the hangover I had a really fun time. A woman in her 60s was admitted on the Sunday, a nurse who was under too much stress and had herself decided to get admitted. She and I found each other straight away and on the Sunday evening we sat there with gossip magazines in our laps, talked about celebrities and giggled like little girls. Lol. She was sad when I was discharged quickly, which happened because I had gone with the police voluntarily. If I’d resisted, the American law concerning arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour had applied and they’d been able to keep me in for longer.

Oh well, that’s that and I’m over it. Now I feel great and working as usual. I don’t know if D is over that I stopped breathing, it must have been traumatic for him. His second wife passed away from a painkiller overdose and D was the one who found her dead. That’s what played out in his mind so it was a big shock. Truth is I would be dead now if D hadn’t been home that evening.

Just short of two weeks after this exchange, Tumbler drank herself to death on her 48th birthday. I was in contact with her husband, D, some weeks later and he confirmed it was an echo of the other episode she’d told me about and she’d again taken Oxycodone. Only this time he wasn’t around to save her. What I need to point out here is that at a party or in a bar isn’t where an alcoholic is in the most danger. We’re in the most danger when we’re home alone. 

With this, I want to show how I just refused to acknowledge my problem and my absolutely crippling fear that people would see or know. How my brain has catalogued this last exchange with Tumbler is also shocking evidence of the power of denial when you compare it with what was actually said here. Without reading through our exchange, I would have probably told you – thinking I was being honest because that’s what denial does too, it makes us believe in this alternate reality – would be that I was worried about my alkie mate. Nope. My alkie friend was worried about HER alkie friend: ME.

It’s so sad, what a waste of a life. Also heard of someone else, a boy I knew in my teens, who passed away last year. Apparently his drug and alcohol fuelled psychotic episodes had reached a point where armed police would have to chase him down. 42 at the time, leaving behind a son who must now be into his 20s. It’s so utterly tragic. Tumbler had two sons, both now in their early 30s I think. It’s hard to think about. I know Bambino will have to bury me one day, but I don’t want that to be after having found me sprawled in the hallway having choked on my own vomit. Anything other than a self inflicted death like that. If I can’t give him anything else, I want to give him a mother who discovered she could save herself and showed some strength. He deserved – like all children do – to have that all along, but I cannot change the past. I can change my path though and I hope I’ll always stay on this beautiful, sober and infinitely healthier course.

This turned very sad, which isn’t my mood today at all. In fact I’m really excited because my brother D and two of my nephews (D has four boys, four beautiful blond clones) arrive tomorrow. Due to a case of slight miscommunication – aka me not listening properly due to being too caught up in myself – it turns out hubby needs his fancy A5 Sport Audi and I will now collect my three Swedes in my battered old Mini. This will add half an hour to the journey as my car doesn’t like speeds over 60mph. Quite different in fancy Audi that is smooth and steady as a blue whale at 80mph (OK, and sometimes beyond). And comfortable too. My Mini is NOT comfortable. But hey, it’ll be fun and luckily they’ll be travelling light. I measured the boot and D reassured me they won’t have any more than can fit, which is basically a toiletry bag. Anyway. I’ve booked a bunch of stuff and can’t wait to have them over – it’s a first for my brother D (and for his sons too) who’s avoided my home town of Londres due to an intense dislike of chaos and lots of people…! Bit like his sister really – sometimes I do wonder what possessed me to desert the stillness of the nature and vast forests of VĂ€rmland for the madness of this town, but strangely it became HOME from the word go. Well, I will do my best to show D his sister’s idea of home as gently as I can without missing out on the must-see tourist parts. I don’t know how gently you can introduce Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden but I’m sure it’ll work out fine.

Sobriety has not curbed my time optimism and as usual I’d gone and planned and committed to more than today can possibly contain, including a chat with the manager at a recovery facility – unfortunately I had to cancel but was able to reschedule. It really irks me to cancel stuff now that I’m sober. ‘Cancel’ was my middle name when I was an active alcoholic and I am loathe to do it now, but I also need to accept that when there are reasons other than drinking getting in the way, cancelling on occasion is actually completely acceptable. It just really didn’t sit right with me, but again I have to remember that being sober doesn’t – and won’t ever – mean I’m always going to do everything 100% right and be perfect. It’s called LIFE.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Admiring Satan’s Ass

The sobriety section of my bookshelf is continually expanding and so far it contains bleak and often shocking tales of look-how-I-fucked-my-life-up and triumphant how-I-broke-free battle cries but most often a combination of the two. I suppose either on its own would be a pretty boring story, right? What’s so spectacular about light if it’s all you’ve ever known? Only someone who’s truly experienced darkness can convincingly preach about how magnificent life in the light truly is. And if darkness is the perpetual state of all you know and the light has never fallen on you, well that’s terrible in itself but as far as stories go that wouldn’t be particularly interesting either! Well, I think that’s how I view it because personally I find it quite uninspiring to be told how to quit smoking by someone who’s never touched a cigarette. Or listen to how great it is to be slim by someone who’s never been fat or yo-yo dieted. Darkness and light are dependent on each other and we can’t truly know one without the other, not REALLY. In my view anyway.

So here’s my boozy sobriety bookshelf to date:

Blackout: Trying to Remember the Things I Drank to Forget – Sarah Hepola

Mother’s Ruin – Nicola Barry

Drunk Mom – Jowita Bydlowska

The Easy Way to Stop Drinking – Allen Carr

Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions – Russell Brand

This Naked Mind – Annie Grace

SĂ„ Som Jag Minns Det – Mikael Persbrandt

Alcohol Lied to Me – Craig Beck

AnsvarsFULL – Camilla Kuylenstierna

Mrs D is Going Without – Lotta Dunn

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober – Catherine Gray

För Mycket Av Allt – Sanna BrĂ„ding

I’ve probably forgotten at least a couple but it gives you an idea. Personal journeys mixed with those stories that offer clear cut advice and/or instructions on how to break free from alcohol addiction. My favourites have got to be Russell Brand’s and Annie Grace’s books – this is quite funny as Brand is very much a spiritual 12-stepper and Grace is more in line with the we’ve-been-brainwashed school of thought as first pioneered by Carr. My least favourite is BrĂ„ding but now that I list both most and least favourites I discover that it seems to be a matter of who I personally like more than how much what they say resonates with me. Well. People buy people, I suppose. Plus BrĂ„ding’s story is – beyond how I find her an utterly annoying and self promoting attention seeker – probably also the one I can relate to the least. So is Persbrandt’s – these two are both Swedish actors, by the way – but I like the guy and he doesn’t seem quite so self absorbed and needy, he just puts it out there and it ain’t pretty. I don’t like it when people try to put lipstick on a pig, I wanna see that damn swine in all its gory non-glory. Just like I fucking LOVE and admire the hell out of people who own their shit even when it stinks worse than Satan’s ass.

story

I suppose my bookshelf further goes to show just how immeasurably important it has been for me to read other people’s stories, perspectives, views and experiences of alcoholism during my sober journey. I suspect I will never tire of this and luckily I will probably never run out of stories given there are countless alcoholics and all our stories are as individual as we are. That’s the law of circumstance.

And of course you have a plethora of blogs as wide and colourful as you can imagine (and then some), and I think I’ve just scratched the surface. In this sphere you find those kindred spirits I consider my comrades, those I chat with at the water cooler as we’re all slinging on our swords and shields in preparation for the day ahead. Well. Some of us are on the Pink Cloud and don’t have to swing that sword much, and some of us fight furiously from the moment we wake up and of course some of us who fall not just between those two camps but even further out on each side too. You can always be sure there are people you can learn something from and even when you hear stories that don’t look very similar to your own, you’re bound to be surprised, inspired and a little bit wiser. And sometimes sad too. Yes, AND hopeless and angry and frustrated and when you do it’s usually because you have had your own fill of it and only know it too well. I very rarely come away feeling nothing though, that’s for certain. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that’s never happened.

So there you are. Feel free to browse my ever growing book shelf and do let me know which must-reads I’ve missed out on that you have on yours. I have a life time of sobriety ahead of me so there is no problem if I end up with a reading list that in itself is long enough to be a book.

Today I’m not going to drink.