Turquoise Sofas and Sharks

The Pink Cloud – yep, still on it and still thinking about it. Hubby and I talked about it a bit last night and he seems to have the same view that I have, i.e. that a positive change will initially seem more amazing than perhaps a few years on. It came off the back of a letter from the Inland Revenue and hubby gasping at how much tax he paid last year. Hubby is the sensible realist in our relationship and what I bring to the mix is unwavering optimism, foolishness and rose tinted glasses. After grumpily calculating how many full time nurses he paid for last year (five) and how many years we could have shaved off the mortgage using this money (also five), I reined him in. What in God’s name are we complaining about? There we were, sitting on our turquoise sofa in our own apartment, windows boarded up because we’re having them refurbished.

  1. Turquoise sofa. It matches the colour of the sea in the New Zealand beach scene in the painting on the wall behind it. The big mirror on the other wall has bits of the same shade. See, we get to have what we want and put as many nails into the walls as we please because…….
  2. It’s OUR apartment. Only three years ago hubby was still locked in the most senseless divorce battle of the century. He quite literally had to hand every last penny over and was left with what is sometimes referred to as FUCK ALL – at the age of 49 he had to hand everything he’d ever worked for over to his ex and start over from scratch. When he moved in with us he arrived with all his earthly belongings in two car loads, this was all he had to show for having worked his whole life. It looked a little bleak but here we are and……
  3. We are having the windows refurbished because we own the place and can make any improvements we freaking like! And although we couldn’t go with double glazing, it’s pretty damn fantastic to be able to do this with money we don’t have to borrow. Apart from the mortgage, we have no debts and it’s the best feeling.

Perhaps we illustrated how it’s quite normal to initially be quite excited about something but then get used to it and just take it for granted, or worse, think it’s a bit crappy? It’d be easy to look at that letter from the tax man and get mad at how much tax they demand off hubby, when in fact hubby should do a victory dance because he has a really good salary. THAT’s what our focus should be and I’m really pissed off that for a moment there we allowed ourselves to be the twats who couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Ouch! My diamond shoes are too tight! OK, OK – I don’t pay anywhere near as much tax as hubby does and I’m sure if I did I’d perhaps also feel a bit disgusted at how much is taken away, who knows.

I do sometimes wonder though, if I’m deluded somehow. Or maybe I just inherited some of my father’s almost unbearably positive attitude. He’s extreme though – he can find the upside to any situation. If you broke your leg it’s great that it wasn’t your neck. If it was your neck then it’s awesome that you didn’t die. If you died it’s great that it was quick. If it wasn’t quick it was great that it wasn’t a REALLY terrible death, like a shark attack. …and if it was a shark attack, WOW will you just look at that magnificent creature, how amazing to see such an impressive beast up close! I’m not quite like him and I do like to have a good ol’ whinge sometimes, but in general I honestly think it takes quite a lot for me to get beaten down and feel negative about things. Part of it might be naivety, I accept that. Perhaps part of it is survival instinct, who knows. My upbringing and life to date contain no terrible stories beyond fairly normal bruises so it doesn’t come from coming away from something terrible. I mean, my joy at being sober comes from having gone through something terrible – my drinking was a nightmare that I spent many years trapped in. So that part makes perfect sense to me – how else could I possibly feel, of freaking course I feel joyful over silly little things – but even if you remove all of that, I’ve always had a fairly sunny outlook. Maybe I’m just really fortunate to be wired that way.

Whatever the answers are, I think it’s normal to get a rush of happiness when life takes a turn for the better just like it’s normal to get a bit bored or even gloomy when there are no changes at all. Perhaps if we at some point move to New Zealand, I’ll walk across to New Chums beach for the 100th time and NOT be blown away? Or find the sound of the cicadas annoying? And the mussels they serve at the Pepper Tree might after a while seem pretty standard as opposed to OH MY GOD THESE ARE SO AMAZING. After a while, names like Te Kauwhata and Whitianga might cease to strike me as magical and my mother-in-law’s lolly cake could even morph into ordinary. Actually, scrap that – her lolly cake is what dreams are made of, that won’t change even if I were to have some every fucking day of the week.

In case anyone wondered, yes, this is relevant to drinking – I’m still in what I guess you could call early recovery – as I’m trying to work out whether this joy I feel at being sober is something that’ll stop being wonderful and intense at some stage.

The place where I grew up is a good example. I don’t recall being amazed by it when I still lived there. If anything, I vaguely remember thinking it was a bit of a shit hole. That’s so offensive I am tempted to delete it – anyone who speaks of the place with anything other than reverence and wonder AND doesn’t have a framed map of the region above their bed should be shot with no questions asked in my book. I go to visit and every single time I ask myself what in God’s name I was thinking leaving a place like that. Just the nature is enough in itself to keep you there with its dense forests and all the lakes. It’s just the most beautiful place in the world, there’s just nothing like it and every single time on our drive there from the airport and come out towards the big roundabout and I see it ahead of me I feel tearful and happy. So perhaps I was blind to it because I was so used to it, and it’s now that I can no longer take it for granted that I’m so in love with it and really only see the really good things?

Anyway. I’m rambling. I don’t know where I was going with this except to say I reckon we all need a moment sometimes to rein ourselves, stop and look around us. There is usually so much to be grateful for. It’s when we lose sight of that, that we may fall off any pink clouds or become a bit meh about stuff. I’m not saying we should be like kids on Christmas morning over every last little thing because it’d be really exhausting if everyone was as crazy happy and cheerful as my dad, but you know….

Today I’m not going to drink.

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.

Bog Standard Coffee

My patch of smooth flight conditions continues. I can’t honestly say there’s been any severe turbulence, however. Don’t even think there’s anything resembling moderately bumpy either. What’s important to keep in mind though, is that when I reached what I consider MY rock bottom, it was after over a decade of trying in vain to control something I am powerless over. By this I mean that I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I just woke up one morning, decided to stop drinking and that was that! The road leading up to that moment was long and really, really shitty. If I look back on these now 269 days of sobriety, yes, they have been mostly sunny as far as staying sober goes – I’ve not found it hard not to drink. Yes, a few close shaves, but I can’t for a moment look you in the eye and say it’s been a struggle. It would appear I set up camp on the Pink Cloud pretty quickly, but that was ME and and it only happened after many, many years of extremely heavy drinking.

My rock bottom wasn’t losing my child or husband or family or friends. It wasn’t losing my job or failing to pay rent because I spent all my money on booze. I didn’t drink in the mornings (well – not that many in the grand scheme of things, morning drinking hadn’t become part of my habit) or turned up drunk to work. Nor did I get behind the wheel drunk or neglected by child in a way that meant his basic needs weren’t met. Oh, it was bad enough! It was PLENTY bad! But what I’m saying is, I was lucky enough to reach my turning point before the consequences became truly devastating. Again, it was devastating enough, but it could – and would – have got so much worse. I am very lucky. I suppose an accurate way of putting it would be that I finally really saw where I was headed, that I realised that I was hurtling towards a really shitty, harrowing, indescribably awful rock bottom. I got a glance at it and it didn’t just scare me shitless, it made something inside me click. This, in combination with understanding how my view of what alcohol is and does was an illusion, allowed the pieces to slowly begin to fall into place. I didn’t want to. After wanting to stop (or moderate, rather – I wanted to be able to control it, not STOP stop) for so long, I just knew I didn’t WANT to drink anymore. This is very different to wanting to stop yet still also wanting to drink. If you no longer want to drink, stopping isn’t as hard. Or wasn’t for me.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to stopping and I believe it’s different for everyone. On this blog I can obviously only share what’s true for me. It’s something I’ll no doubt come back to time and time again.

When it comes to my sobriety, and in particular these patches like now when drinking couldn’t be further from my mind, is that I never want to allow myself to forget what came before 23rd January 2018. One of the numerous books I’ve read is ‘Alcohol Explained’ by William Porter. Like many other books I’m devouring I particularly like it because it breaks drinking down by really looking at what happens in the mind as well as the body, and thus offering – as the title suggests – an explanation of how we develop an addiction to alcohol. One of the recent chapters I read talks about how our memory fades, which of course is a universal fact – this happens with regards to everything we experience with time. But as human beings, we are actually wired to retain positive memories more than negative ones. This, presumably, is why we can fall back into drinking even after years of being sober – partly due to having forgotten how bad it really was I assume. This in turn goes to explain why we are more likely to stay sober only after hitting rock bottom (or, what rock bottom is for US rather – it doesn’t look the same for everyone, does it?) because the worse the memories, the harder it’ll be for our brains to fully bury them. Something along those lines. I don’t have it in front of me so can’t quote, besides, it was a long section anyway.

In the past, when I’ve fought with the Beast, I never managed to convince myself it was bad enough to stop drinking. I just needed to cut down or learn to moderate. Well, you know that old chestnut, eh? Right NOW in this moment of my life, I can’t think of a single thing that’d make me want to drink – honest to God. But what if, a bit further down the line, the horrors of the depths of alcoholism I sank to fade to the point where I can’t clearly recall how bad it was and felt? Or how you sometimes hear people tell you how they kind of felt “hey, I’ve been sober X years now, just this once won’t hurt” and then it went fucking Armageddon again. That scares me. It scares me and saddens me and makes me feel so full of sorrow and angst to not be able to say I know for a fact that I’ll always stay sober. I can’t guarantee it. I threw my life away before. Right now I’m happy and grateful and love my life, almost like I’ve been locked up for years and years and enjoying being free. That’s actually a pretty good analogy because I feel like that’s happened. I feel free. But what happens when this has just all become normal? When enjoying my morning coffee is just knocking back a bog standard cup of fucking coffee and no longer a moment I savor and feel joyous over after years of being unable to?

Well. I’ll just have to stay honest, humble and never forget that I will always have to work at this. I can’t take it for granted. No, it’s not a struggle, at least not right now. But as another blogger put it (and I can’t remember who, unfortunately): I’ve forced my addiction into a cage but I have to remember the cage isn’t locked.

Time for the weekend now and I can’t wait. Monday and Tuesday off next week and I’m looking forward to just four days with hubby and Bambino and just doing our thing. Life is sweet and I’m very, very happy. On the 23rd it’ll be nine months, another milestone to celebrate the best thing I ever did for myself and for those who love and need me.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Drunk’n’Roses

Now that a day has passed, this doesn’t seem anywhere as important now as I don’t have any assholes in my family, so my mother’s reaction when I spelled out that I consider myself an alcoholic wasn’t at all what might make for interesting reading. Then again, I’m not writing this blog to create sensational and explosive content – it’s therapeutic for me to untangle my thoughts through writing and my policy here is brutal honesty. If what I share might give a little hope to someone else like reading other people’s sobriety stories helps me, then that’s the best thing that could happen. Whilst I don’t hold back, I do try hard to stick to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I don’t want to make anything seem harsher than it was for dramatic effect, nor do I want to make it sound as though I was in control because I wasn’t.

Do I have spectacular battle stories? No. My drinking hadn’t (yet!) landed me in the gutter and the consequences were limited largely to embarrassment and holding me back generally. I have plenty of sad, hopeless, ugly and desperate stories but I didn’t lose everything and I never failed to pay a bill because of drink. But I also don’t want to smooth things over or make anything look “better” than it actually was. It’s a tricker balance than you might think! I was in many ways what you might call a functioning alcoholic, at the same time as there was nothing ‘functioning’ about it. I drank to dangerous levels and had I not stopped I believe the slope might have got much steeper quite quickly. I never drank in the mornings and in some ways I think nooooo that would never have been me but that window between waking up and taking the first drink does shrink. Slowly at first perhaps, but it only ever goes in the one direction. What I can say is that I know for certain that if I’d continued I would have landed in hospital or worse – it was only a matter of time.

Bottom line is that I had to get sober and I reached a point where I’d had enough. Sobriety has given me my life back and I’m now the ridiculous numpty who gets tearful at the sunrise and feels a little like she cheated death. No joke. I genuinely spend my days feeling a sense of gratitude I can’t put into words. Oh, here we go, I’m welling up because I am SO looking forward to getting home today. I’m looking forward to going for a run and I’m going to see if I can make myself keep going the whole way around the 8k loop in the park. I managed 6.7k Sunday night and my fastest kilometre took 6.13 minutes! This is by no means fast but for ME, right NOW it’s fucking awesome and I couldn’t quite believe it. And I’m itching to get out on the park. I feel restless and it’s like I’m vibrating, I just want to go! Realising just then that I’m filled with anticipation and actual excitement and that it’s going for a run that I’m looking forward to is fucking huge. I’ve got this feeling, it’s in my bones… This is almost precisely how I used to feel when the Beast had me in its grip and I was desperate to get to the end of the work day so I could drink.

I literally just realised, it dawned on me just as I was writing it. Amazing. And enough to feel so grateful that happy tears are gathering in my eyes. Big moment for Anna.

OK. Get a grip, woman!

Mum. That’s where I was going. Talking about wanting to convey an accurate picture of my drinking does tie into this because I think for many of us the term “alcoholism” immediately gives a certain impression. I’ve mentioned before that Mum doesn’t like uncomfortable topics. She just can’t bear anything that’s painful, awkward, too raw or difficult. She literally walks off if a conversation starts to get even the tiniest bit heated. She gets up and leaves the room. Mum is Little Miss Perfect, you see. Everything is cute and roses and rainbows and in perfect order. Wipe, rub, polish – there! Now it’s pretty and shiny and perfect again. I don’t think it’s a case of denial or that she feels bad inside, I just think she’s sensitive and therefore prefers to close down anything that gets a little icky. And I love her just the way she is – she’s an amazing, extraordinary, strong and wonderful woman, and there is nothing about her that is shallow, even though the above might make it seem that way. Mum just finds it really hard to confront difficult stuff.

Alcoholism and addiction = difficult stuff.

Make no mistake – Mum knows full well that I had a serious drinking problem, as does everyone in my family I reckon. She has seen me outrageously drunk and out of control more than once so to suggest she didn’t know I’m a raging alcoholic would be ridiculous. I laid it out for her and also my Dad, but as I’ve told you previously I kept it gentle: when I stopped drinking I told them it was because I can’t control it, it’s too much and too often, and when I start I can’t stop. That is, of course, how many of us might define alcoholism so I deem it to be completely truthful, but I didn’t spell out the A-word because I knew she’d find it uncomfortable. And when I did spell it out this Sunday just gone, she did get uncomfortable. But here’s what strength is: she was uncomfortable but she didn’t walk away. That shit takes serious cojones and my little sweetpea mother can be freaking Herkules when she needs to be. So when her eldest spelled out to her that she’s an alcoholic she stayed in the moment and acknowledged it. Kudos to Mum.

Hm. Her youngest is about to get her doctorate and her eldest is a drunk. Interesting autumn for Mum, this.

I haven’t wanted to put the label out there because it’s uncomfortable,” I began.

Oh, you don’t need to,” Mum replied and there was a tinge of awkwardness in her voice, I could tell I’d immediately placed her in the sort of situation she finds awkward as fuck.

I’m not uncomfortable with it though, I’ve been more worried that it would upset you.

No one is upset, Anna, there is nothing to be upset about,” her voice still betraying a little tension but I knew she meant it.

Well, it’s the A-word but I know you already know all of this.

Yes, I do,” she said softly and now I could actually detect a smile.

You know when you have something terrible to get off your chest, something that’ll require all your might to say, and you work yourself up to a complete ball of stress and anxiety because you expect a terrible reaction. Instead, the person you’re offloading to just gives you a sympathetic smile, squeezes your hand and tells you they knew all along and that it’s all going to be OK. It was like that.

I’m an alcoholic.

Mm.

I’ve worried it might worry you because all the stuff that the word carries with it, but this is only positive. It’s changed my life so saying it out loud is for me a really great thing and the point where this turns into a happy story so I’m just really keen that none of you feel bad,” I stammered, wanting to encapsulate everything in just a few words but being unable to.

You don’t need to explain to anyone and no one here feels bad,” she reassured me.

I took a few seconds to weigh my words, knowing I might only have her for a couple more minutes before she’d need to walk away from this for now. My roses and rainbows mother had already bent herself out of shape sticking with it this far so I didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable than necessary.

I’m potentially taking on a little writing assignment, and what I also haven’t told you is that I’m working towards finding a place in recovery services,” I began and now it definitely approached being a bridge too far, which I knew it would, “I feel so passionately that we need to shine a light on this, that there are so many Annas out there who might right now be trapped and can’t see a way out, so perhaps I need to be one of the people who stand up and speak out, use my own experience to help others and make a difference.

Well, you have to really consider is that you have a son who is at a sensitive age,” Mum said and now the tension was back, “it might be better to keep it to yourself.

I had already pushed her too far out of her comfort zone – well, to what degree is hearing your child say they’re an alcoholic ever comfortable?! – so didn’t want to go much further.

He’s seen and he understands though. So I can sweep it under the rug or I can make a stand and show him I may have fucked up but I am turning it into something positive.

I’d lost her now though.

We don’t have to decide that now. It’s all good,” she said a little impatiently, adding “Well! I’m going to hit the sofa now and watch….” and there she lost me as she mentioned some British series I’m not interested in.

So that was coming out PROPERLY to Mum and spelling it out. Not traumatic, not negative. I suppose one thing to remember is that she’s not of this over sharing, Instagramming generation. She grew up in a world where one kept one’s dirty laundry to oneself and kept up appearances no matter what went on behind closed doors. Mum also lives in the small town where I grew up, where everyone knows everyone and everyone is in everyone else’s business – just as it tends to be in smaller towns. So that combined with having a daughter who is openly declaring herself to be an alcoholic isn’t particularly comfortable. I have no doubt her first concern is her grandson, Bambino, but I also think it would potentially cause embarrassment – even shame – for her and the rest of my family too. I don’t know, but this is what I will always have to try to balance now.

It’s an infuriating Catch 22, actually! I feel so strongly that sometimes we have to, no matter how uncomfortable and embarrassing it is, be the first to speak up and be real, and hiding or keeping it to myself I feel only contributes to the anonymous approach that I actually think makes it harder to confront our issues. Yet it might hurt those I love if I say it loud and proud – nothing would ever be worth that level of collateral damage. ARGH! Answers on a postcard, please. I suspect a gentle approach is good for now though and I don’t need to go and get a personalised number plate with DRUNK4RD right this minute.

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.

Gutsy Assumptions and Waffle

I won’t lie – there was part of me that hoped (fine – believed) that I’d come away from today’s meeting with a clearer path ahead and some paid hours for whatever bit-jobs the rehab centre might offer. What I come away with is something much more positive that further reinforces some of the things sobriety has been teaching me all along: 1) work is required, 2) easy does it, and 3) progress not perfection. Whilst that might all sound a little muddled, those are probably the most important lessons I’ve learned over these eight months – EIGHT MONTHS!!!!! – I’ve been sober.

OK, let’s stop right there and please can I have a huge hallelujah because I hit eight months this last Sunday, all together now: HALLELUJAH! It’s my blog and I brag if I want to. There, done – patting myself on the back and smiling smugly – and let’s move on.

Back to the task at hand, which is to stay sober and recover who I am meant to be and do all I can to become the very best version of me. Going to see the manager and one of the senior recovery workers at this rehab is part of all of that as I work out whether my little place in this world might be to pay it forward. As I told them during our conversation, I wonder if this is a very natural part of getting sober. Every goddamn morning when I have my coffee I’m filled with such gratitude for feeling healthy and strong – or free from crippling hangovers, rather – that it makes me tearful. Yes, it’d seem that Sober Me is the kind of unbearable twat who will watch the sunrise and cry tears of joy. I cringe just writing that, but it’s true and no wonder! I feel like I imagine that paralysed dude did when Jesus told him to take his bed and go – suddenly he has the use of his legs again! And much like walking to him must have felt like all his dreams coming true, living without drinking and all the crap it brings is for me nothing short of a miracle. So yes, morning coffee and sunrises do strike me as wondrous and magical – every time.

Gosh, do I waffle!

Where were we? Oh yes, a natural part of getting sober! I reckon it’s probably a very natural reaction to want to pass on the gift of sobriety. All the things I wish I could have told and shown Drunk Me. I want to look after that Anna who felt so hopeless and alone in her addiction, hiding in plain sight as she struggled to hold together some semblance of a life. I feel genuinely heartbroken for those who are still trapped by their addictions and, perhaps like me at one point, don’t see a way out. Beyond all of that, the subject of addiction and how our brains get highjacked fascinates me enormously. Who knows, perhaps when I’ve been sober eight years – gutsy assumption, eh! – it’ll be a different story and I’ll find myself doing something completely different altogether, but all I have is NOW and this feels right. But this is where these sobriety lessons I mentioned earlier come in and Full Throttle Anna – my default setting drunk OR sober – has to switch gears and accept that hey, easy does it. This is in absolute conflict with every fibre of my being and it’s so fucking good for me for that very reason. Slow down, girl. It’s early days. Get that hobbit foot in the door, peek in through the gap. You don’t even know what’s in there, easy now and take it as it comes.

I’ve plunged head first into this, that and what-the-fuck all my life – packed one thing in and thrown myself into the next without much thought except wanting to get away from the last one – and in sobriety I’m suddenly discovering that it’s not the world that has to adapt to me, it’s the other freaking way around. What the hell is up with THAT? I thought the deal was that it’s all about me, me, ME?? Jeez.

Take running. Just a few weeks ago, running for just three minutes was pure torture and the first time the app told me to run for five minutes at a time (it’s a running app that builds up to 10k) I didn’t manage to do it the first time. Gasping for air, I had to stop and walk as I only managed four minutes. Full Throttle Anna obviously expected to be Mo Farah from the word go and it turned out I wasn’t, because even Mo fucking Farah didn’t win any gold medals without effort and it turns out I’m only human too. Anyway. Then last week, a couple of days before my brother and nephews arrived, the app told me to warm up for five minutes and then run for 25 whole minutes in one go. AND I DID. And fuck me, it felt GOOD! For the first time in years, I experienced that amazing feeling again when it feels good to run. I was knackered towards the end, but there was definitely a bit there during the first half of it when it was pure enjoyment. And it’s because I’m working at it. I’m building up little by little. The gym is a shit storm every time and God knows if I’ll ever enjoy it, but the running is beginning to feel really, really good. I can tell my body is getting stronger – because I’ve worked at it and I continue to do so.

That’s the key to everything now: I have to work at it. My sobriety and running are two examples – both fairly new and I’m not about to proclaim myself a sobriety guru any more than I’m ready to run the New York marathon. One step at a time, though. And why not aim high? Ambitions aren’t the same as arrogance. I may be on the Pink Cloud still and I do feel quite confident (simply because I don’t want to drink) but don’t take that to mean I believe I have this sussed – I’m forever glancing over my shoulder. And it’ll forever mean work. This thing too, about potentially finding a place where I can prove myself useful within the field of addiction and recovery. Work. And work. And then work. That may sound like a hard slog but don’t forget that with it I get sunrises that make me tearful and feeling good when I run.

So here we are and easy does it. First off, I need a year of sobriety under my belt. This makes sense for lots of reasons, not least because the longer we remain sober the less likely we are to fall back (the brain pathways end up doing lots of clever stuff in the first year or so, which also helps strengthen our resolve) but also I suspect a year does show commitment and a good amount of…. ..yep – work. I guess it’s sort of proving ourselves. I mean, stopping drinking isn’t all that bad. It’s the staying stopped that’s the real bitch and you need a decent stretch of sobriety to gauge how you’re doing so I suppose a year does seem like a sensible goal post initially. Secondly, it’s also a matter of me working out where I’ll fit in (or indeed, if I’ll fit in at all!) and so it looks as though the best place to start is by volunteering. Now that I don’t have any drinking to lie about, hide and maintain, I stuck with the honest approach and outlined what I consider realistic to give and that would at a glance be afternoons after work and the odd Saturday. Every other Saturday perhaps. It’d be silly to over promise, and I’m not willing to compromise too much time with hubby and Bambino. I need to get a DBS check but that’s a formality I suppose and I don’t have a criminal record so should be straight forward, and then we’ll go from there. Where or what I’m sure will become clear eventually. And that’s cool.

I feel hopeful. I’m going in to this for the right reasons and I’m willing to do the work. I’m still me and always will be, so absolutely there is part of me who wants to either have it all now or at least have a clear outline so I’ll at least know WHEN I’ll have it all, but strangely I’m finding that Sober Me is actually very, very OK with this. The reason? Perhaps it’s because Sober Me is discovering that those things we have to work for are worth so much more. Even more shocking, Sober Me seems to enjoy having to work to get what she wants. Fuckinell, this is worse than the fucking tears at the fucking sunrise, what’s the world coming to??! You know, I would always have told you I was good at the sprint but not the marathon (and I think this is always going to be true to some extent) but then Sober Me showed up and it turns out I’m learning to like the continuous effort of working towards a goal. Or working to maintain something that is valuable – like my sobriety.

When I was told about the one year of sobriety they like to see before taking people on, I wanted to say “OK, great, see you then“, smile arrogantly in a David Brent-esque manner, give them a wink and a hand gesture illustrating double barrels, but I’m not THAT cocky. I don’t take a single day sober for granted because whilst drinking to me right now is still as appealing as eating dog shit, I also know that addiction is a fucking sly and cunning beast that I’ll never be safe from. Not completely anyway. I forced that beast into a cage but it doesn’t have a lock and I can never forget that, nor look away for too long. So I feel HOPEFUL I will get to the 23rd January next year and be able to say I’m one year sober. I hope I will. Wouldn’t that be something?

Easy does it. Frustrates the fuck out of me, but does me a world of good.

Today I’m not going to drink.

work

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 Värmland 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.