A Peaceful Day At Disneyland

Did I ever mention it’s really hard work being a drunk? I must have. Not just anyone can do it, you know – it takes some serious grit being an alcoholic. I imagine it’s less cumbersome working out how to have a peaceful day at Disneyland with 20 five-yearolds loaded on sugar than it is planning how to get through the day when you’re in active alcoholism. It’s not just all the stress of working out how to drink (where you’re getting the drink from, where and how to hide it, where and when to drink it, who to drink with and who to avoid) but also how to remain upright and somewhat able to go through the absolute minimum of motions during the day. Defer what you can, avoid anything more complicated than putting one foot in front of the other. And sometimes even that is a feat of champions, to be honest. I think the worst of it was to get through the hangovers, that painful part that were basically all the hours in the day when I didn’t drink. When I should have been living, really.

First off, I had the Hangover Kit and I’d buy these supplies usually at the same time as I picked up wine and soda:

  • Berocca (vitamin drink)
  • Resolve or Alkaseltzer (relieves headache, settles stomach)
  • Dioralyte (for rehydration – preferable to Resolve/Alkaseltzer as contains no caffeine)
  • Chewing gum (to disguise rancid wine breath)
  • Coconut water
  • Bananas

Obviously I was a seasoned drunk – a veteran, you might say – and quite often when it came to drinking I’d show signs of the organisational skills I very rarely display at work when I actually need them. Sometimes I’d have a glass of Dioralyte inbetween drinks during the drinking session itself in an attempt to rehydrate whilst dehydrating. Oh, it’s such madness! When else would I voluntarily do something really terrible to myself and simultaneously also try to mitigate the harm? It literally is like buying first a knife to repeatedly stab yourself with and picking up a medical kit to tend the wounds during the same shopping trip. FUCK ME. I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry – it actually makes me really fucking angry that I succumbed to this. But then wiser women than me have fallen before me, and wiser women than me will no doubt fall after me too. Unless I went into black-out (and let’s face it, in black-out anything can happen and I wouldn’t have a clue) I’d have a Berocca before bed too, in the pathetic hope I might feel alive in the morning.

The first step would be mixing a Berocca with Dioralyte and gulp down first thing. This was my idea of giving myself the best possible chance of surviving the day ahead. During the first half of the day I’d avoid coffee, despite morning coffee being one of my absolute favourite things in the world, because it makes me feel even weaker and dizzier when I’m hungover. Sometimes, if I had some coffee, I felt like I was swaying and vibrating – a sensation that is every bit as yucky as it sounds. I’d try to eat bananas and drink lots of coconut water – I think it was my friend Tumbler (who, incidentally and tragically drank herself to death) who advised me to ingest anything containing potassium. I recall her saying something about getting twitchy due to dehydration and something about potassium would help counter this. Save yourself convulsions really. It might all have been bullshit, the misguided and desperate attempts of us alcoholics to believe what we wanted to believe. Actually, it was the drinking that was bullshit, but I guess I wasn’t ready to accept this at the time.

I doubt any of the things in my Hangover Kit made much of a difference, actually. I think, as with many other things, much of it was in my head. Like if I knew I’d had some Dioralyte, which contains salts and minerals you typically lose when you have a stomach bug and helps you rehydrate, I’d feel calmer knowing I’d had some, thinking I had replenished some of my body’s desperately depleted defences.

Oh, God – just writing this makes me feel tired, desperate and sad and I’ve put almost one year between myself and this sorry existence. I remember it so well, though. With every word I just typed I felt all of it, perhaps it’s muscle memory and my whole body remembers exactly how it felt. Well, my body spent long enough experiencing it, so figures I guess. Good riddance. Please God, never let me lose sight of why I stopped drinking. Never let me forget. I’ll be ever so good, if you just grant me that one wish. Eek.

As for now, I’m still revelling in the realisation of how sobriety so easily puts life right at my feet. I’ve been thinking lots about what I want to do with it, this life. Don’t get me wrong, I consider the spot I’m in a pretty damn sweet one and to be honest if I never have or do anything beyond what I have or do right now, I’ll die a happy woman. Even so, now that drinking isn’t confining me to a miserable groundhog day style life of endless hangovers, why not aim a little higher? Like, you know, dreams and stuff. My little aha-moment Friday night extended to another realisation that positively made me shriek with excitement. I decided that perhaps that first book I write can be found much closer to home – here. So I printed off everything I’ve written in this past very-nearly-one-year.

The average novel is between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. When I was trying to give writing a shot four years ago, I stalled and got stuck somewhere around the 50,000-mark. It just seemed such an arduous task, such an awful amount of work and never mind editing and reshaping and reworking the whole thing over and over. As I always did when I was drinking, I fizzled out and that half baked, half completed first draft is still gathering the proverbial dust on my hard drive. I figured that if I ever decided to write about drinking and sobriety (not that I’m a sobriety ninja – I’ll forever be a work in progress on that score), perhaps there might be some stuff from this blog I could use. I doubt there’ll be anything I could just lift, but certainly plenty of material by way of subject matter (even like this when I’ve written about hangover strategies) that I might be able to knock into shape. Well. I decided to print off the whole damn thing so I can read through it all armed with some highlighters and sticky page markers. I was going to do this when I hit the one year sober anyway because I want to look back on this past year and relive it.

book

When I was done printing I had a HUGE, thick pile of paper. 400 pages of single spaced lines of words, words, words. I checked the word count. 260,000. And there it was again, sobriety placing a huge lightbulb right in front of me. Without even thinking about it and with no actual effort or having to make time, I’ve written three novels’ worth in this past year. No, no – I know, it’s just my blog musings and nothing I could ever publish, but it showed me how it’s entirely do-able to knock out this amount. Attempting to write a book is obviously a whole different process – plan the structure, fine tune the archs of the story I want to tell and craft each sentence carefully and then go over it another ten times. But still. That pile of paper containing MY words really showed something to me that I needed to see.

I can do this. I can so totally do this. I can do this because I’m sober.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Old School Jazz Legends

Mm, I get by with a little help from my friends“.

How true that is. Although when I looked up the lyrics just then I realised those naughty Liverpool boys also sing “mm, I get HIGH with a little help from my friends” too, which now makes me like this less from the perspective of quoting it in a sobriety blog. To be fair though, many of the music legends I love the most seem to have had rather serious drug addictions and you’ll have to admit the Beatles are squeaky clean compared with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin if we just look at the 60s alone. Jeez, drugs and alcohol have really extinguished the flames of some extraordinarily talented people. That saddest of lists really is endless. Just imagine where Joplin could have gone. I mean, that powerful, gravelly, wise-old-woman voice coming out of that messy looking little girl! OK, young woman, but still. Just imagine where she would have got to once she’d added more life, years, experience and grit. And this can be said of so many. In recent times there is of course the tragedy of Amy Winehouse, who even in her early twenties had a voice and song writing talent that eclipsed even the old school jazz legends – just imagine how her talent and music might have developed.

It strikes me that these are pained geniuses, that their talent and creativity are perhaps enhanced by pain. I mean, would their work be half as interesting had they been straight laced and privileged average Joes? Gosh, this sounds like I’m now saying they’re better because they were drug addicts and that’s not it at all – I just wonder if it’s their pained and tortured souls that give them depth, that’s all. Unsurprising, I guess. Just a shame that giving full rein to their musical talents wasn’t enough to process their demons and heavier anesthesia was required. Things will sooner or later turn to shit if you more than dabble with drugs. And sometimes even dabbling is enough to sign a death warrant. After all, I don’t know if a single addict deliberately set out to become one.

Gosh, I should make GET TO THE GODDAMN POINT my New Year’s resolution! Where were we? Friends!

I just read functioningguzzler‘s most recent post about hitting her 11 months sober and she’s listed 11 reasons why life sober feels like magic. And as I sat here nodding – given I can relate to everything she said as usual – I also suddenly felt super excited. FG is special to me, you see. I’ve followed her blog since just a few months into my sobriety and these days she is a friend in real life too *sniff* – she’s my very own unicorn and as far as I’m concerned she fucking shits rainbows. Beyond an amazing friendship I know will last for life, she’s also my sister in arms. We got sober around the same time and we’ve gone through all the weirdness, struggles, victories and epiphanies of early sobriety together. We’ve fought this shoulder to shoulder. When I read her post about 11 months sober I was hit by this sense of excitement, and because I’m me and an emotional hurricane, I keep having to force back tears of joy that threaten to overwhelm me. We’ll both be hitting that huge milestone around the same time – me in 19 days and FG about 10 days after that – and it’s so exciting to share this. I keep getting images in my mind about us reaching a finishing line after a grueling race together, or coming back from war. Or two women high-fiving each other because we got somewhere we probably didn’t think we’d ever be. Well, I certainly didn’t.

Sobriety and the sweet victory of reaching milestones is always ours alone, because no matter what there is no one else who can do it for you, but it’s pretty cool to cross that line with people who have been through the same journey.

Obviously it doesn’t end there. One year sober is just that: one year. And with any luck, I’ll be around for many more. If I make it to my eighties, there’ll be at least 40 more years. If I get to 86 years of age, it’ll mean the second half of my life was lived sober. WITH ANY LUCK. And work. And determination. And humility. Lots and lots of humility. Never forget, Anna, the nature of the Beast. It’s always with me because it’s inside me. So this one year will just be one small section of a life I hope I have plenty left of. Like the first kilo when you need to shed 30 I suppose – important, yes, and amazing, absolutely, but only a small part of a much bigger journey. And let’s not forget I’m not quite there yet.

A year ago, I was 11 days sober and getting to one month wasn’t at all a given – in fact, I was surprised when I did! I won’t lie, I feel a lot more confident now and my sobriety no longer feels uncertain and fragile but the road is (and always will be – it’s called LIFE!) full of pot holes that I could so easily fall into if I don’t pay attention. So pay attention I will and I hope you give me an earful if I ever appear to lose sight of the things I must keep in sharp, unwavering focus. Those things are basically my own fallacies. Pretty much how you might take care when you exercise – Hubby has a troublesome calf muscle due to an old injury and in order to keep fit he has to adjust his exercise accordingly and not head out for long runs too often and hit the gym instead as a lot of running aggravates it. Or how you adjust the radiators in your home because some rooms get colder than others. Work with what you have – it doesn’t have to stop you, it just means you have to know yourself and find the way that works. What I’ve discovered is true for me is that it’s usually something to do with balance.

As we’re on to anniversaries, today is 67 months for hubby and I. I got him a card that had on the front “I love you more than food“. They always exaggerate on those things, don’t they? So today it’s pretty sweet being me – sober AND the most amazing man in the world still appears to want to be married to me. I’m frantically doing fist pumps as I type this with one hand. Honestly. Teehee.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Fresh Out of Hell

During those first few weeks and months of sobriety, I quite frequently had dreams that I was drinking again. I was so relieved and grateful to get away that I think it was my subconscious poking me by way of saying oh, check this out, here’s a nightmare to remind you. Every time I woke up with that sinking feeling and awful shame. I’d carefully look around only moving my eyeballs, scanning the ceiling and top half of the room around me with that familiar shitty feeling of trying to work out what happened the night before. Then the next moment I’d realise I’d once again woken up without a hangover and feel so relieved it made me tearful. It’s like with anything I suspect, when we escape something terrible and the horror is fresh in our minds because we’re fresh out of hell. During those early days – well, it’s still quite early days – those dreams would really shake me up and it was quite easy to quickly establish OH HELL NO, I ain’t going there again.

A long term sober blogger recently said how “the further I get from my last drink, the closer I get to my next one“.

Whilst we might think that the longer we stay sober, the safer we are (and I would imagine this is in many ways true), I really understood what this meant this morning.

There was a wine box and I’d poured a glass and in the dream it was just like my other drinking dreams in that my choice was gone – I’d already had some and the damage was done. Bambino came in and got pissed off with me in that typical teenager sort of way, when it’s disguised as anger and sulking but actually beneath it all is real, heartfelt hurt. And here’s the really scary bit that really proves to me that the brain I have today is the brain I had all along and the very same one that had me sinking into addiction – in the dream I was horrified I’d let Bambino down so made a show of pouring out the glass of wine, yet… …at the same time calculating if there’d be enough left to drink and when I’d be able to get to it behind Bambino’s back, because I was 100% going to drink it. I sort of don’t want to type it because it makes me shudder, but I always promised to keep this honest and this is the ugly truth. Well, the honest account of a very ugly dream anyway.

Nothing has changed, by the way – I still don’t want to drink, I still am absolutely rock solid in my conviction it does nothing for me and I still want nothing more than forever stay this way. Just wanted to point that out. This dream isn’t a build up of me increasingly toying with the idea of a drink. Quite the opposite and that’s what’s scary about it! I just wanted to highlight that this is something my brain cooked up that is in absolute opposition to everything I, in this moment, want and believe. Eesh.

Anyway!

Those early drinking dreams were awful because just like the one I had last night they always started with it being too late – i.e. I’d already had a drink and the wheels were set in motion without me having any way of stopping it. What made this dream interesting is how there was the added thought process: the manipulation and being shady as fuck in order to deceive (in this case Bambino) so I would get to drink. I know I said it before about those dreams whenever they’ve happened, how I reckon it’s my subconscious reminding me of where I was going and how grateful I should be that I got away. This one really did hammer the same message home – I don’t want to be the mother who does that again, the one who lies and hides to sustain that evil habit, the one whose heart breaks because she’s letting her son down yet can’t help herself. No thank you.

You’re so good, Mum. I’m proud of you,” Bambino told me when I got back from a run one evening last week.

God, so slow though!” I gasped, still out of breath and grumpily noting via Runkeeper that my pace is ridiculously slow.

So what! You’re doing it!

Bambino said it with that little-man sort of voice. Like he’s the adult telling me the child to see the bigger picture. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and says stuff like that to encourage me and it’s his way of letting me know he’s happy about it. No one in the world could possibly see me run and be impressed, honestly I am that slow. Anyway. That, right there, is the mum I want to be. The on-the-cuddly-side-of-medium-but-OK-fine-probably-large mum who ran 6k and now can barely breathe but damn it I did it. And I do it every other day, even when I don’t want to. And have my son see how I work hard at something and commit! THAT is who I want to be. And in sobriety this is who I am.

Isn’t it strange, that further down the line a drinking dream (or nightmare, really) is so much more evil in its nature? I would absolutely say that these almost 11 months into my sobriety I feel a lot safer than I did, say, at 11 weeks. Not only am I now used to it and the idea of having a drink is actually a very strange one, new pathways have formed in my brain and so old habits are all but gone too. It’s also natural and my normal to casually say “no thanks” and not think any more of it when offered a drink compared with earlier on when it was still strange and felt odd to order soda water. So yes, absolutely it is true for me that my sobriety seems to solidify with time. However, remember what I said about being fresh out of hell? Again, this I think is so natural. I was in an accident when I was about ten years old, got knocked off my bike by a car. I had nightmares about being hit by a car and when I had to cycle the same route after I’d recovered I was crying my eyes out because it had really traumatised me. I remember feeling so ill any time we drove past the spot and the black break marks on the tarmac from the car that hit me were there for months afterwards. I was scared for a long time. And then it faded and later on I never gave it much thought at all. No more nightmares and I’d happily cycle anywhere.

This is what we are wired to do! Our brains are programmed to fade out the bad stuff and hold on to the good bits. So whilst I feel more and more secure in my sobriety, chances are that how bad it got won’t seem as bad to me in five or ten years’ time as it still does now. Entirely logical, no? It would make perfect sense that someone who’s been sober for years and years could fall back! You feel secure and it’s been forever since alcohol was ever a problem in your life. You feel secure because you’re set in new habits and a new normal where a drink would be out of the ordinary. You feel secure because you look back and hey, stopping drinking wasn’t so hard was it? So you can probably just do it the once. So what. No big deal.

I can see how easily it could happen. You know, because I was so scared of falling back when I first escaped I told EVERYONE. I declared it to my family and friends and even my bosses because I figured the more people who know, the more chance there is that someone will blow the whistle if I come up against that enemy again: me. I have sometimes referred to all these people as my anchors. Getting sober will always have to come from me, but knowing I have a large number of people who are aware of my struggle with alcohol makes me feel so much safer. After all, the Beast wants to isolate me and get me on my own, so snitching on it instantly means it’s harder for it to get to me. Anna 1 – Booze 0. However, I actually wonder if it just doesn’t happen that way – the Beast is a fucking cunning creature and I doubt it’d try to get me when I’m anchored down. So I’m going to ask people I know who were sober for a long, long stretch what that scenario was when they picked up a drink again. I picture it being something unusual – perhaps you’re away with work or at some party or anything else that takes you away from your own habitat. And suddenly you’re offered one and it just happens, in one floating motion with no real thought behind it. Lights dimmed on those hellish memories of your rock bottom and a heightened sense of how strong you’ve been for all this time? Well – I’m just speculating here and simply because I just can’t see myself get a stash of booze and set to work on a Tuesday afternoon in the way I used to. Too much explaining for starters and no one enjoys drinking whilst having to justify it – that’s why us alkies prefer drinking on our own.

Thinking about the dream now, it makes me feel sad but most of all grateful that I don’t have to be her anymore. I don’t have to do that. There is nothing I miss about it and I’m glad the shame of it is so strong it lingers even all these months later. I hope it lingers longer still. Much longer. Forever, in fact. I’m going to create a list of things that I am grateful and joyous to be free of and find a way of carrying it with me or putting it up somewhere I will see it every day. At this point all of those things are fresh in my mind because I’m still fresh out of hell. Really spell out how I used to feel and what drinking felt and looked like. More thoughts to come on this, no doubt.

Feel free to share if you have dreams like that or something similar – I’d love to know.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Smoosh Him Silly

Happy Friday to you!

The restlessness is making me twitchy, I just want to get going with the weekend now – head home, go for a manicure (how very Housewives of Beverly Hills of me!), sort Bambino out before he is off to his dad’s for the weekend, then go for a run and this evening make the apartment all welcoming and Christmassy for hubby who lands at 5am tomorrow morning. Drunk Me would usually sleep through (I think it was twice that I woke because hubby rang, stranded at the airport and wondering if he needed to get in a taxi – eesh, I cringe thinking about it), but Sober Me is very dependable so I’ll be drinking my morning coffee at 4am before getting in the car to go and collect him. He’ll no doubt be jetlagged after a week adjusting to being eight hours ahead so I’m going to tone down my over excitement and let the poor guy have a bit of peace. Joy to the world and all that. Well, he can be an exhausted hot mess for all I care – emphasis on ‘hot’ – as long as I get to climb all over him, steal his body heat (I’m always cold and he’s always toasty) and generally just smoosh him silly.

Yep. It’s more than enough to get me in a really brilliant mood!

For those of you who know me a little better, this might just get you a little worried – a good mood was always my biggest trigger – but let me reassure you that at this present time there is no part of me that wants to drink. Not one bit. Sorry to go all I’ve-seen-the-light evangelical on you, but every goddamn time I think about this it makes me feel so grateful and relieved I could just weep. I don’t want to drink! It’s magic. I don’t actually know how else to describe it. MAGIC.

Of course, this didn’t just happen. I’m at this point and found sobriety after the slippery slope of alcohol abuse had begun to get extremely steep. You know, it always only ever goes downwards but in my case it was so slowly at first that it was only when I was actually in trouble that I realised it. The line was so bloody fine! One day you can keep it up and the next you discover you’re too fucked up to function, yet you only did what you’ve done for quite a long time. You cannot keep going like I was though – eventually it’ll start to catch up with you and it did for me. Even though my extreme drinking went on for over a decade, it’s amazing what you can get away with for the longest time. Well. It got shitty and I got scared and I wanted to get off that runaway train. I consider myself lucky that I got to a point where I’d had enough, that this happened before I’d begun to really suffer irreparable and irreplaceable losses. PHEW. I’m also very grateful that my turning point was one I got to myself and not one I was forced into with a big fat OR ELSE.

It was me who’d had enough. It was my eyes that opened. It was me who wanted to stop. And it was me who did stop. And I stopped because I truly no longer wanted to drink. It was no longer a case of “I need to stop but still crave a drink” – the appeal of a drink all but died. Since then I have taken immense care to at least begin to unpack all the things that alcohol was to me and what I thought it did. I needed to inspect all of those pieces carefully, hold them up to the light and understand what they were. What I discovered was (and is – this is and probably always will be an on-going process) that it was all an illusion and that booze is nothing other than a filthy poison that never did any of the things I thought it did. It never made happy happier, it never made fun funnier and it never added even the tiniest benefit. I feel grateful every single day that I am free from its evil trap and consider myself so, so fortunate that I got to that point where I could walk away. Or rather – the point where I wanted to walk away. After all, it isn’t hard to stop yourself from doing something you no longer want to do.

When getting sober I consider this a luxury – God help me if I’d had to rely on will power or some sort of distraction, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. Well, just like previous attempts at sobriety had failed. Those attempts failed for one reason only: I still wanted to drink. Honestly, that’s all there is to it. I wasn’t able to stop (or at least I didn’t!) as long as there was the tiniest part left in me wanting to keep on drinking. Only when I reached a point where I felt done with it and genuinely had enough could I get sober.

From what I’ve learned so far, sobriety appears to be a very individual thing so I’m not saying my way is the best way or the only way. I know lots of people who got sober in lots of different ways. I have used the analogy of childbirth before – whatever results in the delivery of a healthy baby, I don’t think it matters much if it was with the help of an epidural, a c-section or whilst doing a bit of gardening and baby just gracefully popped out amongst the roses. Who cares? I see sobriety the same way and I do try to be respectful and not preach when someone does it in a way that I can’t understand or relate to. If what keeps you sober is running around your house naked three times at dawn every morning, good on’ya.

What I do try to do, is absorb all I can from other sober folk – the whys, the hows and so on. There are lightbulb moments on pretty much a daily basis. I want to know about the pitfalls, I want to hear about the struggly bits, I want to learn about all these stages we all seem to go through in sobriety – that’s the one thing we all do seem to have in common regardless of our methods. Stages. There’s the acceptance. Then there’s hope. Then there’s summoning up the oomph to make a change. Then we untangle and unpack all that stuff. We contemplate. We want to put things right. We seem to discover and get to know ourselves again. We find a better way. And perhaps the one thing I seem to find in every single person: the genuine, passionate and sincere wish to help the next person find their path too. That’s probably the most overwhelming thing I feel – I want to scoop up Drunk Me in my arms and hold her, tell her this life is possible and that it’s within her grasp to find it. And I regularly – as conceited and smug as this may sound – want to high five Sober Me. Sorry, not sorry – I like this version of me. I’ve got this.

And yet, having said all of that, the one thing I need to always remember and keep at the forefront of my mind is that relapsing is so, so easy. The more distance I cover between Drunk Me and the present day, the more the negatives of drinking are likely to fade. One day my brain could trick me again. And that’s why sobriety will always have to be my absolute focus and priority. It doesn’t have to consume me but it can never slip into neglect because the moment I lose sight of it I’ll be in trouble. Big trouble.

Today I’m not going to drink.

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.