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.

232 Days

I have nothing to say. Nothing at all. 232 days. Nothing spontaneously springs to mind around sobriety that I need to tell you.

When I scroll through various sobriety forums and Facebook groups, it’s really interesting to see how different people have different experiences and I often see myself in many of those who are more newly sober than I am. Makes sense given I’m still fairly early on in my journey and it wasn’t long ago that I stood in that spot. Quite often I smile when I read victorious exclamations and determined conviction from someone who’s been sober for, say, a couple of weeks. No, not smile as in scoff. I mean smile as in it makes me happy and I remember how it felt. How you are so overcome with gratitude and filled with awe at the life you have suddenly been given back that you just KNOW in your heart you will never drink again. For me this was of course when I went to lots of AA meetings and I got SO pissed off when the old timers would dismiss me in a you’ll-soon-see sort of manner. I was made to feel that this was wrong and only the Pink Cloud that I’d soon fall down from. I think I’m still on it. Perhaps I’m a little less evangelical now that the honeymoon period draws to a close and I also don’t feel tearful with joy every morning in the absence of that dreaded hangover that was my companion for so long, but it didn’t suddenly get difficult or dreary. Sure, once I came back to earth a little, I discovered that on occasion I’ll end up feeling down and all of those other less than amazing feelings that are part and parcel of being a human being, but it’s still not the hard slog that was described to me.

So you have those who at least seem to have effected that change in their thinking and genuinely no longer want to drink. But then you also have the people who clearly still do and therefore are desperate to moderate and really seem down about it all, and no wonder. No amount of will power and no amount of AA meetings and AA friends will help diddly squat if you still view alcohol as something that provides any kind of positive attribute. Only when you truly see alcohol for what it is and what it does for you personally do you have a chance – this is my absolute belief. Actually, I should rephrase “what it does for you” – only when you truly see what alcohol FAILS to do for you do you have a chance. Again, however, I can only speak for myself but this was what kept me firmly trapped. I held on to the belief that alcohol could do for me what it seems to do for non-alcoholics and wanted it to be part of my life too as a little golden edge, as we say in Sweden. Guldkant på tillvaron – adding a golden edge to life (roughly translated anyway) – that’s how I saw it and what I believed it could be. I saw booze as glitter you pour on to life to enhance and accentuate its brilliance. I’d see friends enjoy a couple of beers, laugh and enjoy the evening, and I wanted that too. Only I can’t because with the first something in me comes to life and this is ironic in the extreme because the thing that comes to life wants me dead. For me booze isn’t glitter – it’s napalm.

To be fair, I don’t think anyone can ever be in control of alcohol but I will concede that there are some of us – those of us who are alcoholics – who fare especially badly if we drink. I certainly don’t need to do any more “research” to establish that I can’t drink alcohol!

Anyway, even regardless of how long ago we made a decision to live a better life, there seems to be two distinct camps: those who punch the sky in a winner’s gesture because they truly feel drinking is pointless and they are free, and those who still yearn for that drink and feel miserable because each day is a fight to be sober. The more I learn about alcohol and addiction, the clearer it becomes that so long as we feel we have a reason to drink and that alcohol will give us some sort of benefit we will find it a miserable sacrifice to stop drinking. And that’s the bottom line for me – I reached a point where I truly felt I no longer had to. The truth was staring me in the face and I knew that booze only ever lands me in a stinking pile of shit. No glitter in sight, for me it was all an illusion and a pack of sweet lies that alcohol had me believing for the longest time. So stopping drinking for me is – so far at least – freedom. Refraining from doing something you no longer want to do isn’t hard at all, is it? I think I wrote earlier on in my sobriety that drinking seemed about as appealing as eating a pile of dog shit, and it is still true. At the same time I know how sneaky, cunning and baffling alcohol addiction is so there is no part of me that feels I can ever declare myself safe. In that sense, yes, it’s a day at a time, but it’s not a struggle in the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of way either. It just is. It’s life.

Right. Bit of a waffle but Wednesday is never my best day.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Elton John and the Hardest Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I’m not going to drink.

Beats and Board Roles

You know when something happens at the right time? When you randomly happen to perhaps read something that is exactly what you need at that precise time? This morning someone on This Naked Mind Facebook group put up screen grabs showing the dramatic change to her resting heart rate now that she is alcohol free (or “AF” as everyone in the group puts it – I see that and think “As Fuck” but I’m getting used to it). It’s stuff like this that really brings it home how alcohol really does wreck our health. And no, I am not referring to you lucky lot who can enjoy it in a manner that can be considered normal, although in all fairness if you guys did cut alcohol out there’d probably be a little improvement in heart health for you too! In only a couple of months, this lady’s resting heart rate had gone from 66 beats per minute to 58! Given my night of palpitations and how my heart was on my mind, this was very well timed.

I do wonder now how my own heart health has improved. It obviously has, I know that, because I no longer experience palpitations during the day like I used to and only very rarely at night. It’s happened on one or two occasions, but still you can’t compare it to how I used to be when I was drinking. It would be so cool to see the graph tracking my heart then and now like this woman could though. See a line over the weeks and months showing how her heart is now so much happier.

If only I’d been able to stick to something, but that was of course the one thing boozing didn’t allow me to do. I’ll say it again: being a drunk is a full time job. It’s like with any other job really, only this one will eventually take over your whole life – it is quite literally the job you have to sacrifice everything else for: interests, friends, family, etc. You just cannot commit to anything else because alcohol demands ALL of you. You might be able to take up a hobby for a while, but you can never give it much time because, well, you already have your work duties to take care of, and using this metaphor those duties consist of ensuring there is a supply of alcohol you then consume in order to get yourself unconscious. How’s that for a career, eh? Perhaps I wasn’t the Oprah Winfrey of boozing, but I was definitely at CEO level with a bunch of non-executive board roles on my CV too – easy. The dedication us drunks demonstrate when it comes to drinking is astonishing and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that if I’d shown the same determination in a different career I may very well have gone pretty far because if you work as hard as I did to drink you almost can’t fail – trust me. I’d suggest this is true for any drunk worth their salt because being an alcoholic requires unyielding, relentless, hard graft.

But when I drank, drinking was of course – as it tends to be when you’re an alcoholic – my main mission whether I realised it at the time or not, and I simply therefore had no capacity or room for anything else. This includes continuing to use the fitness watch I got a couple of summers ago, and for that reason I don’t now have a record of how my resting heart rate might have changed like this lady on the Facebook group. Bit of a shame because it’d be really nice to see actually! As I said, I already KNOW that my whole freaking body is thanking me and given this heart of mine is in said body, I also know it feels better than it used to when I was keeping the vineyards of Marlborough New Zealand in business. Hm, perhaps now that I’m on such a good track I need to start wearing that watch again (especially as there are now runs and workouts to track too!) and use it to highlight how much good I’m doing myself now. Shame, it would have been good to see it in black and white, just like it’s good to see the selfies taken at each month milestone, but there we are. It’s not crucial, just sometimes nice to see hard evidence that confirms something you already know.

Sobriety – I hope – will now allow me freedom to not only pursue but also stick with all these good things, whatever they may be. I also hope that I will always be mindful of how my heart is happier now even though I don’t have any graphs to show the difference, but having said that, perhaps the palpitations I had the other night have the same purpose as those nightmares I now have sometimes – on occasion I’ve dreamt that I’m drinking again. Then I wake up and in that first second of disorientation I still have the horrible feeling of defeat of the dream but then realise it wasn’t real. Waking up from a dream like that gives me all this renewed hope and strength that I will remain sober.

Today I’m not going to drink.