A String of Gems and Hope

It really feels like the last week of summer, and I suppose it is. There has been a definite turn in the weather and now with the August Bank Holiday weekend and Notting Hill carnival behind us, autumn is right on the doorstep. This is fine by me – I love autumn. Over sized scarves and sweaters, dark evenings, candle light and hot drinks spiced with cinnamon. Hah! That last bit was interesting as I suppose I would normally have mentioned mulled wine and had to think for a second there about what I might be drinking this first sober autumn I have ahead of me. Well. There’s alcohol free mulled wine should I feel like it, but I suspect as with regular wine I won’t be interested in the alcohol free version. Yep, summer is over and it’s a grey Tuesday here in London with the temperature just nudging 20 degrees. No more tank tops and shorts – it’s back to long sleeves and jeans.

But what a summer! Actually – what a YEAR it’s been so far, and I still have my favourite season and Christmas to look forward to!

2018 started off the way my years normally do: with a severe hangover. Some years I’ve attempted a dry January (and to be fair, mostly managed just fine) but this year I didn’t even consider it. Monday 22nd January I called in sick because I was so hungover I couldn’t move. That evening I acknowledged I was in serious trouble and finally reached out to my husband and spelled it out: I AM AN ALCOHOLIC, I CAN’T GO ON LIKE THIS AND I AM FRIGHTENED. 23rd January my decision was made – I knew I wanted and needed to get sober and sort my life out. And I’ve done my best. I’ve not done a perfect job but where I am compared with where I was going is a miracle. (Oh, I bloody HATE it when sober folk yap on about miracles but this is probably why. No two ways about it – the way I drank and the sheer quantities of wine I put away amounted to “suicidal drinking”. Yes, that’s a thing). So whilst the year did begin with monstrous drinking, I gave myself the best gift: sobriety and a shot at life again.

And 2018 has been a string of magical gems that I have been present for: Ronnie Scott’s, friends over from Sweden, Paris, Foo Fighters in Gothenburg, the Mighty Hike, Lipari, Sweden…. Pretty amazing. To just think I initially thought I’d enjoy life less without the chance to poison myself and actively working to shorten my life whilst hurting my loved ones in the process. Yes, it’s madness, it’s all fucking madness.

Yesterday hubby and I went for a walk around the park. I was tired due to the world’s most uncomfortable bed at a little hotel in the Chilterns where I took hubby for a little getaway. But off we went. We did both comment during our walk that we were walking faster than usual. Hubby had a sore back and hasn’t been allowed much exercise so the last time he came with me on a walk was back in July before our holidays. Normally it takes us one hour and 35-37 minutes, around the inner perimeter of the park which is exactly 10k. 1.31! Felt awesome! Walked fast enough to get a tiny bit breathless and sweaty. Must be the work of Dimples and getting back into running – I’m getting stronger! I must be! And make no mistake – I’m getting stronger because I am able to be the person I was always meant to be, and that person loves being active and feeling strong. I don’t know if I agree with Dimples when she says I “look strong” during the exercise sessions but I am absolutely starting to feel it. As it happens she is away for a week so no sessions until next week now, but I have contacted the gym and will be signing up this week so that by the time our last sessions are done I’ll seamlessly be working out solo too.

If you’d told me last year at this point that I would go on to enjoy all these things booze free and then sign up for the gym too, I’m not sure I would have believed you. I would have wanted it to be true, definitely, but I doubt I would have had the courage to actually believe it. Hopelessness in the face of alcoholism would have made it all seem so far fetched. Like a utopia, almost. And yet it isn’t. Perhaps I’m not free yet, perhaps I’ll never be fully free but I’ll happily settle for what I have now. My addiction has been forced into a cage and that’s amazing, but I’ll just have to accept that I can’t look away for too long because the cage has no lock. But I can live with that. If that’s as free as I can ever get, it’s still a win.

Progress, not perfection, as they say. But this IS perfection as far as I’m concerned. Every last minute that I’m sober is perfection.

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Self Centered Pity Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I’m not going to drink.

Guerrilla Tactics

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

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

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

jaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve got this.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Cautious Confidence and Sweat

Can I just start with a warning today – this post will doubtlessly contain incessant bragging and is really just a huge exercise in attention seeking. And I don’t give a shit, I am THAT proud of myself!

We did it! 26 miles/42 kilometres along the south coast from Brighton to Eastbourne on the hottest day of the year, conquering the Seven Sisters, who, by the way, are fucking BITCHES. I swear, if I’d known how bad those hills would be I don’t know if I’d bothered even if I hadn’t hiked 20 miles already by the time we got to them. Oh, who am I kidding, as exhausting and difficult those last six miles were, I am so, so happy we managed to do it and yes, I’d do it again. I kind of feel about this like I do about childbirth – fucking painful and in the moment you make a solemn vow to never EVER do it again but then… ….you totally would and then you totally do. Well, I only gave birth the once because life’s plan for me didn’t involve bearing more children, but you know what I mean – it was never the fear of giving birth that was the reason I only did it the once. And as much as I thought I’d collapse when we finally reached the top of Beachy Head, the last huge hill before it was finally over, and we just had that last downhill stretch to Eastbourne, I knew I’d do this all over again as soon as I stepped over the finish line with aching hips and feet.

I’m not going to ever lie here on this blog, remember, so as tempting as it is to say WHOAAAAA what a champion I am I’ll be honest and tell you that the last couple of inclines my husband was pretty much pulling me. There. It was 100% much, much harder than I thought and those last six miles with steep inclines nearly did me in. Weirdly it was the last mile which was only downhill that was the worst and I actually thought I might not make it, I was THAT exhausted and felt like I was going to collapse. I’ve never been in a situation before when I’ve been so physically spent that it’s literally been a case of putting one foot in front of the other – that was all I was thinking during that last mile: one more, one more, and again, one more…. Also, I’m no good with heat as it is and sweat like a truck driver at the tiniest hint of sun, but this was something else. Without the heat, I know my hips and feet would have ached just as much but the heat was brutal. It might not have been any easier in more tolerable temperatures or even a bit of wind or shade, but fuck me that heat was vicious!

Thought the start photo was funny – check out Miss Contrary in the bottom right corner refusing to wear the green top. When I stand out it’s rarely for the right reasons, but hey ho. It wasn’t refusal so much as a matter of comfort though and had it not been so goddamn hot I would have happily worn the thick race day top. My friend Cherokee (who regularly does crazy shit like marathons and various long terrain races) had warned me against anything with seams, so my trusty super thin and seamless blue top it had to be. Unlucky for you, I have also hidden hubby’s gorgeous face just like I do with any photos I add here that happen to have friends or family in them. He probably wouldn’t mind, in fact he’ll probably ask me why I’ve done that and might even be a little offended, but he hasn’t asked to have his beautiful face displayed on this blog so unless he takes issue he’ll remain anonymous. He’s also on a plane to Prague with work as I write this so I can’t ask him anyway. I suppose you’ll just have to trust me when I say he was carved by angels.

OK, that’s it, I’m done and I’m sorry if that was all a bit obnoxious!

Sooooo…. Drinking. I’m not drinking. 167 days. I look at that number and find it quite unbelievable. I just don’t know if I ever TRULY believed I could do it. I know it’ll never be a case of “oh, I’m cured now!” and I’ll have to stay on task for the rest of my days, but whatever happens in the future I can still go back to this day and see those digits knowing it happened. And where are we right now? Not struggling but yes, I absolutely do feel like having a drink now and again. Not every day and it’s only been two occasions that I can think of when I was close to actually choosing death over life – OK, now I sound like a real drama queen, but that’s where drinking will take me because I’m an alcoholic and can’t drink like “normal people”. It’d be silly, or even dangerous, for me to think of it in any other way. I was killing myself the way I was going, period. So yes, two occasions when I very nearly did or at the very least REALLY wanted to. But I’m still sober and that feels really awesome.

I’ve learnt so much about myself over these five and a half months and I’m so grateful I got to that stage when I knew I wanted to change before it got much worse or had been too late. Don’t ever think I don’t know how lucky I am. Who knows what irreversible damage I’ve already done – I dread to think what I put my body through and every time I feel my heart beating hard, especially on the rare occasion that I have palpitations, I whisper ‘I’m sorry’ and hope to God I haven’t broken it. And those poor organs who had to battle so hard to cope with the poison in my blood stream. I did often have an ache in my lower back, which I assume might have been my kidneys. Any blood tests I had, including the one I had done in spring with a few months of sobriety in the bag, always showed good liver function (which drunky-drunk here always took for a green light to continue) but I don’t know how much of the story a blood test can tell. Probably very little. I simply don’t know if I stopped in time or if there’ll be a price to pay, but even if it turns out I left it too late to change my course I still know I’ll be better placed to pay my dues sober, whatever they may be. Sorry, that sounds very glum but I don’t want to minimise how serious alcoholism is or what it does. Sobriety, however, cannot be overestimated and no matter what the future holds I know that so long as I stay sober I can continue to recover the person I was always meant to be and even take a good shot at stuff like dreams and ambitions, YAY! Not a bad deal, is it?

Oh, another thing that just dawned on me is that this week is probably more of a risk zone for me than others as hubby is away. Because we’ve had a super busy summer so far and always something going on, I just haven’t had time to dread him being away and perhaps that’s why that devilish ping! with accompanying illusions of wine hasn’t popped into my head. Well, it isn’t there, or at least not yet.

Should it be hard to resist it if it does happen? So let’s break it down. I think sobriety so far hasn’t felt difficult because I just haven’t wanted to drink. Even on those two occasions I can think of when the urge got quite strong I can’t say it was a battle to the death to get through it. Mostly there is no will power required whatsoever, which is entirely logical given you don’t need any to avoid doing something you don’t want to do anyway. And I know I don’t want to drink. I can’t think of a single benefit drinking would give me, not a one. Dragging my fat arse over those last hills Saturday just gone took all my might though. The fucking will power I had to use to get through those last few miles was an enormous effort and a case of genuinely not wanting to go on coupled with doubting I’d be able to. So I keep thinking that if my brain goes ping! it really shouldn’t be difficult. On Saturday I knew I wanted to finish, I wanted that achievement and sense of accomplishment. After fighting those last miles I knew that finishing would feel SO good. So there was a reason to go against what I really wanted to do – give up – and go on. I have no reason to drink. Literally nothing at all. Mm…. See, I’m getting quite scared just writing this and perhaps it’s myself I’m trying to convince more than tell anyone reading this how pointless drinking is. I suppose if anything it shows the ugly and devious nature of alcoholism, how even when booze brings you nothing but harm and misery we still go on drinking.

I feel cautiously confident though. My hips are very sore and right now my 90-yearold grandmothers are both more sprightly and agile than I am, but I feel good and aching hips are better than aching kidneys – holy crap, I can’t even believe I typed that just now as if you could ever compare! Sober Me is who I want to be. I want to be the Anna who lives her life fully, not Drunk Me. It’s Sober Me standing there exhausted at the finish line with hubby. Drunk Me could never feel as good as that chick, much less do that. There – no contest.

Today, God willing, I am not going to drink.

Butterflies in Mordor

My bad mood and terrible sleep now combine to a headache that I just cannot seem to shift. At home, what should only have been a calm discussion between my son and I culminated in a screaming match during which I totally lost control, resulting in us once again hugging each other an hour later and both in tears. Moments like that I wouldn’t even argue if someone told me I’m too rubbish to be called a mother and from now on only be referred to as Gestation Facility as pregnancy seems at times to be the only thing I did somewhat well and without completely fucking up. Not proud of myself at all. And when it comes to arguing, the apple has fallen so close to the tree I’m not sure it’s even detached from its branch – my son is a master wordsmith and I’m pretty sure he could make a brick bleed out of frustration alone if he set his mind to it. When we finally managed to TALK and were friends again, he gave me a lopsided smile and said:

You and I are like the butterfly effect.

I think there’s a film with that title but haven’t seen it and I had actually no idea what this means. It sort of sounds like something bittersweet though, has a sadness and a sense of fragile beauty to it somehow.

If it’s at precisely the right moment in precisely the right place, it’s enough that a butterfly flaps its wings to start a hurricane,” he told me.

There is no better way to describe us when we clash. The actual issue drowns almost immediately as we both spin furiously out of control and get caught up in frustration and anger to the point that we’re lying there on the battle ground in our own blood not knowing what we’re meant to be fighting for but that we didn’t want the other hurt. There is no one who can push my buttons like he can, no one who can make me angrier, but as I told him, this is because there is no one I love as much as I love him. There’s a Swedish saying that goes “den man älskar agar man” which basically means that we hurt the ones we love. It makes sense I suppose, just like no one can make us hurt more than the ones we love. Entirely logical even though it doesn’t make it easier. Luckily, butterflies and hurricanes aside, we seem to be able to express love as well as anger so we always end up in a good place but I really am disappointed with myself for losing control like that – it’s my damn job to hold it together. Bambino is a teenager and it’s HIS job to be rebellious and difficult, not mine.

Well. Today is a new day and I can’t change what’s been, so as with much else I can just try harder to learn from past mistakes and try harder to be better than before. If I keep focusing on how much I’ve fucked up in the past – even yesterday – I’ll just end up feeling like shit. I need to remember my fuck-ups as a motivation to do better, but not focus on them. Sometimes a fine line and a hard balance to keep, don’t you agree? However, Rome wasn’t built in one day and I do give myself some slack given I’m basically re-learning how to do life now that I’m sober. It’s quite mad to think that for over a decade there are very few experiences I went through, very few situations I faced and very few decisions I made without either being drunk or hungover. For example I can’t honestly tell you if I have even been in a job interview without battling a hangover – that would have been the sort of thing I would have wanted to avoid having a hangover for but rarely succeeded, if ever. So this life thing? It’s kinda new.

With the sleeping – or the lack thereof – this week, I’m going to have to get this back to normal. Well, back to my new, sober normal obviously as the sleep I was getting when I was drinking was terrible. We have a marathon length hike on Saturday across the south coast so to rock up in Brighton Saturday morning with a headache from sleeping badly would not be fantastic. I know there are natural remedies you can take to get you relaxed but for someone who spent years poisoning herself I am surprisingly reluctant to take pills or supplements that alter the way I feel. Even the prescription medicine I have to combat the pain for fibroids I don’t take unless it’s so bad I can’t cope. Why? Because I believe it’s always better to allow your body to feel what it’s meant to be feeling even if it’s pain. Isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever heard coming from a DRUNK?!?!?! I know, I’m fucking hilarious. But it’s all true. Yet another example that highlights, I suppose, how brainwashed we are when it comes to booze. Pain relief? No thanks, I don’t like to put stuff into my body that isn’t natural. A large glass of a substance that kills more people than any other drug AND as a cherry on top is proven to increase your risk of getting a whole variety of cancers? Oh, yes please!

You know, I think you could write a whole book on the madness of alcohol brainwashing alone. A trilogy, even, showing how the power of booze makes Mordor seem like Disneyland.

Back to my shitty week though. About three weeks into my sobriety it was my birthday and then Valentine’s Day. On the latter we ended up having a puncture, so there we were in the freezing cold and being whipped by sideways rain with me trying to hold an umbrella that was about as effective as a napkin and hubby on all fours trying to change the damn tyre. It was not the best half hour and we were both chilled to the bone by the time we were seated. I told my sponsor about it when I saw her the following day and she exclaimed “oh my God, and you still didn’t drink! That’s what I call a result!“. This is one of the things in AA that I’ve probably struggled with the most, i.e. the idea that we drink to overcome hardship or difficult feelings. Or indeed that all addiction comes from a void inside somehow. You know, this could all be true, and I won’t deny that the “restlessness, discontent and irritability” I first heard described by my awesome Willow as a root cause for alcoholism has played heavily on my mind during this staggeringly crappy week I’m having. It makes me shit myself to think that how I’ve been feeling this week might come from within, that this is just what it’s going to be like to be me from now on and these previous five-plus sober months was just a bit of a joke. Right in this moment I honestly couldn’t tell you for sure what I believe, so the jury is out on that score, but any time I’m stressed or feeling glum – and this applies to when I was drinking too – I don’t particularly want to drink. Last night was massively stressful and upsetting and the idea of a drink could not have been further from my mind beyond consciously thinking to myself before bed that thank God I’m not drinking and how much more stressful and upsetting it had been if I were. So to be honest, if I need to spend the rest of my days as grumpy as I’ve been this week, it might be a really excellent way to stay sober.

Don’t get me wrong, when I was drinking a bad mood didn’t always stop me and I have drunk on every goddamn mood a human being could possibly have because, well, I’m an alcoholic. My greatest trigger, however, is a good mood and/or great things happening. You wouldn’t think it reading my blog this week, but I’m actually a pretty happy bunny most of the time, and with a good mood making me want to drink… ..let’s say I’ve done a lot of celebrating in my time. So my first sponsor’s insistence on how ALL drunks ALWAYS drink because of negative emotions made it hard for me to really get on board with it. I think it just took me a while to realise and accept that, well, no actually – she is describing her own experience and perspective and I’m not less of a drunk just because my experience doesn’t exactly match hers. I’m a drunk too, you ignorant cow! #drunktoo

So here we are and in 48 hours from now we’ll probably be about a third of the way from Brighton to Eastbourne. How hard can it be? I have two nights ahead, both of which I pray to God will give me some quality sleep although these hills look fairly harmless, don’t you think?

7

I think it could so easily turn into a vicious circle. Last night I really wanted to sleep, and needed it. And there I was, worried the night would be as bad as the one before and sure enough, the moment I let worry into my mind I was fucked and even though it wasn’t anywhere near as awful as the previous night it still took me forever to get to sleep. So I need a really great way of getting myself into the sleep zone this evening.

If anyone has any really great ways of laying the foundations to a wonderful night’s sleep, please let me know.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Worry Clouds and Melon Sorbet

The first thing sobriety changed for the better for me almost immediately was my sleep. From terrible sleeping patterns with waking up several times with the sweats and palpitations, it was only a few days in that I ended up falling asleep quickly (although to be fair, when I was drinking I’d be out like a light) and then sleep solidly until morning. Because being sober is a change for me, I’ve taken pleasure in noting all changes and even when I’ve felt bad for whatever reason I’ve enjoyed being able to experience my emotions completely as they are without anaesthesia. Even when I’ve felt really crappy it’s been a positive thing to just be faced with the actual crap, as opposed to a big, wet cluster fuck of wine soaked mess that may or may not contain an actual message from my soul. Plus I used to be too fucked from either being too drunk or too hungover to begin to untangle it anyway. Goes without saying that no matter what I’m feeling, when those emotions come along I’m awake, alert and ready to take them on no matter what they’re bringing me.

And here’s where I want to salute Mother Nature again for equipping me with this excellent survival system – all our senses are there to keep us alive! Even fear is our friend, if you think about it, Mother Nature’s genius way of letting us know that we need to watch out. And so I think of feelings as my subconscious sending me signals. Feeling good = keep doing that! Feeling bad = hm, let’s have a look at what’s going wrong here shall we?

This week has been quite crappy so far. I’ve been irritable and unsettled. Some I’ve assumed to be the work of hormones given I do get a bit down when Auntie Flo pays a visit, but this is worse than I usually get. I’ve slept badly over the past few nights. Not as badly as I did when I was drinking, but much worse than at any other point during these blissful five-plus months of sweet sobriety. Nightmares, lying awake, having trouble going to sleep. Can I just say though, that even when I’m feeling off and sleep badly, I still get to wake up without a hangover so even after a night of bad sleep I’m feeling miles better than I did during the Drunken Years. Either way, it’s been horrible lying there in the dark, unable to get comfortable, my jaw clenched and thoughts spinning webs of worry and anxiety. My jaw is cramping and achy – it’s where I carry stress. Some people carry it in their shoulders, for me it’s in my jaw.

Because I get to feel properly for the first time since I was actually in my late twenties, I don’t know what to make of it and it really frightens me. This isn’t a chemically induced alco dip. This is the stuff I’m feeling and I can’t immediately see any logical reason. Oh yeah, and there it is – my heart is beating faster than normal too. Hello palpitations, long time no see, how’ya been? What if I’m now plunging into depression or anxiety, or, heaven forbid, both? I’ve not been sober long enough before to truly feel everything so now that I do it can be overwhelming. What is this? Is it anxiety? Is it a lurking depression? The rational part of me kicks in and I decide I can only begin to understand this by spending some time with ME. Hubby is also tossing and turning, plus we went to bed pissed off with each other so his tossing is of the exaggerated kind – it’s like trying to fall asleep in a bouncy castle loaded with toddlers. When I’m confident he’s finally gone to sleep, I get up as quietly as I can, picking up my trackie bottoms and tank top from the floor and take them with me as I tip-toe out of the bedroom. I only put them on when I’m in the living room. And there I sit, at 1.30am, vaping and wishing I could make myself some coffee, giving my soul a private audience and waiting for it to help me understand what it’s trying to tell me.

Except the occasional breath that tastes of melon sorbet and menthol, I focus on my breathing and although it’s dark I close my eyes as an invitation to my mind to serve up any stresses I need to deal with. What are the images? What are the emotions? What am I so in knots about? Most of all I try to figure out what I’m feeling just sitting there alone in the middle of the night with only myself for company, doing nothing but breathing. I figure if I discover it’s uncomfortable I’m in trouble. What if it’s being me that’s uncomfortable and has me in this state? What then? I feel a little tearful at the thought but I know that I need to face this head on and if I can stare down the beast I can bloody search within myself for the cause of pain if I have to. So I do. For someone who has always detested any new age hippy-dippy shit I’m not exactly good at this but do my best. Inhale, exhale, fill my chest and then let it sink back – over and over until my mind agrees to focus on this only. I like it. It’s relaxing and it feels good. I go on to “think through” my whole body – this is quite funny because it’s something my childhood friend M sort of taught me. She used to get stoned and then do this as a way to relax her whole body and then claimed it was like she was in some sort of trance like state. I’ve never been much for drugs and so didn’t join in when it came to weed, but this little procedure of hers did stay with me. I start from the bottom up: I think of my toes, each one in turn and what they look like, the position they’re in, both visualise and feel each part and then the same thing throughout my entire body moving up through my feet, legs and so on. It doesn’t send me into a different dimension (possibly because I’m not stoned) but it does do the trick and I can finally feel my jaw relax and the tension in me lift.

When I’ve untied mind from being bundled up in a tight and whirring tangle of anxiety, the spikes go from struggling to buzz and strike at me all at once and all my worries and fears are just floating around me in separate little clouds, I can calmly examine them one by one. They don’t feel so charged and prickly anymore because I’ve given them this audience and each will have their turn instead of trying to shoot and crackle their way into my conscious that’s been locked down by anxiety.

Yup, there’s stuff in one in particular that hurts no matter how I turn it over. I feel the bumps and lumps and discover I can’t heal this pain or change it. This can only be lived through but I do reluctantly realise I have to be less selfish and that some of the angst I feel comes from putting myself first and losing sight of what’s important. Chuck in a little forgiveness and the tangle is less severe. The little cloud of worry still hovers around me and will continue to do so, possibly for a very, very long time and maybe even forever, but if I can reel myself back in like this once in a while and regain my focus on what matters it’s going to be much easier. I find a number of other little clouds that are just pathetic. The sort of clouds that have formed because I’ve just fucking lost another few marbles – stuff I’ve ended up worrying about for no apparent reason and even if there was reason to worry there’s nothing I can do about it. Those clouds I need to figure out what to do with – how to stop wasting energy worrying about stuff I can do literally fuck all about. Answers on a postcard please. With the rest of the little clouds that patiently wait there as they’re hovering around me, it’s mostly a case of acknowledging them and trying to be really fucking zen about it. Genuinely try to give each problem a little score or label to indicate how real and important it is and my level of power to change it.

So nothing has changed, really. It’s in the middle of the night and I’ve just sat on my own in a dark room with nothing but my breathing for company. But my thoughts, or my worry clouds rather, have calmed down because I gave them my full attention and that made them stop shooting lightning all over my mind like the little drama queens that they are.

I quietly and carefully creep back into bed. I don’t cuddle up to hubby because I’m still pissed off with him and at this point he is to my mind the one of us who was more of a dick last night. I may engage in the odd little spell of meditation but I’m still me and right now he’s a git. And that’s OK. My thoughts have quietened, worry and stress at least temporarily lifted and clouds dispersed for now. And I can finally sleep.

Oh, I’m still having a shitty week. But hey, that’s cool too. At least I know what I’m feeling, what I’m ACTUALLY feeling and not a haze of booze depression or paranoia. All home grown worry clouds here, folks! Au natural!

Today I’m not going to drink.

Vomit and AA Super Stars

I wonder what would happen if we made the 12 step approach to recovery undone. If we waved a magic wand and made it so that it never came to be, I wonder if we would inevitably end up with a very similar strategy based on what happens within us when we get sober. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know.

With my first sponsor I ended up getting quite turned off, which is in a way really strange as 1) I absolutely adore her, and 2) she is living proof of how the 12 step program can work miracles. For me, she’s the sort of person I glance at and think “I’ll have what she’s having, please“. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, perhaps I was still too fresh into my sobriety to be fully open to it all – Sparks is what Willow used to call “an AA super star” by way of describing how she is very set in practicing the 12 steps and 12 traditions very strictly according to the AA way. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to be told not to question anything. Unsurprisingly, I can now see that Sparks was right in everything she said and even the things that I didn’t feel I could relate to she expressed for a good reason – to help me stay sober. I think I thought I had to accept everything as 100% true for me in every sense and so inevitably I encountered conflict almost immediately as no two people are the same. There just cannot be one size fits all to treat the human condition. So I guess I made the mistake of allowing the differences to grate on me instead of focusing on the similarities. And maybe, despite how I love Sparks to bits, she’s just not the right sponsor for me. Hey ho, always lessons to be learned, that’s half the fun, no?

Back to undoing the existing 12 step model. The reason I ask what might happen, is because now that I’ve got a few months of sobriety under my belt, I have discovered how some of these things actually happen in what seems to be an entirely organic and natural process, although as usual I can of course only speak for myself. You get to a point where you just can’t do it anymore and know it’s all a big mess, you want to live differently and you accept you can’t do it on your own. You go on to dissect your own patterns of thinking and behaviour in order to find a better way and you sincerely want to put right the hurt you have caused. When sobriety almost immediately delivers and your life experience goes from bleak and hopeless to light and joyful and you already see positive changes all around you, something almost magical (as magical as sobriety itself I suppose!) happens within and you want to share with others who suffer how there is a way to recover the person they were always meant to be and have the life of their dreams. Fuck me, I want to vomit reading that, I’m starting to sound like Sparks.

Anyway, my point is that I reckon what happened was Bill W & Co devised the steps and traditions not so much based on religion as their own recovery, because no one handed them the Big Book, right? It’s clear these dudes are Bible bashers, but remove the odd ‘God’ and ‘Higher Power’ they’re really just describing the process of recovering from alcoholism and what happens within us as we do. What do you think? This is all the stuff they concluded and so now that I have been sober using tools I’ve picked up in all sorts of places and not just in AA, I can begin to see how it all happened. Or rather, how it COULD have happened. Feel free to shout when I say stuff you think is totally wrong – I’m just letting my thoughts run wild and spill out as usual.

However, none of that matters anyway – who cares if the 12 step model was sprayed on to a wall when a unicorn did a wet fart or if it lit up across the sky when Thor smashed his hammer around – I just find it interesting and I love how sobriety allows me to discover new things almost every day. Like when I realised I was doing a bit of step 9 work when I said to my mother that I’m sorry for causing so much worry – it was specifically to do with my drinking so bang on subject and I specifically apologised for the heartache I must have caused her. Fuck me, the poor woman, I fall apart if my kid scrapes his knee, and I can only hope that my son does not in turn and passed down by me carry this most unfortunate predisposition.

When I get ready for steps 8 and 9, my son’s name will be the top name on that list even though there too I have, without using the A-word or placing too much burden on his still young shoulders, expressed sincere remorse and asked forgiveness for hurting him with my drinking. Anyway, that can be talked about more some other time, I just wanted to point out how some things kind of get triggered by sobriety and much of the stuff outlined in the 12 steps is what at least I have discovered I end up feeling anyway. And although my narcissistic brain does want me to think I’m the cleverest recovering drunk there is, I know I just cannot be alone in having this happen in this way.

So. I’m lacing up my finest 12 step shoes and off we go. Well, I’ll be lacing up my new trainers and will head to the women’s meeting and then walk back – that’ll be roughly the same distance as my normal walk around the park so a matter of two birds one stone. For those of you who aren’t members of AA, it’s normally the case that women stick with women and men with men (this reduces the potential risk of a whole new set of complications) so I’m making it easy for myself, plus I know who I want to ask. There are inevitably, as with all situations in life, people in AA you relate to and people you don’t, people you like and some who just really grate on you. People in AA are warmer and friendlier and WAY more open than any other situations I’ve found myself in, but trust me you get good’uns and bad’uns everywhere, so you don’t just grab anyone to sponsor you although I don’t know if there is some set of official guidelines for finding a sponsor. I chose Sparks because she was someone I got to know straight away, in fact the was the first person to swoop in and talk to me before she took my phone and added her number. She had the qualifications too: she was further along into her sobriety than I am and she’d done the steps. Beyond this I really like her on a personal level. She just seemed like a natural choice and I do enjoy her no-nonsense and slightly brutal approach even if I may not have been ready for it.

So yes, I do have my eye on someone (jeez, that sounds so fucking creepy!!) I’d like to speak to and see if she’s up for sponsoring me. Unless she’s an absolute twat of course, but I won’t know that unless I speak to her and if she isn’t as un-twatty as she seems I’ll just have to go back on the prowl, but that’s my criteria for having her in mind: she seems like a non-twat and I can identify with the stuff she shares.

For the purposes of this blog I’m going to call her Breeze because she’s softly spoken, comes across as gentle, always smiles (but most people in AA are very smiley) and when she shares I sometimes wonder how the hell she broke into my head and stole my thoughts. Bit like asking her out really. I’m not great like that. I’m a sunny and friendly person but a little shy with the approach so my normal strategy is to smile and hope other people make the first move when friendships are to be made. May have to put my big girl pants on here though and just do it. Chances are that she won’t burst out laughing and then mock me for even daring to THINK she’d want to be my sponsor. If she raises her hand again this evening to indicate she’s happy to speak to newcomers (which I think is the signal for being happy to be someone’s sponsor but I could be wrong – oh FUCK, what if I’m wrong and I ask her and then I’ll look really stupid and feel mortified OH SHUT THE HELL UP BRAIN!!), I’m going to do it. Oh, I am pathetic, just watch me stare at my hands in my lap for a bit and not knowing what to do when everyone else starts chatting after the meeting, feel a little silly and then just leave after talking with all the people I already know. Or I end up not going as usual.

You know, I’m really torn. On the one hand I absolutely 100% value AA so, so much and I always intend for AA to be an important and necessary part of my sobriety. Crucial and central, even. On the other I am not struggling to stay sober. I feel I need to go to stay connected and I suppose sometimes I just need to remind myself of that. Most of all, I just need to LISTEN TO THE SIMILARITIES instead of feeling frustrated any time I hear experiences that are nothing like my own and I can’t relate. But hey, it’s a journey and it’d be pretty boring if I didn’t learn stuff all the time. Long may it last!

Today I’m not going to drink.