Love and Burning Ears

154 days. There you go – your sure fire way of knowing I don’t really have much to say today. But hey, no matter the amount of days, so long as that number is anything other than zero it’s worth mentioning and I feel good. It feels good to say it, to hear it, to type it and to read it. I like looking at it. It’s mine and it’s probably one of a very small number of things I’ve had to work hard for.

So I’ve put out a few hooks now, in my quest to turn a decade destroying myself and hurting those who love me into something positive and fruitful. I almost feel a bit sheepish for being so lucky when I don’t actually deserve any of it – my friends and family haven’t showed me anything other than love, kindness and…….

………holy moly, talk about ears burning! I was interrupted by a phone call and it was one of my brothers, D, completely out of the blue in the middle of the day which first made me think something bad had happened. See, sometimes I’m a real pessimist. He’s not been to visit me at all over these 23 years I’ve now lived in the UK, mostly because I live in London and he can’t stand crowds and the stress of a big city. Bit like me really – don’t ask me why I decided to live in one of the biggest cities on the planet. And he is coming to see us! Plan is to fly over with his eldest two, who are both in their early teens like my son. D has four sons and the youngest two will stay put with mum. In September! It made me so happy my voice nearly broke, which I tried my best to hide as we exchanged our customary good natured insults.

Well, if my sister can stop drinking, I guess I can get to London,” D told me and I could hear the smile in his voice.

Yes,” I agreed, “shows you anything is possible, doesn’t it?

Day 154 was already pretty great but now it’s turned goddamn AWESOME!

So what I was about to write when D’s ears started to burn and he interrupted me, was that my friends and family have showed me nothing but love, kindness and support since I quit drinking. Not everyone is as lucky and honestly I didn’t expect to be. Part of me worried that some might feel ashamed of me (but perhaps some do and only hide it from me), get angry or what have you. SAYING I’m an alcoholic seemed worse than the fact that I already knew I was one 100%. Funny, isn’t it? That’s one of the things I’d really like to change. There are people who don’t have huge reservoirs of love like I do, big families or friends who will stand by them and offer support. There are people who either never had any of that or lost it. Or don’t have it for a myriad of other reasons. What if I can be there and offer that kindness and understanding for just one person? AA in all its glory and all of us there supporting each other, but I want to do more. My “day job” is as a PA but although I work for lovely people and don’t hate what I do, what does it REALLY matter? What if I could put that energy towards working in a capacity that in some way contributes to helping other alcoholics and addicts? I’m realising more for each day that this may just be why I was put here. Writing and silversmithing are my passions, but perhaps this is also part of my purpose here on earth?

Not just to be there for others – we do that in AA on a daily basis – but actively work in the field of recovery in whatever shape it could be. I need to figure out where and how to start but as usual I think asking questions is a pretty decent starting point, so that’s what I’m doing. Lots of them.

Thank you, God, for letting me wake up again sober and live through another day without having to drink. And thanks for the glorious summer weather too, you really are quite the artist when you shroud this island in its best finery.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Smack Bang

It’s probably lucky that I didn’t realise at the time that one of my sobriety milestones would land smack bang on Midsummer – I wonder now if that might have put me off. I knew of course that ALL big celebrations from then on would hopefully be sober for me, but to have a sobriety anniversary on the day of the biggest celebration in the Swedish calendar? No thank you. Or nej tack, as it were. One year we went to Hyde Park where lots of frog dancing, garland wearing and very drunk Swedes congregate – and we drank a lot of wine. Last year we went to stay at a little farm in Somerset – and drank a lot of wine. Other years we’ve done other things – and drunk a lot of wine. The activity in question might have changed but the drinking hasn’t. But here I am and I’m still sober. Five months and two days. Hurrah!

We went to see the most Swedish friend I’ve ever had. She takes all Swedish traditions super seriously and is ultra patriotic, it’s quite lovely actually and especially for me who hasn’t been all that bothered over the now 23 years I’ve lived away from the country where I grew up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the country I came from and I still get tearful when I hear any opening verses to traditional Swedish songs be it Lucia or Christmas or Midsummer, but my friend E goes all in. There was pickled herring, cured salmon, new potatoes dressed with dill, a sandwich cake (actually made by me – super proud!), meatballs and everything else you can expect on a smörgåsbord, followed by cinnamon rolls with the coffee afterwards. Bubbly and Swedish Rekorderlig cider for the adults except of course me. No worries.

As with most people, I’ve told E that I’ve quit drinking. I didn’t have to tell the story from the beginning because she and I shared a flat for a while and she is therefore more than well acquainted with my former drinking habits. Beyond hubby, she’s probably the friend who has seen the most, so I didn’t really have to explain why except my intention is to stay sober and there is no middle way for me.

Not even half a glass though?” she asked, but then immediately noted that I shook my head and concluded “no, soft drink for you then!” and it was no big deal.

This does highlight one of the difficulties with alcoholism – because it’s something the vast majority knows how to handle and control, it’s harder to explain that it’s the first drink I can’t have and not the sixth or seventh (or tenth and eleventh). E has never had issues with drinking and I’ve both known her to have one or two glasses of wine and stop there, or go on a bender and finish the night at 4am with tequila shots. But it’s her own choice and I suppose it’s then quite hard for her to understand how it isn’t mine and never has been or can be. She’s great though and she would never suggest that half a glass of Prosecco if she thought it was anything other than a case of moderation.

Way back when, in what feels like a different time but then again I suppose it was, E and I ended up getting an apartment together because we both ended up going through a crisis each at exactly the same time: my first marriage ended (very, very badly) and hers too (also very, very badly). Two heartbroken little Swedes shacked up together to try to piece their lives together again and I guess it was all quite sad but I look back on that time with huge affection. Having said that, it might have been easier for me – I was the one to leave after finally having tried all I could to save a marriage that was rotten almost from the start, but E had a huge shock having thought hers was happy only to discover that her husband had flown in a mistress from abroad every time E was away with work. She expected kids to be next, and I guess that’s what she got although it wasn’t a baby and instead a Portuguese 19-yearold. For me, it was like turning the page and I felt like a new person the moment I finally left my awful marriage behind. I felt, despite the stress and worry over divorce and childcare arrangements, happy and content again after a couple of years of misery and MAN did I celebrate! It was wine every night and it was during this period my alcoholism really kicked off.

I do believe us alcoholics have the unfortunate combo of what AA refers to as “a physical allergy and mental obsession” so I suppose I must have been that way wired and inclined all along, but this was when it properly took hold of me – it would have sooner or later, and this just happened to be when everything came together in a perfect storm in a wine glass. A year of drinking every day of the week and I had scared myself badly – I remember the morning vividly, despite the fact that I would have been hungover beyond belief. I walked into the kitchen and on the worktop were three wine bottles. Two empty and about a fifth left in the third. I’d been home alone. There were little instances like that, little steps, a steady progression: the first time I realised the next day that I’d polished off a whole bottle of wine on my own, then one and a half, then two…. When I stood there and surveyed those three bottles, I listened more attentively to the warning bells inside of me. I contacted AA and went to a meeting the same day.

Since then, those first AA meetings I went to, I’ve known I’m an alcoholic. All the things were true for me, most of all “one drink is too many, twenty aren’t enough” and I sat there wide eyed in those meetings and knew it was me. But perhaps I wasn’t ready. Clearly I wasn’t. Perhaps I needed to reach my rock bottom of drinking.

You know, I realise that for people who read this blog, it might appear that I’ve just quit drinking and whoop-dee-dooooooo I’m reaching the milestones one by one and it’s just plain sailing with no relapse in sight. Perhaps I should have been clearer on this point. I went to my first AA meeting the same day that I walked into the kitchen and saw those three bottles. That was May 2007. My relapse lasted nearly 11 years. Just in case anyone pops in here and gets the impression that I’ve quit, done so easily (which, THIS TIME, it’s mostly been to be fair) and never been tempted. I’m tempted all the fucking time and although I’ve now been sober over five months it’s been a long time coming!! And when I slipped it turned into over a decade of drinking to oblivion, until I had regular back cramps (my kidneys, I guess) and had got to a point where I was struggling to even do a very easy part time job. So this isn’t my first attempt. I made countless promises to myself over that decade but couldn’t keep a single one of them. In the end I was so destroyed by booze I was exhausted by it all, couldn’t do it anymore and finally I knew one evening that I was done with it. Thank God I got to that point, that something clicked in me and I knew I wanted out. If I hadn’t I don’t think I’d be far off the near-end stages of alcoholism because the merry-go-round only spins faster and faster and when it has started to shrink your world for real it all happens with frightening speed. So, there we are, if anyone wondered.

Funny – it only really dawned on me now that I was writing about my friend E that it occurred to me to go back all those years. Haha, how stupid am I?? I’ve even said occasionally how I thought this blog would document a struggle to get sober with slips at every turn. How conveniently I’ve somehow blocked out that I had a slip that lasted nearly 11 years! Perhaps I could call myself a veteran after all? And that decade long relapse was HARD AS FUCK. I honestly don’t know how I did it, I look back on it and wonder how I even managed to stay upright. Absolutely everything was hard work, something as nice as meeting up with friends required enormous effort! How the fuck did I do it? Never mind being a mother, going to work and everything else. Beats me.

Anyway. Here we are now and I’m no longer destroying my life and the lives of those who love me by drinking myself into an early grave. It’s been five months and two days and I still feel so, so good about this. I will never take my sobriety for granted and I will protect it like a mama grizzly bear protects her cubs. It’s the most important thing in my life because without it, there IS no life.

What’s YOUR journey? Was there a journey before? One so far back you have almost forgotten about it?

Today I’m not going to drink.

Many Little Streams

Because this whole alcoholism and sobriety stuff really interests me, not least because I am a drunk who has stopped drinking, I’ve been reading a lot of books on the subject and a watched a smattering of documentaries too. I’m sure if I developed another disease or condition I’d be keen to learn as much as I could about that too, so I don’t consider it at all strange that I’m devouring all perspectives and opinions I can get my hands on. The book that has resonated with me the most has got to be Allen Carr’s ‘The Easy Way to Stop Drinking‘.

The title itself is probably enough for many to immediately dismiss it as another quack theory designed to fill us drunks with false hope and therefore not worth the paper it’s printed on, but this book really reinforced how I feel. It’s in that way quite similar to ‘The Naked Mind‘, and aspires to show us how we have been brainwashed from birth and I would suggest that anyone who wants to hold on to the view that sobriety is difficult steers well clear of both books as there is a palpable risk they’ll change the way you view alcohol forever. And why take the chance if you feel you already have the answers you feel you need? In that case, don’t read them. For me personally, reading them was like putting into words how I have felt since I stopped, namely how I for the life of me now cannot name one single benefit of drinking alcohol and how I’ve sat in AA meetings with my chin on the floor listening to people state how sobriety is so tough. My own journey has been the very opposite and it was only days into not drinking that I discovered that the tough bit was the drinking.

But as with anything to do with the human condition, I don’t believe there is a one size fits all and perhaps that’s where I’m the most at odds with AA and its teachings. I value many things about AA but the very notion that “it works if you work it” makes me squirm. Of course it bloody does! And I can therefore, just like AA, claim I have a method that comes with a 100% success rate IF YOU WORK IT. Here it is and it’s totally free of charge: don’t drink alcohol. There. One instruction only and I promise you you’ll achieve sobriety so long as you work it. You’re welcome. Oh, that doesn’t work, you say? Well. There is nothing wrong with my method! And I told you it works if you work it. The instruction is very clear and you CANNOT fail if you just follow it. Well, then there must be something wrong with YOU! What if I were a doctor and you came to me with a troublesome infection, and I prescribed you something for it? You take the medication but the infection doesn’t go away. I prescribe you another batch. Infection comes back. More medication. Ad infinitum. Would you be filled with confidence that I know what I’m doing if I then told you that the medication works? Didn’t think so.

No, that sort of approach I think does more harm than good.

As for my own sobriety I can tell you this. Tomorrow it’s five months of not drinking and I feel absolutely fucking awesome! I don’t like calling it “giving up drinking” simply because I’ve not given anything up. Quite to the contrary, I have just rid myself of something that only brought a whole bunch of negativity with it. I won’t lie – I’ve had lots of fun with alcohol as part of the picture but all of that fun was in spite of the booze, not because of it. AA was a good anchor at the beginning and I intend to keep its benefits to my sobriety in my tool kit, 100%. Easyway and The Naked Mind two other sources that I read at precisely the right time in my sobriety, just as I’d discovered some of my own truths and they further cemented exactly how I feel about booze. Then there is a multitude of other books, documentaries and, perhaps most importantly, blogs I’ve been absorbing like a sponge, all these little streams that together create a huge flood wave of thinking around alcoholism and sobriety that is benefiting me massively.

Sure, I occasionally get that ping! at the back of my mind when a lifetime of brainwashing makes itself known and I have those images of alcohol and what I was taught my whole life that it represents: celebration and a good time. Of course that happens, how could it not? So far, it seems to help to just reel myself back in and remind myself that it’s all an illusion and think back on my drinking and what it was actually like. Guzzle a box of wine and catapult myself right into black-out home alone. Oh yeah, some celebration! What I want to point out though is that the pull of the beast is strong, but how it’s perhaps a little misunderstood. Or wrongly perceived, rather – that it’s not there because of a bunch of flaws in ME but because I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that this thing brings me good stuff. Having said that, I clearly react to alcohol in a way that some people (aka non-alcoholics) don’t, so I do also believe that SOMETHING is different in my wiring but one doesn’t have to exclude the other. Example – I could be allergic to kiwi fruit, like my kiwi husband quite ironically is. So I could be brainwashed into thinking that eating kiwi fruit will bring me benefits at the same time as I react to it in an unfortunate way that non-kiwi fruit allergic people would. As if poor hubby believed eating kiwi fruit would sprinkle glitter on life and insist on eating it in spite of his allergic reaction. That’s what alcoholism is for me – this thing I react so badly to but drank because I thought it put a sparkle on life.

Another voice in the huge flood wave of thoughts that I’ve enjoyed hearing is Russell Brand and his thoughts around recovery. I’d say Brand’s views appear to be very in line with the AA way but his approach is more straight forward, plus of course he has an engaging way with words that I believe is easier to relate to than the now somewhat dated voice of the Big Book. Besides, when it comes to the 12 steps I do firmly believe we would all be better off for doing them and Brand has a really excellent way of interpreting the program – some people might hate his way but I like it a lot, he strikes a chord for me and when he sells spirituality I find myself opening my purse, not holding it more tightly. Uhm, that sounded a bit dirty but it wasn’t meant to, sorry. Either way, I pick bits here and there from him too, as I do with AA, Easyway, blogs and the rest.

That all got a bit waffly, I realise that. But perhaps it illustrates how I view alcoholism and sobriety when it comes to myself, how I’m finding truth in a whole bunch of places and figuring out what works for me at the same time as I accept that it’s not going to be the same for everyone. To be honest I don’t give a shit if you follow this method or that, whether you go to AA meetings everyday or keep sober by doing cartwheels around the house each morning – whatever works for you is bloody perfect!

Today it’s 150 days of sobriety and tomorrow it’ll be five months – I’m pleased as punch! I think when I first quit, if I’d realised my five month anniversary would fall on midsummer – by far the biggest (and wettest!!) celebration in the Swedish calendar, I would have groaned with despair. Now? No biggie. Alcohol brings me nothing but crap, remember? It’s a shift in my thinking that’s happened during these almost five months of sobriety and I do hope my brain doesn’t get tricked back into thinking booze brings positives. Always easy? No. But it’s not exactly hard to be present, alive and feeling physically and mentally well and strong. Life will serve up its usual greatness and the occasional curve balls, but whatever happens I know it’s infinitely better and I’m much better placed to cope with it all when I don’t poison myself.

Today I’m not going to have a drink.

Fascinators and Phallic Symbols

Today is the kind of day when I actually feel like drinking would be a great idea,” I said as I adjusted my fascinator.

Hubby smiled as he drove into the car park of Ascot Racecourse, kind of chuckled a “hmh!” that wasn’t in approval or disapproval but just sort of a half grunt response to acknowledge that he’d heard me. And it was only a thought but it was nice that he heard me and that helped it fade very quickly, because that’s one of my best defences: speaking it out loud. When the thought comes, I let it out. I put words to it and it goes away. Boom. I allow those thoughts when they come a’knockin’ and I deliberately invite them in. Foolish perhaps, but I feel trying to shut them out or suppress them might be worse. And voicing them to someone else, most often to hubby, makes me feel safe, it’s almost like the urge gets closed down the moment I share it (same strategy as why it’s good to share in AA meetings I guess). Fine, so I know full well that if the beast got its claws into me there’s nothing anyone else could do. If I were to decide I was going to drink, nothing would – or could – stop me. But it does help to not be alone, because alone is where the beast prefers me to be. It’s in its nature to strip all semblance of a life away from the alcoholic, isolate her, shrink her world and slowly edge her towards death. And it goes without saying that voicing a fear to someone we trust means we weaken the beast – telling someone is, I think, the best thing we can do when we’re in harm’s way. Alcohol can’t speak, of course, but if it could it’d coax us drunks in the same way an abuser would – urge us that this is our little secret, threaten us with worse if we snitch and ultimately have us believe they are our only friend and no one else would understand or believe us anyway.

So anyway, we settled on our picnic blanket and it struck me how strange this little piece of Britishness is. There we were, dressed up to the nines and having paid more than we would have for a couple of concert tickets to even be there, yet we were sitting on a picnic blanket in a car park between rows of cars and eating food and snacks and strawberries straight out of the packets. You’re not allowed to enter if the shoulder straps of your dress are not of a minimum width, but eat your lunch with plastic cutlery is no problem. But this is what you do. People around us had picnic furniture and several with table cloths and even flower vases. It’s quite lovely and a little eccentric I think, this car park picnic thing, and I do love the wonderful British people who inhabit (and allow me to inhabit too) this lovely island and partake in their quirky ways.

The thought of drinking alcohol disappeared but for a brief moment when we were on the stands ahead of a race and I thought to myself that it was hard enough to negotiate steps and lawns in high heels and felt grateful I don’t have to drink anymore. We did go three years ago, and I drank then. I don’t think I got recklessly drunk, but then I rarely did when we were out – my full-on drinking always took place at home, much in line with aforementioned dirty little secret and isolation. For that reason, I was usually extremely restless and anxious to get away in order to get on with getting sloshed, and my guess is I must have been keen to get home after a couple of hours. Not so these days though and this is one of the biggest changes for me now that I’m sober: I get to be present, I can relax in the moment and just enjoy it. No stress, no hurry. Like many other awesome benefits to sobriety, this is utterly wonderful and I always did really hate the restlessness booze filled me with – I’d go as far as to say it was unbearable.

And that brings me to the greatest thing of all – quitting drinking has given me my freedom back!

That’s not to say I never feel anxious, restless or down. I don’t like flying so feel anxious when I have to get on a plane. I get restless when I feel done with one thing and want to move on to the next, like when hubby takes an eternity to finish off a coffee after a meal – we have already spent two hours sitting here and I am all ambiance’d out, ta. I feel down when something sad happens or when something hurts. Of course I feel all those things, but I feel them when there is a reason to. When I drank I’d frequently experience those feelings almost like they were a default setting. Thank God I’m free from that and only need to feel bad when there is a reason to do so. Oh, and I get a bit sad when it’s the time of the month, I really do feel the fluctuation in hormone levels and I once ended up crying watching Friends when I had my period. But you know what I mean, don’t you? Those feelings aren’t my natural way of being. They are quite the opposite, I’ve discovered. It has really amused me to realise that I’m actually pretty calm when I used to think of myself as highly strung and antsy. Who would’ve known?

Of course you end up feeling free when you’re no longer a slave. Now I go into situations for what they are as opposed to being distracted (and stressed) by how to factor in my drinking and all that this entailed. It’s still a novelty, actually, because I catch myself feeling little hints of stress that dissolve the moment I remember I don’t have to drink anymore and it’s replaced by a sense of gratitude.

Another blogger wrote something that made me think – how us dry alcoholics can feel utterly convinced and super strong about never wanting to drink again one day, then feel like hitting the bottle the next. That’s probably the scariest thing about alcoholism as far as I’m concerned, because as I’ve bleated on about in this blog I really DO see all the benefits (and necessity, of course) of total abstinence. I also know with the rational part of my brain that alcohol does nothing for me and that I’d be better off eating dog shit if I feel like doing something both stupid and pointless. Yet, the compulsion is so strong that it still pulls at me. That’s terrifying because what in God’s name does it have on me when I honestly KNOW it does nothing for me? When I know that it’ll just go to shit if I have a drink, why does it still hold some power over me? Well, I don’t know. Do you? Any theories? It honestly is – to me – like an abusive partner. You go back time and time again, but WHY when all they do is cause you harm? It’s maddening!! All I know right now is that this thing that I don’t actually want to do is occasionally tempting, and that’s enough to respect its power massively. I guess I’ll just always have to remember the beast is much bigger than I am.

In other news, this weekend is the most important celebration of the year for us Swedes – midsummer! We mark the lightest point of the year by getting very, very drunk and dance like little frogs around a phallic symbol. This year we’re heading over to a friend of mine and will binge on various Swedish delicacies and I suppose I’ll be on water or alco-free beer. And yes – just then there was a little ping! in my head and I conjured up images of hubby and I having a midsummer celebration picnic in the park and drinking wine. The association with fun and a great time is so strong. So strong that even though I know that those images are illusions, they still have a firm hold on me.

For anyone interested in celebrating midsummer like a Swede, here’s an instruction video:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Red Ends and Good Weeks

Can’t say I lived by that meme yesterday, i.e. the one that says “in a year from now you’ll wish you’d started today”. Got home and quickly abandoned our low carb plan by pushing two doughnuts into my face, but then headed out on my usual walk in the park. OK, it’ll sound a bit daft now, after my doughnut confession, but WHY am I just getting fatter? Alright, not fat, I’m not obese, but I am definitely on the squidgy side of medium and steadily growing it would seem. I calculated when I quit drinking that based on conservative estimations I had cut out 8,000 calories per week. Probably more, but I based this on what I’d drink on a Good Week. For anyone who is here for the first time, I should probably point out that 13 bottles of Sauvignon (at 600 calories a pop) in one week wasn’t unusual for this particular drunk, nor was it as bad as it ever got. A Bad Week would be every single night and not remembering the last evening I’d been sober. Those happened too, although for the sake of being fair to myself, I’d say five nights per week was probably an accurate average.

You know those tests you can do with a bunch of questions to see if your drinking is a problem or damaging your health? When I drank I avoided those partly because I didn’t like the answer and partly because I knew that answer already. Now, however, when I’m approaching five months sober, I completed one via a Swedish news site and I went with absolute honesty and accuracy based on my drinking habits before I quit.

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I’ll assist with the translation. It says “here is your alcohol profile” with a cheerful little exclamation mark at the end and then a little sub caption that reads “you drink a lot and often, so your alcohol consumption is dangerous for you“. Then we obviously have that lovely colour coded scale. Unsurprisingly I am right at the red end, the black arrow box with “du” (‘you‘) as far into the red as you can go and “farligt” means dangerous. Not that I need an online test to tell me that I was killing myself – I know that now and I knew it then. I do wonder how many alcoholics who haven’t yet reached the stage I did, do these tests, end up somewhere around the middle which says “warning” and take it as reassurance? I reckon an addict will only take comfort in not being at the Really Bad End. I definitely behaved in that way and I had people I’d point to as a way of illustrating that THEY had problems and were worse than I was so that must mean I was Just Fine. Elaine* both drank and smoked more than I did, which was reassuring and allowed me to stay in deep denial. Linda* was also someone who was much further down into the bottle than I was, usually drinking a bottle of whisky before she even got to lunchtime – Linda was a full-on alcoholic, in the stages where you just kind of expect the worst. And sure enough, on her 48th birthday Linda drank herself to death. The urn containing her ashes was buried in water, in a little cove off the coast of Florida, where she lived. And Elaine? Well, I discovered I actually drank more, so really, I ran out of People Worse Than I Am to point out. In the end I could only point at myself. That’s a scary place to be, when you no longer know anyone who drinks more than you do.

Needless to say there are countless wonderful byproducts of sobriety and the universe delivers almost instantly with the amazing feeling of waking up without a hangover. I swear, quitting drinking is well worth it for that alone. I can – and often do – wax lyrical about how fantastic it is so be sober, but I do also try to always remind myself what drinking was like. I never want to allow myself to forget how awful it truly was so nestling here among my odes to sobriety those awful snap shots will always be found. Another anchor to hold me in place I suppose.

But back to the endless joys of being sober! When I first quit drinking I discovered I had a sweet tooth, and since I bid adieu to the Sauvignon Blanc you can often find me ordering dessert as well as eating chocolate, which I didn’t even realise I like! And cookies too. What the hell! Still, I figured with all the wine calories absent, I’d still slim down without lifting a finger. Not so. Instead I got fat. For fuck’s sake, what’s up with THAT? Luckily I love walking, ideally with either music in my ears or an audio book, plus we live 200 yards from a massive park, so I set as a goal to go for a brisk walk most days of the week for a minimum of one hour. Said and done, although most of my walks are around the inner perimeter of the whole park which is a total of 10k and takes one hour and forty minutes. A Good Week is, as with the drinking, if I do it five of the seven days every week and I do AT LEAST THAT. Just like with the drinking, it’s at least five evenings per week. OK, so I’ve not made any effort to cut down on sweets, but shouldn’t all that walking have paid off by now? Clearly not, and my backside probably affects the tide by now. But hey, my eyes are brighter and my skin has a glow again, so I’d rather be a little cuddlier than remain a haggard looking drunk. You are what you drink.

Perhaps I should get going on the running again. It’s just such a drag to get started and especially when you’re carrying a bit of extra ‘bendy flesh’ as I like to call it. As much as I know all the walking does me a world of good – endorphins ROCK! – I now have about 20 pairs of eyewateringly expensive  pairs of jeans in my wardrobe that I can’t get into. I don’t consider myself fat, but I’m starting to feel uncomfortable so want to do something about it and running used to be one of my favourite things during those months here and there when I got really into it. Those tended to be periods when I hardly ever drank because obviously you can’t (not me, anyway) do exercise at that rate and drink the way I did. I shouldn’t actually say it’s a ‘drag’ to get started – it really isn’t. When I start, it only takes three-ish weeks before I can hobble around a decent 5k-loop, and three-ish weeks isn’t exactly a long time now is it? All goes back to how I am an absolute quitter and put my nose up at anything I’m not a total wizard at from the word go. But as with the jewellery, here’s another thing to keep me more centered than my natural balance allows, and I’ll build up slowly. There should be a goal. 10k?

Today I’m not going to drink.

* Linda and Elaine are not their real names – I never name anyone here, everyone I write about gets a nickname and I avoid any detail that would make them identifiable in the EXTREMELY unlikely event that someone they know reads this blog. 

Huge Oceans of Kindness

No more hesitating. I’m going to do it! The story about Alice is still one I want to tell, but the story I have to tell first is the one about Sophie. A true story before a fictional one. And I don’t want to do it anonymously – how can I talk about removing the stigma and shame attached to alcohol abuse when I myself hide behind an alias and am still so preoccupied with what people might think that I don’t want to stand by my own freaking truth? So when I tell Sophie’s story I have to start by killing her off because this story is my own, it’s my truth and it’s my voice I want you to hear. After all, how could I ever expect to encourage others to talk openly about alcoholism and trust in me to be in their corner when I show up to the party wearing a Halloween mask? It doesn’t seem right and it’s about time I pull my own pants down.

Why don’t you?” hubby asked.

Not just about pulling my pants down, which he always approves of the dirty git, but why I don’t just slap my real name on here along with a photo where you can see more than my woolly hat and behave according to how I hand on heart feel – i.e. how I absolutely, 100% embrace the fact that I’m an alcoholic and if anyone’s got a problem with that I know with conviction that it says more about them than it does about me. After all, I’ve been open with both my family and my friends when the subject of drinking has come up – told them truthfully that I have quit drinking alcohol for the simple reason that I can’t stop when I start. So why hide here, of all places? It’s a bit ridiculous really if you think about it, not least because this is a tiny little blog in a huge ocean of others with a small handful of readers and the chances of this landing in front of my family are minuscule. I.e. a family I’m not trying to hide anything from in the first place so using an alias is actually quite ridiculous.

But! (There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?) How would my parents and siblings feel about having an alcoholic in the family, something so closely associated with shame and embarrassment? “Yes, this is my youngest daughter who is about to get her Phd, and this is my eldest – she’s an alcoholic.” As open minded, supportive and kind as my mother is, I just can’t exactly see her saying that with pride. Hubby himself is a good example, actually. It’s his surname I bear. An unusual one at that. And hubby happens to be on the board of a global company. Call me crazy, it won’t be the first time, but I do feel that for this reason alone I’d be best advised to be discreet about what a big, fat drunky-drunk I am. Can you see what I mean? That’s what has made me weary more than anything else, because I genuinely don’t have a problem with it for my own sake.

What if it affected you negatively?” I asked, “would you not worry about it reflecting badly on you to have people know your wife is a drunk? Wouldn’t you be embarrassed?

No,” he said without missing a beat.

Huh. Am I desperately prejudiced myself, or shockingly backwards in my thinking, in saying that if it were me I’d probably be a little concerned in that respect? Even though I personally would like to think I’d never judge, I’d be painfully aware that many others would. Hubby seemed completely unconcerned by any of that. Weirdo! Or is it because I’m so preoccupied with this that I have completely misjudged all of it? After all, every single person I have told about quitting drinking and my reasons why, has responded with nothing but kindness. And not the sort of kindness you’d expect if you were diagnosed with cancer “oh my God, you poor thing, we’re here for you and we’ll do all we can” but a more relaxed sort of kindness “oh OK, well, good for you“. An it’s-no-big-deal sort of kindness. I fully expected my father to go to town with a long lecture followed by scolding me for having sunk so low, yet instead he praised me for making such a great decision and told me he had huge respect for me. Huh. Or perhaps it’s just I’m discovering that the world – amazingly – does not revolve around me and that’s what’s actually shocking me. That friends, family and people in general, including business associates of hubby’s, don’t actually need to give it further thought than “oh“. That they don’t, in fact, gather around to discuss my many shortcomings at length. Huh.

More than anything, I need to stop worrying what people may think. This is me, this is my truth and I own it. And if those close to me feel shame for any reason, the question should be whether I want to have them near me anyway.

My name is Anna and I’m an alcoholic.

Hahaha, it’s not the most heroic outing the world has ever seen, is it? And after all that build-up it’s a bit of an anti-climax, don’t you think? Oh well, there we are. But just like the 23rd of January, it’s a START, because this is when I stop thinking about putting my little journey to good use and begin to actually DO IT. I’m not a fan of clichés or those “words of wisdom” on cheesy memes or whatever else, but there’s one I once saw in my Facebook newsfeed that I downloaded with the intention of having it printed and framed. And I think I now will, along with living according to exactly what it says:

year

Today is all I have and today I’m not going to drink.

Take Me To the River

Hmm… I wonder if this would be how a non-alcoholic feels when they are having a drink? As per previous posts, I discovered non-alcoholic beer, but although I did expect to be able to get it in the UK, I wasn’t expecting pubs to serve them – I just didn’t think it’d be a thing here. Turns out not only do they actually have my favourite non-alco beer but they serve it at our favourite pub – Heineken, and with a reassuring “max 0.05% alcohol” at that.

Yesterday was precisely the sort of Sunday afternoon that seems to be tailor made for sitting on the wall by the river having a drink. We have done this before since I quit drinking and I usually get a pint of soda water with fresh lime and this has been absolutely fine of course, but it’s really nice to have an alternative given how it turns out I actually really like beer. It’s funny – the idea of alcohol free wine makes me feel a bit sick, yet wine was what I always drank. Very rarely would I order a pint of lager when I was in full-on active alkie mode, yet suddenly now as a sober alcoholic I’m finding that it’s my favourite drink. If it turned out I reacted badly to caffeine, presumably I’d want to drink decaf coffee, right? It’d seem strange in the same way to go from a coffee drinker to decaf tea or quit tea and start drinking decaf coffee as an alternative?! This switch to beer amuses me a little. But hey, as Willow put it, ANYTHING alcohol free is great, so who cares if I drink beer or unicorn tears so long as I remain sober.

You might all think I’m really foolish for having something that tastes like the real thing, that it might be really risky for a drunk like me to drink non-alcoholic beer, that it’s too close a shave. And who knows. I can tell you that it’s not in any way triggered any desire in me to drink alcohol, but hey, I’ve made a vow of honesty on this blog though so you’ll be the first to know if anything changes on that score. Besides, I have felt the urge on a handful of occasions and it’s not something I’m ashamed to admit, so there we are.

Whilst it hasn’t made me want to drink, something interesting does happen when I have non-alcoholic beer, and it sort of cements for me that AA’s take on what alcoholism is for me: a physical allergy and a mental obsession. If you at any point end up thinking ‘oh, hell no, girl!‘ reading this, feel free to point it out. I have experienced this a few times now – each time I’ve had the non-alco golden nectar that is – and it’s made me feel happy and free each time. It’s sort of proved that part of the problem is definitely physical, that there is indeed something to do with how I’m wired and what happens when the booze hits my blood stream. I’ve observed it keenly each time this has happened and I take it as evidence that I am indeed an alcoholic. Well – if hardcore alcohol abuse stretching over a decade wasn’t enough to show I’m a fully fledged drunky-drunk-drunk.

So there we are, in the afternoon sunshine, sitting on the wall by the river outside the pub where we met just over five years ago and where we celebrated getting hitched last year. We must have sat in this spot hundreds of times over these five years, drinking and chatting, gazing out over the river and generally appreciating being alive. Being sober, this has not changed and to be honest, the absence of booze has only made it all better. Anyway, there we are – hubby with a pint of cider and me with a bottle of Heineken non-alcoholic beer, and this is where my addiction makes itself known. We had two drinks. I find myself taking several big gulps and the taste is gorgeous – I’m diving into a fizzy wave of lager. A few puffs on my e-cigarette and then I lift the bottle to my lips again, greedily drinking more beer down and really enjoying it but I also notice that once I’m no longer thirsty, that the old craving that comes to life when I take a drink.. …doesn’t. And with it, there is no violent force that has me lifting the bottle again and again. When we leave, hubby has finished his two pints and I have left the second bottle with a third left in it.

With the first, there was the definite pang of joy at having a drink – something making itself known in me that is entirely separate from other feelings and specific to the drink, and the old beast is growling contentedly. The mental obsession comes alive immediately, it’s insane how it’s absolutely instantaneous. But there’s no alcohol, so there is nothing to grab on to. Nothing ignites. Nothing awakens. I’m still me. Just me. And I notice the shift in my mind there too. It sounds mad, I know, but I could quite literally feel myself go from a slight sense of euphoria – lift the bottle, lift it again – to a MEH that despite being a ‘meh‘ doesn’t feel deflated or sad, just neutral. And whereas alcohol would trigger the rest of the mayhem that’d usually follow, my mind and body chained together in a death dance, now that the very substance I seem to react so badly to isn’t in my system so it’d appear the gig is cancelled. Nothing in my blood stream, nothing to tickle the receptors in my brain. I’m still here, right here. I imagine it’s my brain making the connection like a heroin addict’s mind might react to the sensation of a needle, but without the physical reaction in hot pursuit, what is there? Nothing. A big, fat nothing. Just me, my life, my mind – the present moment. The lack of a physical reaction – despite me describing it as ‘meh‘ – isn’t a disappointment, it’s a relief. It’s really nice to just sit there on the wall in the evening sunshine and enjoy a beer. Absolutely lovely.

And given how hubby doesn’t turn into a restless ghoul when he drinks stuff that does contain alcohol, I wonder if how I feel when I drink non-alcoholic beer (or anything non-alcoholic for that matter) is how someone who isn’t a drunk feels when they have a drink. I have some, and then it’s enough. I have no compulsion whatsoever to guzzle the rest of it and rush off to get another. I’m done now, that’ll be all, thanks. Do I sit there when that ‘meh‘ happens, wishing the physical reaction would follow? No. Do I wish there was real alcohol in my glass or bottle? No. All I feel is relief that I don’t have to be pulled into that terrifying carousel again, that spins me into a place I don’t want to be and where I have no control over what happens next. It’s complete and blissful relief. This must be it – I have watched others with such fascination in the past, how they could just stop drinking when I found I couldn’t. I just tried to imagine what that would feel like but couldn’t.

It wasn’t even towards the end of my drinking that I’d have that first drink and amongst the euphoria there’d also be a vague but distinct sense of overwhelming sadness. A sense of defeat, knowing when I put the wine glass to my lips I’d set it all in motion again and be unable to stop. That’s fucking terrifying. And I think it is the absence of that defeat that fills me with such joy. I suppose it’s called freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to feel, freedom to be present and freedom to live. And that’s what I want. It’s how I always want to feel – free to walk away when I’ve had enough, not be slave to something dark and sinister that I can’t control and that will slowly kill me. I close my eyes and smile, saying a silent prayer of gratitude for this life I was once given but now fully can receive. I realise also that it isn’t alcohol that’s the ‘real thing‘ – it’s anything but.

For that, and countless other reasons, I’m not going to drink today.