Whacked Them All

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

Eek! Did I just do something silly? It’s been a long time (14-ish months) since I with my heart in my throat checked my phone to see if I’d posted something really stupid on Facebook. Back to the present moment and I believe I just announced to the world that not only did I abuse alcohol, but my exact words on Facebook just moments ago and now there for all to see were that my drinking problem was of epical proportions. I mean, I’m all for calling a spade a spade but holy cannoli, I think I just whacked them all with a goddamn shovel!

The husband of one of my best friends is big on health. An osteopath by trade (and founder of the Stockholm College of Osteopathy) and a firm believer in looking after our whole being – mind, body and soul – his updates often feature photos from his latest spiritual retreat in places like Kenya or articles around preventative methods of promoting good health. Today he listed ways to promote good health and questioned why not more of Sweden’s national budget is used towards those measures, which would mean a relatively small investment now will prevent huge cost later. So drunky-drunk here felt compelled to jump in. I went to town. No, I strutted into town like a defiant peacock and I made it clear to all and sundry that I’m a sober alcoholic with years of aforementioned EPICALLY PROPORTIONED alcohol abuse, who now wants to see us put this screwed-up world right. I rounded up by asking him if he wants to join my crusade. Well. When I am ready to open my chain of addiction rehab centres that will revolutionise how we treat addiction, I will want experts like him by my side so let’s hope he’s up to the task.

Did you expect me to start the next paragraph or sentence with “jokes aside“? I hope you’ve scheduled a good chunk of today’s available calendar entries as “wait for Anna to say she was joking“. Tomorrow’s too.

Today is a day to survey my arsenal and regroup for Stage Deux of my crusade into the world of addiction treatment. Fine, it’s not really a crusade yet, more of a fact finding research mission but I’m determined that no matter what, part of the mighty All Blacks’ philosophy will remain my focus. For those of you who aren’t into rugby, the All Blacks are New Zealand’s national rugby team and I guess you could say they are to rugby what Canada are to ice hockey – the ones to beat. One of their team mantras is to “leave the jersey in a better place“. That’s what I want to do. Whether that will mean that just a single addict will remember me as someone who treated them with kindness and respect when they underwent treatment or I’ll take my place in the history books alongside Bill W is irrelevant. My best will be good enough and it’s all I can do, but when I wear that jersey I will be humble, honoured and hellbent on leaving it in a better place than I found it. End of story.

Gosh, aren’t I a little hell raiser today? This is the cool thing about being sober though. Not blurt out some crap whilst drunk that you neither actually feel nor particularly care about sober and then regret it with shame burning inside you, but stand up proud and shout from the roof tops the things that you truly feel in your heart. That’s a gift and it’s one that I treasure. Please God, never let me fall back. Please God, help me always remain on this path. I’ll be ever so good, I promise, just help me stay sober.

Now on to lining up my ducks. I’m going to get on LinkedIn and connect the shit out of every recovery professional I can find. Hubby took me through how he uses his and what you can do on there. Gosh, how grown up! But I want to network and find the people in this industry, read relevant articles and find my way around my new career. It feels so amazing to feel this serious about something that really matters to me and be bubbling over with motivation, inspiration and determination. I’m so grateful to be here.

How’s everyone else doing? I feel so absent recently, even though the reason for not commenting and interacting as much as I’d like is a positive one. The blogosphere is still my anchor and reading other people’s blogs is still what most helps me make sense of my own addiction and recovery. It’s here that I found my tribe, some of whom have morphed into amazing real-life friendships. Having said that, as lovely as it is to connect beyond blogs and nicknames, these connections we make in this sphere are every bit as invaluable. Finding your tribe would probably be one of my first pieces of advice to anyone in recovery. There. I’m done. A bit of hell raising and a little declaration of love for my tribe.

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Now let’s carpe the fucking diem!

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Best Answer

No run last night. To be honest, I don’t know if I have the energy to go tonight either. Work is beyond frantic and so it’s self care time at Casa Anna these evenings that follow days at the rehab – peace, quiet and sweet, sweet solitude. Blog, chomp down the odd cinnamon roll and generally just unwind. Hence I’ve declined Hubby’s run request via WhatsApp and will just go for a brisk, long walk. Sometimes a no is the best answer and as we all know, the days of Anna saying yes to everything are over.

Today I mostly went around with a colleague I hadn’t had a chance to get to know much – I’ll call her Raven because she has gorgeous, jet black hair – and like Work-Hubby, she is adding another fantastic layer of knowledge to everything I’m learning. Rio is like a machine gun and brilliant to learn from as he does everything to the letter, something the law abiding and rule loving little Swede in me massively appreciates. Hell, I don’t even cross the road unless there’s a little green man telling me I can do so, and Rio’s approach is therefore wonderful. It’s also awesome to learn that way as it means I from the outset get entrenched in good habits as opposed to taking shortcuts. He does seem to get quite stressy though – actually, make that agitated on occasion – and one second he’ll shove something into my hands only to rip it out of them a second later because he’s changed his mind or suddenly thought of something else for me to do – I’ve had to slow him down several times by gently stating that look, buddy, can I finish this task first. But hey, that’s cool. I like him enormously and obviously the man is taking time to show me so I’m not about to whinge about the speed settings. Work-Hubby and Raven are as calm and methodical as Rio is frantic and full throttle, and this gives me a perfect balance as I’m A) learning to cross all the Ts and dot the Is, and B) allow myself to slow down and find little tricks for remembering the whats, wheres, hows and whens. Perfect.

Many of my colleagues are in recovery. In a team of ten support workers there are only two people who are not in recovery (although this is a guess – I don’t know this for sure) and out of six therapists two are, as far as I know, in recovery. Finding out more about their stories is so fascinating, in much the same way as I find the blogosphere and various recovery/sobriety communities and groups so valuable. They are all incredible people and I’m just so freaking lucky to get to work and be around them, but what struck me today more than anything else is how Work-Hubby is the very embodiment of serenity. He came on his shift shortly before mine was over and as always he has a smile on his face and kind words for every single person he passes – greeting clients and asking how they’re doing today, greeting us colleagues and generally just lifting the atmosphere by his calm presence. This is a man with over 20 years of sobriety who only months ago buried his oldest son who died because of addiction, heroin I believe. Yet there he is, grateful for his own sobriety and appreciative of doing what he loves for a living, totally at peace and content with where he’s at. You don’t start complaining about banalities around someone like that. Well, they’re all like that and I get to be around them and mark my words – I am trying with all my might to soak up their wisdom and knowledge.

Oh God, this turned a bit gushy. Sorry ’bout that. I never did know when to tone it down, never mind turn it off.

Rio just rang me as it happens to swap tomorrow for Saturday. Cool bananas. I was looking forward to tomorrow and getting another day with Raven and Work-Hubby, but there we are. Verbal machine gun Rio on a Saturday it is. Every now and then he comes out with something that makes me laugh out loud with recognition, sometimes a little story or, like in today’s relaxation group, a saying. Today’s little Rio-ism is one I might get printed and framed because it’s just too good. He told the group this to round up a discussion around being a newcomer in AA or NA and feeling worried about sharing when other people have much longer sobriety than we currently do:

TODAY YOU ARE A PEACOCK BUT TOMORROW YOU MIGHT BE A FEATHER DUSTER!

It just doesn’t matter if we’re five days, five weeks, five months, five years or five damn decades sober – we’re only ever one drink away.

Today I’m not going to drink.

What People in Love Do

Funny that – used the search function on the archive for a Swedish TV channel to see if there might be some interesting documentary or something around alcoholism and addiction, and all they had is a series called ‘Skam’. Translation: ‘shame’. Perhaps that’s all I needed to learn today? Pretty accurate, if you ask me.

I hate to sound like that whiny Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, but it got me thinking. Isn’t it so stupid how we view addiction? We split it up in categories. Clare Pooley (Sober Mummy here in the blogosphere and author of The Sober Diaries) gave a Ted talk that highlighted this. Take another legal drug, nicotine. You stop smoking and to the rest of the world you are a hero. Nicotine we all know to be bad, and you are ever so good when you stub out that filthy habit. Right? Compare this with alcohol abuse. Stop drinking and 1) you have to explain why, and 2) there must be something wrong with YOU. This drives me mad! It’s so very true – it’s the only drug you have to justify NOT taking and if you have a problem with it, the assumption seems to be that you are inherently bad or weak somehow.

Yes, I do absolutely believe that there is something about how I’m wired that made me more likely to develop alcoholism. Actually, scrap ‘believe’ – I know it’s different because I can see it! It’s blatantly clear that what happens when I drink is entirely different to what happens when e.g. Hubby drinks. This weekend he did that thing again that confuses the hell out of me. We headed down to south Devon for a random weekend escape and after a trip on a steam train, we found a pub to watch the rugby. During the couple of hours we were there, Hubby had three pints. It was raining so we headed back to the B&B for a while before dinner.

Now this is probably a little strange, but even though I don’t at all want to drink I seem to go into Anna-mode when Hubby does and become super aware of what I might perceive as his drinking needs. Hence, I suggested we get some wine or a couple of beers to take back because in my formerly wine soaked world there is nothing worse than breaking the flow. Come on, that’s just agony, no? Nah. I think he even asked me why. I scrunched up my nose and again tried to figure out what actually goes on in the mind of a normal person, but as usual I just couldn’t understand it. Back at the little guesthouse, we spent an hour looking through photos we’d taken, watched some of another rugby game on TV and googled the best restaurant in Paignton and booked a table. Dude’s totally calm and apparently completely unaffected by this. If anything, I felt a little restless. Headed out and over the best meal I’ve had this year, Hubby had a couple of glasses of wine. And that was it. I’m calm and content because the Beast doesn’t have its claws into me, and Hubby is calm and content because he’s immune to the Beast. Got back, did what people in love do and then fell asleep.

The next day the sun was out and we headed out for a walk along the sea front. I just had to ask him because I just don’t understand how that stuff feels! All I know is that when I drink, something in me comes alive that I cannot stop or control, this insane compulsion that I cannot stop. I assume it’s how I feel when I……. Oh holy crap, I’m struggling to think of something I do in moderation and end up feeling “that’s enough, thank you” about. I eat like a truck driver and drink coffee like a demon, there are actually very few areas of my life where I apply that thing the Swedes call ‘lagom‘ = not too much, not too little: just right. Water!! WATER! I can moderate fucking water! If I’m thirsty and drink some water, I definitely hit a pleasant point where I have had enough and I’ve just had enough to quench my thirst. I don’t keep on gulping water beyond the point that I’m just nicely satisfied. So that’s what it must be like for a non-alkie to my mind.

So those three pints you had,” I put to him as we strolled past little beach huts and souvenir stalls, “you would have had enough to feel what, a bit tipsy?

Not really, just like feeling I’ve had a drink,” Hubby replied.

But enough to get you going, right?” I insisted.

Yeah, I guess.

So when we went back to the hotel, you didn’t want to go on drinking?

No.

This is so weird for me! At that point, when you’ve had a few and sort of got into it, are you saying there’s no part of you that really wants to go for it?” I asked, both curious and confused because to me that violent desire to guzzle is so overpowering I can’t imagine not feeling that way after a drink.

“No.”

Just no? Nothing? Doesn’t it aggravate you to stop?

No.

OK, so…” I searched for new words to ask the same thing, “in that moment you don’t feel any urge to keep going? You can literally take it or leave it and it doesn’t stress you out?

Yeah.

To Hubby, this was all so obvious that there weren’t anything other that one-word answers. It’s just how it is for him. To me, it’s bewildering because I just can’t imagine how that feels, how it’d be possible to feel the way after a glass of wine as I do after a glass of water. No, I don’t wish that were me. Is that strange? Surely the the greatest wish for me, as an alcoholic, would be that I could drink like a normal person? I don’t. Once the illusion of booze shattered and I saw no benefit to drinking anymore, this went right out of the window. I’ve said it before, if someone offered me a pill that’d enable me to drink the way Hubby can I honestly wouldn’t bother. That’s neither here nor there though, the point is I find it really fascinating to hear him describe what happens when he drinks, which of course is seemingly very little.

In other news, life at rehab goes on and I had my first observation today. I’ve done observations several times now but this time it was me who was observed. Not due to a risk of seizures or self harm but giving the clients their medication. I’ve watched it done many times now and this was the second and third time (breakfast and lunch) that I did it myself. As we were doing the handover for other staff coming on shift, Work-Hubby turned to me and suggested I do it. As luck would have it, Beethoven (who is the manager) joined and it was down to me to talk through each client’s mood and updates. I don’t actually know if I did well or really badly but I did my best, and guess what? That’s good enough. Shockingly, I didn’t get nervous – what the hell is THAT about? I mean, not even a little. My cheeks didn’t burn and my heart didn’t race, nor did my voice tremble. I just did it to the best of my ability and felt completely relaxed about it, intimidation levels firmly at zero. I like Sober Me – she’s quite a cool chick.

Well. Hubby is on his way home and I really need to head out for a run – it’s been two weeks! I got struck down with the cold from hell and last week was just too busy and exhausting, but now need to get my arse in gear again. I can really tell the difference – I end up feeling really sluggish when I don’t exercise.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Listening to Their Stories

My sinuses are exploding and I had such a splitting headache I could no longer lie down by the time the clock ticked over 6am. A Lemsip later the violent headache is still there but at least I can breathe through my nose again, despite a little nose bleed from blowing my hooter a zillion times. I could give Rudolph a run for his money, the skin around my nostrils red, flaky and raw. Self pity central here, as you can see. Still – even in this state with a full-on cold and fever, I feel miles better than my best day when I was drinking. This is the beauty of sobriety – it never fails to deliver.

At the rehab, it would seem my luck is in and Rio told me with a big smile I’ll be employed full time with them before long. I’ve been volunteering for three weeks now and the next time I’m there there’ll be paperwork ready for me so that until I have that magical employment contract in my hands, I’ll be paid on an ad-hoc basis for the hours I do. My gamble has paid off. Well, I don’t know how accurate it is to call it a gamble – sober decisions do tend to be measured and considered and this was no exception. I knew what I was doing and I’ve gone about it in a way that is entirely uncharacteristic for me: by patiently taking it step by step. Correction: it is entirely characteristic for Sober Me, but obviously Drunk Me was setting the standard for a long time and so it seems very different for that reason I guess.

Sober living is freaking awesome, and even now when I’m feeling as shit as I do, this is a lovely, lovely morning and the future is looking as bright and hopeful as the cautious spring sunshine outside the window. It’s still grey and cold, the wind still carrying a bitter bite, but day by day the sun’s rays will grow a little stronger, be a little warmer and linger a bit longer. Soon, this part of the world will turn into a lush symphony of bird song and greenery. Little by little. Before long, I’ll have freckles across my nose again. Sobriety has a lot in common with the sun during early spring. It may seem like you’re starting from a bleak and cold place, but little by little you move forward and eventually a dark and heavy winter will turn into bountiful spring and a glorious summer. You just have to keep at it and soon you’ll find yourself swimming in the lake you skated on what seems like just moments before. I promise.

There are, as with anything that matters, things at the rehab and my ever growing role there that make me uncomfortable. I don’t mean bad things, just stuff that takes me out of my comfort zone. Remember, my zone over my drinking years was one where I treaded water and was free from friction. Active addiction destroys your ability to focus, work hard and grow – it shrinks your world and it shrunk mine down to a little mud pit. Keeping your limbs moving requires all effort you can muster and the beyond isn’t available to you. Suddenly I’m spreading my wings and operating at full capacity and it’s a challenge. There is no hiding in an office where my most complicated task of the day is to file expenses or make appointments. I’m constantly thrown into situations that cannot be navigated on auto pilot.

I feel awkward as hell calling out names for the next client to come to the meds room for their detox medication or tracking someone down to remind them they have to get to group therapy. I cringe at bag searches during admissions and feel embarrassed scanning their toiletries for anything that might contain a smidge of alcohol. I wince having to ask someone to go pee in a cup to verify what drugs are currently in their system as well as asking questions such as “do you crave a drink when you wake up?“. I feel like an intruder popping my head into someone’s room to check on them when they are on observation. Perhaps I feel all these things because I know how it feels to be at that rock bottom and have your dirty secret exposed and for people to witness what you’ve done to yourself. It feels a little like compromising someone’s dignity but then I remember what Cherokee said about the trolls: the only way to kill them is to expose them to sunlight. The sunshine makes them burst. Or as they say in AA: we’re only as sick as our secrets.

It’s good for me. The other day I took some of the clients for a walk. Beethoven instructed me to make sure everyone stays together and this was again a situation where I wanted to just hide away given I felt a little like a prison guard. Then I reminded myself that this is just really stupid thinking and my wretched brain playing tricks on me. These are not violent inmates at a prison – they are all just like me and the only difference between us is that it’s a little longer since I had my last drink. No one has a dealer hiding in the bushes outside (although, to be fair, this has apparently happened in the past) and no one is going to escape. They are mostly there out of their own free will and only want what I at this point have: their lives back. I forced myself to relax and once we got to the pond I told my stupid brain to stop being an arsehole and made myself engage in conversation. Soon enough, I’m listening to their stories and they’re listening to mine. I’ll tell you one thing about us addicts – yes, when we’re trapped in our addictions we may display the most despicable qualities and be sneaky and dishonest, but clean and sober we’re some of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.

When that desire to get sober is there, you’ll never find anyone more determined or who’ll work harder. It’s not a light switch, where a quick motion will turn darkness to light. It’s sensing and finding that light where it flickers ever so faintly and nurturing it day by day, little by little, until eventually it’s made winter flee and turned the world into summer again. It’s both the unbridled joy and devastating sadness of sobriety – you will get there if you want it but if you don’t you have no hope. It may sound simple and in essence I suppose it is, but sometimes the road there is very long. When I was chatting to the group on that little walk I felt hope. Perhaps one person spoke of using with a worrying tendency to make it out to be something fun, but the majority seemed to be shaking their heads at the awfulness of it. What really struck me though is how there is so much hope, so much possibility and opportunity for all of us. We just need that one, elusive thing: the desire to stop. Good news is that when it does take hold, the rewards are endless and being sober becomes more important than the air we breathe. You may not believe me but it becomes as effortless too. We just have to trust that winter will once again turn into spring and as long as the sun sends its rays, it will.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Jingling and Clinking

Anna! Finally! How are you, girl?” Beethoven boomed as I walked into the reception at the rehab.

Great, really happy to be here.

The guy who I suppose is now my mentor – let’s call him Rio – came through with a clipboard and a big smile, shook my hand and without asking reached to my shoulder and took my handbag. For a moment I thought perhaps there’d been a mix-up and they were accidentally signing me in as a patient. Turns out this is a place where you jump in and get on with it. No chit-chat here and a hot second later I’m counting and carefully logging pills of a wide variety. This is a good thing, because I’m better that way – if I’m given any space whatsoever to hesitate, I melt into a pathetic little puddle. Big girl pants a good choice here.

Rio is an AA fanatic and any time I’ve been to see them he’s asked if I’m attending meetings. I’m not. When I have told him so he makes noises indicating impending doom but I’m not going to pretend I’m 12-stepping in an enthusiastic Fred Astaire manner when my path is actually more of a pick’n’mix and discreetly just bobbing my head to the beat. Never liked the dance floor, me. Drunk OR sober. Rio does seem to concede that we’re all different and thankfully it would appear that my CV doesn’t need to contain a detailed moral inventory a la Step 4.

Of course I can’t – nor do I want to – give any detailed account for what happened on this first foray into the world of addiction treatment except to say THIS WON’T BE EASY. If I had some naive dream that I was going to walk in, throw smiles around me and heal all the pain in the world, I’m certainly back on earth now with a loud thud. And I discovered something. Hardly news even to me that alcohol reduced me to a lazy bugger who always takes the easy route – hell, being in active addiction it’s the only way you can possibly cope – but as I was driving home I realised someone was knocking furiously on the door: the old Anna. Over the course of the day I often felt really overwhelmed, finding myself in several situations where I felt vulnerable and, quite frankly, really uncomfortable. OK, hand on heart, even a bit scared – being cornered by an angry man demanding I get him the stronger pills as the Librium gives him hallucinations was pretty intimidating. He stood too close and stared me down, holding eye contact in a way that was really threatening. Rio was, of course, nearby and quickly stepped in, calmly defusing the situation but even the air felt spiky. For a fleeting moment I felt I would prefer filing and making calendar entries, consciously thinking this is too hard. Too much to learn, too much to deal with. On the drive home, old Anna kept knocking on the door and eventually I opened.

It’s been a long time. A very, very long time. I’d forgotten what this feels like. For so many years I’ve operated in a thick fog and had got to a point where I’d accepted this silly notion that I CAN’T DO BIG THINGS. Well kick me in the crotch and spit on my neck – it’s a lie! I can and I will. This is daunting as fuck. If I keep on studying and learning and working in this field I’ll easily get to 90 years of age and STILL not get it all. It’s one of those, whaddaya call’em, oh, challenges! Yeah, you know those really difficult situations and obstacles you used to love and absolutely thrive on tackling. Come on, girl! Let’s shake some life into this little brain because I’m totally capable and although I may be a bit soft I’m also tough as nails. This will feed my mind, stretch me to my limit and probably beyond too. I’ve missed this. What’s the point of cleaning all the windows if I’m going to live with the blinds shut? As SatNav took me back a different route and I found myself panicking a little at being in a town centre I don’t know with lots of lanes and several roundabouts plus my beaten up little car giving worrying coughing fits, I shook my head and smiled. I’ve got this. I’m as good as anyone else and I can be really good at this. ……but it’ll require hard work and effort, LOTS OF IT. OK? OK, good. Let’s roll.

I suppose what my first day really underlined, and especially so during the intake process of a patient who was hostile and obnoxious to everyone but whom I instantly became very fond of – think Patsy Stone and you’re not far off the mark – is how addiction is not just a terrifying and baffling beast, but a very democratic one too. It doesn’t give a shit about titles. This will be tough. I have no doubt I’ll be sobbing in the toilets. But I also know that this is what I need to do.

Today I’m not going to drink.