Cloud Sweet Cloud

I started writing a comment on another blog, but realised it was turning into an essay. I also realised I had written it in such a rush – you know when you’re really excited about something and the words just tumble out in a torrent? – that it probably came across as though I was really rubbishing everything this writer had said. So I removed it and just left a comment saying thanks for sharing and making me think, because that’s what the post did. It was about what this writer referred to as “pink cloud syndrome”.

Personally, I call it “home” but probably without the syndrome bit.

In some sobriety circles, the Pink Cloud is this treacherous land you wander around in when you’re in early sobriety, some sort of high that will wear off and when it does your old demons are right there to dig their claws into you. In some meetings it’s almost whispered with a sense of ominous foreboding, where old timers will nod and give you knowing glances. Be afraid, dear. Be very afraid. It’s not real and soon you’ll see.

OK, so imagine you were paralysed from the waist down. For years and years you’ve not been able to use your legs. And then you suddenly can. Imagine the elation and euphoria you will feel – a high indeed! I’ll sign my name to it any day of the week, it was absolutely one of the first things I experienced when I got sober – hell, almost ten months on I still spend my mornings feeling grateful that I am clear headed, strong and hangover free. Had I not sunk into alcoholism, would I have felt that way? Maybe not, I’ll give you that. I probably wouldn’t have, any more than I walk down the street with tears of happiness streaming down my face because my legs carry me. It’s quite likely that if I’d never had the drinking problem I did, I wouldn’t have felt such overwhelming joy over something as simple as a cup of morning coffee. But do you know what? That’s neither here nor there because just like someone who lost the use of their legs for a while, I don’t think I’ll suddenly (or even gradually) forget all the things I so very nearly threw again. Call me naive (I’ve been called worse) but I think if you have ever tango’d with the Devil, you’ll hold on to life more tightly when you escape her clutches.

Yes, I set up home on the Pink Cloud. Almost immediately. That’s the beauty of sobriety – it delivers almost instantly. You’d think I’d just come back from having been in a war zone but that’s what it feels like. Yes, the joy and gratitude I feel may very well be the result of appreciating life more simply because my addiction was taking it away from me. Will I one day have forgotten where I was heading with my drinking? Will I one day begin to believe I can have “just one drink”? They say complacency creeps in and that’s when you fall right back down into your addiction.

Here’s what I think: I think you only fall back if you still believe that alcohol brings something positive to your life.

Before I got to 23 January 2018, I knew I had a problem but I still also wanted to drink. I made some death defying attempts at both quitting and moderating, each as fruitless as the other and I failed every single time. Why? It’s near on impossible to quit something you still want to do and I just don’t have that sort of will power. As for moderation, well, I’m an alcoholic and per definition I can’t stop if I have that first one. There were a few times when I quit drinking for a while – a few weeks usually and on a couple of occasions I managed a handful of months with my longest stretch being four-ish months. The physical well being would always kick in, of course, and I’d feel elated at having kicked my dangerous habit. But that wasn’t enough because I was pining for a drink. I was GASPING for a drink. It was all I could think about and it took a Herkulean effort to get through each day. Eventually, my alcoholic brain – Drunk Me – would win by telling me “look, you’re not an alcoholic, you can totally stop any time you want” and I’d go and celebrate by drinking myself to black-out faster than you can say Sauvignon Blanc.

So yes, I think I know what they mean when they warn you about the Pink Cloud, but I only think you’re ever in the danger zone if you still deep down want to drink. I mean, why would you be in the danger zone of doing something you really don’t want to do?

That’s the clincher for me this time around. I don’t know exactly how or why, but I guess it was just a perfect storm. I’d reached a point where I was so thoroughly fed up with drinking and how it made me feel that I just knew I was done with it. And at the same time I tried to figure out why I’d been drinking in the first place. What I discovered was that all the reasons I thought I had were utter bullshit, and of course once I no longer had any reasons to drink, well…

Will I suddenly – or gradually – start to believe that alcohol will bring me some sort of benefit? Even though I know for certain it never did? Would that even be possible? I know for a fact it doesn’t make fun more fun, and given that it’s a powerful depressant it CAN’T make happy happier. Or what about if I end up going through something deeply traumatic and difficult? It is an anaesthetic, after all, so it’d make more sense to fall into the pit then, no? Well. I’ve gone through a couple of thoroughly shitty patches and didn’t touch a drop because I was terrified that alcohol would make me feel even worse. So I suppose it strikes me as unlikely that I’d reach for the bottle then either as this was never my pattern anyway.

The Pink Cloud, as far as I’m concerned, is nothing other than LIFE the way we are designed to live it: healthy, sober and free. Mother Nature even equipped us with a kick-ass warning system to alert us to stuff that’s bad for us – that’s why poison generally speaking tastes bad. EURGH! NOT GOOD FOR YOU! SPIT IT OUT! Even this jaded old drunk shuddered the first time she tried booze. Can’t imagine many people taste alcohol for the first time thinking oh yummy! And doesn’t it speak volumes that we have to dilute it endlessly and add flavourings to disguise its foul taste? It wouldn’t actually be physically possible to ingest 100% pure alcohol – our bodies simply wouldn’t allow it.

Being on the Pink Cloud just means you live life as a human being. Yes, of course it’s going to feel amazing in every sense – literally every sense, given how alcohol numbs our senses – to be sober, but I think if you’ve ever sunk into alcoholism and then find your way out you’ll never lose sight of what you nearly lost. When I was drinking I was fully aware that alcohol was destroying me, yet I still drank. It’s our reasons to drink we need to remove. I truly believe that. Only when we expose the Beast for what it is can we move on. Clinging on for dear life on a mad white knuckle ride will never be freedom.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Clear Air Turbulence

Time is dragging this week. I’m feeling bored and restless and just want to make things happen NOW! I want to get going with working in the recovery services but need to hit that magic one year of sobriety first. Not only do I believe that achieving a year of sobriety really affirms it to your mind, I also know that people who remain abstinent for a year or longer are less likely to relapse. I tried to find a source for the figures, but it’s an article you have to pay to read that you can find HERE. It’s a study that spans over eight years with 1,200 addicts. Out of those abstinent for less than a year, only a third remain sober and those who manage a year or more this increases to half. So I guess what this means for me once I get to 23rd January 2019 is that I go from a 67% chance of relapse to 50%. Any time I look at statistics and figures for recovery I’m reminded of what I’m up against and that this isn’t something you tick off on a check list and just move on from. Sobriety will require work and I may as well get comfortable because this is for the long haul.

That makes it sound grim, doesn’t it? I don’t see it that way. To be honest, it isn’t exactly a thankless task now is it? Sobriety is an amazing gift. I get to wake up every morning hangover free and I get the opportunity every single day to be the best I can be. This is now always available to me, right there for me to take it and run with it. So when I say it’s for the long haul and will forever require a bit of effort and awareness, I actually feel about sobriety the way I feel when I find my seat on the airplane taking us to hubby’s native New Zealand. Where we are going – to the land of the long, white cloud – is so magical and so exciting that it doesn’t matter if there are a few turbulent patches or the queue at passport control takes forever. I don’t like flying and it’s 24 hours of it, but I know what’s ahead and it’s worth it a million times over. I’d sit on that plane for a week straight if it takes me to Aotearoa. And then I sit there on the steps leading down to Waihi Beach from the foot path late at night with hubby and listen to the roaring waves of the Pacific crash in. So does it seem like hard work that I on occasion will have to consciously battle the idea of that glass of wine and remind myself that its benefits are an illusion? I mean, in exchange for all the things I now get to have and enjoy because I’m sober? Not one bit, peeps.

As discouraging as that figure might seem, I think it’s helpful no matter how you approach it. Say you’re really struggling to stay sober and that first year is a huge battle. Then you get past the milestone and feel reassured that half of those who reach that are likely to stay sober. That’s got to feel good, right? That now it might begin to feel a little easier, that you don’t have to go about each day like a fight to the death. I’m only speculating here. Personally, where I find myself right now is at a stage where I can’t imagine going back to drinking and genuinely can’t find any reason why I would. I just don’t want to! Maybe I really need to look at that figure and remember that I’m far from safe? Remind myself that sobriety isn’t something I can ever take for granted? I do think you can have totally different experiences of this first year of sobriety and use that statistic in a positive way.

Then you have those who relapse after several years of sobriety. Remember Philip Hoffman? Actor who passed away a few years ago from what I recall was a heroin overdose. I vaguely remember that there was a discussion at the time around how he relapsed after many years of being clean. I don’t know if relapse figures and risks are the same for different types of addictions, i.e. whether an alcoholic is more or less likely to relapse than a cocaine addict or what have you. Anyway. On my literary travels through the world of books on addiction and recovery, I just finished ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction‘ by David Sheff and started the accompanying memoir by his son Nic Sheff, ‘Tweak‘. The former has now been adapted to the big screen as a film starring Steve Carrell that I can’t wait to see. This deals mainly with methamphetamine addiction, which I understand to be just about the worst and most difficult of them all to recover from. In fact, Nic is clean over a year twice yet relapses. Well, whatever the difference between various substances are when it comes to recovery and relapse, it does appear we’re more likely to remain abstinent if we manage to get some distance between us and that last drink or hit.

With relapses after many years of abstinence you may have to factor in the issue of what our memory does to us. We are wired to better remember good things and for bad things to fade away. This is called Fading Affect Bias (FAB) and can be defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which information regarding negative emotions tends to be forgotten more than that associated with pleasant emotions” (Wikipedia). Presumably this is why someone might look back on problem drinking and feel the consequences weren’t so bad after all and more clearly remember the perceived benefits. For me, the memory of always waking up and feeling wrecked is currently WAY stronger than any sense of what I enjoyed about drinking, but maybe it won’t always stay that way? This is where that 50% is handy as it highlights to me the very real and very dangerous possibility that I could relapse. Who knows if this was why Hoffman went back to using after many years clean, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we may be at our most vulnerable when we actually think we have it all sussed.

I suppose that’s it, really. My smooth flying conditions appear to continue but I’ll just have to bear in mind that clear air turbulence that doesn’t show up on the radar can happen at any moment. (I know lots about turbulence because I hate flying and try to reassure myself by knowing as much as I can in order to calm my anxious mind and irrational fears…)

Today I’m not going to drink.

Eyeball Deep In Denial

As I continue my inventory of my past and survey my experiences and people I’ve known, I stumble across my last e-mail exchange with a friend I’ve previously referred to on here as Linda, which of course isn’t her real name. I much prefer the monikers I come up with, so from now on I’ll call her Tumbler. This is a reference to her pouring the largest amount of whisky I’ve ever seen anyone drink from a tumbler. I’m never been a whisky drinker but it’s usually a shot of, say, 25ml right? Tumbler poured aaaaaall the way to the top as you would a glass of water. Just like my glasses of wine were more like pint glasses, but THAT part I conveniently ignored and focused instead on how she poured all that whisky. Fuck me. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Our last e-mails are from April 2014. As I more and more discover is the case, my alcoholic, eyeball deep in denial brain has added its own spin on what we said to each other in terms of what was stored in my memory.

This is how my alkie brain would have me think back on it:

Tumbler tells me about two serious relapses, one during which she nearly died due to taking strong painkillers with all the booze and another where she got locked up at a psychiatric ward.

This is what is actually said and the bit that my denial has stripped from my conscious is that she, the alkie, is deeply worried about ME. I mean, what the hell? I’m FIIIIIIIINE! Someone had posted something alcohol related on my Facebook page, I think it was champagne glasses and “cheers to you!” for some reason – not sure what the context was and my birthday is in February so can’t have been that. Anyway. Tumbler had taken it upon herself to comment that I should NOT have alcohol to celebrate and also then went on to contact the person who’d posted the champagne comment (who was a mutual friend) to say she shouldn’t post stuff like that because I, Anna, was sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Now this was of course totally true! It takes one to know one, and just like I can spot a fellow problem drinker, Tumbler had sniffed me out like a blood hound. So it was me who started the exchange. It’s fascinating to read now. It makes me cringe and it makes me squirm. I was SO ready to speak with Tumbler about HER problems but was still entrenched in my stubborn denial and belief that I just binged a little too much. OK, deep down I knew – of course I did – but I pushed all of that away so deep down I was able to ignore it. And of course felt really offended that she would think I was in trouble! Perhaps I also conveniently forgot that just like she confided in me, I also confided in her and perhaps my tongue had loosened given we were both drunk during some conversations. Me in London, she in Florida.

Here it is, and I’m so ashamed of it I can barely make myself put it here, but this is the Era of Brutal Honesty. I’ve left out the irrelevant bits, where we talk about our kids and work and stuff, only leaving the booze related conversation. Read and weep!

Anna to Tumbler:

I don’t know how to interpret your comment on my Facebook, that I actually removed – I got a couple of messages asking me if I’m OK, not because of the post itself but because of your comment, kind of “what does she mean?”. So I suppose I’m asking you! ūüôā Was just wondering what you hinted at that is “off the wall” and/or what it is about me that “needs to be straightened out”?

Tumbler to Anna:

I’m surprised my comments on your Facebook are so sensitive. It also worries me as it feels as though you’re constantly trying to protect yourself from other people worrying about you. But we ARE worried about you. You have said yourself that you have no breaks.

Anna to Tumbler:

I think, hand on heart, that I’m generally sensitive to criticism which isn’t a great quality to have. My spontaneous reaction if anything is questioned, regardless how tactfully, is to get my heckles up. Well, before I have thought it through anyway. When someone asked if I was OK, I thought perhaps I’d posted something when I’ve been drunk and you’d got worried for that reason – THAT would be the only thing I’d be sensitive to. Do you see what I mean? In the moment I wondered so I asked and underlined that everything’s fine. And I don’t blame you, just so you know! After all, no breaks.

Tumbler to Anna:

I know full well that you have to hide the boozing in order not to be exposed to the wrong people, that’s what I had to do for many years. And this worry that you’ve written something on FB when drunk I also recognise fully, there’s a fear there. I am so glad I openly went out on FB about my addiction because no one can use it against me today.

But I have recently had two serious relapses. I’d been drinking one evening but felt I hadn’t had enough and because I didn’t have the energy or ability to get more alcohol I decided to munch my Oxycodone, a narcotic medication my spine doctor prescribes so I’ll be able to get to sleep. It’s for my chronic ache and I take one pill every evening. This evening I took several and it ended in me not breathing. Luckily D was at home, he’d just got back from a trip. He discovered I wasn’t breathing and did First Aid until the ambulance arrived. I have no memory of what happened between when I took the pills and waking up in the ambulance. Had to stay at hospital for three days and D was busy covering up what had happened as he had to get our staff to take my shifts. :/

Just three weeks later I’d drunk so much D ended up calling the police who took me to the psych ward. He didn’t think I’d go voluntarily and I was furious as three police officers came to get me and handcuffed me. So I was at the psych ward for three days and D had to once again ask our staff to cover my shifts as well as hiding from everyone what had actually happened. After the first day when I was battling the hangover I had a really fun time. A woman in her 60s was admitted on the Sunday, a nurse who was under too much stress and had herself decided to get admitted. She and I found each other straight away and on the Sunday evening we sat there with gossip magazines in our laps, talked about celebrities and giggled like little girls. Lol. She was sad when I was discharged quickly, which happened because I had gone with the police voluntarily. If I’d resisted, the American law concerning arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour had applied and they’d been able to keep me in for longer.

Oh well, that’s that and I’m over it. Now I feel great and working as usual. I don’t know if D is over that I stopped breathing, it must have been traumatic for him. His second wife passed away from a painkiller overdose and D was the one who found her dead. That’s what played out in his mind so it was a big shock. Truth is I would be dead now if D hadn’t been home that evening.

Just short of two weeks after this exchange, Tumbler drank herself to death on her 48th birthday. I was in contact with her husband, D, some weeks later and he confirmed it was an echo of the other episode she’d told me about and she’d again taken Oxycodone. Only this time he wasn’t around to save her. What I need to point out here is that at a party or in a bar isn’t where an alcoholic is in the most danger. We’re in the most danger when we’re home alone.¬†

With this, I want to show how I just refused to acknowledge my problem and my absolutely crippling fear that people would see or know. How my brain has catalogued this last exchange with Tumbler is also shocking evidence of the power of denial when you compare it with what was actually said here. Without reading through our exchange, I would have probably told you – thinking I was being honest because that’s what denial does too, it makes us believe in this alternate reality – would be that I was worried about my alkie mate. Nope. My alkie friend was worried about HER alkie friend: ME.

It’s so sad, what a waste of a life. Also heard of someone else, a boy I knew in my teens, who passed away last year. Apparently his drug and alcohol fuelled psychotic episodes had reached a point where armed police would have to chase him down. 42 at the time, leaving behind a son who must now be into his 20s. It’s so utterly tragic. Tumbler had two sons, both now in their early 30s I think. It’s hard to think about. I know Bambino will have to bury me one day, but I don’t want that to be after having found me sprawled in the hallway having choked on my own vomit. Anything other than a self inflicted death like that. If I can’t give him anything else, I want to give him a mother who discovered she could save herself and showed some strength. He deserved – like all children do – to have that all along, but I cannot change the past. I can change my path though and I hope I’ll always stay on this beautiful, sober and infinitely healthier course.

This turned very sad, which isn’t my mood today at all. In fact I’m really excited because my brother D and two of my nephews (D has four boys, four beautiful blond clones) arrive tomorrow. Due to a case of slight miscommunication – aka me not listening properly due to being too caught up in myself – it turns out hubby needs his fancy A5 Sport Audi and I will now collect my three Swedes in my battered old Mini. This will add half an hour to the journey as my car doesn’t like speeds over 60mph. Quite different in fancy Audi that is smooth and steady as a blue whale at 80mph (OK, and sometimes beyond). And comfortable too. My Mini is NOT comfortable. But hey, it’ll be fun and luckily they’ll be travelling light. I measured the boot and D reassured me they won’t have any more than can fit, which is basically a toiletry bag. Anyway. I’ve booked a bunch of stuff and can’t wait to have them over – it’s a first for my brother D (and for his sons too) who’s avoided my home town of Londres due to an intense dislike of chaos and lots of people…! Bit like his sister really – sometimes I do wonder what possessed me to desert the stillness of the nature and vast forests of V√§rmland for the madness of this town, but strangely it became HOME from the word go. Well, I will do my best to show D his sister’s idea of home as gently as I can without missing out on the must-see tourist parts. I don’t know how gently you can introduce Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden but I’m sure it’ll work out fine.

Sobriety has not curbed my time optimism and as usual I’d gone and planned and committed to more than today can possibly contain, including a chat with the manager at a recovery facility – unfortunately I had to cancel but was able to reschedule. It really irks me to cancel stuff now that I’m sober. ‘Cancel’ was my middle name when I was an active alcoholic and I am loathe to do it now, but I also need to accept that when there are reasons other than drinking getting in the way, cancelling on occasion is actually completely acceptable. It just really didn’t sit right with me, but again I have to remember that being sober doesn’t – and won’t ever – mean I’m always going to do everything 100% right and be perfect. It’s called LIFE.

Today I’m not going to drink.

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.

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.

Magic and Anchors

It’s with absolute dread and trepidation that I turn the ‘closed’ sign over and open back up after our little summer break. Oh, I’m happy to be HERE, on this blog and catching up on reading what my fellow bloggers have been up to but outside of the blogosphere I need to make some massive changes. Not at home, because it was absolutely lovely to get back home and with hubby and bambino is exactly where I want to be, but I need to figure out what my purpose is now.¬†Sobriety brought me back to myself, it’s been a learning curve to say the least and it wasn’t a huge surprise to realise that I have more to give than what I deliver at work. My job suited an alcoholic but now that I’m sober it actually brings me down. It’s a bit ridiculous because it’s all very nice and easy and I should be grateful but six months down the line I am DONE. I need to figure this out and soon or it’ll really start to drag me down. I’ve never felt as much dread coming in to work as I did this morning. This is priority one now, to work out my escape route and discover what my place in the world might be.

It doesn’t help either that I’m utterly shattered. One of the immediate benefits of being sober was getting quality sleep but during our second holiday I slept worse than I think I ever have. After Italy we headed to my native Sweden and as usual we stayed at the little red house at the foot of the mountain. All other times we’ve been there I was of course chugging wine and therefore passed out in true Drunk Me style, but now – sober – I felt anxiety and the jitters like I never have before. It’s in the middle of nowhere and the silence is deafening beyond the creaks of an old house and the sounds of nature and occasional wildlife outside. Oh, and footsteps I swear I heard going down the stairs at 4.30 one morning. Well, better than up (to where we were sleeping) I guess. The doorbell went twice with no one there, and it’s got gardens and fields all around it so it couldn’t have been a prank even if it’d been Mo Farah who’d pranked us and sprinted off, it’s open spaces for miles and we’d been able to spot anyone. Turns out the doorbell battery is giving up and that might be why, but I scare easily and even though I probably dreamed the footsteps, I had a terrible time sleeping.

Holy crap, how depressing! But I am. Not depressed thank goodness, but DOWN and grumpy.

So anyway. I’d already done our Paris and Gothenburg breaks sober – including a Foo Fighters concert – so Lipari was every bit as magical without wine as I knew it’d be. It was magical BECAUSE no wine, should I say, much like life actually is without booze. But I did wonder what Sweden would be like, or rather, how people might react to brand new Sober Me. Well. Dad already knew, as did Mum, as I told them ages ago I quit drinking. Both reacted with kindness and told me it made them happy I’d made such a decision. No one in my life could have missed that I drank like a sailor on leave so I’m sure I’ve caused them considerable worry and pain, and I’d imagine both my parents drew a massive sigh of relief when they learned I’d stopped drinking. I never used the A-word when I told them, only explained that it had got way too much and how I can’t stop when I start – this is actually the whole truth anyway, whereas the alcoholic label might cause additional worry. I did spell it out to my brother D and his partner M, the A-word and what it had actually been like warts and all. Afterwards I worried it might have been selfish of me, because telling everyone is for me putting down yet another set of anchors as I figure the more of those I have the steadier I’ll be able to remain if a storm hits. But what about THEM? What if I’ve just gone and caused even more hurt?

But you must have known I drank too much,” I said to M a few days after we had the conversation.

We’ve discussed it,” she told me, “I’ve said to your brother several times that the amounts you drank were insane, but he always shrugged it off and it’s hard to know because we only see you twice a year.

Yep, easy to frame as holiday drinking,” I agreed.

But I do worry I have placed a heavy burden on D’s shoulders, because this means he has gone from having a sister who “likes her drink” to having a sister who is an alcoholic and all that this entails. It’s a much bigger problem than over indulgence obviously (if this is indeed how D had me pegged) and perhaps he’ll worry much more now that he knows I’m an alkie and not just someone who has a lot “on occasion” or “on holiday” whatever. Ironically, it is now they no longer have to worry because with me acknowledging – and publicly at that – that I’m a drunk, not only do I have to stay on task (or at least made it very difficult for myself not to) but I also have all these people around me who are aware that I can’t drink like they can and can raise the alarm (or at least confront me) if I were to slip. It’s a tricky one. I do wonder if I should have just left it the way I did with Mum and Dad, given it’s the truth anyway without troublesome and stigmatised labels. Cherokee told me it was the right thing to do and perhaps she’s right. Whatever happens from here on out, what I do know is that my husband along with all my close friends and family know I have this problem and I’ll never EVER be able to try to make them believe I can join them in having a drink Just This One Lil’ Ol’ Time. Ever, ever, ever. Anchors. Can’t fool anyone now. Not even myself, and I was the easiest to fool of them all.

Of course I also need to be patient and kind now that my anchors may have questions. Or have misconceptions around what being an alcoholic is and means. Dad is someone who has very strong opinions and I need to be careful how I tread so I can stop myself getting irritated when he’s coming from a good place, because he does have the biggest heart and although he has a habit of being somewhat unfiltered he does mean well. At my Gran’s he popped open a bottle of bubbly she’d got for her 90th, poured a glass for Gran and another for my hubby, then looked at me and went “and absolutely nothing for you”. It grated on me. Immediately I wanted to inform him that whether or not I drink is MY decision and no one else’s and I certainly don’t need him to be the wine police, but I recognised that he didn’t say it to be mean but because he loves me and thought it was the right thing to do. And I guess it was – I’m not drinking and I don’t want to be drinking. Oh, and I’m an alcoholic so I CAN’T freaking drink. Dad clearly thought he was being helpful and that’s what I need to recognise in these situations. Hell, poor sods, suddenly now with a full-on drunk in the family, how could I expect anyone to know how to handle it when I am still trying to figure it out myself? Suffice to say I have the best friends and family on the planet.

Another thing that irritated me was when M told me how she and D had talked after our conversation. How they were grateful that I have hubby by my side. And again, I had to rein myself and my narcissism right back in because once again it came from a place of love. My sobriety, my decision. But if you’re not an alcoholic and it turns out you have a sister/sister-in-law who is, of bloody course you’re going to feel it’s a wonderful thing and a huge relief that she is married to the best person in the world. I write this now and see even more clearly how unreasonable and selfish of me it is to take it any other way than how it is in all likelihood how I’d feel too. Take Elaine, my friend who drinks too much and whom I’m desperately worried about. Despite all I know about my own drinking and my own sobriety and how no one and nothing in the world could stop me if I decided to hit the bottle again, I’d be less worried if I knew she had a great person by her side for support. We all need it. Even me, and it’s about time I realise that. My first proper sentence was “I can do it myself” and it’s always summed me up pretty well. Sobriety has taught me I can’t – but more importantly perhaps, don’t HAVE to – do it all on my own.

I wasn’t sure how to bring it up, in a way it should have been at the very start of this post, or even a post all in itself, but I had a slip before we went away. It was an interesting one because it was the most unlikely of triggers. Had the mother of all fights with bambino and was angrier than I’ve ever been with him and I opened one of hubby’s beers with the sole intention of numbing myself, calming down. The classic stress response of ‘I need a drink’. It didn’t taste of feel good. It didn’t turn into black-out or even a heavy session. There was no part of it that made the situation better either, not that I thought it would. It did, however, highlight how there is no point in drinking whatsoever. Weirdly it didn’t make me feel guilty either, even though it was four days shy of my six months sober. Told hubby, who was on his way home and had called me en route, that I was drinking a beer, one of HIS. We talked about it the next day and as stupid as it might sound, it would almost have been even better if it HAD turned into an insane black-out with the subsequent hell of the following day. Or how it was all a bit of a non-event was actually perfection. What I did discover was that alcoholic beer is disgusting compared with non-alcoholic beer. I suppose that makes sense and would be true for any drink at all. Of course it’s going to be foul if you add ethanol to it.

So there we are. Holidays over. Slip – or BLIP, perhaps – that perhaps was inevitable. Back to the grind but need to find a new direction.

And anchors. More and more of them. It’s all about the anchors.