Anna’s Recovery Library

I’ve finally added my ever growing list of sobriety literature! In the above menu bar you should now see Anna’s Recovery Library and it will take you to the books I’ve been reading and contains fact based addiction studies as well as lots of personal memoirs. It’s funny because my favourite book of all time is a heartbreaking account of addiction: And I Don’t Want to Live This Life by Deborah Spungen – I read it for the first time when I was just 13 years old or so and I must have, over the years, read it at least 20 times over. It always grabbed me and touched me, even long before I sank into addiction myself.

Anyway, there it is and I will keep on adding to it as I travel through the world of the written word. There is no particular order and I’ve not yet added my own comments to each title but I will at some stage. For me it’s fundamentally a desire to learn and understand addiction – both my own and in general. More important than ever now that I work at a rehab facility. Some books make me go “oh my goodness, this is ME!” and others have me raising an eyebrow and think “I don’t relate to this AT ALL!” but whatever the book or study, I always learn something and I remain very open minded even with the big questions such as whether addiction is a disease or purely behavioural.

There we are! Perhaps someone will find it useful, and as ever, please do recommend any books or whatever else you feel is insightful or helpful or even really provocative!

Today I’m not going to drink.

400 Days

It’s hard to start with that title without feeling very happy and a little bit proud. I almost feel a little bashful. At dinner last night, one of Hubby’s work colleagues seemed a little embarrassed at how people were in awe at her impressive finish time for a marathon she recently ran. I feel a little like that right now, like I’m bragging or calling attention to myself by pointing out this milestone. Isn’t that silly? So I bloody SHOULD! 400 days is HUGE for me and I never ever thought I’d be able to say those words: I am 400 days sober. BOOM! At some point not too long ago – say, 400 days or so back in time – I would have resented having to be the sort of person whose greatest achievement is the number of days sober. That wasn’t me! I didn’t want that to be me. And yet, here we are and I can honestly say it makes me happier than I imagine I’d be if someone told me I had a book deal. Yes, this is me and I am proud of every single one of those 400 days. They are a testament to the woman I can be.

Another testament to the woman I am when I’m sober is last night. Literally the sort of situation that sends my anxiety levels sky high: a dinner with Hubby’s work colleagues. Not only am I the one who’s the outsider here in a group where everyone else already know each other well, but these are all super smart, worldly and very senior people in a global company. Around the table, most job titles started with either “Chief” or “VP”. Add lil’ ol’ me and I’m in absolute knots because I just KNOW I’ll embarrass Hubby by being ridiculous and thoroughly disastrous at making polite conversation. Being sober however, I never worked myself up beforehand because let’s face it, I haven’t been guzzling a depressant with anxiety as a side order for a long time. Sure, I felt a little nervous and yes, I would have been relieved if it had got cancelled, but I actually had a really nice time and it’d seem I didn’t wreck Hubby’s career by turning up. Somehow, sobriety allows me to relax and be quite calm. Yep, I felt myself blush when they all turned up and Hubby introduced me to those I haven’t met before and I’m sure my neck was blotchy (damn that v-neck top – bad choice, shoulda known!), but…. …no, it wasn’t at all the nightmare I always believe those situations will be.

It’s mostly a case of being self conscious I think. I stress over looking or seeming stupid, from the shoes I wear to how I speak. I also worry about my hearing which is shockingly bad (almost entirely deaf on one ear), which means in places where there is a lot of chatter or loud background music I’m screwed and can’t hear a thing. There was a live jazz band, I noted with horror as we walked in. I even worry about my nail polish. It’s a case of absolute terror in case I’m so ridiculous it reflects badly on Hubby, even though the man has never EVER insinuated that he is anything other than happy I’m his wife. Yet in my head I’m an embarrassment. Isn’t that just so fucking stupid? THAT’s the stupid part. No, I’m not a successful business woman but so what? I’m a nice person, period. What else could possibly matter? And I do have things to say, funny stories to tell and lots of stuff to talk about. I’m just like anyone else – no better, no worse.

Lo and behold – it was a lovely, lovely evening. I did freeze for a moment when I realised my seat was right in the middle of the table (my default coping mechanism is positioning myself on the sidelines and in the background), but I made the startling discovery that I am actually quite good company. At no point did I feel awful because I couldn’t initiate conversation, to be fair partly due to sitting next to a lady I do know reasonably well having met her many times before and she’s a chatterbox, but still. And eventually it came up: one of the people I met for the first time asked what I do for a living. I told him, along with the other five sets of eyes at this point aimed at me. It was easy and no, I wasn’t met with blank stares or distaste. Nor did I get probing questions as to why, something Hubby and I had talked about – after all, I’m friends on Facebook with Chatterbox and she was one of the people telling me congratulations when I posted a picture of my cake at my one year sober. It’s not hard to put two and two together there, right? I’ve stopped drinking and make a point of celebrating a milestone, and now I work in a rehab. It’s all cool though. And I refuse to hide my story these days. No, I didn’t go into that part because there was no need to and those questions didn’t arise, but even so.

Guess what? The only silly thing (that we all laughed at) was how my accomplished, successful, mega intelligent, worldly and executive board member Hubby seemed to have missed that my native Sweden is in the EU. I think he was probably joking but still, my point is that I didn’t leave feeling like an idiot or woke up this morning dying of shame because of the stupid things I might have said due to being too hungover to think straight. Or worse, having got a bit too drunk as I did at a wedding in Italy, where I last was around a couple of these people. Hubby did at the time reassure me no one had noticed but I wonder if that was one of those occasions when he was just trying to be kind and save me from feeling ashamed.

Being sober is a little like learning who I am all over again. Sober Anna is someone I wouldn’t have recognised those 400 days back. Hubby even describes me as “calm” these days, which is just too funny but appears to be accurate. Judging by last night it would seem I can hold my own and be reasonably fun company around people I in the past would have felt really intimidated by. Who IS this person?! No, I’ll never be a social butterfly but dare I say it – I really enjoyed last night. Stupid alcohol that had me believing I’m stupid and embarrassing when I’m neither. Good riddance.

So hurrah for 400 days that mark another little milestone of the best decision I ever made. If I’d read this when I was still drinking it would have made me sneer and think oh sod off you smug twat, but I can honestly say that being sober has transformed my life. I actually want to pinch myself.

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Big, Fat OR ELSE

What strikes me the most, working in a rehab as I now do (well, by gently volunteering my way in), is something I have thought about so often – how I consider myself so lucky to have had the luxury of reaching my turning point myself. That’s not to say I’m cleverer than the next drunk because I’m not, but I wonder what it’d take to get and stay sober for any other reason than truly wanting to. It’d require strength and determination far beyond what I could ever muster, that’s for sure. I’m sure there are those who get themselves straight because there was a big, fat OR ELSE and hats off to them, but thank God I was one of those of us who got sober because there was nothing I wanted more desperately. No one forced me, no ultimatums were put to me, there was no OR ELSE. In that moment I’d had enough and I wanted to be free.

Watching other people’s journeys up close as working in a rehab has you doing, I often wonder what might have happened if this had been mine too. Witnessing someone, who so clearly needs help, discharge themselves from treatment makes you feel hopeless. How much more do you have to lose before you finally accept that something must give? Clients may find a zillion reasons to leave, excuses to point to in order to illustrate why treatment isn’t for them: don’t like my room, don’t like the food, don’t like the therapy, the common room sofas aren’t to my liking, please make the rain stop and so on. But it’s just bullshit all of it – it’s not about how there isn’t a fish option every day and it’s not the size of her room or where in the building it is, nor is it the therapists or the routines. The only reason is how the desire to drink or use is greater than the desire to stop. Simple as that.

So many people enter rehab that way, because of OR ELSE. Perhaps all one can hope for is that once they’ve gone through the detox and feel better physically and mentally, they are there long enough for something to click and that desire to stay clean and sober springs to life. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m very, very fortunate to have got sober the way I did – because I wanted to, not because of OR ELSE. It’s a bleak and often hopeless looking world, this world of addiction in which I currently find myself on the other side of the fence. There are happy endings, sure, but so much heartbreak too. Another guy in there is being discharged in a couple of days after staying the full duration of his treatment. When he shared in group he was practically smacking his lips as he spoke of using. It’s hard to feel hope at times like that, when someone so obviously romanticises the very thing that put them there. Maybe it’s a front, he does come across a bit peacocky and perhaps he thought it was funny. Who knows.

Yes, it seems hopeless in many ways, but for each hour I spend there I’m more certain this is where I need to be and what I want to do. I just know in my heart I will do a good job and no matter how many sad stories I will witness unfold, I will leave at the end of each day knowing it’s all worth it. Patsy Stone’s little winks and smiles made me genuinely happy today, but then I did like her from her admission on my first day. I guess it’s natural, that part – some people we instinctively like, others we don’t. That’s just life. Just need to be careful with how I invest my emotions.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Benny Hill’s Recipes

Who are you, anyway? Not that you’re speaking to me,” Madam mumbled whilst burrowing her head deeper into the puffy sleeve of her coat where she was sort of sleeping in the comfy chair in the rehab’s assessment room.

Well, you said you were tired so I thought I’d give you some peace,” I chirped.

Day 2 at rehab and once again I’m doing an admission, this time someone who has been pretty much forced there by a husband who’s had enough. The nickname Madam sums up her attitude. I think we can safely say that the idea of lots of sunshine stories is definitely an illusion I’ve abandoned. Myself and a colleague who I have decided to call Work-Hubby (he shares the same name, is bald and has a beard – just like Hubby) watched as a large SUV pull into the carpark, the type of car where replacing the tyres would cost more than buying my little car outright.

The doors of the rehab are those clever ones I think you get for police line-ups: mirrored on one side so you can’t see in but we could see out. In the front seat we can see there’s an argument going on, animated hand gestures and shouting (not that we can hear them but it looks that way although they might just be people who really like to enunciate). It’s the lady who is going to be booking into rehab for a stay. Then we witness the type of loop you might expect to see on high speed in a Benny Hill episode and we watch it several times over: the man comes out, gets the suitcase out of the boot, goes over to the lady’s side and opens the door for her to step out, she’s not budging, shouting and hand gestures ensue, he storms back around, chucks the suitcase back in, gets into the driver’s seat, more shouting and waving, start the car, then switch off the engine and repeat all of the above.

He’s had it, hasn’t he?” Work-Hubby notes sadly and shoots me a resigned glance.

It’s really sad to see and it’s the man – husband or boyfriend or whatever he is – that I feel really sorry for. Eventually he gets the suitcase again for the umpteenth time and makes his way across the parking lot. Amazingly, the lady steps out and slowly shuffles after him. We introduce ourselves and the man is friendly and seems so hopeful (perhaps relieved she’s finally come through the doors) and the lady is in a shitty mood as well as drunk. She’s rude to everyone and her partner gets the brunt of it. My heart breaks for the guy, there’s something so desperate in his eyes when he looks at either me or Work-Hubby. You can just see how hopeful he is that this is where he’ll pick his love up when she’s been through treatment and on her way back to the woman he used to know and misses so much. Please fix her. Please help her help herself.

I don’t know if I ever got really unpleasant when I was drinking but actually having said that, there were endless mornings when Hubby was in a mood still because I’d picked a fight and I had to try to remember what about. Let’s just be clear – she might be a glorious chick when she isn’t wrecked by booze and I certainly don’t think I was a better drunk. I know I wasn’t. Thank God that’s not me today and I never want to be there ever again.

Of course I prefer to look at here and now and be grateful, but it also made me wonder at which point Hubby might have snapped. Could that have been us? He loves me and I know he’d do anything for me, so I can absolutely imagine him getting me into a rehab and forcing me with ultimatums if he felt my life depended on it. Thank God I’ve never had to see Hubby that way, having to put his hope in the hands of a rehab to rescue me from myself. Just the thought of it breaks my heart. We focus so much on the addict but with risk of offending the whole world now, I genuinely believe it’s those who love us who hurt the most. I mean, I was probably too wasted to notice anyway most of the time. Our Father will probably get a little sick of me repeating myself so much today, but thank God I got out when I did. There is no difference between me and Madam. None whatsoever except a glass of wine – that’s all it would take.

This is my path. It feels so right and I know I can make a difference here. I’m not saying I’ll cure the world of addiction or have high schools named after me, but perhaps I’ll make just one person feel a little better or help somehow, even if it’s something as simple as showing kindness when they’re at their most vulnerable rock bottom.

Hubby is watching rugby on the sofa and we each have a beer in front of us. A Peroni for him and a Becks Blue (alcohol free – dahr!) for me. I really felt like one, really like beer now which is odd because I used to drink wine. In fact, the idea of alcohol free wine (or indeed the regular version) makes my stomach turn. Cool, isn’t it? Blogging and a beer, and I can still head out for a run later. Yep. #winning

Well, because I’m now passing time until the stupid rugby is over, how about a lesson in how to make Anna’s Perfect Cinnamon Rolls? Alrighty!

Crumble 50 grams of fresh yeast into a baking bowl. Melt 150 grams of butter in a saucepan and when melted mix in half a litre of milk and keep on the heat until it’s 37.5 degrees – stick your finger in to check and when it’s just a tiny bit warmer than your body temperature, i.e. when you can feel the warmth, that’s it. Pour into the bowl over the yeast and stir until the yeast has dissolved. Then chuck in 1,5 decilitres of sugar, a teaspoon of salt and a table spoon of ground cardamon. You need about 1,3 litres of plain flour and mix in about three quarters of that – in the end, as the dough thickens you really have to beat it with a wooden spoon and when the dough sort of comes off the sides of the bowl as you move the spoon, it’s ready to be left to rise. Sprinkle some flour over it and cover with a kitchen towel for about an hour.

Then mix a good helping of butter, sugar and cinnamon – I don’t know what quantities I use so I suppose you just go with a mix you like. I like tonnes of cinnamon but that’s just me.

When the dough is good to go (should have risen to about twice its original size), use some of the remaining flower and give it a good kneading. Then take about a third and use a rolling pin to spread it out to a square-ish shape. Spread the butter-sugar-cinnamon mix all over it (not too thick) and then roll it up so you get a swirl when you cut pieces about an inch and a half thick. Put those on to baking trays and once again leave to rise for perhaps an hour.

Then beat an egg or two (I usually end up needing two) and brush the buns before sprinkling sugar on them. Us Swedes have something called “pearl sugar” but if you can’t find this I reckon regular granulated sugar is fine. Or crushed nuts, whatever you like really.

Bake in the oven on about 220 degrees Celcius, bit higher if you don’t have a fan oven (250 probably). We have a fan oven and they seem to be perfect in 11 minutes or slightly less, bake in the middle of the oven.

Ta-daah! Now gorge. Oohhh check out Soberella here, alcohol free beer and sharing recipes on a Saturday evening. What has the world come to? It’s come to something really fucking good, that’s what.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Mini Kanye and Cinnamon Rolls

When in doubt – bake. So that’s what I’ve done. Lots. And now I have a stomach ache given the seven or so cinnamon rolls I pushed into my face clearly didn’t find enough space in my belly and are now threatening to burst me open. Remind me why I’m fat?

In other news, my delightful teenager just broke his bed. Because I am a very nice mama I agreed to the trainers he wanted to get, judging by which Bambino must be under the impression that he is Kanye West, and all was well in my cinnamon roll chomping world. Mini Kanye comes back from his shopping trip and this is where my temper already started to fray as he’d also got a bag I didn’t authorise and tried to argue that the trainers didn’t cost as much as expected. These days I try to pick my battles so I let it go after demanding back the difference in what I sponsored him. The trainers he originally wanted was £140 – not what I’d consider appropriate, so I agreed to chip in £60 as this is what I would be prepared to pay to have on those still growing (and stinky) feet. That’s 43%. The pair he got instead were £75, so I’ve demanded £28 back, meaning I’ve paid the same part, 43% of the cost. Only because he took the piss. Don’t milk me for the maximum and cram in as much as you can, you little con artist. Nope, complimenting my baking skills by saying my cinnamon rolls are nicer than Mormor’s (Swedish grandma) won’t do it, my little snuffle munchkin.

Somewhere after grabbing a plateful of still warm cinnamon rolls and showing off his slightly sneaky haul, he’s gone to his room and sort of thrown himself backwards on to the bed. Now, I’ve thrown myself on to many a bed and often in a drunken and haphazard fashion but not once has one broken, even though I’m apparently quite fat (the scales told me 75 – SEVENTY FIVE!! – kilos just a few days ago and I’m still a little hurt), so I don’t quite believe it. The sod has done more than just throw himself on to it, or it’s the result of many such Bambino-throws and was already going, I dunno. Anyway. The metal support in the middle of the bed frame that the slats rest on is completely bent and it can’t be fixed.

Cue total loss of temper, possibly enhanced by cinnamon roll related stomach pain.

I know, I know. What’s this doing on a sobriety blog? Usually when I post something that’s made me upset or angry in some way, it’s to demonstrate how much better I am at handling everything sans le booze. Oh no, I lost it, shouted and sent him back in with the toolbox – he is taking the whole thing apart as we speak. Yelled at him to find bed frames and OK, I went a little overboard in my rant – guilty as charged.

Can’t we just find and replace the bit in the middle?” a meek Bambino asked.

FIGURE IT OUT! Stop looking to me to sort it – figure it out!” I barked.

And that’s what he seems to be doing. He found a serial number for the part in question so once I’ve calmed the hell down I guess it’s a trip to IKEA. But back to sobriety and why I’m telling you this. This shows that just because I’m sober doesn’t mean I’m now a zen PollyANNA of some sort. Oh no. Still me. And I still overreact and go a little nuts sometimes. Sobriety doesn’t magically fix everything you need to work on or make all your flaws disappear. It just gives you the chance to work at improving yourself. And that’s cool with me.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some more fuming to do.

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.

Rain, Laughter and Feathers

Why not start with a comparison? I’m normally a dash-grab’n’go kind of shopper but it’s usually considered sensible to do a bit of weighing up before we make decisions, and I do like to often remind myself of the countless ways in which sobriety has transformed my life. Actually, I don’t have to remind myself at all – it just happens, and it happens ALL THE TIME because it’s so in my face I’d have to be comatose not to notice. Ah, and there it is immediately! A sense of gratitude so powerful I tear up and gasp as laughter bubbles up in me. Just this moment, that’s all it took. I just looked up and out through the window. It’s actually quite a yucky day, rainy and miserable. And I weighed myself for the first time since forever and expected to see the final verdict beginning with 6. Oh no, 75! 75 fucking kilos! I’m furious, that’s just RUDE. So anyway. It’s raining and also it turns out I’m fat. And yet, being sober – free! – makes me so happy I just laughed out loud like a crazy person.

It’s the comparison, that’s what makes me want to jump up and down and shout hallelujah.

Drunk Me: Like clockwork, wake up at 4am because my heart is trying to beat itself out of my chest. Or give a final, furious drumroll and give up. I never know which. Lie awake with anxiety, guilt, shame and regret throttling me until the alarm goes off a couple of hours later. Glance at my phone and pray to God I didn’t speak to anyone last night or posted something stupid on Facebook. Crouch in the shower. Can’t have coffee because it makes me too dizzy to drive. Plan every last little move in order to make everything less painful. What route to work will mean I’ll avoid the most right turns? By midday it’ll be a victory if I’ve managed to complete a couple of tasks but they’d have to be something that doesn’t involve phone calls: listen, process, relay correct information, take notes and action simply not possible.

Sober Me: This morning I wake up and it’s still dark. Desperately need to pee and hop out of bed on steady feet, hoping it’s at least 5.30am so I can just get up and throw myself into the day. It’s 6.20am – perfect! Sexy Hubby is all gorgeous and toasty and his voice in that lower octave as he mumbles good morning and calls me ‘cutie’ as his gaze follows me when I round the bed and head to the bathroom. By the time he’s showered ten minutes later I’ve made the coffee and applied for a couple of jobs at local cafes. Then I shower – standing up and able to close my eyes and turn and stuff, super cool – and then we head to the hospital for him to have the dressings on his shoulder removed. Since then, I’ve been to the Swedish shop and picked up Bambino from the station coming back from his dad’s, and I’ve stormed through a big chunk of the care certificate e-learning course too.

That’s not hectic, is it? Yet the morning I’ve just had has been more productive than any one WEEK over the 12-13 years I drank heavily. Gosh, it feels good. And so here I am, propped up against pillows on our bed with my laptop, occasionally glancing out of the window at the rainy Monday outside and I’m so happy I feel borderline religious.

State of affairs: time to start living this life I’ve been given but been so reckless with. I’ve pinged the manager at the rehab… ..need a nickname, let’s go with Beethoven because that’s a film with a St Bernard dog in it and he reminds me of one – calm, authoritative and well, dogs are nice, loyal and dependable creatures, aren’t they? He strikes me as all those things. So I pinged Beethoven and I’m heading over for my induction tomorrow! This is it now! For this chick who has spent her life talking about all the tomorrows… Uh, actually – it IS tomorrow, but what I mean is that it’s booked and the wheels are now finally in motion.

Not going to lie, this is all very daunting. Friday afternoon when I’d left the job for the last time I did feel as positive as I do now, but also a little lost and scared. You know, a bit like I’d cut all strings and now there was really nothing between me and the big unknown anymore. I still need to line up a little job so I have some sort of income until Beethoven discovers I’m Wonder Woman and they can’t possibly be without me or risk losing me to another place and therefore need to pin me down and get me on the payroll, right? Jokes aside, I felt unsure and for a moment there all those thoughts pushed their way in. Mainly one, actually: WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE YOU SILLY TART?

So I did what any rational person would do when feeling a little uncertain – I went to see a clairvoyant. Splendid decision making if I may say so myself! Why not part with £40 when I don’t know when I’ll have a pay cheque next, to see a lady with pink hair and her spirit guide ‘Many Feathers’ who, by the way, I couldn’t see but who apparently was there too. I know, I know – I’m precisely the sort of person, mostly due to my naive and emotionally charged nature, who’d be easily fooled by someone making a living by taking clever guesses based on your subtle reactions. Along with a stack of tarot cards, there was also a little indian chief figurine on the table and it fell off several times. I worried this was a bad sign. Perhaps the spirits were telling me they knew I’m a drunky-drunk by making the little dude tumble off like that and were already pissed off with me?

To be honest, although I do believe there is more to this world than what we can see and understand or what science can show us, going to see this lady was actually something Hubby and I had talked about before because it seemed like a fun thing to do rather than any serious wish to be guided by spirits. And if you get someone really good, right, it’ll be fascinating to see what they pick up on given you’re bound to get a gazillion charlatans who are probably nothing more than really skilled bullshitters. So I was honest with her and said I was just really curious and that’s why I was there.

It did start with what I reckon was one of those clever guesses. She probably clocked my wedding ring, guessed my age and told me the spirits were showing her a baby. The guess would have been either I want to have them or I’m trying or struggling to conceive and going to a clairvoyant is a desperate attempt to get the answers nature and science are currently failing to provide. I told her no, not having one and nor am I trying or wanting to. But then a curious thing happened. She asked me to shuffle the deck or tarot cards (or at least I think that’s what they were – they all had images and a few words on them symbolising various things), then proceeded to spread them out face down on the table between us. I was then instructed to hover my hand over them and pick out 13 cards where I felt drawn to them, maybe even by a change in temperature. I swear on Bambino’s life, the cards at one end of the table seemed to be radiating ice cold air – not even a subtle difference you might imagine but full on WHOA – so picked most of my cards from there.

Because of the baby thing, I’d decided to give nothing away and so when she began to turn the cards over and relayed what the spirits were telling her, all I said was OK or uh-hm. Perhaps she’s a con artist and she just completely fooled me, but even if she is – hats off to her. There were things she could not have guessed because let’s face it, I’ve not yet had PISSHEAD tattooed across my forehead or got that DRUNK4RD number plate for my car. It was interesting to say the least and whether she conned me or truly had Many Feathers & Co communicating with her and guiding me, I walked away smiling and safe in the knowledge I’m on the right path and all is well.

No, I don’t need a clairvoyant to tell me it’s a good thing I’m sober. But it was nice and actually exactly what I needed to hear that there is an illuminated path for me now, that my life is like a diamond that’s had all its facets cleaned up (I like that metaphor a lot), that I’m destined to help others and had to go through my journey to do so and oh, I’ll be writing books! Phew – good to know, at least I can relax about that now, eh. I hope this isn’t some kind of deal where you have to agree to all of it? I’ll take the books but no baby, OK.

Unfortunately she didn’t say the spirits saw skinny me anywhere along the illuminated path ahead, but hey. I’ll take all these 75 kilos and will keep on fighting to wake up sober so that looking out at a rainy Monday is all it takes to make me laugh with joy. Now off to have Bambino’s braces fitted, then back to the care certificate course, bake a stash of cinnamon buns (hence the trip to the Swedish shop for fresh yeast, and OK, tonnes of sweets) and later this afternoon I intend to go for a long run. I love running in the rain. I love rain, full stop.

Today I’m not going to drink.

You Got Me Good

OK, brain – you win. It’s coming up to 1am, I’ve tried to ignore you for three hours and used every trick I know but to no avail and so here we are. I tried reading. I tried focusing on my breathing. I tried counting my heart beats. I tried relaxing my whole body, part by part, starting with my toes but I didn’t even get to my fucking knees. You got me, OK? You got me good. I’ve given up on sleep, you got your way. How about a roll call to see who we have gathered here in this impromptu night meeting? Stress and Tension are here for sure, given my jaw is so tense I have an ache radiating out all the way to my ears – hi guys! –  and we also seem to be joined by Frantic Thoughts and Unease. Lovely. Of course all I wanted to do was sleep but you’ve got my attention now so fire away. What’s the story, guys?

It’s a sneaky way to get at me, Brain – this is precisely why you and I have trust issues. If only I could just trust you to have all systems operating in a smooth, predictable and reliable manner! Is that too much to ask? Honestly, I’m sure that’s one of the most basic requirements listed in your job description and you know full well that by 10pm I prefer lights out. We’ve been through this, remember? I feel a bit cheated if I’m honest. Here I am being ever so good and have, with the exception of a few chocolate bars here and there and the occasional breakfast McMuffin, over the past year refrained from adding dangerous poison to the systems you run and yet you suddenly whack me with not one, but several consecutive nights of shockingly bad sleep. Why, my friend? WTF? After over a year of glorious sobriety induced sleep, the kind where I’ve enjoyed a solid uninterrupted eight hours+ every night, I get THIS? That’s just sloppy.

Oohhh the irony isn’t completely lost on me – this is basically the conversation my employers might have had with me! Hey Brain, is this just your twisted sense of delivering a bit of instant Karma? Fair dos, but I’m a bit confused as to why you invited Stress, Tension, Frantic Thoughts and Unease to the party? If you just fancied a game of teach-Anna-a-lesson you could have just adjusted the temperature settings a bit to make sleep uncomfortable by way of feeling too warm or made my calves itchy like you sometimes do – that shit can keep me awake for a good couple of hours, as you know.

Right, who wants to go first? Oh no, don’t even think about looking at the floor hoping someone else will speak up, you shifty lot! You’ve got me up now – you asked to see the Boss and here I am. What’s going on? Better get singing because I’m not best pleased. Brain! Why don’t you have a little chat amongst yourselves while I go get a glass of water, decide who you believe is to blame for the failure of Operation Sleep on this occasion and when I come back at least one of you will get fired. Off you go.

I’d make such a great boss! I think I could take the concept of being unreasonable to a whole new level. Actually, I’d make a fantastic villain – I think I have just the most deliciously perfect balance of severely twisted yet devastatingly sweet. No wonder my new hero is the psychopath serial killer Alice in Luther – always liked a delightful baddie, me, and I felt like ending that particular Netflix binge when I thought she’d been killed off.

Frances! Will you send the candidates back in, please.

1. Stress, why are you here?

Last day at work tomorrow. Or today, rather. But how is this a negative and why would it cause me stress? They’ve found someone new who seems great so I really don’t see any need for me to go around feeling awful or guilty because I feel I’ve let my bosses down. It’s done! Everyone’s moving on and everyone will be better off! It’s a serious win-win situation and I’m actually at such an exciting point! I’ve got my life back thanks to getting sober and I should really get myself a little marching band to parade around with to celebrate the miracle that I seem to be loving STAYING sober. Fuck me, talk about scoring jackpot! Jeez, Anna! Let. It. Go. It’s all positive and I thought I’d made my peace with it. Volunteering and studies lined up and I’m ready to roll – this is super cool! And I will find some cafe or shop job where I can work some hours to have an income too, so this stress is unwarranted. It’s ALL GOOD. This incessant creation of problems that don’t need to be problems I thought I’d left back in the days of crippling hangovers, no? Stress – get the hell out, your role is made redundant with immediate effect. There is no logical reason for you to be here, I have no work to give you. Fuck off.

2. Tension, what about you?

Always in my fucking jaw! I was lying in bed and kept consciously trying to relax my jaw, only to realise my neck had tensed up instead. Adjusted the pillows, tried again. Over and over. Why tense? My replacement is in again tomorrow, is that it? Nope. I already went over everything with her as best I could two days ago. Tense about what’ll happen on my last day? A little. My soon-to-be-ex-bosses are so nice and I worried they might give me a little leaving present or something, so I went and got them one just in case. If they have one for me and I didn’t have one for them, that’d be so shitty. If they don’t, I can either take it back for a refund or leave it somewhere they can find it after I go home. Awkward otherwise because then if I give them something and they don’t give me something, then they‘ll feel awkward and then I’ll feel bad and awkward about THAT. So refund perhaps better? Honestly, THIS is what my goddamn brain will have me lie awake for when there are starving children in the world? I’m so fucked up. Tension – fuck off. Note to self: stop this over thinking. I like my bosses, I appreciate them and I want to give them a little something to say thanks for having me. And I will do that not because I can or can’t grasp what’s appropriate etiquette but because I want to and it feels right. Tension, seriously – out!

3. Frantic Thoughts, I didn’t expect to see you here, can you tell me why you think Brain has brought you in?

Now this is new. I’ve not had obsessive or compulsive thoughts in a LONG time! Probably not since I stopped drinking, actually. They were usually the by-product of alcohol induced depressive and anxious thoughts that buzzed around my head like angry bees until I thought I’d scream out of sheer exhaustion. Sometimes my brain would serve up images of the worst things you can possibly imagine, often terrible things happening to Bambino or other people I love. Remember Madeleine McCann? The little girl who disappeared on a family holiday? Scenarios like that and for no reason. My friend E, who I shared a flat with at the time, would switch off the news and order me to my room because nightmare things like that really mess me up. Fucked up, much? Oh yeah, I’m a real delight. Look, I can’t be bothered with this nonsense and I feel my time and effort is wasted on you, Frantic Thoughts. I don’t believe you will be useful in any capacity in my organisation, we don’t get along and frankly I think you’re a fucking bitch – get out of my sight.

4. Unease, I’m surprised – I thought we’d turned a corner and you’d really taken onboard what we’d learnt, yet back in the boardroom again. Disappointing.

This usually goes hand in hand with Frantic Thoughts. Not sure they’re connected as such, but they seem to like each other’s company. You know when you get those bitter oldies in some workplaces? The ones who harp on about the good old days and resent change? That’s them! They create a bad atmosphere and when you restructure theirs are the first roles you make redundant so you can get rid of the actual people rather than the functions they were supposed to fill. Anyway, Unease gets me scared of the dark. No, honestly! When Unease gets to me, that’s when I sleep either so closely snuggled up to Hubby that you couldn’t fit a stamp between us, or if he’s away, with the light on. In Unease’s grip I alternate between tossing and turning and having really horrible nightmares. I’ve had nightmares almost every night since Hubby’s shoulder op. We switched sides of the bed so I thought perhaps it was that, but tonight we switched back so clearly not the case. Nah, fuck that, I ain’t payrolling that shit – fuck right off and fuck yourself whilst you’re at it, Unease.

Well, well, well… That leaves just you, Brain. I’m THIS close to firing you too right now because I’m actually really, really annoyed with you. It’s now almost 1.30am and I am SUPER DUPER MEGA AWAKE. So unimpressed. You really fucked up tonight but perhaps I’ve taken you for granted a bit since I got sober? Sure, I’ll take my part of the blame, why not. It IS a funny old time, I’ll give you that. Suddenly everything is switched on and functioning like it should for the first time since Boobies defied gravity and Forehead was line free. Over a decade of operating with red warning lights and alarms going off all over the control pad, desperately just trying to keep this old machine upright. No wonder you’re having a bit of a moment, honey. You know what? You did good. No, really, you’ve done me proud. I’ll allow you this wobble. Jeez, it must have got confusing, no? Suddenly we have components and programs that haven’t been used since before the dawn of the iPhone, like Calm, Clear Head, Strength and Clarity. The old thang seems to FUNCTION! I get it – it’s all new, in a way! We’ve not been here for a while, have we? Look, just try to chill out. Let’s write tonight off. We’ll relax here on the sofa and we can read for a bit, just until those four idiots I just fired have cleared off (I can still hear them out in reception – fuckinell, what is it, a tea party? Frances, ask security to escort them out).

OK Brain, I hear you. It’s all new and it’s all overwhelming. I guess I thought it’d all just continue to be gloriously magical, this sober thing, and over a year in I thought we’d got into a nice routine, but I forgot one teeny, tiny little thing – I’m human.

Uhm, guess this would probably be THE unlikeliest time in the history of mankind for a relapse, but even so – I like to say it. It makes me feel good:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Fizzly Rainbows and Reactions

Honesty feels fucking good. I bypassed my little pact with myself to not shove the A-word in the face of my soon-to-be ex-bosses, but there was a lovely moment this morning at work and out it came. Quite unplanned and, as my recovery in itself, quite unexpected. Lady Boss popped in to say goodbye as she won’t be around tomorrow, which is my last day with them. She told me about something very exciting that she is on the cusp of achieving so the context of our brief chat was, you know, good stuff. A hug followed and I told her thanks for having me. Perhaps I squeezed her a bit extra because in that moment I got caught up in how much I actually really like this woman and part of me felt really sad that it was her (and her husband) of all the bosses I’ve had that I let down. I mean, on top of my head two people I’ve worked for in the past were complete douche-bags so it’s not as if I was left with limited choice. But it is what it is.

It’s been lovely,” she said, “sorry it fizzled out.

My take is this: yes, it fizzled out and I would imagine their view would be fairly aligned with mine. It fizzled out because I simply wasn’t performing and at some stage I suspect they just felt exasperated and resigned about it but too busy with everything else to be able to do more than give me the occasional pointer and hope it’d come right. Something like that. It all just ended up a little set adrift. And to be clear and to repeat what I’ve always said – this is all on me. Honestly, put this job and these bosses to anyone and they’ll agree it’s a lovely little number, this gig. Anyway, I think “fizzled” is spot on. The first couple of years I was operating on autopilot and too muddled to even perform the simplest tasks – what I got right was almost fluke and based on winging it. And it’s only so long you can get by in that way, sooner or later the wheels will come off the bus. I’ve beaten myself up plenty for not using this past year (when I’ve been sober) to pull it all together and I don’t actually have anything resembling a valid reason for failing to do so.

Again, I’ve said it before, that in an ideal world I would have gone to them both a year ago and told them I was trying to get sober after over a decade of killing myself with booze, please have a little faith in me and I’ll put this right and be really great. Of course that’s with that wonderful thing called hindsight. And it’s not as if I didn’t want to – I had the conversation playing out in my head hundreds of times, how I’d put it and what I wanted to say. There was just one thing stopping me and it’s the one thing only hindsight could ever deliver: there was no part of me, a year ago, that believed I’d actually be able to do it. Well, you don’t need to be an alcoholic to understand the dilemma – tell the boss you’re an alcoholic trying to get sober against all odds, then fail to get sober and, well, you’re going to get fired in a hot second right? And then you’ve rendered yourself ENTIRELY unemployable and left with the end stage park bench stretch for the remainder of the race. Cue loss of all else that matters in quick succession. Eek, it all goes to show how dishonest we become when we’re in active addiction. Dishonesty is something I absolutely hate, always have. I imagine most people do and addiction is ugly like that because it forces you into a very uncomfortable corner.

But even if I didn’t ever have The Conversation with them? I had ample opportunity to just get on with Operation Get My Shit Together. I didn’t do it. I honestly have no good answers as to why. I look back on this past year and it’s been all about my recovery. I don’t like placing the blame anywhere other than at my own front door though, because I just don’t believe it CAN be placed elsewhere – lots of people go through lots of stuff and still honour their responsibilities and commitments. They get on with it. I didn’t. I don’t know why, despite really searching my mind for the answers. Maybe I felt a bit hopeless, that I’d lost my grip and slipped so far I couldn’t rescue it? Possibly. Actually, make that probably.

Anyway, that hug was the moment. Lady Boss’s take on it was correct and it felt to me like the right time to say it wasn’t “it” that fizzled, but rather ME who was fizzled for a long time. OK, OK, perhaps selfish of me to whine and point to excuses-excuses-excuses after all when in fact I was going to just own this and take it on the chin, but I didn’t even attempt to stop myself.

It did fizzle but it was all me,” I spluttered, conscious that she was in a rush, “I did want to say before but I was eyeball deep in alcoholism. I’m awake now though!” I quickly added and felt a bit silly.

That makes sense,” Lady Boss replied, lovely brown eyes all twinkly as usual and then she perked up, “oh! Let’s have lunch! I have something to show you where your view as an alcoholic might be useful!

And she was off and I felt joyful, relieved and… …really quite good. Honesty has that effect, doesn’t it? No matter what it is we share, it’s so terrible to have something to hide that even admitting to something that once filled us with heavy, thick shame can be uplifting as the weight of our shitty secrets evaporates.

Hindsight. Sneaky motherfucker, that one. Anyone reading this who’s still trapped in their addiction, take note. I’ll be straight with you though – the reason I held back for the longest time wasn’t primarily fear of what other people might think. The biggest reason for me was that “coming out” would force me to do something about it. However, we’ll get to that. My point is both are bollocks, but please don’t allow shame to be what keeps you trapped – you’ll be amazed at how loving and kind a place this world is. Truly. Maybe I’m just extremely fortunate, but I can report that not a single person I’ve told I’m an alcoholic has spat in my face or screamed at me to get out of their sight. I’d like to submit testimony that the reaction has been 100% positive and if anything I’m closer to absolutely everyone I know as a result. Figures, doesn’t it, now that I don’t have a dirty drinking habit I always have to prioritise and hide at the same time. Scariest person to tell? Dad. Reaction? Told me it made him incredibly happy to hear I’d stopped drinking.

This, you see, is the fucked up thinking our addict’s brain will have us believe for the longest time. I was also scared of telling Hubby. My crazy ass brain had me thinking he’d somehow balk at the A-word and want to leave me, that it would somehow be worse to be married to a person who is brave enough to face their demons and fight them, than a person who clearly has a problem and keeps on destroying herself. Yep, that’s what addiction does – it makes us a little mad.

Also scary to tell: other family. Reaction? Hugs and heartfelt assurances of how proud they are of me for dealing with a problem. Then friends. Reaction? Hugs, hugs and hugs. Words of encouragement but also of questions: why hadn’t I let them know before so they could have tried to help me? Go figure. And, oh, we’re all now even closer because there is that little corner of my heart that used to be closed off and boarded up but where they can all go and know they know all of me because now I let them.

Wow, I almost forgot the worst person to tell of them all! Me. Oohhh now THAT was pretty daunting. You see, there was a long list of things I was scared of and now that I have that lovely new buddy called hindsight it all seems so fucking insane. Well, it is insane. It’s madness in it’s most concentrated form.

When I drank, I was scared to get in the shower in the morning because I felt so unsteady, shaky and weak. Having coffee in the morning made me feel even dizzier. Every journey to work I knew I was over the limit still. Some days I couldn’t see properly. Each day was painful because I was so wrecked even the simplest task was overwhelmingly difficult. I avoided conversations because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep upright, never mind process things spoken to me or formulating a response. Often, I avoided going to the loo because I didn’t trust I’d be able to get there or back to my desk without collapsing. Sometimes I seriously wondered if I could hide under the other desk in the office until the worst shakes and palpitations wore off but then thought that’d be a bad place to die. I’d think this at home too, sometimes going to bed fully dressed when Hubby was away as I didn’t want Bambino to find me naked as well as dead. Dressed and dead seemed a little less terrible. I sometimes wrote notes to myself because I don’t know who I become in black-out or what that person will do. “Don’t post anything on Facebook” or “Don’t go outside“. I sometimes double locked the door and hid my own keys – from myself. Oh, I know, talk about dangerous but I think the fire scenario was the least of it actually. Holidays were like everything else just stuff that got in the way of drinking. Even family and friends – all of whom I love so dearly – I would see in a rush, impatient to get away so I could drink. Oh, drinking WITH them? Hah! Don’t be daft.

I could go on but don’t think I need to. Obviously you can see what a world of wonder and pretty rainbows I had to leave behind. This is addiction though. And at least it was all pretty familiar, just like Katie over at How I Killed Betty once described depression in this post as a dark and murky pit at the bottom of a well – there might be light at the top but the way up is long and difficult and at least you know it down here, in a way it’s more comfortable than what might wait above. Although I’ve never experienced depression, I can so relate to this because I thought why the hell would I even attempt to climb out? My addict’s brain had me convinced that not drinking would be shittier than my ever shrinking alcoholic’s world.

Now? Mm, I don’t think I need to tell you. Over a year in, the novelty still hasn’t worn off and even now I get tearful with gratitude. I wake up feeling clear headed, steady and strong. As I shower, the smell of freshly ground coffee beans and that magical java brewing finds my nostrils as I come out and dry off. I have at least two mugs of it as I put on mascara and look out over the tree tops through our livingroom window. Not a single feeling of regret at things I may have said or done but can’t remember or having to pretend I do. It’s bliss. Hubby and I get up to all the things we always did with the exception that we now also go running together. I run around the 7k loop with relative ease and it is nothing short of glorious. I wash my face before bed and use beauty products like serum and night cream. I can plan ahead and when my tomorrows become todays I do the things I set out to do. I’m no longer a slave and I have all this time. The words flow in tumbling torrents from my fingertips and I recently discovered that over this first year sober I’ve written – by way of word count, not quality! – three books’ worth. I’m no longer winging it and forever fretting over what or where something will go wrong as a result. Bambino now has a really great mum and no longer just alternating between two versions: hungover and ill tempered or drunk and over compensating. And, man! All this honesty! The freedom to just be me!

Enough said, right?

Enough is a good word. I’m Anna. I’m me. That’s enough. I’ll never be a person who thrives in big social situations and like the bull Ferdinand I’ll always be my happiest when I’m just sitting under my cork oak and smelling the flowers instead of joining in. I’m terrible at some stuff and quite great at other things. And that’s cool. Alcohol never made any difference to any of that anyway and I don’t think I ever consciously drank to get more confident anyway. I thought alcohol was glitter to be sprinkled on life. This will amuse anyone, but that not-so-rainbowy world I described was one in which I genuinely felt happy. Honestly, I did. But that’s just what my journey happened to look like and I never drank to escape bad feelings or misery, I drank because I thought it’d enhance happiness. Isn’t that just the craziest thing of all of it? I was happy, yet I poisoned myself in a way that nearly destroyed me and stole so much from me, and I am honestly amazed that I am even here.

Well. It’s all very exciting. I may never collect the Nobel Prize for Literature and obviously it won’t become any more likely until I actually write something, but the point is I’ve shed the chains and I am now able to give things a really good shot. I no longer have to fantasise about those things or just talk the talk. I may never walk the walk but I can fucking try! And why the hell not!

The time is now!

Today I’m not going to drink.

Never Quite Enough

At some stage I will get my arse in gear and create a link on this blog to my sobriety library – I am constantly devouring anything addiction and recovery related that I can get my hands on. The book I’m currently reading is definitely getting me to think. A LOT. Whilst I don’t like all the AA bashing, I’m not surprised by it – even the title makes it clear that the aim is to trash the theory behind 12-step programs. Although I don’t believe there is a one size fits all solution to addiction, I will never ever say anything negative about the fellowship and, in essence, I think AA encapsulates pretty much how I view recovery – acceptance, take stock, make good, live well and be kind. Well, that’s how I interpret it anyway. Say what you will about AA, it is a life saver and changer for thousands of addicts and as far as I’m concerned, even if just ONE person gets and stays sober that’s good enough. Just to make where I personally stand very clear, and although my path hasn’t been hugely AA, the fellowship is actually the reason why I got out when I did because I wouldn’t have known where else to turn initially (or rather, perhaps, EVER) and it was in AA that I truly understood my own addiction: “one drink is too many, 20 aren’t enough“. More, more, more.

The book is called ‘The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry’.

It does rip the rehab industry to shreds, and I’ll have to say a lot of it makes sense. Did you know, for example, that the standard 28 or 30-day or whatever it is stay at rehab isn’t based on any evidence that this time period is sufficient or a good start from an addiction recovery point of view? Nope, it’s based on the time limit set by medical insurance companies (in the US, presumably, which I suppose is the birth place of celebrity rehabs) – that’s where it comes from and has nothing to do with recovery in any way whatsoever. I doubt I’ll need to ask, but did you know “equine therapy” also has no proven benefit when it comes to recovering from addiction? Or tai chi or majestic surroundings – all very nice and lovely distractions perhaps, but none of that helps treat the cause for our addictions. I’m sure that it’d be much better to have a medical detox and be given a wonderful escape from everyday life, focus entirely on recovery and engage in various therapies for a month, but the issue with sobriety isn’t getting sober, it’s staying sober, and sooner or later – or in 30 days! – we have to go back to our normal lives. Lo and behold, success rates aren’t encouraging. Besides, with price tags in the tens of thousands of dollars, this sort of start to recovery isn’t exactly within the grasp for many of us.

The bit I was reading last night however, was about types of addicts and that’s what really caught my attention. During the Vietnam war, thousands of American soldiers got hooked on heroin. Of course, heroin is one of those devil drugs where physical addiction is established almost immediately – it’s quite literally enough to just use the drug a handful of times to become addicted. A bit like nicotine, in that sense – you become physically hooked almost straight away. As a comparison, getting physically addicted to alcohol takes a lot more time and effort – interesting side note, no? Anyway. Back in the States, over 90% of those heroin addicted soldiers went back to their lives and left the heroin behind. Only a small number remained addicts. Why? How is it that the vast majority of people physically addicted to a drug that is generally considered to be one of the absolute worst ones to escape, walked away? No celebrity rehabs in sight, by the way.

Look at Hubby. He’s just had a shoulder op and has a bag of prescription drugs sitting on his bedside table. His stash consists of: co-codamol, tramadol and diclofenac. Only diclofenac isn’t addictive out of this little trio of Hubby’s little helpers. Both medications prescribed for the pain, co-codamol and tramadol, are extremely addictive and a quick browse on the NHS website and a handful of other medical information websites tells me it’s enough to use co-codamol and tramadol – one on its own or both in combination – for just a matter of days to experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. These symptoms can include dizziness, the shakes, the shits, headaches and a few other unpleasant sensations. The effect of these two drugs is obvious: Hubby gets sleepy and quite spaced out. A bit woozy and not quite with it. Thousands of people get prescribed these drugs to treat pain after surgery or other medical complaints like chronic pain of some sort. As established, physical addiction can occur within just days, yet again as with the Vietnam soldiers addicted to heroin, the vast majority of people then finish treatment and walk away. Only a very small fraction continue taking the drugs either via drug dealers or dodgy websites or wherever else you can illegally get your mitts on prescription drugs.

OK, I get that this is probably obvious but I find this so incredibly interesting! What is clear is that anyone – so long as they are made of flesh and blood and the other necessary ingredients to qualify as a “human being” – can become physically addicted to a physically addictive drug. Correct? It doesn’t matter who you are, if you take enough of the drug, you will get physically addicted. Yet, some people can walk away and relatively easily so! The Vietnam soldiers addicted to heroin, for example. Withdrawing from heroin is apparently quite shitty with severe stomach cramps and all sorts of crap (literally) but as with many other drugs it leaves the system fairly quickly and when these soldiers were over the “hump” that appears to be it. I’m sure there were lots of issues and I doubt ANYONE gets back from war and “that’s it”, but in terms of the heroin use, that’s apparently what happened. They didn’t continue using the drug.

So it appears there are two camps here. Addicts and non-addicts. All of us can become physically addicted to a drug but only some of us are addicts in the truest sense, right? The difference is that the non-addicts seem to need a concrete reason to take the drug and when that reason is no longer there, also gone is the need for the drug.

And so for us poor fuckers who seem to be the true addicts, those of us who are a little different in our wiring and who I’m so keen to figure out. In this group, I can just about begin to see two additional camps: fleers and hunters. What unites us is that when the war is over or the pain has subsided, we still continue to take the drug. Besides, we didn’t need a war or physical pain to get started in the first place, did we? It all came down to, broadly speaking, one of these two things: 1) fleeing how we feel, which we either can’t stand or are uncomfortable with, or 2) we aren’t content to just feel enough, we chase the high to get more, more, more.

So according to Anna’s Addiction Index, I’m a hunter addict. My greatest trigger? A great mood! Chase that good stuff! Pour more wine on it! Sprinkle glitter everywhere! Go, go, go! I’m restless and want to move to the next level. It’s never quite enough where I currently am. More, more, more!

Some clever person posted something on This Naked Mind’s Facebook page yesterday. She said in her opinion addiction is never about the drug itself, but about what we’re trying to get away from and figuring that bit out. She put it really eloquently and this doesn’t do her words justice, but that’s the gist of what she said. I think she’s on to something. I’d go as far as to say that the physical side of addiction is the smallest, and by far the easiest part to deal with. OK, not meaning to sound flippant and I’ve had the shakes enough times to know how deeply unpleasant it can be and withdrawal should never be taken lightly. Alcohol can be very dangerous to withdraw from, shakes can progress into fits and convulsions and ultimately death. What I’m saying is that the physical addiction when dealt with in whatever way it needs to be dealt with – warm baths or emergency room detox – is done. When it’s done it’s done. When the poison is out of your system you are no longer physically in its grip.

Let’s look at a drug which is super easy to withdraw from: nicotine. 48 hours and it’s all gone. During those 48 hours the worst symptom you’re likely to experience is a slightly restless and empty feeling, kind of like feeling peckish. If Angelina Jolie or Bradley Cooper (depending on your preference) walked by just as you’re in the middle of it, you’d forget all about wanting that cigarette. That’s how weak nicotine is. So really, you don’t need the strength of Hercules to get through those 48 hours and you certainly don’t need a medical detox. Or nicotine gum, for that matter, which is only in existence to bolster what the government will have lost out on in terms of tax money from tobacco. You don’t need a chewing gum to fight off a craving so weak it doesn’t even give you a headache, OK? Trust me on this one. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that after those couple of days, it’s all in your head. Nowhere else. It’s not habit either – if breaking habits was so damn difficult it’d be illegal to drive from England to France. You switch to the other side of the road, bit weird to begin with but hardly DIFFICULT. It’s not the habit that makes stopping hard.

Actually, nicotine is a bad example because it’s actually the only drug that gives no high whatsoever. Nothing happens when you smoke. You literally just ease the slight discomfort caused by the previous cigarette. Terrible example. My bad! At least with heroin something happens (anyone? I can’t offer any input on that one) and with booze you get drunk. Nicotine? Hahaha! What a fucking con trick! If it didn’t kill so many people it’d be funny. Extremely expensive, tastes like absolute dog’s bottom and you have a one in two chance – 50%!! – of dying a very painful death as a direct result of smoking. You’d think there’d be some extraordinary high, no? If you’ve never smoked, here’s the secret: there is nothing. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. People smoke because they’re addicted to nicotine and kept that way because the economy would collapse if we stopped buying tobacco tomorrow. Just like the economy would collapse if we stopped buying booze. But I digress – let’s go back to Big Brother some other time though, eh?

I think the conclusion is something I think we’ve mostly agreed on whether we are AA superstars or follow other sobriety paths: there’s something that sets some of us apart, makes us “true addicts”. Is it the fabled addict’s brain? It’d make perfect sense to me because I can absolutely see how I’m wired differently to non-addicts. Something in the way I react that’s different perhaps. Sometimes I see it in others, perhaps a bit too much excitement at the mention of alcohol? I dunno. I think it’s also clear that addiction isn’t perhaps all that much to do with the physical side of addiction. Personally, I mostly sniffed around that part, didn’t quite experience the true depths of it, but then with alcoholism that’s usually right on the last stretch, right? So it would make sense that it’s in our heads. Those dopamine levels and all those pathways in our brains that get fucked up and re-routed? But the drug affects the dopamine levels and how our brains produce those, so why is it that MY brain goes into full-on Christmas time workshop at the smallest hint of a high and Hubby’s just doesn’t?

Just last night I suggested (and yes, I realise VERY foolishly and MASSIVELY irresponsibly) to Hubby after he’d told me he’s slept quite poorly since his operation:

Well, just take them anyway before bed because they’ll help you sleep better.

Nah, I’m not in pain,” he replied matter-of-fact.

They’re for pain, nothing else in his world. Therefore, unless he’s in pain to the point of being uncomfortable, why in God’s name would he take them? Me, I saw several additional reasons. I would personally have taken the two (yes, addictive) painkillers even if the pain I was in didn’t require it simply because I like that dopey feeling and knowing it’d send me to sleep. That didn’t even seem to occur to Hubby. Is it that non-addicts just prefer reality to feeling dopey? Fucking weirdos.

Is it an inner sense of being unsettled? AA seem to answer this part of the question with the neatly packaged “spiritual malady”. Perhaps true? Oh, I know I’m not exactly doing a great job of tying the loose ends together as I’m concluding this post but the truth is I don’t know how to. I’m just looking at all these loose ends. Perhaps I’ll never find the answers and that’s OK, but I do find it excessively interesting. I salute anyone who made it to the end of this post – I know I ramble….

Feel free to throw your two-pence into the hat. As always, gratefully received and I always learn so much more here in the blogosphere than any book could possibly teach me.

Today I’m not going to drink.