Sleeping Dogs and Shipwrecks

Not my circus, not my monkeys – something I often have to tell myself by way of hoping God will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. But what happens when you’re born into the damn circus and you’d do anything for any of those monkeys even though they can drive you to the brink of your sanity? When it’s so close to home there’s no way you can escape it? Once again, within the space of a week, I find myself in this spot: unable to sleep and sitting by my laptop in the hope that pouring my thoughts out will help me find some peace. It’s 2.10am and I’m sitting by the kitchen table in Falla. Bambino and his friend were still awake and on their phones but lights are now out. Hubby is asleep upstairs and outside, down by the little guest house (which has no beds, sort of defeating its very purpose), my brother, sister-in-law and three nephews are sleeping in the caravan they have just been on holiday in. And me, wide awake and alone with my thoughts. A-fucking-gain. I sincerely hope this isn’t going to turn into a regular gig because I love sleep.

Living in another country, I can see how I view not only Sweden but also my family through rose tinted glasses. When I’m not in the midst of it, they appear to me to be the best bunch that ever lived. And so when I got here, one person tells me how they are about to cut all ties with another and how they just “want to shoot him“. There I am, unable to respond and my chin on the floor, when someone I love spews such hatred towards someone else I love. Part of me wanted to gently ask whether it might have occurred to them that the person they expressed a wish to cut ties with and/or shoot (it was unclear if only one would suffice) is someone I love and, oh, should it perhaps have crossed their mind that this might be slightly shitty for me to sit and listen to?

As my colleague Rio once said, warmly and with a smile, the people who wind us up are often the people who display the qualities we dislike in ourselves. He was referring to how he and I can drive each other up the wall: we are both bossy, like things our way and always think we know best. Which I do, by the way – I’m always right, just so we’re clear. So these two people I love who rub each other up the wrong way are frighteningly similar, to the point where I sometimes struggle to conceal an amused little smile (oh, how I have to bite into my lip to stop it spreading!). They both like to state their opinions and those are presented as facts. Everyone else is an idiot. They are judgemental and they are astonishingly oblivious to the hurt their words might cause when they spew their venom. They can say the harshest things and I sometimes wonder are you aware that it’s my [loved one] you’re talking about? 

Grant me the serenity…

It’s probably natural, this process I’m going through. HOLY CANNOLI – I just realised!! I’m 18 months sober today! Just 2.38am but we’re into 23rd of July! Congratulations to me! Yay! So anyway, I am piecing together what I can in my quest to learn what caused the hole in my heart that I tried so hard to fill with Sauvignon Blanc, and the picture is emerging little by little. Someone else I love carries the same pain, only he tried to escape it by over achieving. If he did everything not just really, really well but over and beyond brilliant, then he’d have proven his point. And then there was me, who knew I’d never be able to so I didn’t even try – I ran away instead. Moving to London 24 years ago was just meant to be a gap year. I never intended to stay there, but I quickly discovered something: when I come back for a visit everyone is really happy to see me. Isn’t that just so sad? Of course I love my life in London – always did – but there are so many things that drowned in all that wine and now that I’m all dried out it’s all exposed. No longer a sparkling sea of soda and wine, but instead the dry sea bed littered with the ship wreckages from another time. Two people who both tried to fix the same problem but in different ways.

So what happens when old ghosts inflict fresh wounds? What happens now that I no longer reach for the bottle? I have to feel it all, that’s what – there’s no escape. How can one little patch on this planet simultaneously be the most glorious and the most hurtful? How can the lawn west of Falla strike me as the place where I’d want my ashes scattered at the same time as standing there barefoot looking out over the fields fills me with such sorrow it makes me choke? What happens when all that pain around me gets sucked into my heart even when it doesn’t belong to me?

Let sleeping dogs lie“, the saying goes. Here in Sweden we say “don’t wake a hibernating bear” – I’m nothing if not prone to drama so I prefer the bear. Also, it illustrates my family better, or at least these two people in it who don’t seem to like each other very much and both of whom fail to see how much it hurts me to hear them talk unkindly about the other. One more ill thought through word blurted out at the wrong moment could send the whole family into crisis and that’s another thing these two fools I love just don’t seem to understand – their failure to let sleeping dogs lie is what’s going to wake that grizzly. Hell, here’s where I’m now balancing. It was partly their damn shit I spoke up about four years ago, and that little act of intended goodness became something so awful it’s a wonder we can still call ourselves family. I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s a miracle there are no empty chairs around our table.

I find it hard to live by the same rules now that I’m in recovery. When something shitty happens or the air feels spiky, I address it. Problem is though, that on this particular side of the family we don’t talk openly about Tricky Stuff. In this family we don’t address the elephant – or grizzly bear – in the room. We pretend it isn’t there and we go about our business, and when I can’t bear it I pour wine on it and drown it in that glittering spritzer sea. Only now I don’t. There’s just that ghostly sea bed with all the shipwrecks. Drinking was my way of managing this, and here I am now 18 months sober trying to figure out how to go it au naturel.

Fanfuckingtastic – forever hold your peace, darling.

I don’t like it, but I also don’t like the potential cost of refusing to stick my head in the sand. The two fools I love don’t take kindly to home truths, but at the same time I can’t bloody make their problems mine to solve. That’d be ridiculous, I know that, and I don’t know if we’d all survive another explosion of that magnitude. Let them fucking kill each other if that’s what they want to do. As much as the solution may seem clear to me, they’re not receptive to it or else they wouldn’t be where they are in the first place. All I can do is determine how I allow their nonsense to affect me and how I want to live. But how do I do that? Oh, my list of possible solutions is almost as long as the list of things I tried to control my drinking and all are probably just as fruitless.

Accepting the things I cannot change means I have to make my peace with the fact that Falla will always hold equal measures joy and sorrow. No amount of wishing things could be different will change the past and whether I try to be over and beyond brilliant or drink myself to death will make no difference. It is what it is and I guess I’m possibly better off alive and doing my best as opposed to what I may believe someone else’s idea of brilliance may be.

I think I know what the right thing is. I repeat the serenity prayer like a mantra over and over and whilst I shouldn’t make it my business to sort out other people’s shit, I can choose how long I stand around to smell it for. Walk away. Focus on wiping my own arse and flushing too. I can say “hey, I find it hurtful to hear you talk about my [loved one] that way – I love you both so I’m gonna go sit over there until you’re finished, call me back over when you’re done“. If these two fools I love freak out at how I now try to live my life – in absolute truth and honesty – then that’s their crap to figure out.

The resentment I feel probably springs from how this rubbish further exacerbates how painful some of these things already are. It does my head in to not address it but I fear all I can do is keep a distance. If they want me closer I’ll make sure everyone’s clear on where my boundaries are and if those are crossed then tough. I have enough with my own ghosts to perform other people’s exorcisms. Funnily enough, I’ve slept really well this time here apart from tonight, and I did wonder if perhaps I’m getting the hang of this inner peace thing, whether recovery’s countless rewards includes healing even at this deep level. Since I got sober, I’ve slept really badly when we’ve been here, but not this time. Yes, the sense of sorrow mixed in with the happiness I feel being here was there like it is every time, but it seemed easier to bear somehow. And then – boom! Fools did what fools do and I – the biggest fool of them all – just had to go and absorb other fools’ foolishness. Thanks, but no thanks. Or rather, given we’re in Sweden: tack, men nej tack.

The little red house at the foot of the mountain. The place where I always thought I’d grow old. Life changed course and I have to change with it. Besides, the world is a big place, plenty of other places to spend my golden years. Crazy fools I’m bound to, but would I change them? OK, twist my arm, perhaps a little here and there, but the truth is I can’t. I have to accept them all they way they are, as they have to accept me. All I can control is my own response and I’m going to do my best to stop myself attempting to wipe anyone’s arse but my own. Obviously I only do tiny little poos that smell of roses.

For all the things I cannot change, this I know in my heart at 18 months sober and 546 glorious days of recovery:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Neurotransmission and Freddie Kreuger

Oh well – I tried. Here we are, me and this mischievous brain of mine, the former being kept awake by the latter. It doesn’t take too much of me sitting here with my feelings to figure out what they’re all about. Besides, I’m getting quite good at it, which is another perk of recovery – I’ve done plenty of sitting with my feelings over the course of these past 540 days. The good news is that this so rarely happens now that I’m sober and it’s not often my mind goes into a crazy spin like it did when I turned the light off to sleep just a short while ago. When I was drinking, this madness was a daily fixture but I can’t actually recall the last time this happened. Well, here we are. Hello, old friend. How ya been?

A little selection of the tornado of dark thoughts that tore its way into my mind the moment I tried to sleep:

  • Falla being set on fire and burning to the ground.
  • Should I have packed a dress?
  • Bambino and his friend in various unspeakable scenarios of the kind that night terrors on steroids are made of.
  • I have a weird twitch right in the space between my eyebrows that won’t go away.
  • Hurting people I love just by my presence.
  • I’m probably shit at my job and all my colleagues probably hate me.
  • Nature or nurture?
  • What if Hubby leaves me?
  • People I love getting murdered. By each other.
  • Bad people turning up at Falla, followed by Freddie Krueger style massacre.
  • Neurotransmission.
  • Bambino at the receiving end of abuse from friends because of me.
  • Must buy new mascara in taxfree.
  • Perhaps I should wake Hubby for a shag? Endorphins might help!
  • I am probably too caught up in myself and talk too much to make a good counsellor.
  • I understand what GABA does in the brain but can’t remember what it is exactly? A hormone?

These sons’a bitches don’t take turns, I’ll have you understand. They rip roar around and around at furious speeds all jumbled up and fucking LOUD too. The images that accompany them include my child with tears running down his face, people I love in a pool of blood and oh, perhaps I should have my hair cut into a bob? I kid you not – this is how fucked up I am. This is what my brain has decided to do to me tonight.

I know all too well that staying in bed when this happens is fruitless – I’ll just lie there with increasing panic and sleep fitfully – these things need confronting immediately, so here I am pouring all my crazy shit out on to this blog. I did make a brief attempt at relaxing, starting with my toes and working my way up but realised quickly that it wasn’t gonna fly. Didn’t even get to my ankles.

Riiiiight.

So I can kind of see what’s set all this off. We’re taking a friend of Bambino’s with us to Sweden and the kid’s a bit troubled. I love him to bits and he’s only ever been lovely towards me, so I’m only too happy to take him to the deep forests of Värmland to enjoy the countryside and the outdoors. Bambino can hang out with Kim Jong-un for all I care, so long as bad behaviour doesn’t rub off and he understands agreed boundaries and expectations. Jokes aside, you get my drift. I have no beef with this kid, not even after his mum advised me to search through his suitcase before we travel (something she suggested with an alarming lack of, uhm, ALARM). That, coupled with a few other letter combinations got me a little stressed.

Note to self: stop it. He isn’t going to burn Falla down, nor is he a drug trafficker. He’s, as far as I have seen, a sweet 14-yearold kid who’s always been polite and well behaved around me. We’re taking the kid to Sweden and treating him to a bunch of activities and experiences as well as showing him we care about him and are so happy he is coming with us. This is a nice thing. And it’ll all be wonderful.

What else? Well – Sweden. And Falla. Always conflicting emotions and going back there does always, as much as it fills me with joy and excitement, create a bit of a stone in my chest. Some things are a little painful, sort of in a bittersweet kind of way.

Note to self: can’t do much about that, luv. This is who I am. I feel everything strongly and this stuff is complicated and cuts deep. Just be grateful I’m not pouring a depressant into myself to make it a gazillion times worse!

Hey, crazy ass brain! If you think I’m about to even consider the work stuff, you’re off your tree. I’m doing the best I can and Rio said some really nice things in my appraisal the other day – unless he was lying through his teeth they appreciate me and there’s a whole bunch of things I do well. And if they all hate me? Well, really? So what if they do?

Note to self: I’m supposed to have the serenity to accept the things I can’t control, no? Drop this one, woman!

What about Bambino getting abuse because of me? This is old shame lingering! Bambino’s friend’s mum knows a little of my story. Mostly because I am very open about it and when she popped round earlier today it sort of came up that I’m a recovering alcoholic and work at a rehab. It was in connection to the bag search suggestion, I believe. I also told the man who came to service our boiler in the morning, as it happens. What can I say? I wear my recovery with pride these days, but every so often that mean, old voice in my head tells me I should be ashamed and hide my dirty secret. Fuck you, brain – that ain’t gonna happen. Anyway, my obsessive compulsive thought tornado went in the direction of Bambino’s friend hearing this from his mum and then promptly telling everyone at school that Bambino’s mum is a dirty drunk, with Bambino getting bullied as a result.

Note to self: to be fair, girl, this was perhaps a little careless. Kids can be cruel. But come on, Bambino knows this and remember what happened in the past in a similar scenario? Bambino turned around and dead pan responded with “yeah, my mum’s bettering herself – what’s YOUR mum ever done?“. Boom. He’s a good’un and he’s always been amazingly good at not taking any shit. When he was about five years old and had long hair, he verbally obliterated a much older kid who’d suggested only girls have long hair. But hey, I could do with perhaps being a little more tactical in terms of what I shout from the roof tops. Still, it’s worrying about something that hasn’t and probably never will happen. Just move on, OK?

Falla being visited by the cast from Kill Bill? It’s a bit silly that the one door on the outhouses has got a padlock but the others don’t. If I were looking for things to steal, that’s really convenient – that’s where we keep the quad bike and lawn mower, some bikes and other equipment thieves could make a buck from.

Note to self: this is quiet countryside and the nearest neighbour immediately rang last summer to inform us a car they didn’t recognise had driven up to Falla. It was us in a hire car. Also, I don’t just know where all the rifles are kept, I know how to load and shoot them too. I’m a pretty good shot, I’ll have you know. Aaaaaand if we were, just for fun say, to look at the odds it’s pretty damn unlikely. For fuck’s sake, this is more ridiculous than the place going up in flames.

Well. It’s now half past midnight and I’m heading back to the bedroom. My Kindle has a light that is quite discreet so I can probably get away with reading for a little while without disturbing Hubby. Mind somewhat cleared and for the most part I’m feeling a little more centred. Well, I guess I’ll always be a bit of an out-of-left-field kinda gal, but there we are. As centred as I can hope to be with the stress of travelling ahead of me. Did I mention I don’t like flying? It’s because I’m a control freak, in case you hadn’t guessed.

It’ll all be fine. Just need to keep it in the day and right about now this one’s over and tomorrow is yet to unfold.

Bit early perhaps to say it at 00:35, but hell, I feel confident:

Today I’m not going to drink.

There – I Said It

And so he came back. A boy who checked into the rehab with his longterm addiction as baggage along with some paraphernalia we had to confiscate. I say ‘boy’, because even though he is in his late 20s, his drug use began in his teens and so he’s never had the opportunity to grow up and find out who he is. He is a little lost. I walked up to him and gave him a hug and he awkwardly returned it as I put my arms around his slender shoulders. In the few weeks since he discharged early, he’s gone back to using and was zonked, his head dipping as we admitted him, eyes rolling back. But despite the deadly grip of his addiction, in his beautiful, dark blue eyes there is a stubborn light that first appeared during his first stay. It was still there and I saw it.

On his first admission he’d been in a bad way and spent the first few nights in hospital, but a few days later as the drugs wore off, that light came on. I see it all the time but in this boy it was startling because he has been ravaged by drugs. He was getting his sparkle back and all of a sudden it was there. Even now, after falling off the wagon, that little light was still there. It’s come on and it’s refusing to go away. It fills me with hope. Somewhere, deep down, it’s taken hold and even if he relapses many times over, I believe it’ll defiantly keen on shining until he is ready to break free. I don’t know what it is about this boy, because in may ways you may think of him as a hopeless case, but I think it’s that light that I’m so convinced I can still see. It came on during his first stay and it refuses to die, I know it. It’s there, in his beautiful eyes. His pin prick pupils may tell the story of a devastating opioid addiction, but they also betray that will to break free that he might not even know he possesses. YET.

Stuff like that fills me with hope.

Then there’s everyone else too. I love my flock. Some want it and are ready, others still have some “research” to do but I consider myself so privileged to do what I do regardless of when recovery takes hold for someone. They’re all miracles.

As for me, I’m steadily rediscovering who Anna is. Like that boy, I was so lost for so long and it’s only now that I’m figuring out who I really am. Stopping drinking was just a small part of it. Rewind 18 months and I would have told you that drinking was the problem. Stop drinking – problem solved! Not so much, it turns out. Now I know that drinking wasn’t my problem at all. Drinking was my attempt to solve the problem. Gosh, it’s requiring so much work and digging I’m starting to feel like an archaeologist as I continue to explore and excavate the darkest corners of my soul. It takes time. Each little artefact has to be carefully extracted, painstakingly brushed off and deciphered. Go in too hard or too fast and you may clumsily destroy some of it. Little by little, piece by piece. All in good time.

It’s with a sense of inner peace – I know, right?! – and cautious joy I sit here on the couch this morning. In roughly 36 hours, I’ll be sitting with Hubby on the deck by the west wall of Falla and gazing out over the fields. I’ve sat there many times blurred and obliterated by booze, but these days I’m present and able to absorb those magical summer evenings in their fullness. Just like I’ll sit there in the mornings with a cup of coffee and feel full of life, not full of death due to all the poison I guzzled the night before. That’s magic. Magic in its purest, most divine form. May I make a recommendation? Recovery! It’s really fucking special, lemme tell ya. God willing, long may it continue. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.

Yep, life on the Pink Cloud continues to be pretty damn spectacular. I get to work in the addiction treatment industry alongside kickass colleagues and clients, all of whom I learn so much from every single day. I’ve enrolled for a three-year course to become a counsellor, which is the area that tickles me the most. Who knows where it’ll lead or even if it works out, but right now I’m exactly where I want to be and heading in the direction I want to be going.

Today I am grateful that:

  1. I woke up without a hangover.
  2. I don’t have to drink today, thank God.
  3. I have a wonderful son, an amazing husband and two lovely bonus sons.
  4. My family is a great – if a little nutty – bunch.
  5. My friends are literally the best people on the planet.
  6. I get to do something I truly believe in and feel passionate about for a living.
  7. I am healthy and strong, and capable of so much more than I sometimes give myself credit for. There – I said it.

Most of all I am grateful that:

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Lights Were On.. …dimly

My inner bully/tormentor/scoffer/mocker is dying to tear into me about my silly accent, my crooked teeth, my impossible-to-style Lion King hair and a whole world of other ridiculous things, but guess what? I’m not listening. This is me. Whilst I’ve always deep down liked ME, I’ve always gone around assuming the rest of the world doesn’t. Any time I walk into a room, my (poorly tuned) gut instinct tells me everyone is immediately repulsed by me and hates me. And of course for that very reason, I used to escape and hide away, usually deep into a bottle of wine. Or three. But no longer! The drinking was one thing, learning new ways is another. It isn’t something you can suddenly let go of in an instant, but I’m getting there and I’m getting there because I’m sober. Figures, I suppose, given booze is a powerful depressant!

So here’s my chat with the lovely Norah Ginty.

About Norah Ginty:

“Integrity, honesty, passion, belief – core values of mine which I integrate in all aspects of my life. I support women on their alcohol free journey utilising my history in hypnotherapy and life coaching qualifications. I have an ongoing passion towards personal and professional development, to not only coach people towards alcohol freedom, but to tackle the stigma attached to alcohol in our society so people can make changes more easily and quickly.”

Norah’s website: http://www.norahginty.com

You can also find Norah on Facebook via her groups ‘Becoming Alcohol Free‘ and ‘Norah Ginty Hypnotherapy Care‘.

Today I’m not going to drink.