On Top of His Lungs

What better time to have a little rant than a Saturday morning? Well, here’s something that really gets my goat… This article appeared in my newsfeed on LinkedIn today:

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Whilst I am SO excited that the tide is turning on alcohol, this lethal yet utterly pointless drug that causes untold harm to MILLIONS upon MILLIONS, we really do need to get a goddamn grip and change how we talk about this. This article does indeed highlight the many benefits of ditching the booze but look at the fucking title!! Before we even go to read the damn thing, we’ve been told that life (or even a teeny, tiny month) without booze is something to SURVIVE. Something to struggle through, something that’s difficult and something to battle as we’re going without.

Let me tell you something and do bear with me as I’m so wound up I have smoke coming out of my ears. Listen close, friends.

I spent nearly 15 years of my life trapped in addiction, in a destructive cycle of alcohol abuse so severe that, had I not got out of it, I have no doubt I’d be six feet under by now. Each day was a struggle and a hardship to suffer through. Crouching each morning in the shower because my legs could barely keep me upright was a feat of survival. As was simple things like answering the phone, walking to the bathroom and trying to function at all. I struggled to have conversations because I was so fucked. Some days I couldn’t leave the house and when I did it was to get more wine despite the fact that I was close to collapsing in the street because I was so weak and shaking so hard. Yet I dragged myself to the shops. It was a living nightmare. One particularly bleak time I was so wobbly I had to stop, clutching the bag containing two more bottles of wine to my chest and wondering how I’d be able to walk the remaining 50 yards to my front door. That time I honestly thought I’d have to open one bottle right there, in full view of passing cars, buses and people in the street, and take a swig. Not because of the enjoyable taste of Sauvignon Blanc but because my heart felt like it was packing in and my legs were buckling at the knees and I was trying to SURVIVE.

When I drank, I’d go to bed fully clothed when my husband was away with work. Why? Because I knew in my heart that, going the way I was, I wasn’t long for this world and during my very lowest, most desperate and distraught points of this slavery, I figured it’d be slightly less terrible for my young son to find me dead in the morning with clothes on than discovering his mother dead and naked. I was nothing if not a considerate drunk. That, my friends, is survival. Knowing you’re going to die and having made your peace with it whilst you do your best to make your departure less traumatic for those poor souls who love you.

Crouching in the shower is survival. Avoiding morning coffee (my FAVOURITE thing!) because it makes you even dizzier is survival. Isolating is survival. Retreating from those who love and care about you because they might force you to give up the poison that’s killing you is survival. Choosing drinking alone and avoiding spending time with the people who mean the world to you is survival. Forcing yourself to believe that what you saw in your mother’s eyes, when she last asked about your drinking, wasn’t sorrow is survival. Ignoring your loved ones’ heartbreak is survival. Fighting each day to get home in the afternoon so you can drink again is survival.

I used to secretly fantasise that something terrible would happen. I used to secretly wish it would. Not so bad I’d die, but bad enough that I’d be exposed and forced out of this hell. That I’d crash my car in the morning and be made to do a breathalyser, because you can be sure I was still way over the limit. Or that I’d collapse in the street and be taken to hospital, then they’d discover my organs were failing due to alcohol abuse and I’d be MADE to come off the booze. Everyone would make me and I’d have no say in the matter and in too bad a way to argue, lying there in a hospital bed with tubes going in and out of me. Having my loved ones see how bad it was, this hell I’d been so trapped and alone in, and forced into rehab.

That’s not a life, that’s survival. Life with alcohol was a matter of survival in treacherous conditions on a knife’s edge.

It strikes me as crazy now, but I suspect there are so many people just like me who are so scared of getting sober. Because despite all of the above, what scared me even more than dying was living sober. OK, so I’m an alcoholic and I accept it’s different for those of you who can “enjoy” alcohol and control your intake, but I can only account for my own experience with it. This is the saddest part and it was true for me: most alcoholics would rather die than get sober. AND THEY DO. I had accepted it was killing me. I knew where I was headed and I’d made my peace with it because the alternative – getting sober – seemed so impossible, unobtainable and… ……worse. I thought, genuinely, that getting sober would be worse than the pitiful existence I found myself in.

This is the madness of it and what makes me so angry now. Coming up to two years sober, is my life a matter of survival? Is being sober all about having a way to survive without alcohol?

Why didn’t I know what I know now? How could I – because I’m not stupid and nor are you – have been so completely hoodwinked and fooled into thinking sobriety was the hard part you’d have to SURVIVE? I can’t even begin to tell you how angry it makes me! I want to go back in time and give that hopeless, drunk Anna a big hug and show her the truth. I want to show her she’s been lied to and deceived by booze. I want to show her the life that’s waiting for her. But no one told me it’d be like this. At best, I thought life might improve in some ways but would ultimately be a pretty drab and colourless existence.

Living sober isn’t about survival. Living sober is freedom. It’s LIVING.

I wake up and I’m struck by the absence of dread and anxiety. I didn’t do anything last night that I can’t remember. There are no conversations that are a blank to me. I did nothing I have to be ashamed of. I wake up with a clear head and my heart is beating steadily and strongly, my breathing deep and peaceful, not shallow and frantic as my heart is beating out of my chest like it used to. I’m not sweating or shaking. I get out of bed and my legs can carry me, I’m not having to lean on the bed to steady myself or carefully taking small steps and shuffle, all the while I’m leaning on the bed until I’ve got around it and reach the doorframe which I grab to keep steady next. My morning coffee tastes EPIC and I can stand up in the shower. I’m healthy and strong and when I go for a run I sometimes fail to hold back the wide grin I can’t suppress when I get overcome with joy and gratitude at the wonderful feeling of strength as my feet pound the ground in steady strides. I can pursue things I’m good at, enjoy and feel passionate about, as opposed to finding the path of least resistance by working a job I could do in my sleep just so I can keep on drinking. I can deliver on promises and I’m present in every moment.

Even such a simple thing as walking down the stairs – once a terrifying ordeal on shaky and jerky legs. I even RUN down, sometimes taking two steps in one BECAUSE I FUCKING CAN GODDAMNIT!

Shame and anxiety don’t live here anymore. Sometimes that’s strange and I am absolutely aware of their absence, which hits me every morning. Sometimes it makes me cry of joy. Waking up and realising I’m free. They’re not here. It’s still strange but it’s the most incredible happiness I experience in those moments. Like I’m a little lost there for a moment, like “hey, where did everybody go?“. And then it hits me: I’m free.

Life without alcohol isn’t something I survive – it’s the most amazing existence filled with joy and gratitude and excitement. Suddenly I have oceans of time! I never understood how time consuming drinking was. From the moment I got home from work until I got to bed, I did nothing but drink. No seeing friends, no going out, no running, no nothing. Now I’m studying, running regularly, seeing friends, spending time with my loved ones and writing and lots of other things and still I have quiet moments just like this one.

But even for those who don’t have a problem with alcohol, removing it will only ever mean reward. It’s a poison, for God’s sake! Even if you’re one of those strange creatures who drink in moderation, you’re bound to see obvious perks of a sober life immediately. You’ll save a bit of money, you’ll feel better overall and you’ll also look better. But back to that shitty title of the article above, the one that wants you to believe it’s hard to survive without alcohol – what in your life will be worse once you remove the booze?

See, this is one of the things that kept me trapped for so long. I honestly thought everything would get really shitty and dull. When I stopped, we had three PRIME drinking occasions already booked and so in my mind I’d sort of decided that I’d be allowed to drink for those, because how do you SURVIVE the following sober???

  1. A weekend in Paris for Hubby’s birthday.
  2. A Foo Fighters concert in Gothenburg with a bunch of my friends.
  3. A holiday to Lipari.

Surely impossible. That’s what I thought and, as I said, I’d kind of resigned myself to how I’d HAVE TO drink for those at least. Not that I ever thought I’d be able to live without alcohol, but on the off chance that I might make it, I’d be giving myself a hall pass for those three things.

But then something magical happened…..

I saw Paris! I actually experienced Paris. Bouncing up early and strolling through this beautiful city with Hubby. I wasn’t consumed with where to get alcohol, ensuring there’d be enough (and there’s NEVER enough because I’m an alcoholic!) or end up in black-out and missing the whole break. Instead I enjoyed every moment, took it all in and loved every second.

Foo Fighters are fucking AMAZING live! I was totally present in the moment and utterly loved it. Sang along and felt alive. Had I been drinking it would have been stressful because fetching more drinks at an arena concert is a ball ache. Plus I would have left half way through because once the Beast gets its claws into me everything else around in me is just in the way, including the talented Dave Grohl. And my Hubby. And the friends in Sweden I so rarely see. ALL of it. I would have missed that brilliant concert. Instead I didn’t – I was there. REALLY there.

And don’t fucking get me started on the island of Lipari….. Getting on a flight isn’t traumatic because I’m not overcome with fear and anxiety due to a severe hangover. Nothing is a struggle and getting there was just fun in itself! Landing in Sicily and travelling across the island with a singing taxi driver who loudly sang ‘No Woman No Cry‘ at top of his lungs yet spoke not a word of English. We sang along. Heading over on a little ferry and arriving on this beautiful little Aeolian island off Sicily. So picturesque and so…. Italian! Strolling through the little streets and along the little harbour without a care in the world and without having to be stressed and/or feeling shit due to booze with my gorgeous husband. And have you ever tasted really great food without spoiling the taste with ethanol?! OK, so I’m a pasta fanatic, but even so. Jeez, it was something else.

Yes, I “survived” all of those. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Getting through those things drinking would have been a case of trying to survive them. Experiencing those things sober was just living. It was a matter of living my best life, actually. And that’s the lie of alcohol vs sobriety. And I get so wound up every time I see a stupid title like the one above. Sobriety isn’t something to survive. Sobriety is living life just the way it is.

We really do need to change how we talk about this.

Well, that’s me done – think that’s enough of a furious rant on this fine Saturday morning!

Today I’m not going to drink. Because…. why in God’s name would I??

 

 

22 thoughts on “On Top of His Lungs

  1. Anna, I love your passion, chica, but the anger might be a bit misplaced. That article you refer to wasn’t for us. We have a tendency to put ourselves in that discussion, but we addicts don’t belong there. We CAN’T just take a month off, and the authors typically know this. That article is for “normal” drinkers. It’s become fashionable for them to take a month off to prove their “normal drinker” status. Sadly, some of our kind try to hijack that, but it’s not for us. For people like you and I, abstinence is the only thing that works, long term.

    I love your enthusiasm, though. It’s wonderful.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are so right. I had this conversation with my (normal drinker) husband later on today after writing it and ended up landing at this conclusion. I guess I still feel they should point out how life without booze is NEVER a struggle, but then having said that it’s true that it’s very different for those who don’t experience the negative consequences (or addiction). Still angry though, haha! But yes, I do get what you’re saying. 😘👍

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have to agree with you and slightly oppose the earlier comment. I have found sobriety completely freeing. I wasn’t experiencing much of what you were, but I could have reached that point in the future. I was a drinker who could ‘control’ my intake, or so I thought. I could possibly now attempt to really moderate and only drink ‘blah’ units per week, or have a few months off each year. That however would still be a prison. I would be spending my time thinking about when I could drink and feeling like a failure if I had one too many. I believe there a minority of people who genuinely don’t have an issue with alcohol. Anyone who attempts dry Jan, or says the words ‘I’m not drinking until the weekend’ or drives purely to stop themselves overindulging is addicted. There are degrees but they are under the ‘spell’ of the bullshit we are told. Just as I was too. It is not ‘survival’ to be sober. For anyone who has drunk alcohol and tried to ‘cut down’ .. its freedom and living to be shot of it.
        Great piece. Loved it
        Claire x

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure I agree with all this. For my first 2+ years, I was in survival mode. I lost my identity, I had to sit with my thoughts and not numb them with alcohol, I lost my friends. I think that the sort of people who think dry January is a good idea are probably going to feel pretty shitty after a couple of weeks dry. I also think it’s annoying to turn it into a game or suggest that people should feel high and mighty because they can go a month without drinking. Never again looks pretty bleak in comparison.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think what you say about how grim life can be when alcohol has the hold it had on you is something that people need to read and take note of. That story, your story, that image of going to bed with clothes on, send that to the paper. That will make a difference and make people think about whether they want to give up booze long term. Jim x

    Liked by 5 people

  4. So much of what you write was/is true for me, too–I could be you in some of your descriptions! Thank you for sharing. In my experience, it doesn’t stop the longer you stay sober, that remembering and being grateful that you are here, now, smiling on the tread as you run into another sober day. Love this post, and I will re-read again, just to remind myself of the nightmare that has led to the dream that we now get to live in… Keep being grateful, is my mantra this year (at about 7.5 years sober, and well, four years after my last slip–so, four years sans wine, 100 percent–I have been starting to wonder, hmm, can I just have one…). xx

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  5. because most alcoholics would rather die than live sober…yes. that hits the nail on the head. It was actually THAT scary for me for a long time. Your story and descriptions here are so vivid, that to even recollect them for myself sends me into a nightmare while awake. I cannot even imagine doing that again. You are so right..it is nothing to make light of or treat as a game and every time i see the”dry january ” thing advertised( in this way) i feel the very same way. Because those first 30 days are mostly hell, and if you get through them why in hades would you ( or anyone) go back to drinking again and have to start over at ground zero any time in the future?that to me would be like shoving a bamboo splinter under my fingernail, pulling it out and doing it again…argh..

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  6. This is spot on Anna for me. I was shaking my head up and down as I relived it with you. Your honesty and openness just resonates with me beyond words. I feel less ashamed and more love for myself and pride after reading this. Thank you❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I am angry, as well, but not with articles like the one that set you off, Anna. I’m angry with…reality, I suppose. I have been (99.9%) sober since May 9, 2018, thanks entirely to Antabuse, (250mg 3x/weekly, minimal dosage). I have tried going off it, thinking, “Surely by now I can go it alone! Lesson learned! No need for the crutch!” So, I stop, and two weeks later, sure enough, I think, “Okayyyyy! The chemical is now out of my system, and I can have a glass of wine!” Every. Single. Time. So, I have a glass of wine, and realize how VERY MUCH I miss it. The “beaded bubbles winking at the brim.” The very feel of the cold goblet. The…utter normalcy of it, especially somewhere utterly enchanting like a tiny trattoria overlooking the bay of Sorrento. So, I finish my glass, say a tearful goodbye all over again, and resentfully start taking that damned little half-tablet of disulfiram the next day. And embark on another long slog of Temperance.

    Of course, ethanol is poison. Of COURSE I feel bright-eyed and energetic when not drinking, win gold medals in the Sleep Olympics, have no moments of despair, anxiety, shame, terror…life without wine/vodka tonic is indeed sweeter, richer, fuller.

    And yet. I miss wine like one would miss a dear lover, from whom one must be separated forever. The nostalgia, the memory of the truly good times, will not be subdued or obliterated, no matter how one tells oneself that one is better off without him (yes, I speak from experience; it’s not a metaphor, and the great love of my life was, and is, married, therefore even further out of reach than that chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc).

    Wasn’t it F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote something like, “The mark of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two opposing beliefs at once, and still function”? (Need to look that up and get it right).

    Alcohol is a horrible drug, a Hell when it becomes an addiction and obsession. Alcohol is also the sweet elixir of ancient poets, a magical grace note to a life well lived, a true pleasure, partaken of wisely.

    Anger? You bet. Anger that I cannot moderate, fury that I will have to rely on a drug the rest of my life (barring some miraculous eclaircissement, some profound mental tectonic shift).

    Anger that I can’t be like you, and others, who can truthfully say you do not have the desire any more.

    Joy? Sure, most days. Anger? Always simmering somewhere down deep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. Thank you for taking the time to put this to me – it’s given me HEAPS to consider. I think I sometimes (often? Always?) get so caught up in how I feel and see it that I neglect to recognise how you could see it differently. Mostly, when I read what you wrote here, I want to race off and see you so we can talk and talk and talk because I want to understand, but there is also – and here’s how I probably do relate – a part of me that’s scared to fully understand because it scares me to think that I could so easily realise this is me too. I don’t even know if that makes sense!! But let’s talk more about this, scary and terrifying as it is. No, right now the idea of booze (even what used to be the most perfect drinking scenarios) turns my stomach and I feel joyful and free. Still, there is truth in what you say (100% your truth obviously but I mean I can see it too) and I want to explore what that means for me. It feels risky in a way but I never want to ever push anything back or down ever again. I think you’re right (you and Mr Fitzgerald!) about two opposing beliefs. I’m not articulating this well at ALL but let’s come back to this again. Lots. Again, thank you. ❤️

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  8. Thank YOU, Anna, for a kind and thoughtful response. I do have long stretches of feeling better, and more positive, but the little essay (rant?) was composed on one of the sullen, bitter days. And yet, I can’t honestly take any of it back. My truth, indeed, alas. Perhaps I should focus more on learning to live with the subtle sadness and regret, rather than exhausting myself trying to GET HAPPY with it. After all, people live with a sense of loss all the time, learn to function and even thrive around it. A physical handicap, a death of someone important (I absolutely loathe the sugary term “loved one,” too often applied to really burdensome old relatives who actually aren’t much loved at all, and the writer who invents a better term deserves a Nobel!), etc. perhaps it it selfish, immature, and spoiled-bratty to demand that I get to occupy a big fluffy pink cloud all the time. I visit that cloud, but am not allowed to stay there, evidently.

    But again, thank you. I didn’t mean to rain on your parade, or hijack your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t at ALL take it as rain on any parade. Your thoughts provoked me to really think about it and honestly, that’s often what triggers the most important lightbulbs. I obviously love (as I imagine many or even most of us do) comments that agree or what have you, but it’s differing points of view we sometimes learn even more from. I absolutely get what you’re saying and commented and I’m genuinely grateful and value your views massively so please continue. I can relate to so much of it and genuinely want to also understand the bits I may not experience in the same way. ❤️

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