The Best Bit

819 days sober and the UK is still in lockdown. Victories today are my sobriety, managing to run in the mornings instead of the evenings and writing LOTS. The morning runs was a tip from The Sober Racoon Returns as my sleep has been a bit meh lately. For some reason I don’t seem to have the same energy in the morning, which has always irritated me massively because mornings are freaking MADE for running! But it’s been OK and so I hope this continues and will also see if it has any impact on my sleep. Nothing yet, as I seem to be lying awake for ages before drifting off to sleep, but I shall persevere. It does drive me nuts, because sleep was my first recovery reward and probably the thing I’ve loved the most alongside of course the magic of morning coffee. Maybe it’s just a patch. The world is upside down, after all, and perhaps that’s why my mind takes longer to slow down at bedtime.

Despite the strange times we are living in, life is good on Planet Anna. How could it not be – I’m sober! But even so. Sometimes the days drag a little, but I’m writing like a demon and for the first time it’s not like it used to me any time I approached my dream of writing a book and had to force myself – right now the words are flowing like an unstoppable torrent. Maybe I finally have a story I really want to tell? I revised my target because I’m churning it out at such speed. I initially aimed for 80,000 words as a bit of a goal, but I’m on 50,000 after just over two weeks so have adjusted it to 100,000. Once I get to that, there’ll be plenty to look back over and see what’s missing, what can be scrapped and whether what I have can be whipped into some sort of shape. Whatever happens beyond that isn’t important yet.

No, honestly – I mean it! And I think it’s because suddenly I’m writing like I’m living in recovery: in the moment!

I’m enjoying WRITING. I’m enjoying the journey. I love my little routine these days:

  1. Wake up and not have a hangover – HALLELUJAH! This never gets old!!
  2. Enjoy two or three mugs of glorious, glorious coffee. Heaven.
  3. Go for a run in the park. Bliss!
  4. Shower – AND STAND UP, NOT CROUCH! Fucking awesomeness on a grand scale!
  5. Write for two hours and love the process!

And that’s what I realised yesterday when I revised my target word count and started to wonder “what then?“. I actually felt a little sad at the thought, because it’s the writing of the story that I’m loving. It’s finding the right words and stringing them into sentences to show all the things I want to show, say all the things I’ve thought about, wondered about, mused about and the few answers I may have landed at. It’s the moment I am loving, not where it’ll necessarily lead. And that’s all I need. Tomorrow is still a mystery and I like it that way.

Sure, I’m writing because I hope that maybe one day I can do something with it – it’d be silly to pretend otherwise, but unlike before I’ve in recovery learnt to enjoy the journey as much as I look forward to the destination. Turns out it really is the best bit.

Before recovery, in the dark days of active addiction, life was all about tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do this. Tomorrow I’ll stop. Tomorrow I’ll start [insert whatever failed project here]……..

Recovery is about this moment. It’s all I have. Now. The next right thing, right now.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Hard To Keep Still

Fucking anxiety! Gosh, it really, really pisses me off.

I’m having a hugely productive day, by the way, and thinking about it, it might just be driven by anxiety. Perhaps it’s not an altogether bad thing, although that’s of course how we tend to think of it, isn’t it? Anxiety = BAD. I guess all emotions are there to tell us something, it’s just when they get out of whack it becomes a problem and last night my anxiety was definitely a problem.

Over these past two+ years of recovery, I’ve read tonnes of books about addiction and anything else recovery related I can get my hands on, but at the moment I’m enjoying a succession of standard novels. I read before going to sleep, both because I love reading and also because it slows my mind and gets me sleepy. So there I was, my eyelids increasingly heavy and I turned the light off and snuggled into Hubby’s back, my smaller body fitting perfectly into his larger one like a jigsaw peace. And it took literally all of two damn seconds to realise I was wide awake and would stay that way.

Normally when my mind races with anxiety and I end up like this, it’s self doubt and worry doing the rounds (like: oh my God, I need to do A, B and C and X, Y and Z will go wrong with it) and often mixed in with really random shit (like: I wonder why running is so much better in the evenings even though I prefer mornings and would love to do my runs then). I gave up. I did lie there for a while, trying to remind myself that 1) I’m on top of things, 2) I’m not the world’s most pathetic human being, and 3) things are absolutely fine generally, even under the current, strange circumstances of this Covid-19 world. It didn’t work, so I turned the light on again and read for another hour. By now I was of course aware of my anxiety keeping me under siege so my eyelids remained light and sleepiness elusive. Just after 1am I finally turned the light off and managed to drift off.

Fuck you, anxiety.

This morning I churned out 2,800 words, then spent three hours doing all the homework due for the counselling course. It’s due next week and the particular bit that I was lying awake thinking about is due ON THE MOTHERFUCKING TWENTY-SIXTH OF JUNE. Aren’t you grasping at straws here? I mean, give me something REAL to worry about if you’re going to barge in like that, you annoying fucking thing!

I suppose however annoying this was, I used it to get super organised and have been hard at work all day getting stuff done so now I feel all accomplished and virtuous, but it still pisses me off because sleep is my favourite thing. It was the first, amazing reward of recovery and the one I still hold dearest, honestly – solid, restful sleep that has me waking up refreshed, rested and full of energy. Don’t fucking mess with it, anxiety! I’m furious! But look, I’ve indulged you and been a very good girl getting everything done in the hope that, if you decide to pay me another visit tonight, I’ll have a lot more ammunition to pepper you with, you stupid bitch. GRR. For the time being, I’m going to write this off as an instance where you spurred me on to get stuff done and be a productive writing and studying wizard. You’re not all bad, I’ll therefore have to concede, but please don’t be such a shit again tonight.

Is that a good way to deal with anxiety? I don’t know if it’s ever possible to always conquer it, but if I let it spur me on to keep a good balance and just do stuff I’ve been leaving to the last minute or trying to avoid, surely that’s a good thing so long as it doesn’t turn into some mental cross-addiction where I suddenly find it hard to keep still?

Do you battle with anxiety? A lot or a little? What do you do? What helps?

Right now defiant and pleased and still a bit pissed off but feel like I won this duel. This time.

What remains today is a trip to the supermarket and a long, brisk walk in the park. The sun is out, we’re still in lockdown and generally I’m pretty happy. Hubby and Bambino both with me, so the world is complete even though I’d prefer it if the bonuses were here too, but at least we caught a glimpse of them via Skype last night. Goodness, I can’t WAIT to have them over when the world goes back to normal.

Today I’m not going to drink.

This Moment

Easter. With lockdown there is no discernible difference except that Hubby isn’t on back-to-back conference calls for four whole days and there is an Easter egg for Bambino (who, at 15, doesn’t really care about Easter eggs). Beyond those hardly noticeable differences, things are much the same. We get out every day for our exercise, which in my case is a run every other day and a brisk walk the others. Life in recovery has been the new normal for a long time so not drinking isn’t something that requires any effort as the act itself would now be abnormal. Actually, make that HORRIFYING. A) because I don’t want to, not even a little bit, and B) because it’d mean death – both my own and the death of everything and everyone I love. Well I’d be the one doing the dying and all the rest would be lost. And my loved ones would hurt.

It’s not nice to think about it but sometimes I do ask myself the question. What would it be like if I were still drinking?

I guess to answer this, we’d have to create a hypothetical scenario. I’m shaking my head and chuckling sadly to myself because it’s an unlikely one for tonnes of reason. Firstly, we’d have to assume I was still alive and I just don’t think I would have been. Secondly, we’d also have to imagine that I’d by some miracle managed not to lose my son, my husband, my home and everything else that matters to me. So it’s sort of ridiculous, but let’s try anyway. Let’s say, as unrealistic as all this would be, that I still had those things at least and was still in my home that I share with Hubby and Bambino. It feels like such an unimaginable thought that it pisses me off to continue, but let’s keep going.

So.

I sure as hell wouldn’t be running 6-10k every other day. And I would never have been able to study counselling, much less work at a rehab given I had to be a year sober first. (Have to say here that it feels fucking amazing to mention a time when I was “a year sober” and it’s actually quite a long time ago – incredible!!) The idea that I would have held down the job I had is so preposterous that I can’t bring myself to even pretend. And I know in my heart that those last few years of my drinking I was holding on by the skin of my teeth – that job was the last bastion of any normal existence and I was just a split hair’s distance from having to resort to morning drinking. Where I was at the end was right at the edge. It’s when you tip over that edge that you plunge into those darkest last days of alcoholism, when it goes from severe to chronic.

What would lockdown have meant? With Hubby and Bambino at home? Would I have got to that stage where I’d not even hide it anymore? Besides, it’s not as if I could have. Hm, let’s make this hypothesis even more unlikely than me being alive in the first place. Let’s pretend I was now where I was just before I quit drinking and hadn’t progressed any deeper. Imagine the STRESS!! The stress of getting booze, the stress of trying to make the abnormal seem normal in front of a horrified Hubby and terrified Bambino, the stress of fucking LIVING.

This pandemic and the lockdown with drinking in the mix?!

It makes me sick to even think of it and I don’t want to go on but then on the other hand I think I have to. In a way, I take my horror at even thinking about it as a good sign, but I also do force myself to remember how fucking awful it could have all got. And how it would have ended. Mostly it just pops into my head when I have a shit day or something crappy happens and I feel miserable. It’s then that the thought comes to me without fail and no matter how rubbish everything seems I realise how my worst day sober is still a million times better than my best day drunk. If I were drunk still, there’d be no day to speak of.

This moment would not exist. I’m sitting on the couch and next to me is the man I married, the love of my life. I just turned to him and told him I love him. He’s eating the fajitas I made earlier and through a mouthful told me he loves me too. I feel teary. This moment would not exist. He’s been for a run and is fresh out of the shower. I went for a long walk in the park this morning. We bickered a bit this morning. Normal stuff. Bambino has been on Xbox all day, communicating on there with his mates that he can’t see in person right now. We’ve gone about our day in lockdown and sometimes it drags, sometimes we are irritable but our home is peaceful. Tension never lasts and there are no screaming rows except for the occasional blow-up with Bambino and I when he’s being a little shit bag, but even there it’s stuff that I actually think are just part and parcel of the teenage wars. It’s a beautifully normal life. We’re happy and in a happy there is room for everything else too – we get angry, moody, irritable, sad, mad and all those other things that people feel. But it’s a happy life, even in the midst of a pandemic. It’d be so very different if I was still drinking. This moment, sitting on the couch with my husband, would not exist.

Nor would the moment Bambino came home yesterday have existed. He’d spent a few days at his dad’s. Not ideal to go between two households but there is no way around it. Bambino texted me in the morning asking when I wanted him home. I told him I wanted him home the moment he left. He replied with a crying-with-laughter emoji. When the buzzer went I literally sprinted to it and stood in the doorway watching my beautiful boy come up the stairs, all teenagery and full of swag. He caught my eye half way up where I stood there smiling and I saw how he couldn’t suppress a grin. By the time he was at the top, his eyes glittered and he walked into my mama bear hug, looking as happy to see me as he used to when he was a toddler and had spent time with his dad’s and came back to me. My son was really happy to get home to me. That moment wouldn’t have existed. And I knew it when I held him tight then pulled away as I buried a kiss so hard into his cheek he squirmed and went “mu-UUUM, stop, that’s enough!“. My teenager was so happy to see me he let me hug him and kiss him on the cheek, albeit not for as long as I wanted but still. That moment would not exist. If I were drinking, his eyes wouldn’t glitter joyfully like that. If I were still drinking he probably wouldn’t come home to me at all.

I suppose it applies to everything. My life as it is today – my happy, normal, all-the-emotions-welcome, mostly amazing and once in a while crappy but always peaceful life – would not exist if I was still drinking. These moments would not exist. And this week I began to write that damn book. I set a target of 2,000 words per day, 10,000 words per week based on writing 9-11am Monday to Friday. The word count landed on 18,732. From a life long writer’s block when it came to the book thing it requires more effort NOT to keep writing. I’m on fire with it! Whether it’ll ever come to anything doesn’t matter. The point I’m doing what I love. Finally. And that wouldn’t exist either if I was still drinking. None of these things or moments OR PEOPLE would exist in my life if I was still a slave.

But I’m free.

These moments and everything and everyone in them DO exist. They make up the beautiful journey that is my life. It’s no extraordinary life, just a normal, happy life. But it’s extraordinary to me because I so very nearly lost it all to addiction.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Caught My Eye

It wouldn’t be accurate to say I’m massively spiritual… ..or is it? I do believe in a grand design, a higher power I suppose. Ah well, we can explore all of that some other time, but what I wanted to get to is how I genuinely believe things happen for a reason. Not that it necessarily was always destined to turn out this way or that, but that people come into your life and things happen at the right time.

Today I am referring to Coachie, who, as you may have astutely guessed is a coach. No, this wasn’t on my radar AT ALL. Coaching might even be something I put my nose up at a little, it just seems a bit poncey, doesn’t it? Anyway, it came about from a thread on Facebook group for Swedes living in the UK. Someone had asked how people are and if anyone’s set any goals during this lockdown to work on. So I happily told the group I’m studying counselling and want to use all this home imprisonment for studies but also for writing “that damn book”. And poof! There she was, Coachie. She’s studying coaching and offers pro bono sessions as she needs to do this as part of her studies, much like for counselling we will go on placements from September. And I thought, what the hell!

Mostly I figured the more love you send out there, the more will also come back to you, and if I put my hand up for this it’ll help her just like I hope to get my foot in the door at an agency come autumn with clients willing to entrust me with their deepest thoughts and otherwise. That was my motivation, plus I was curious also to see how Coachie structures sessions and contracting as there are similarities I suppose. Indeed, our Level 2 tutor works both as a counsellor and also life coach. Of course, if she could help me get my arse in gear and write, that’d be fucking fabulous.

Well, it worked a treat and, oh, Clairei47! I’ve now written 6,000 words over the past two days! I had begun a little and had about 1,400 to add to that. How’s the running and who owes who now? Do you owe me miles or do I owe you words? Weehoo!

What Coachie did was simple and genius. She pulled out of me what I want do to but most of all why. She pulled it all out of me, the clever lady. It’s not by magic but it’s magical how much you can clarify for yourself by just having another person bouncing things back at you and challenging you. To think the whole world needed to come to a standstill before I finally got started… And to be fair, even if – sorry, WHEN! – I have written enough to start working out where to send it, the chances of it getting published are depressingly small, but that’s out of my hands. What I can do is write the fucking thing and do my very best – the things I can control, right? So ignoring whether anyone will ever publish a book written by Yours Truly, let’s work with what we’ve got for now:

Why do I want to write it? What might happen if I do?

  1. Someone just like me might read it and find a tiny bit of hope.
  2. Someone who loves someone like me, an addict, might understand a little reading this addict’s experience of addiction.
  3. If I continue to pursue addiction counselling/recovery coaching, having a book published is surely a nice string to my bow.

Operation DO IT:

9-11am, Monday to Friday, I spend writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s total shit so long as I write and do nothing else. No distractions, no finding other things to do to avoid it. Remember I don’t HAVE to do this, I GET to do it. Just like I get to be sober – HALLELUJAH! My daily goal is 2,000 words. If I hit this, I can stop sooner unless I feel inspired to continue and of course if I want to spend longer this is awesome, but two hours seemed like a fully attainable goal with a smidge of enthusiasm and discipline. I have lots of the former but none of the latter, but there’s a first for everything and Sober Me has surprised me many times now. If I can stay sober I can do fucking anything, no? These 2,000 words per day equate to 10,000 words per week and this means it’ll take me roughly eight weeks to reach the length of the average novel. This in turn, means I’m closer to reaching my why.

Off to a flying start, but I’m always good at getting all fired up and taking off at furious speed. This ain’t a sprint, so I’m trying not to get cocky although I’m sure my tone betrays I’m ever so pleased with myself. Well. This is the plan and you’ll be the first to know if I get stuck or find I couldn’t make myself do it.

In other news I’m now also officially a “befriending volunteer” for a local charity and will be assigned three or four people I will be calling to chat with during the lockdown. I guess it’ll be those who may be vulnerable, lonely, anxious etc. It feels good to be able to do something, especially when we see healthcare workers, supermarket staff and other key functions do so much to keep us all safe and well. Finally something, albeit very little in comparison and from the comfort of my own home. I braved the supermarket today as it happens, and as a store colleague passed me and caught my eye, I smiled and gave her a discreet little clap. She probably cringed and thought I’m mental but I figured I can hang out of our front windows every Thursday evening and clap and whoop all I like but at least today I knew someone I’m applauding knew that I did.

Gosh, check me out all full of myself and on top of the world. Do you know what, I’m so OVER this bloody virus and I’m so often feeling anxious and scared of what’s happening, so now that some magical things are happening I’m just going to enjoy this little burst of optimism and hope for the future, OK?

Best of all is of course that:

Today I’m not going to drink.

800 Days

The days are dragging a little, I have to say. This is Day 9 of the Great British Lockdown, and whilst I’m beginning to feel a bit restless, we’re doing OK on balance. I get out once a day for either a run or for a walk, and perhaps because I’m an introvert and not super social, life isn’t all that different come to think of it. It’s almost more the idea itself that is making me antsy – that we can’t do this or that, as opposed to not doing it. For example: even though I no longer drink, Hubby does and on occasion we might go to the pub. Now, I don’t miss that (and frankly, I’d rather do something else) but it sucks to think we can’t do it. Does that make sense? Just like I’d quite like to be able to head to Sweden for a long weekend or Easter break – something that’d be nice but I can take it or leave it – but because I can’t, I feel uneasy about it. Maybe that’s just normal, that we want something more or miss it more simply because the option has been taken away from us?

As a side note, that’s not true for the bowl of Swedish sweets – just like bottles of wine in the wine rack that belong to Hubby, I want to be healthy more than I want to eat them so they’re no longer bothering me. It took a few days of this Weight Watchers thing and counting points to get used to it and initially feeling deprived, but I’ve got the hang of it now and it’s becoming some sort of normal to think about what I can eat. For now anyway…

On balance, we’re doing fine. At the very least, we’re as fine as could be expected in this situation. Hubby is my best friend and although we bicker and sometimes argue like anyone else, we’re pretty well in tune and seemingly both our happiest when we’re together, so I really can’t complain. Bit of a drag, but all in all we’re as happy as can be I guess.

The counselling course is still going, but has moved online. We have the usual teaching on Fridays via Zoom and it’s working better than I thought it would. Skills practice sessions in the same format and although not ideal, we’re learning new skills and even with counselling this is something that is happening more and more online (and especially right now!) so I reckon we’ll come out armed with tonnes of additional skills and experience. It does require more own initiative in terms of learning, but hey ho, here we all are confined to our homes so I’m trying to make the most of it by reading and downloading online lectures and so on – the internet is a treasure trove in that sense.

Well, these are strange times, that’s for sure. Still. I genuinely believe that we’ll all learn something and come out of this better, wiser and stronger.

….aaaaaand drinking? Well, whaddaya know, today is 800 days! 800 days sober! It’s hard to believe – I certainly never, not even for a moment, thought I’d be able to say that. Usually when I check the counter app I have, I giggle in disbelief and often get tearful, overcome with gratitude. Typing ‘800’ just now, I felt less than I thought I would. Maybe it just seems surreal, that I can’t quite grasp it somehow?

I’M 800 DAYS SOBER!!!!!!

Nope, still just has me staring at it and not quite being able to reconcile this with it being ME who did that. Is this what happens when you have all your dreams come true? Or, more accurately, try to accept that you have done something you never thought was possible?

Sobriety isn’t quite like that though. It’s not like climbing Mount Everest and you get to the summit and stick your flag down. Well, first off, it isn’t a struggle. It is and it isn’t – personally, I found the first few weeks the hardest, those were definitely an uphill shit storm. And there may well come times and moments when I’ll struggle again, but unlike climbing Everest, it’s not ONE climb with a definite end to it. The goal isn’t to get to whatever number of days and stick my flag down, “there! I did it!“. Every single day is that amazing victory. Some good, some bad, some ugly, but as long as I stay sober I’m always sticking that flag down. So it’s different in that sense mostly. It’s “Here! I’m doing it!“.

Hello, my name is Anna and I’m an addict. Today I am 800 days sober. I’m doing it. Today I’m victorious. Today my life is beautiful because today I am not going to drink. 

Fucking amazing, this stuff. Recovery – I feel so lucky that I’m getting to experience this beautiful thing. Yes, you could say it sucks that this is my thing, that addiction is my thing. But it is my thing and not only did I accept it – I embraced it. It’s not my fault but it’s my responsibility and it’s one I wear with pride and gratitude. I’m paraphrasing Laura McKowen, by the way, a recovery advocate and author of ‘We Are the Luckiest’ – look her up, she has a magical way of putting into words what recovery is, means and does for us. And I totally agree with her, as shitty as addiction is – we are the luckiest. No doubt about it and I feel grateful every single day that this is my journey.

Stay safe, friends, in this upside down world. If you are bored, let’s play a little game. Below I’m listing a bunch of Swedish sayings. Your job is to figure out what they mean and what the English language equivalent might be.

  1. There is a dog buried here.
  2. If there’s room in the heart, there is room for the ass.
  3. Don’t shout ‘hey’ before you’ve crossed the stream.
  4. Slide in on a prawn sandwish.
  5. There is no cow on the ice.
  6. A cross in the ceiling.
  7. To have done a poo in the blue cupboard.
  8. To buy the pig in the sack.
  9. To have something land between the chairs.
  10. To have planted one’s last potato.
  11. Like a cat around hot porridge.
  12. To sit in the lake.
  13. To throw pearls at swines.
  14. Put your legs on your back.
  15. Right on the beetroot.

There, that’ll do for now. Tomorrow I’ll use my new video conferencing skills and hold a little online lecture on the strangeness of Swedes. I say, as if anyone would be remotely interested in learning about our weird idioms that you’ll never ever have any use for!

The world might be all strange and bewildering right now, but I can always find joy and gratitude in this one little line:

Today I’m not going to drink.

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