A Big Spatula

Two magical things happened today. Both made me cry.

1. I did something I never thought I could do.

I did a presentation. I was so scared I couldn’t breathe, even though I spoke for less than 15 minutes and it was over Zoom. Hubby was apparently watching me through the glass panes on the living room door and took the below photo (had I known I would have gone loco in a supreme way, haha!). Yes, that’s a bucket, because I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t vomit. It also didn’t help it was 30 degrees and the sun is on the double windows all day – had a fan on full blast and tried to close the thin curtains but was still sweating like crazy. And the stress of it all… Let’s just say I had a meltdown leading up to it. I was paired up with a course mate so my bit was only going to take 7-ish minutes. He’d reassured me that if I freaked he’d just take over. It didn’t turn out that way. His wifi gave up and so I did almost the whole thing, bar for the couple of minutes he managed to get back on before once again getting disconnected. Well. I knew what’d happen (except for my team mate falling off Zoom) and I lived. But it was still something I did for the first time and something I’ve been too terrified to do in all my 44 years. I’ve turned down jobs because of it and at uni I convinced tutors to give me extra written work to escape having to talk in front of people.

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Despite nearly giving up and running away – old habits die hard – it all worked out. And in amongst all the dread, fear and anxiety that had me under siege, several of the lovely people I’m studying with had sent little messages because they know I struggle so much with this and they therefore knew I was in bits over it. In a way, I think the universe had my back, along with the lovely group I’m with. Had this been in the classroom I’m not sure I’d got myself there. I’d like to think so but the panic and terror I felt was over doing it over Zoom so God knows.

I lived. And it was OK.

2. Someone handed me their heart to hold. 

Bloody hell, I make it all sound so dramatic, don’t I? But these miracles happened for one reason only: I am sober. An old friend reached out because she is struggling like I did. I read the message in the car and a couple of tears trickled down my cheeks. A mixture of love, gratitude, admiration and sorrow. Love and gratitude because I feel honoured to be the person she feels she can approach. Admiration because I know only warriors can summon this kind of courage. Sorrow because she is hurting in this way. But there is also another couple of components in that mixture: hope and excitement because I know that there is a way out and I know what awaits her on the other side when she finds it.

Despite all I know about addiction and all the fellow addicts I have met along the way, perhaps old stereotypes live somewhere in my subconscious. Must be, because I found myself thinking oh my God, HER? But she’s so TOGETHER and SMART and all these other incredible things. Isn’t that crazy, that even now, this can even enter my mind? It’s one of the shitty things about addiction – we think there is something wrong with us, that we ended up this way because we are terrible or “less than” people somehow. Absolutely that was my first thought when I went to AA meetings. Almost exactly the words my own father said to me once when we talked about it.

But you’re so SMART!

I replied. Said I’ll always stand with her. Always be here for her. I don’t know where it will go or what she will choose and that’s not my business anyway. She hasn’t said “I’m an alcoholic” and so I’ll just honestly and openly share whatever she may ask about and point her to all sources of help I know of. AA of course and everywhere else I’ve found members of my tribe. Whether she wants to stop or cut down or just air her secret, I’ll stand by and hold her heart with steady and safe hands. I will share my stuff if she asks me to and I won’t decide for her what her path is. That’s what my tribe has taught me and I will do my best to honour this.

It’s magical.

I didn’t know who to turn to. And whilst it’s not everyone’s choice to be loud about their recovery in the way I’ve chosen to be, this is precisely why I am. I don’t care if the world judges me for being open or if anyone wants to attach stigma to addiction or shame me. One person overheard (or saw, rather, via Facebook) and that’s all that matters. That’s all that’ll ever matter.

Now for the questions, dear tribe of sober warriors – what do you do when someone asks for help? I’m guessing just being there will make a difference (carrying this around is hell, as we all know so being able to talk to someone obviously lightens the load a little). I will suggest AA because regardless of whether it’s the right path in the end for that person, it’s a bloody great start. I don’t want to overwhelm her – Christ, she’s just opened the lid a little so I don’t think going in and stirring a big spatula around is the right strategy – and I don’t want her to feel she has to adopt a label or be pushed into any promises or rules or commitments. I want to show her I’ll just walk beside her when she wants me to, no strings attached. What do you think?

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Smidge Better

When I began my recovery journey, it seemed to take forever to get to ten days sober and it was such a victory to see double digits. I was about to say “seems so funny now” but it actually isn’t – breaking free from addiction and throwing myself into sobriety was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done and when I was sure I wouldn’t make it to the end of the week, ten days was absolutely HUGE in a way that is still definitely UN-funny. Please smack me in the mouth if I ever tell someone newly sober “aww” or something else patronising when I’m told they’re on day 10. OK?

However, as with anything that requires effort to begin with, it gets easier as you get the hang of it. Just like running. Those first few runs are a freaking shit show and there is nothing pleasant about them whatsoever, except the satisfaction once they’re over. Now, my morning run is as much of a highlight as my morning coffee. Sure, some days it’s a hard slog, but mostly it’s just something I do because I love everything about it and it’s a massive part of my self care. Point is though, I no longer check Runkeeper afterwards to check how many minutes I managed to run before I had to stop and walk. Now I check if my fastest kilometre was the 1st, 5th or 8th. Or what my max pulse was. Or how long the new loop was when I ran a different route through the park. It just happens now. A bit like my sobriety. A new normal. (I don’t need to add here that my new normal is fucking magnificent, do I? Thought not).

Well. Here we are and two and a half years of blissful sobriety later I’m not so acutely aware of how many days I’ve been sober. Just checked my ‘I’m Sober’ app and it’s 876 days. Anyway. Royal Ascot is on this week. Hubby loves horse racing so he was recording one of the races that he’d placed a bet on, and it dawned on me that Ascot was one of the few times I’ve had the urge to drink since getting sober. Two years ago we went, and as we pulled into the car park and I saw everyone sitting around with their picnics and champagne flutes, it really did hit me. I immediately told Hubby (snitching on the Beast is a very good tool and Hubby is another!) and just sat through it, but it was there and it had absolutely grabbed hold of me. Funny. Yes, really, THAT is funny, as in “haha, those cravings are stupid, aren’t they?“. Remind me, if I ever get asked by someone newly sober to tell them with a knowing and mysterious smile that it’ll pass. Well. As long as you work on your sobriety and remain willing to throw everything you’ve got at recovery, that is. That’s the amazing beauty of it – it’s there if you really want it. Thrillingly easy and heartbreakingly hard at the same time.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the urge. I can’t remember the last time. Sometimes I deliberately try to tempt fate, which I do realise is fucking stupid, but even when I conjure up the most romantic drinking scenarios possible (like a summer evening by the river with Hubby) I just land at the same conclusion: WHY IN GOD’S NAME WOULD YOU WANT TO FUCK THAT UP WITH BOOZE? That’s nice. Not a time to get cocky though. Not at ten days, not now at 876 days and not if I sit here in 20 years still sober. Yep, Beast sitting pretty in its cage but it remains unlocked and if I start to assume the Beast will just stay there without me keeping a bit of an eye, I’ll be screwed. No, I don’t go around looking over my shoulder expecting my addiction to pounce out from the shadows and destroy me at every turn, but I’m vigilant. Just like I am when I go for a run. The park is full of deer and make sure I don’t get too close because, after all, they’re wild animals. I’m not fearful or preoccupied with it, just mindful. Just like I am with my recovery. Mindful. Look both ways before crossing the road. Doesn’t stop me going where I want and doesn’t dampen my mood – just good sense, that’s all.

I don’t know where I was going with this, other than to once again repeat what I always seem to be saying – thank God I’m sober and thank God for the life I now get to have because of it. Unbelievable. Someone pinch me. Hubby has a sober wife, Bambino has a sober mum, my parents have a sober daughter, my siblings have a sober sister and oh ehm gee the list goes on. And then what I get to have. Some things scare me stupid and I do get fairly frequent visits from my brain troll anxiety with regards to the counselling studies, but because I’m sober I can face that too. Would NEVER have happened if I was still drinking. Partly because I would be dead by now, but if I’d somehow survived I wouldn’t even consider a course like that. OR leaving the house unless it was on fire. And if I was still drinking and my house was on fire, I would probably have caused that fire by beginning to cook in black-out and forgetting all about it or passing out. Hah! You can really see it when you play the tape forward, can’t you. Hmm, what might happen if I drank today? I can honestly not find a single good reason. I can’t even find a tiny little reason that is a smidge better than terrible.

Yep. Sobriety is a gift. A precious one.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Lost in an Emotion

It’s so easy to get lost in an emotion and forget it will pass. When I feel a certain way, it takes over completely and I lose sight of how I won’t feel like this forever.

Take now. I feel such dread. Unsettled, uneasy and deflated. I feel small and defeated even before the day has begun and I’ve dreaded today for over a week. I have my counselling course on Fridays and because of the pandemic we are doing the sessions over Zoom. Learning has therefore been a little stripped back and whilst it has worked better than expected, you just don’t get as much out of it as you would if you were in the classroom with the tutor and peers. Well. Today is fishbowl day and I want to vomit just typing it. This, and presentations, is the worst part for me – I genuinely hate it. My brain senses a trigger and translates it to extreme danger. It’s so frustrating because I understand how it doesn’t belong there, how the signal my brain sends to my body is misplaced and just gets activated by a trigger. Still, I can’t make it stop. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps with time and more work I’ll get there but as of now I still get overwhelmed by it. Even though I know the present moment is a safe and compassionate environment, my heart starts racing, I find it hard to breathe and I start shaking really badly.

There is no way around it. Or over or under. The only path forward is through it. So I’m trying to remind myself that this is just one little step, one little day. The journey is a positive one. Like running a marathon. Overall a great thing and a wonderful achievement but there will be an inevitable and inescapable level of pain. Pushing through that pain when your body is screaming out to you to do the opposite – stop, hide, rest, give up, make it go away – is ultimately a victory and possibly the thing you’ll look back on and be the most proud of. So that’s how I’m trying to view today. I won’t die. I’m in a safe place. There is no hostility or meanness. It’s such a small moment in the grand scheme of all this. And by 3pm this afternoon, I will be out on the other side. I’ll get to the finish line and it’ll feel amazing. It’ll feel amazing because I’ve faced the fear and done it anyway.

Fishbowls = doing a counselling session with a peer in front of the tutor and the rest of the class. Max 20 minutes.

20 MINUTES! It’s nothing! I tortured myself in my addiction for over a decade. I suffered almost non-stop for well over ten YEARS. 20 minutes? Even if I completely fall apart, it’s just such a tiny unit of time and if it does turn into absolute torture, it’ll be mercifully short. I’m trying to put my trust in myself and my ability. I’m not a qualified counsellor. We have still just really scratched the surface of theory and skills. I’m not expected to be great at it. The exercise is partly there to help me see my blind spots and ultimately a tool to improve and learn. And whilst it might feel like an eternity and the seventh circle of hell if I go blank or get stuck, it’ll just be seconds and everyone is probably too busy worrying about themselves to massively notice and note how useless I am. And I’m not useless. I’m learning. I’m nervous in these situations. Actually make that terrified. But there we are.

Time to face the fear and do it anyway. And in just a handful of hours today’s session will be behind me and hopefully I can once again say I did something I never thought I could do.

Fingers crossed.

Today I’m not going to drink.

…..besides, IMAGINE what today would feel like if I were hungover too???? What a shit storm that would be!! Not that I’d even attempt it. I can do this because I’m sober. So really, really:

Today I’m not going to drink.

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Tanned Skin and Picnics

Monday, yay! I freaking love Mondays! Sorry, not sorry – I am an unbearably cheerful morning person and Monday mornings in particular make me happy. If anyone was hoping I’d mention something that I’m happy about and grateful for and NOT finish off with “because I’m sober”, today is not that day. Mornings and Mondays are magnificent BECAUSE I AM SOBER! 860 days today, in fact. I can’t remember how it came up in conversation last night but Hubby asked me how many days now. I knew roughly. I do check my ‘I Am Sober’ app once in a while, it’s nice to see that number and I get emotional every time.

Did you ever think you’d see that number on there?” Hubby asked.

I just laughed, shook my head and shut him up with a kiss.

Will it, and if so, when will sober rewards cease to feel amazing? It’s a serious question to anyone further ahead. It worries me sometimes, you see.

I don’t honestly see how it would be possible that I’d suddenly want to drink again, so that’s not my primary worry – I mean, you hear sometimes of how someone might have been really overjoyed in early recovery and then, sort of, got bored. I have the advantage, however, that my drinking life was boring as hell and it’s sober that I now actually have tonnes of fun – I’m making friends and connections all the time, I’m pursuing a direction I’m passionate about through studying, I go for a run every morning, I have been writing like a demon lately – and that’s just four doors that opened since I stopped destroying myself. So I can’t see how even my devious brain could trick me into thinking slow suicide would be preferable to all this life I now have. But you never know. So whilst it’s my deepest fear that I’d once again lose my life and take another descent into hell, I’m so happy here on the Pink Cloud I find the idea somewhat farfetched. I know it sounds cocky and that’s not what I mean. I guess all I’m saying is I feel quite solid still in my recovery.

Perhaps it’s a fear of letting go of the joy and gratitude of all these simple little things. Like waking up sober. *reward #1* Like this morning. 6.30am, half an hour before the alarm would have gone off. Snuggle with Hubby for a little while, then up to make coffee. *reward #2* Then sit and write for a while whilst waiting for the coffee to brew. *reward #3* And so the days usually go on. Long strings of little beads of reward, one after the other – sobriety is like that. Maybe it’s because my drinking was so bad and it was wrecking my whole existence, but sober almost my every last move is an exercise of oh my God, I lost this and now it’s here again.

I guess what I’m asking is, is when did things stop being amazing and just became stuff you take for granted?

I’m not saying I spend my life now bouncing around in awe at each breath I take or that everything’s perfect. That’s not the case. I have good days, I have bad days and I have days that are meh or in-between. But mostly, whether life is on the up or down, it’s very clear to me that it’s a gift I’m immensely grateful for.

It goes for the number of days too. Obviously, in the beginning, seeing double digits was a huge victory – TEN DAYS, WOOHOO! – and you’re not as acutely aware of how many there now are further down the line. It was 28 months on the 23rd of May and that honestly just slipped me by and I only realised the next day when I happened to check the app.

Part of this little niggly feeling I have when I think about this, I think comes from the sponsor I had for a brief while early on. Any time I expressed feeling great or whatever, she’d take me down a few pegs and tell me it was my “addiction talking” and that I shouldn’t go on like that. She kept telling me I should focus on the shit stuff about my drinking or I’d relapse in a hot second. I get it, and in a way I agree, but I think she failed to realise that the only reason I am – and have been all along – so happy and grateful to be sober is precisely because of the hell I was in. Is freedom really going to taste this sweet if you’ve never been without it?

This is going nowhere. I don’t know what I’m getting at. I feel like I’m looking for problems where there aren’t any. I’m sober and that makes me feel happy and grateful. 7.30am and time to head out for my run shortly. *reward #4* The sun is shining and even though the world is a mad and unsettling place to be right now, it’s still a great one and I do have lots of faith that after all this turbulence it will be a better place for us all.

Oh! I now tan. Shallow, but bear with me. *reward #5* Call me crazy but this is a sobriety reward, honestly. I never used to tan and once I stopped drinking I suddenly do. OK, my pale Scandinavian skin is never going to go the deep brown my kiwi husband’s does in the sun, but I freaking TAN! I go a lovely golden shade and I get freckles again like I used to. Has to be the absence of poison in my system. Drinking blocks lots of nutrients and vitamins and shit. Must be related. I’ve googled this like crazy trying to find evidence to support this but I’ve come up short. I swear though, this is another recovery thing. Makes sense, right? Our skin is our largest organ, so obviously this must be the case. Yep, a golden tan is a sobriety thing. It’s official. I only realised because my bonus sons said it yesterday when we went to see them for a picnic at a responsible 2 metre distance.

Anna, you’re tanned,” Bonus #1 said.

Yeah,” Bonus #2 agreed and nodded.

They’re both quite pale skinned and it was strange to me to a) be told I’m tanned because that never used to be the case, and b) not be the pastiest white person in the group.

Anyway. Apologies for this random load of pointless waffle. I don’t know if I actually had anything to say or where I was going with any of it. Perhaps it’s a sign of gratitude – noting how good life is and not taking it for granted. Perhaps worrying this joy will fade and go away is a sign that it’s very much here and I appreciate it?

I’ll shut up now.

Today I’m not going to drink.