First I’ll Live

Another thought dawned on me after I had posted yesterday’s unabashed bragging bonanza of a post. It might now sound like I’m beating myself up or trying to down-play how happy I am about the good things that are happening, and that’s not the case at all. Bear with me – I’ll try to explain.

A counselling placement, some translation work and rain – those were my three reasons to jump for joy. The rain is of course nothing to do with me and it’ll fall when it wants to, regardless of how sober or drunk Anna happens to be. Always has, always will. But the other two – the placement and the translation stuff – let’s look at those….

The placement.

I haven’t actually heard of many Level 4 students who fail the Diploma because they just couldn’t find a placement. These things do tend to work out fine in the end. NOT down-playing it, honestly!! I got the one I wanted and the one I saw as The One to go for. That IS good going any way you look at it. Of course it is and I SHOULD be proud and pleased with my efforts – I have worked hard and I’m as good a candidate as the next person. There is no reason why they’d reject me sooner than they’d reject anyone else – my chances were as good as anyone’s. So yes, I’ll happily pat myself on the back. *pat, pat*

However, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m 44 years old and have only just now begun to find my path in this life. Work placements and qualifications are usually the things you do in your early 20s, not mid-40s.

No, no – hear me out!! Bear with me, OK…

BUT. Coming from where I was in the deepest darkness of my addiction, from an increasingly hopeless existence where I on some days couldn’t even leave the house, this truly is a miracle to me. I never thought I’d get out, never mind do anything useful with the wreckage my life had turned out to be. And so to get a placement – AND The One, at that – is to me the stuff dreams are made of. And that’s why I feel about it the way we might feel when winning the lottery or landing a publishing deal or winning the X-Factor or getting a lead role in a blockbuster movie or finding the cure for cancer or climbing Mount Everest or winning the Olympic gold medal.

The translation stuff.

Before I sank into addiction, I actually did a fancy Masters degree at one of the best universities in this country. Sorry, not sorry – I did that and that’s great, right? Anyway, the general consensus was always that the stuff you want to take on would be “decent” literature – the classics, anything considered high brow and so on. This stuff is something most people fluent in two languages can do. It’s the sort of books you’d possibly be a little embarrassed to cop to reading. Honestly. To get me on the right track I’m reading one to get a handle on the tone and the language and it’s genuinely so shit it pains me to endure it.

I don’t want to down-play it, but Shakespeare it ain’t.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, I couldn’t do ANY translation work when I was drinking because I was barely functioning and couldn’t get my brain to engage. And so, this too, is a huge miracle to me. A massive, wonderful, breathtaking miracle.

I don’t have any issue with whether it’s considered this or that type of literature (but OK, I can absolutely hear the judgemental asshole in me speaking loud and clear in all of this…) and I love it. I made a start yesterday and it’s so much fun. I don’t have to worry about all that stiff, poncy and pretentious stuff where I have to ensure I’m invisible in the text as a translator and faithfully stick to the source. I can have fun with this. It’s just a bit of fun! And I get an income from it, albeit not a big one. It’s super positive and for all the snooty and snobbish stuff I just said about this type of books, it’s SO much more fun to work with than some dusty high literature tosh!

Fact remains though, these doors open because I’m sober and all these things are like winning the lottery for me. Over the past couple of days, I’ve just occasionally “paused”. Stopped what I’m doing, closed my eyes for a moment, taken a deep breath and just allowed myself to feel grateful for what I get to have now.

Bottom line.

When I say “is this really my life?” it’s not because my life is some sort of unattainable dream that others can only fantasise about. These aren’t things that’ll change the world. But they are things that happened because I got sober and recovery changed MY world. These are mind-blowing achievements for ME. These are things I never thought I would have. And I know so well why I now have them – because I am sober.

When I say “is this really my life?” it’s not because I’m looking out across Lake Como from the terrass of my 20,000 sq ft mansion. I say it because I’m not hungover today. I say it because I don’t regret yesterday. And I say it because I have my life. Just my life. I’m breathing. My heart is beating, not palpitating.

Happiness isn’t a Ferrari or millions in the bank. Not for me, but OK, I’ll have the Ferrari 658 if you really twist my arm. But I don’t need it to be happy, those aren’t the things that count. This is my happiness right here. A nice life. A simple life filled with simple things. That makes me so happy. So, SO happy. I went from knowing my addiction was killing me to living my life again. I will die one day, of course, but first I’ll live.

And when we live, we can take shots at those REALLY spectacular things too – like attempting to write a book! Wouldn’t that be something? And why not?

Today I’m not going to drink.

 

Is This Really My Life?

Three wonderful things happened yesterday:

  1. I was offered a counselling placement.
  2. I was offered regular translation work – potentially.
  3. Rain and thunder finally arrived.

To say I’m happy is an understatement!

1. The placement.

This was a little unexpected, mostly because my Inner Critic had me believing I’d NEVER nail this. The part of the counselling studies I’m enrolled to start on is the Level 4 Diploma and we all have to accrue 100 client hours via placements over the two-year course. During normal times, we’d have an assessment part way through the first year and if a pass then we’d be given a certificate to say we are fit to take real clients. In these strange times, all of this has changed and now we are deemed fit to practice by virtue of passing Level 3 and being progressed to Level 4. Whilst placements can apparently be difficult to secure at the best of times, matters have been made trickier by the pandemic as some agencies have simply closed down until they can offer counselling face to face again. And to deliver counselling over video call or the phone you need to be trained especially, but this is where we all scored jackpot as our college successfully made the transition online when Covid-19 struck and so we’ve done not only all teaching that way but our skills practice and classroom tutor observed sessions this way too. Still, placements are harder to find and I sort of pessimistically felt it might end up a case of just-take-what-you-can-get.

The agency I applied for was recommended by our tutor and she also works there, so to my mind this was the Rolls Royce of placements. Cue Inner Critic. I had pretty much assumed my application would drown in a sea of much better candidates and that was that, so whilst I was thrilled to get an interview, I was also shocked. The lady who interviewed me (over Zoom of course) didn’t give much away and although we had a really great conversation, I felt I put my foot in my mouth a couple of times and thought there was a real possibility she’d hated me and each second she had to endure with me. When the offer landed in my inbox I was – like with the interview – both delighted and surprised. So I’m all set! One less thing to worry about and by any standard I’m out very, very early. I’d kind of figured that if I got to Christmas with no placement there might be reason to start panicking but here we are a full month before even starting the course.

YEAH!!

2. Freelance translation work.

Not guaranteed. It hinges on how I get on with the first translation gig they’ve sent me, so I’m going to give it my best shot. Shakespeare it ain’t and I wouldn’t be seen dead with a book like that, but I reckon it’ll be an absolute hoot to translate. It’s Mills & Boon romance novels, cheap and tacky trash lit for the criminally bored. Most of the time predictable, slightly cheesy and erotic rubbish set against some sort of Dynasty style 80s glamour setting. But I think it’ll be fun and because it’s as far from high brow literature as you can get, I also have free rein as a translator and don’t need to be super faithful to the source text. Because it’s for a Swedish audience the instructions even stipulate I rewrite sections that portray a dominant male and weak/helpless female. In the egalitarian kingdom of Sweden, that shit doesn’t fly, you see. It also says to use modern language, use the Swedish gender neutral pronoun where appropriate and even strike off any sections that may be construed as discriminatory in any way, shape or form. This amuses me quite a bit as the whole premise for this cheap stuff is Prince Charming rescues Lil ‘Ol Distressed Damsel in a Dress.

Well. It’ll bring in the little side income I’m looking for – if I don’t muck this up, that is. As much as I can’t stand and would never read that sort of thing, translation is still a bit of an art and just because I’m fluent in both the required languages, it remains to see if it turns out good enough. I’ll give it my best shot, it’s all I can do. I’m doing precisely the opposite of the above mentioned “would never read” and have downloaded the Swedish translation of another of this author’s books so I can get a handle on the tone, turn of phrase and get used to it.

Who knows? If it works, great, and if not then I’ll keep looking out for part time work elsewhere. This would be a nice little gig though. AND a complete giggle.

3. Rain and thunder.

I mean, I like rain anyway. But oh ehm gee, was it welcome when it finally came yesterday! London has been roasting over the past week with temperatures in the mid-30s with no let-up. It’s been unbearable and I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. My morning runs around 8am have been so uncomfortable and on one of the hottest days I honestly thought I was going to faint. But hey, check me out having been out every single morning anyway! Brag, brag, brag – I know, but sorry, not sorry. Today is much cooler. Still quite warm and humid but bearable. So hurrah for the rain!

YIPPIE, YIPPIE, YIPPIE!!

Well, that was that, really. Three good things all happened at once. The rain doesn’t care what state I’m in, but the other two wouldn’t happen if I weren’t sober, just like most of the things I have in my life. I honestly thought all that AA talk of “the promises” was a load of clichéd bullshit when I first heard someone say “in recovery, you’ll have the life of your dreams”. And yet here we are now, at 933 days sober and I actually find it hard to believe that this is my life now. There’s nothing spectacular about it and I don’t think many people would look at me and think I’m anything to write home about, but from where I was and where I was headed to THIS, is nothing short of a miracle. I’m sober! I go running every morning! I’m kicking ass in tonnes of ways! I’m almost finished writing a BOOK – a life long dream that I can now pursue and whether it gets published or not is not the point. The point is I’m making it happen, even if its end destination is a file on my laptop and nowhere else.

If you, who is reading this, is like me of 933 days ago or perhaps early in your recovery – DO IT! Give it all you’ve got. It’s so, so worth it and it really isn’t bullshit at ALL – the promises come true.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Anna of Falla

Well, THAT did me a whole world of good! Two weeks at Falla, where my soul is so completely at peace, does for me what I think I was seeking all those years in a wine bottle and what a heroin addict hopes to feel when they put that needle into their arm. Peace, connection and just being at one with the universe. Even the drive was fun and Hubby and I still appear to be happily married (unless he’s just putting on a brave face). There is always a part of me that hurts when I go to Sweden, but this time it was so much fainter and I guess that just shows I’m in a really good place. There are things I need to face still and a few more demons to fight, but there is literally nothing I can’t handle.

I’m still neurotic, of course. On our way back to the UK, on the second night ferry, it suddenly departed without any announcement 20 minutes early and this was enough for my brain to dream up a whole host of ridiculous and outlandish scenarios. Has the ferry been highjacked? As if it’d be a good choice of vehicle for a quick escape. Or has the Captain panicked and gone early because we’re heading into a fierce storm despite the weather app showing “slight to moderate” sailing conditions?

Anna, I don’t think we will perish during this ferry crossing,” Hubby told me, failing to suppress the giggles that were bubbling up in him.

Of course we did survive, and over 4,000 kilometres later we are back home in London and in quarantine. The door-to-door drive totalled 2,800 kilometres there and back and I am trying to figure out how we could possibly have clocked up 1,200 whilst there, but we did a lot and I actually feel rested, refreshed and still very peaceful. It was one of the best summer holidays I’ve had, possibly THE best visit to Sweden ever, bar for the fact that Monkey didn’t come along. And there was a moment so special that I don’t even know how to put it into words. With special things, there are always back stories:

We always stay at a little old house called Falla. It belongs to my father and it’s his haven, and mine too. It’s the place I love most in the world and my idea of heaven. Dad grew up there, raised by his grandmother and her two brothers who lived there together the three of them, none ever marrying. (My grandma was born out of wedlock – slightly scandalous back in the 30s…) To my knowledge, there was no sinister reason for this. Perhaps his mother, my grandma, was just too young when she had him? Perhaps they didn’t truly bond? Perhaps he was just too boisterous to handle? Or perhaps it just turned out that way. All I know is that at Falla with his grandmother was where dad grew up and where he is his happiest to this day. Just like I am too.

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His grandmother was called Anna, she was always the most important woman in dad’s life and I was named after her. Or rather – I stole her name! At my christening, dad announced “well, we now have another Anna, so you’ll be Ida from now on!” – I suspect he was just joking around, ever the prankster, but amusingly it stuck and everyone always called her Ida from then on. I only recall ever knowing her as Ida and she passed away when I was eight. The older brother, Anders, passed away before I was born and so I don’t have any memories of him, but Ida I remember clearly as well as the younger brother, Oskar. A few years after Ida, Oskar passed on too, and Falla went to my dad.

I had a Covid test in Sweden and so felt OK going to see my grandma, who is a sprightly and joyous character at the tender young age of 92. I assumed we’d keep distance and had my face mask handy, but before I could stop her, she’d grabbed hold of me and pulled me close in a tight hug.

You are so beautiful,” she told me as she pulled back to take a good look at me like she always does, stroking my cheek before proceeding to run her hands along my arms and pinching at my waist too, “and slim!

Hardly!” I told her, rolling my eyes.

Oh stop, you are perfect! You have your mother’s figure,” she insisted, patting me on the hip to emphasise her point.

My paternal grandma has always been this way, always inspecting me and always touching and pinching and squeezing and checking me over as you might an apple at the supermarket. Always loving. Never, no matter my weight or my mood or the state I’ve been in has she criticised me. Any time I’ve got a little rounder (like I did when I first moved to the UK and again when I stopped drinking) she’s told me I’m beautiful and perfect and commenting how I carry it well and how she likes my cheeks round. Grandma is a superb ego boost if I’m having a bad hair day, shall we say.

Come with me!” she told me and pulled me along by the wrist.

We went into her bedroom and she went to her dresser, opening her jewellery box.

I’m so old now so God knows how long I’ll be around and there’ll be more coming, but I wanted to give you this,” she told me with her eyes glinting.

It’s funny and perhaps it’s because she’s always telling dirty jokes, but her eyes always have a mischievous glint, like she’s never far from bursting out laughing. And her laughter is never far away – every few minutes, she’ll cackle and chuckle at something. Not now, though. There was just a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. With hands that now tremble quite a lot due to a condition called Essential Tremor (that both Dad and I have inherited and that in me was made all the worse when I drank obviously), she carefully retrieved a gold necklace and handed it to me.

I suppose it was her way of “giving with a warm hand”, as we say in Sweden – when you pass things on when you’re alive as opposed to “with a cold hand” via a will when you’re dead.

Put it on,” she urged me, playfully poking me on the arm to prompt me when I was just admiring it in my hands, “it was mum’s.

Ida’s?” I asked, gasping at this as it added considerable weight to the gold chain I was holding in my hands.

Grandma nodded, eyes twinkling as she watched from behind my shoulder in the mirror as I placed it around my neck.

Anna of Falla,” she whispered and gave my shoulders a squeeze, “now that’s you“.

I can’t possibly let you give me this,” I mustered, not knowing what to say as a little tear trickled down my cheek.

Don’t make me angry, girl!” grandma chastised me as she tried to wipe the tear away but nearly poking my eye out with her shaky hand, cackling her infectious cackle of a giggle and gave me a little slap on the arm instead, “I have decided it’s yours and if you don’t take it I won’t speak to you!” she joked and made a grimace sticking her bottom lip out and did a little stamp of her foot to add to her theatrics. “There, that’s that settled, now coffee and cake.

How do you even begin to express your gratitude at a gift like that? Later on, Dad told me how he’d helped Ida put this on so many times at Falla. It has a fiddly safety clasp and it’s hard to put on yourself. It’s – alongside my engagement and wedding bands and a ring my mother-in-law gave me – the most precious thing I have ever been given. It’s not something you wear every day, and Ida only wore it on special occasions, but I will wear it often. It’s not a massively fancy or opulent piece of jewellery but its value isn’t in the metal’s worth. Its worth is who wore it before me, my grandma and my great grandma whose name Dad “stole” for me.

So here we are now. Back to reality after two weeks enjoying the deep forests of Värmland and the peace my soul finds at Falla. There are so many other things I want to tell you but all in good time.

On the agenda now is finding a placement in time for when I begin studying for my counselling diploma in September, find an income too and finish that book – I’ve thought about it a lot lately and all the things I want to say now that I’m hoping to squeeze out the sunny part of it. If I can just find and maintain the motivation to get it done, it’ll all fall into place. One day at a time.

How have you all been?

Today I’m not going to drink.