This Big Thing

I have completely given up on the WordPress app – I have no idea what’s happened to it but it won’t load comments, nor will it display the blogs I follow in the newsfeed, so I have deleted it. It irritates me as it was handy to have. I always used to respond to comments there as and when they appeared and only ever log in to this web version like now, when I am writing a post. It was also always via the app that I would read the blogs I follow – on the bus or on the sofa – whereas now I read them via the e-mail notifications and as a result I rarely comment now, simply because I would have to sit by my computer to do so. Annoying.

What ISN’T annoying is my third Christmas sober. I have to really concentrate to remember what I was going through the first Christmas, whether I found it strange not to drink or if it had already become my normal by then. My first sober Christmas was, after all, almost one year into sobriety. Now, almost three years down the line, it hasn’t occurred to me until just now – the moment I go to write a blog post on my recovery blog – that I’m not drinking during a festive season where alcohol seems to be everywhere we turn. It’s almost like raisins to me now. I don’t like raisins. And they’re in a lot of stuff. But raisins don’t stand out to me. If they’re in something, I move on to the next without thinking about it. Like the wine selection on a menu – my eyes seek out the soft drink section without it feeling strange or crappy. I like that a lot, that my life now isn’t so all consumingly focused on recovery and on recovery alone. These days it really is pretty effortless and any time I think about my drinking it’s with a sense of curiosity and wonder as opposed to This Big Thing That Changed My Life.

Bgddyjim recently wrote about hitting his 28 years sober and how the person picking up the 30-day chip was told this was harder to achieve than those chips signifying years. It’s true. Almost three years feels easier than three days or three weeks did. I mean, the milestone I remember the most clearly in terms of how HUGE and how UTTERLY AMAZING it felt, was when I hit ten days sober. Ten days! It still makes me smile, remembering that hopeful, excited feeling of HOLY CANNOLI I CAN DO THIS! Sometimes I wonder whether it’ll just slip into the background completely, my recovery. Whether one day it’ll only be a very fleeting thought and not This Big Thing That Changed My Life. I’ve brought this to my personal therapy a lot lately, reflecting on how my recovery became my everything and how it’s now more one part of many that make me me.

I’ve been reflecting on how I grabbed on to recovery with everything I had. I gave it everything and I made it everything. I still do, but it’s now giving way to the things I am filling my life with. In many ways, it makes perfect sense. Rock bottom was for me a dark place where my life felt like a wreckage. At that point, my only focus was to get through the day and survive. Literally survive, because I was all too aware that I might not wake up the next morning. I was acutely conscious of how any day could be my last. And so, early recovery was sort of this exhilarating ride of discovering how to live life again and how to be me, and knowing in my bones how I only got to have my life again because of This Big Thing That Changed My Life. But as recovery and sobriety shifted from requiring all that I had, to something I increasingly got the hang of, other things found their way back into my existence. So many of them. Running, writing, friendships, bettering myself and setting goals.

So now, when I approach my third sober Christmas, not drinking is barely on my mind. Not drinking is these days just a given. What’s on my mind is submitting the assignments due for the counselling course. What’s on my mind is figuring out how to go with my clients over the break. What’s on my mind is family time. What’s on my mind is catching up with friends. What’s on my mind is the translation project I’m currently working on. What’s on my mind is my life and everything in it. And drinking isn’t in my life.

With all that said, don’t for a moment think I’m trying to dismiss my recovery as something that isn’t important. All that I have now – my life and all that is in it – I have because I’m sober. My recovery may not be what occupies my thoughts 95% of the time like it did that first year perhaps, but it’s 100% the reason why I have the life I want to have now. The things I have in my life now, I only have because I don’t drink. And needless to say, if I were to drink again, all those things would pretty much immediately crash and burn and I’d once again survey the wreckage of a life un-lived. So it’s my absolute priority. It’s the foundation for all that I have. Without my sobriety, I have nothing. So make no mistake – of this I am all too aware. And I’m grateful every goddamn second of the day. I may not have to focus so hard these days and quite often the 23rd of the month slips me by without me noticing, but I will never lose sight of why life is now what it is.

Another way to put it would be to say that the things I now have in my life and everything my life is, are simply there because drinking ISN’T. My recovery has given room for me to fill my life with those things that matter and that I love. Addiction is a very selfish creature, you see. It won’t let you have anything else, and will gradually take everything else away from you. Recovery lets you have your life back and everything you want in it. So it’s not that recovery isn’t my entire focus as much as it’s shifted from something I have to focus on entirely into something I nurture in order to have the life I want. And my recovery is now one of many things that make me me. Sure, I guess you can say it’s the most important part as without it all would be lost in an instant, but more than anything it’s given room for me to grow to be the things I am meant to be. And I’m not just sober. I’m also a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend and so much else.

Fuck me, I feel euphoric now. Who would have thought this was possible? I didn’t. And yet here we are. Not so long ago, I looked at my I’m Sober app and cried tears of joy at seeing double digits. Ten days. Opening the app today, that figure is 1,056 days.

Oh stop! I have something in my eye. I’m not crying. You’re crying.

I hope everyone has a lovely Christmas in whatever way you celebrate or a lovely break if you don’t.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Some Kind of Equilibrium

For anyone who knows me, it’ll come as no surprise that I love running and often refer to it as my #1 feel good tool. Or #1 type of self care. It makes me feel good in every way I can think of:

  1. You just know you’ve been good to yourself when you’ve made your heart beat faster and worked up a sweat.
  2. It clears the mind.
  3. I changed my routine and began running first thing in the morning and it sets a brilliant tone for the rest of my day.
  4. There is that beautiful rush of good feelings.
  5. Even if you remove all of the above, it feels good to have done something good – running for me falls into the Good category and afterwards I feel virtuous and accomplished.

About a month ago, my hip began to hurt. Because I had this once before, in 2010, I immediately recognised it as piriformis syndrome. Basically it’s a muscle that gets inflamed – in my case, it appears to be due to lack of stretching – and it then pushes on a nerve, which in turn sends sharp, stabbing lightning bolts of pain down my leg and side. It’s not the sort of tender pain you might get from over worked muscles, but rather the white hot kind that immediately stops you in your tracks. So I knew what it was, and unlike ten years ago when I initially ignored it, I immediately knew what it was and did just that – I stopped in my tracks. I’ve not been for a run in a month and I won’t mess with this. It’s now been over a week since I’ve felt a twinge and I’m getting ready to attempt a short and gentle run, maybe some time this morning. I last tried about two weeks ago, after having been given the all-clear by my osteopath – try gently but take it slow, and if you feel it then leave it longer. It won’t do any harm to aggravate it but it’ll hurt like hell, basically.

But that’s not the point or what I was getting to, other than to say I’m being patient – something Sober Me can handle and deal with.

What I was getting to is this: I’ve had a real wobble. With the counselling course. I mean, the whole thing from the start has been a wobble, but I’ve been persevering and was seeing small, but distinct, improvements and my hopefulness knew no bounds there for a while. I felt for a while like I was winning the war against my own brain. I had begun to discover that there were times I spoke up in class when my heart DIDN’T race, when I didn’t feel like crying, when I didn’t get paralysed with crippling fear.

But then, there is was – and seemingly out of nowhere.

During a lecture that was about a heavy subject – suicidality – but one I personally had no direct experience of or triggers around, I’d gone in to class feeling cautiously nervous due to the sensitivity of the subject but calm in myself. I spoke up because I had something to say. Nothing super personal or in any way difficult to share. Yet suddenly I found myself in the icy grip of what felt like the beginnings of a severe panic attack. I cut what I was saying short and fought hard to not faint, not cry, not fall in a heap or freak out. My heart was pounding so hard I worried it was about to give up, I couldn’t catch my breath and my skin went cold as my temples began to tingle just like they do right before I faint.

OK, so that’s shit, but what’s worse is that it really did come out of nowhere. I still don’t quite understand what triggered it. It knocked me for six. No joke. It has really dented what little confidence and faith in my own ability I’ve so painstakingly built up over the past two years. I’ve worked so hard at soldiering through my fear – at the rehab facilitating groups and then on the counselling course speaking in class – and those wins were so hard won and slow to build up. Then this.

Since it happened, I’ve felt defeated and crushed. Initially, I tried to ignore it. Tried to tell myself it was just a bump in the road, but yesterday I had no choice but to accept this has really rumbled me. In class, I was asked a question. Immediately the panic over took everything. I understood the words, I knew I had the answers somewhere, but I couldn’t connect the two. All I could think was don’t faint don’t faint don’t faint. I told the tutor:

Sorry, I’ve gone blank“.

It’s not the end of the world and I nearly wrote “and I doubt the others paid any notice to it” but I find I definitely DO believe they all REALLY noticed and now I’m written off as “why is she even here, she doesn’t understand anything”.

Of course I took this to my personal therapy over the weeks since it happened (as part of this Diploma course I have to have 70 hours of personal therapy – very handy for Yours Truly as I have a shit load to work through). Last week my therapist said “just enjoy it” about the course.

I reflected on this a lot over the past week. And I realised this: I don’t.

Unsurprisingly, given my all or nothing nature, I can’t find many things I feel neutral about. How I feel about all this can be divided up into two very distinct lists of love and hate.

I love:

  1. The client work on my placement.
  2. Supervision – I learn TONNES.
  3. My personal therapy.
  4. Our tutor’s teaching, i.e. lectures and workshops.

I hate:

  1. Skills practice.
  2. Fish bowls.
  3. Presentations – mine is in JUNE NEXT YEAR and yet I feel sick just thinking about it.

In a way it felt good to just establish how I feel, as opposed to just telling myself over and over what I want to feel. Want and do are opposites in that sense. I want to feel I can enjoy it, trust the process and not suffer like this. But I don’t enjoy that hate list. I hate all those things and I am back to those early stages of dreading it every time. I go into class on Fridays now with dread and anxiety. That’s crap, I know, but in a way it felt good to just recognise and verbalise that this is how I feel – whether it’s right or wrong, there it is. And I now think of the course as something I just have to suffer through in order to get a piece of paper that allows me to work with something I love and feel passionate about for a living.

I’m not AT ALL at any stage where I feel like giving up, but for the first time in a long time I am now wondering if I’ll manage to get myself through this. Before this wobble, I had so much hope. I even felt that the big presentation (in June!) was something I could do. I even felt a little excited at the thought that I’d overcome so much and had faith I could do this too, even though it’s something I once never believed I could make myself do.

It’s a set back for sure. No, I’m not going to give up on this. But there is a LOT of work ahead and I need to really knuckle down and get a handle on this.

The running? How is that connected to this?

Well, I think it does play a part. The wobble happened after a week or so of no running. For all my talk about how much I love running and how much good it does for me, I think it played an even bigger part than I realised. It turns out I was left vulnerable than I expected to be with this #1 self care strategy. I do think there is a connection, even if perhaps small.

This is why I sometimes feel I can’t trust my emotions. Well, not SOMETIMES. I very RARELY feel my emotions are being accurate. And so I have to work so hard to see past everything my entire soul appears to tell me. It’s trusting in something bigger than I am. It’s having faith that a higher power will show me the way when I can’t see it. And so I go on fighting through this. But right now it’s really hard. I feel I’ve been pushed down so many pegs and it’s disheartening. Last night I just wanted to cry. 70 class sessions of this course. Nine down, 61 to go. This is how I’m currently looking on it as there’s no point trying to convince myself I enjoy things I just don’t. What I do hope to do is get back to the point where I don’t feel invincible but at some kind of equilibrium where I at least feel I have as much of a shot as anybody. I got there before, I’ll get there again.

That’s what we do on the Pink Cloud, remember? We keep going. The cloud isn’t pink as much as it’s a deep grey right now, but I’m on it and I’ll stay on it, damnit.

So there it is and I’m nothing if not open and honest – I’m low and I’m disheartened and I’m disappointed and I’m feeling shit. But I’ll keep going. I won’t roll up into a little ball and mope. I’ll keep going, I’ll keep showing up and I’ll keep working.

And here is that one magical thing that, even in this shitty spot that I find myself in right now, always makes my heart sing with joy:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Made of Stronger Stuff

What a drag this pandemic is… Heading into another lockdown here in London as the infection rate and daily death toll have been steadily climbing over recent weeks. It’s less daunting this time around and from what I can tell less of a panic too, and I suppose we are OK with it as we know from last time around we can be cooped up together 24/7 without being overcome with an urge to throttle each other. And the routines are sort of familiar too – head out once per day to exercise and other than that just pop to the supermarket to get food.

What it does cut off is seeing friends and my placement sessions will now be done via Zoom, which I’m not a huge fan of as I much prefer seeing my clients face to face, but I guess it’ll have to work. Over video call just isn’t as natural as in person for obvious reasons, but it’s also less comfortable to just let the silence sit there for a while as you end up wondering if the wifi connection has frozen. You there? Can you hear me? Just checking? Not the best but it’ll have to work.

As for my recovery, I’m just ticking along nicely at 1,016 days (just checked my app!) and as I suspect is pretty normal it isn’t something I think about that often. These days it’s just my normal and when the 23rd of each month passes I often don’t even notice. Having said that, I never want to lose sight of how precious my sobriety is and how much it has changed my life, so whilst I may not be so acutely aware of which month milestone I might be at, I still feel immense gratitude at the simplest little things. Like the gift of waking up feeling well and not regretting yesterday.

It’s a good place to be.

The counselling course does take it out of me and it’s been nice to have had a little break for half term last week. Now for another six week stretch until Christmas.

Up until the last session almost two weeks ago, I was feeling really happy about seemingly conquering my fears little by little, but then there was suddenly what felt to me like a huge set back. The session was around suicidality. Whilst the subject itself is incredibly difficult and I knew it’d be a hard session – many people have had difficult experiences and it was bound to get emotional and triggering – I was also really looking forward to it as there is so much to learn. Personally, I have not been affected directly by suicide – I haven’t had those dark thoughts myself, nor have I lost anyone close to me in that way – so I wasn’t worried in that sense. I think mostly I was feeling quite conscious of wanting to really think over anything I shared in case it’d seem clumsy, ignorant or insensitive. But no, I wasn’t fretting going into the session.

Our tutor read out a story one of her clients had written about a moment when they had made up their mind to go ahead and take their own life but changed their mind. Of course it was a really difficult thing to listen to, the words of someone who felt so cut off from the world and hopeless. When we were sharing thoughts afterwards, I had something to say. Nothing controversial, nothing too personal and nothing that’d leave me vulnerable. Yet, when I raised my hand and the tutor called out the order of us – three of us had our hands up and so she normally notes down who wants to say something and decides who speaks first, second, etc in order for the session to flow and we don’t talk over each other. I was third. And the moment the first person started talking, there is was – my racing heart.

It came out of nowhere and oh my God, it was there with a vengeance. By the time the second person was winding down their bit, my heart was hammering so hard I found it difficult to breathe. It was the worst it’s been for over a year and it really confused me. When it got to me, I somehow managed to say what was on my mind but had to cut it short because it got so bad and I was shaking so much. My temples started to tingle and I was starting to get tunnel vision, like I do when I’m about to faint. What in God’s name?!

All I can do is soldier on. I feel upset that my brain’s alarm system is still sometimes out of whack and it did feel like a huge set back, given I’ve over the past months have felt so happy that I seemed to be getting over this crippling fear of speaking up, but maybe it’s just the Universe telling me not to be so cocky and remain a bit mindful that there is still so much work to be done. Who knows. I won’t let it stop me, but I won’t deny it has really shaken me and created a tonne of new anxiety around whether I’ll be able to do all this. Before this episode, with a couple of presentations that both went really well under my belt, I was actually feeling really hopeful, and this sort of knocked all of that confidence quite a lot.

Well. No running away. No wriggling out of things. The only way is forward and I suppose I will just have to trust that I’m made of stronger stuff than my brain wants me to believe. Again. Fuck you, panic. Have me under siege all you like, I’ll keep going even if it’s the last thing I do. Even if I do end up fainting, I’ll keep going.

Today I’m not going to drink.

1,000 Days

Funny. I appear to be quite good at viewing life through what I believe these days is a reasonably clear lens. On a conscious and rather rational level I accept that it can’t all be roses and rainbows, even to the point where I don’t just accept life’s lows but actually welcome and embrace them. Yet it takes so little to cause me to wobble in the moment. At the same time, my world is a bigger place now and I’m learning more and more that it isn’t just me who feels scared or worried or nervous in situations – I know this is the case for other people too. So I guess it’s two-fold, really, and what happens when you stop running away.

Whereas before, when I’ve felt out of place and uncomfortable, I would have felt alone, vulnerable and like I’m the only person in the world with these feelings, I now take comfort from not being alone. Hearing how others feel gives me a sense of balance. Like a compass, almost. Maybe it’s because I don’t trust my own instinct and gut feeling.

Let me explain.

On the counselling course, we are 20 students in the group. My therapist actually put to me when I, a couple of weeks in, told him I thought everyone seems gloriously nice, whether I was telling him that in a group of 20 I actually really like everyone. He was bemused and I had to giggle too. Of course not. But no, I didn’t dislike anyone. And I don’t now. But there are people – one or two – who trigger me. By ‘trigger’ I mean they provoke something in me. I suppose they get under my skin. By now I have learnt enough to recognise this is all to do with me and nothing to do with them. Sure, sometimes people are just shit, right? I’m not about to profess to being someone who internalises every last thing and make it my fault. I don’t. But when there’s a reaction, and particularly a negative one, to someone who hasn’t done anything wrong per se, then it’s a button in my soul they’ve inadvertently found and are pushing. What I realised last week, during session six, is that this isn’t going to be a love-in. This is going to push me into some uncomfortable corners but I have hope that I’ll come out the other end with insights rather than enemies. As long as we’re always prepared to look inwards, I believe everything else can be handled.

And I suppose it’s a little bit like recovery in that sense. I laid the foundations by going without. To build a life I no longer have any need to escape from, I had to go within. Always back to my core and what my heart and soul tell me – what is happening within me right now? And why?

I started this post Saturday morning and at the time I thought to myself how that was a good thing as all my posts seem to happen on Monday mornings. Yet here we are and it’s Monday morning.

Today isn’t just any old Monday morning, however. Today I am:

1,000 days sober.

Strictly speaking, I am 1,002 days sober but it’s the decision I celebrate rather than when I took my last drink. Fuck me – 1,000 days. Me? Are you fucking serious?? It doesn’t seem real. For all the right reasons.

Hubby asked me what had been the hardest thing. He caught me just as I was taking another big gulp of morning coffee and had suddenly got the urge to do a poo. Sorry, not sorry. It’s true. And it just highlighted another great reward – I’m really regular now. My body is happy, my heart is happy, my insides are happy, my soul is happy – I AM HAPPY! I don’t know what was the hardest thing about recovery, that might have to be a separate post another time. His question highlighted that without delay the rewards of recovery are all around me, all the time and in abundance. Right there in the very moment he asked me, there was something to be grateful for. Even if it was shit. I can even be grateful for shit. Isn’t that fucking awesome?

So many times I’ve thought about these milestones – 1 year, 2 years, 1,000 days and beyond – and thought how great it’d be to write a really wonderful piece about what I’ve learnt and share some gems about recovery. But there it is. It’s immediate and it’s right in my face at every turn – recovery has changed every last aspect of my life for the better. If I were to list the best things about it, I’d never stop writing.

And so here we are for the 1,000th time and I am making a real effort not to scream it from the rooftops, which is actually what I want to do:

TODAY I AM NOT GOING TO DRINK!

All These Fears

966 days sober. Living life on life’s terms right now, which, to be fair, has been my modus operandi since I got sober. Not always easy but that’s what I try to do. Starting the diploma course was an example where I actually had to coach myself a little to do so.

I knew very little of what it would be like. Uncertainty isn’t everyone’s friend and it’s definitely something that can rumble Yours Truly. There were whispers that the groups were huge and all I wanted to do was go in and try to find out as much as I possibly could beforehand: how many of us, who is everyone, what’s going to happen, etc, etc. Is it going to be just admin or will we have to do that introduction thing we had to do at level 2 and 3 that I find so terrifying?

So I reminded myself of this one simple thing: just go with it. Let it happen. Don’t try to control or steer it, just let life be life on life’s terms.

No questions were asked. I forced myself to just try to relax and remind myself that whatever comes my way I can handle.

Lo and behold. Group is indeed 20-strong. More than half are new faces (read: scary). But it was fine. No, really – it was fine. And I took it in my stride.

Something weird happened too. Yes, the introduction exercise did happen. You get paired up with someone you don’t already know, spend five minutes each telling the other person about yourself and then back in the big group you introduce each other. And so I introduced the person I was partnered up with. No palpitations. No overwhelming fear. No massively awful nerves. And no one was more surprised than I was to discover that I introduced my partner without it being that big of a deal. Both times previously my heart had almost beaten itself out of my chest as it approached my turn. And I thought quietly to myself THANK GOD, perhaps it’s finally beginning to happen – i.e. I’m starting to overcome this crippling fear of speaking up in front of other people.

I’m not saying all of this to brag, honestly I’m not. It might sound like it, but I say it with gratitude, wonder and in the hope that it might help someone else who is just like me. In a way, I feel like I’m saying it to Drunk Anna. The Anna who was held back not only by her addiction but all these fears and discomfort at life in general.

The promises come true. Recovery delivers. It may require that you face the things that terrify you, but the universe has your back and each time it’ll get a little easier. Not noticeably at first, but then one day you’ll discover that you’re doing something that you didn’t think you could do. I promise. It might not be easy, but it will be SO worth it.

YOU are worth it. Keep going.

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.

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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Roll with the Punches

Recovery doesn’t just mean not drinking – it has meant an entire shift in how I approach life. In essence, I guess the most prominent feature is how I no longer run or hide and instead face life head on and accept living my life on life’s terms, not my own. Glancing here (I don’t think it can be avoided, but then why should it?) at AA’s 12 steps, it once again illustrates how I believe these steps are what organically happens when you accept that you need to make a change. For me, it’s about living in a way that is very much centred on doing the next right thing, living according to a better standard.

There are little things that I approach differently, that is at direct odds with how I approached things before. Yesterday was run day. I didn’t feel like it and it would have been so much easier to just… …not. But I know in my heart that running is such a huge part of my self care. It has HUGE benefits and makes an enormous difference to how I feel inside and out. Not only does it mean my heart is happy along with my lungs, muscles, blood circulation and burning off energy, it also leaves me full of happy endorphins and a sense of accomplishment. If I’d not gone yesterday – it was SHIT, by the way, each step was heavy and I struggled to catch my breath – I would have ended up feeling I-should-have and then guilt too. Instead, I pulled myself together and as rubbish a run as it was, I ran the whole way and felt so virtuous afterwards. I chomped down a MacDonald’s large meal with zero guilt, which was Bambino’s dinner request when he got back from a weekend at his dad’s.

It’s all about doing things right, the way I see it. Balance, really.

Another little thing is washing my face before bed. I never used to. I’d pass out drunk in full black-out and just shower in the mornings (crouching, of course). Now it’s something I take pride in and something that makes me feel really good. It’s self care, being kind to myself and looking after myself. It’s treating myself like I really matter. Putting on quality face creams and serums to make my skin happy – sure, there’s a large dose of vanity in there, but mostly it’s about treasuring myself.

Whilst I on occasion have a MacDonald’s with Bambino, I mostly ensure I eat well. These days I ensure I put into action how I love me. It’s not just thoughts or statements, I do for myself what I would do for anyone I love. Like I take care to serve up dinners for my family that I know they’ll love with the best ingredients, I now also treat myself with the same care and affection. I’ve always made sure Bambino has his greens and fruit for the same reason, wanting for him to be as healthy and well as possible, and in recovery I treat myself and my body the same way.

Life in recovery is for me the present moment and doing the next right thing. Sometimes the next right thing feels like hard work, but I make myself do it because I know there’s great reward. Skipping a run may feel easier for a short moment, a short lived reward at avoiding working a little harder just then. But putting in that bit of extra work generates a solid and much bigger pay-off that has great impact on my well being.

Well. Time to carpe the lovely mid-January diem now. Off to see Wifey and later on make sure I’m prepared for tomorrow’s exam. Hubby is off to Sweden for a few days with work and Bambino is grounded due to a combination of messing around at school and behaving pretty poorly. Life on life’s terms.

And life is fucking beautiful. I wouldn’t change a thing, even when I have to roll with the punches. Hubby away – boo. Bambino misbehaving – boo. Exam – I nearly said ‘boo’ there too, but even though it’s a little stressful I actually love academic work and as geeky as it is, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got this.

There’s one thing amongst life’s punches that never fails to fill me with boundless joy, however:

Today I’m not going to drink.

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??

 

 

I Will Just Say This

There really isn’t that much on my mind but wanted to pop in here and give Storm a bit of TLC. Or perhaps it’s that there is SO MUCH on my mind that I just don’t know where to start? That sounds more like it, to be honest. It’s like having too much to do, peeking into my head at the moment. Or when your house is a tip (like mine is right now with kitchen renovations in full swing) and you just stare at the mess not knowing where to start. Yeah, that’s Anna’s little mind right now.

Much to sort through and process, but thankfully all positive. Not right now though. I’m just too tired.

So I will just say this. It’s Friday night and I’m home alone. There’s no one to see and there’s nowhere I have to be in the morning. If that’s not a PERFECT time to drink myself to bits I don’t know what is! But there is no part of me that wants to do that. The thought or urge was never there and even now – spurred on to think about recovery and drinking just by writing on my recovery blog – talking about it doesn’t even create a tiny little smidge of wanting to. I’m trying to visualise a favourite drinking scenario but even imagining a glass of wine doesn’t turn me on like it used to. Nope! Not a twitch. And that’s a victory. I’m watching a US documentary series called Dopesick Nation, and already looking forward to my morning run when I wake up tomorrow.

Now that’s fucking awesome. To think this old drunk would EVER feel this way. Perhaps it’ll all change and perhaps it’ll all fall apart – never, ever will I get cocky about this – but right now I’m feeling really solid in my sobriety and that’s the best feeling in the world. I’m at my most vulnerable and I feel strong. Who knows what tomorrow brings but right in this moment things are pretty lush here on the Pink Cloud, and let’s face it, this moment is all I have and all that matters right now.

Today I’m not going to drink.