Fine in the Fortress

I’ll start with how magical the park was this morning – here it is:


Environment conscious folk will hate me for this, but my morning drive to work is a sacred ritual. I don’t drive the quickest route, instead I take a longcut that takes me through London’s loveliest and second largest park. There are no manicured lawns or flowerbeds, just a beautifully wild and natural sanctuary that is filled with fallow deer that Henry VIII brought in for hunting when he took up abode down the road at Hampton Court Palace. Today is a cold and crisp morning and the sunshine and mist made the park look absolutely spell binding. I wish I could have been out walking or running, this is my favourite sort of day and I actually really begrudged how I’m not a billionaire or a desperate housewife. Still, having this on my (sort of) way to work and just a hundred yards from our front door is pretty goddamn cool. It’s a shame that the photo doesn’t do it justice, but then photos never do – I don’t think the magic of a moment can ever be fully captured that way. And for that reason I mostly stop myself from interrupting the moments – I very rarely pull out my phone as this for me feels like I’m not fully present, but this I just wanted to share because it was so very lovely. As for moments, sobriety lets me be in them. Had I still been drinking I would have been too busy trying to take the shortest route and generally staying upright. Yep, it’s a spectacular gift, this sober stuff.

Driving is kind of my meditation. It’s a time for reflection and when I sort through my thoughts. Concentrating on the road means there is no room for distractions like my phone or the TV or anything else that could be described as mindless, yet something I’m used to enough to allow plenty of brain capacity for a bit of mental hygiene.

This morning when I found myself feeling so grateful, I ended up thinking about how I used to structure my whole life around drinking. The things that didn’t fit I rearranged. Now that I’m sober, I’m forever discovering how I even invented “truths” about who I am and what I like/don’t like in order to keep drinking. For example, I used to hate speaking on the phone. This was mostly because I’d be so painfully aware I was slurring and also my glass would empty within ten minutes and that satisfying gush of wine from the box was so bloody obvious! Then the PSSHHHH! from unscrewing the cap of the soda bottle. Never mind how it’s quite hard work to hold on to any coherent train of thought – I’d quite literally find myself mid-sentence and having forgotten all about where I was going with something. I was all about texting and e-mailing. Problem was those would expose me just as much and my morning ritual back then wasn’t going through a magical park but in a panic reach for my phone and cringe at what I might have sent when I was drunk the night before.

Sober Me isn’t like that. Yes, I’m a creature who expresses herself best and most easily in writing, but I also like chatting on the phone. Last night I got my Cherokee on the line and I came off the phone after our long conversation feeling happy and content inside. This is the beauty of real life, real time interaction – it doesn’t always drain me, sometimes it enriches me. Who knew!

Speaking on the phone I’d written off in my drinking days as simply another thing that “just isn’t me“. Just like other Anna’s Drinking Truths like “I don’t like people“, “I hate socialising” and “I want to be alone“. It is true that I like my own company and sometimes I just need solitude because my brain does overheat with too much stimulus, but I actually also need people. You know, it was only yesterday when a kick-ass lady said something my inner autopilot immediately disagreed with. She said she too (what do you mean – TOO??) feels lost without her husband. And I discovered how I’ve almost trained myself not to need people. Not anyone. I’ve ingrained this in myself so deeply that it’s just how I have always viewed myself. When she said this (fine, fine – it was the lovely Katie from over at How I Killed Betty!), a lightbulb went off in me. Holy shitballs! I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that I don’t need anyone and so it’s almost like I freaking refuse to allow myself to feel any of these things. Even with hubby. I swear I’ve always been of the opinion that sure, if he left me I would never ever love again because he is IT, so that’d be devastating and shit. Bottom line though – I’d live. I wouldn’t love but I would live and I am FINE on my own.

Being a drinking alcoholic in social gatherings suck because I have to be so aware of how much I drink so I don’t lose control and also have to hide it. This is really hard work and not in any way enjoyable. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I hate socialising. The Actual Truth: alcohol made socialising stressful.

Living almost every day with a crippling hangover is thoroughly shit. I’d be weak, dizzy, shaky and unable to follow even simple conversations. That makes human interaction fucking painful. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I hate people. The Actual Truth: alcohol made me feel like death and when you do, any human interaction is painful.

Everything else, be it people or things or even eating (yes – eating!), gets in the way of drinking. Meeting with a friend for coffee takes me away from drinking = stressful, and meeting with friends with a hangover = stressful. Anna’s Drinking Truth: I want to be alone. The Actual Truth: being around people is painful because I’m either stressed out about drinking or so hungover I can barely function. 

And then the whole I’M FINE ON MY OWN. I mean, this is to a great extent true. And I do believe we need to be secure and happy in ourselves before we can ever be in a healthy relationship, but it’s also quite normal to need the people you love. I need hubby. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without him. As for Bambino – my world would collapse without him. The sun sets and rises with those two. I already knew that, I’ve never tried to make myself believe anything but. Still. To admit I depend on them, need them, that my heart can’t beat without them? WHOA. The I’m-fine-on-my-own thing isn’t so much of a Drunk Truth because I was like that since long before I ever drank a drop of alcohol, but as alcohol does with anything that’s negative it really enhanced it. The Beast wants me on my own, remember, so this was perfect – she’s a loner! Why, of course! Me, the bottle and impending death – that’s where it wants me to be.

What this does go back to is this thing I’m increasingly discovering, this fear of mine of being rejected. It appears I may have build myself a pretty impressive fortress over the years and I’m-fine-on-my-own is perhaps its very foundation? Up until pretty much the point that I realised this – uhm, just a moment ago! – the idea of needing other people made me squirm. I don’t recall this myself, but according to my mum the first sentence I spoke was “I can do it myself“. Actually, what I said was “jag kan själv” given I grew up in Sweden and didn’t speak any English when I was two years old, but there we are. I don’t know if that is telling or just shows what a stubborn and obstinate cow I am. Cute aside I thought.

As for Little Anna, I clearly remember being so scared when I was little, of losing my parents or anyone else in my closest family. The thought made me squirm with discomfort and terror, it absolutely petrified me and sometimes had me in such panic and angst I couldn’t sleep. And here’s the really sick and twisted truth that dawned on me too in these last 24 hours of revelations: I recently realised that none of that scared me so much anymore, because even though it’d be heartbreaking and I’d be desperately sad, I’M FINE ON MY OWN and in this case without them. Without everyone. Wow. Thank God I am unravelling this or I might have ended up in a fortress eventually that could never be torn down. Inspecting my heart it’s still needy and ready to love despite all my efforts to close myself off from the world.

This is interesting as hell to me. Scary stuff, this brain of mine. It can make me do things that I plainly don’t like or enjoy yet make me think I do. What else might it be capable of?

Today I’m not going to drink.


Me, Myself and I

Like so many others who get sober, I feel a strong desire to pay forward this gift. I recently read a post on Ultraviolet Sobriety about the things she, at 18 months sober, would like to say to her 30 days sober self. Actually, I may as well direct you straight there because I can sign my name to all of it even at nine months sober – all the things she points out to her “former self” are true for me too and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while. I want to write a post like that when I get to one year of sobriety as it strikes me as a really great time to reflect. But what about now? Now that I’m at nine months and one week, 280 days? It really made me think further about what I would say to the Anna of not 30 days sober but the Anna who still drank. What would the conversation have been if I had Drunk Me sitting here opposite Sober Me? And whilst I have so much I want to say to her, what I ended up thinking about is what she would say to me.

Sober Me: Hey..

That’s right. That’s all I muster before I choke up. I barely manage to get that one little word out because there she is – ME. This person I actually really love and it breaks my heart that she is hurting herself in this way. This is what makes the words stick in my throat. I throw my arms around her, wishing I can somehow without having to say anything make her trust in all the great things I want for her, that I can by just holding her close make her believe how amazing life will become if she takes that step she’s so scared of. Sober Me has a tear rolling down her cheek but Drunk Me is just politely returning the hug and wants out of it. She is a little irritated by this display of emotion directed at her, I can tell by how her shoulders tense up.

Drunk Me: You OK there?

She laughs a little awkwardly and she comes across as really prickly, like a hedgehog with its spikes standing on end. She knows, after all, that we’re going to talk about drinking and it’s obvious she doesn’t want to.

Sober Me: Sorry. I just have so much I want to say to you.

Drunk Me: Aw, you’re sweet. What’s up? 

Sober Me: I just wanted to let you know that all those things that might stop you from binning the booze are just in your head. I know it sounds completely mad but I promise you you’ll discover that alcohol doesn’t do anything for you.

My words are tumbling out too fast, I find myself stumbling over them because I’m desperate to tell her everything and feel like I need to get it all said at once in case she decides to walk off. Drunk Me stays put and studies me closely. When she picks a hair off the sleeve of her jumper I can tell that her hand trembles and she catches me looking.

Drunk Me: I have essential tremor. Nothing dangerous, just makes me shake. My dad and paternal grandmother also have it. Gets worse with age but doesn’t affect your health in any way. Sometimes I feel like I have to point it out so people don’t think I’m an alcoholic! 

She fires off a disarming smile and throws her hands in the air.

Drunk Me: You should see my gran! 90 years old and fit as a fiddle but shakes SO bad. It’s amazing though, she’ll pour the coffee and I swear not a drop misses the cup! I suppose you adjust though, I find it’s easier to do mascara on my left eye than the right, some angles are worse with those fine and specific angles! 

Sober Me: I see.

She has completely thrown me with this overly detailed explanation about her trembling hands even though I never even said anything. I spin my wedding band as a distraction to line it up so the small diamonds on it line up perfectly with my engagement ring. Perhaps I just need to get straight to it.

Sober Me: Well. I just wanted you to know that all the reasons you drink are in your head and you will have a life beyond your dreams once you stop. There literally aren’t any negatives and you won’t feel deprived! I promise you that you’ll almost immediately feel grateful and wonder why you waited for so long.

Drunk Me: OK.

She tilts her head and smiles politely. God, she is good at this.

Sober Me: What stops you from, uhm, stopping?

Drunk Me: What? Drinking you mean?

Sober Me: Yeah.

She makes a show of looking around her as if she is pondering the answer to something a toddler may have asked and she needs to find a way of explaining it so that the same three-yearold will understand. She gives off an air of superiority, or tries to anyway. She wants me to feel I can’t get to her but she seems to have momentarily forgotten that I do because I am her and therefore know precisely what she’s doing. She is a master at appearing honest and sincere and so good are her acting skills that she herself can no longer distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t.

Drunk Me: I don’t know, to be honest. I suppose if it was every day or if I couldn’t do all the things I have to do I’d need to stop, but I can’t really say it affects me that much.

Sober Me: But do you think you drink too much?

Drunk Me: Oh, sure! Definitely! What is the recommended limit? I don’t think many of us stay within it though.

She laughs again and does a little eye roll. She’s quite endearing with how she seems to offer honest and frank answers, it’s very easy to trust her because she doesn’t deny anything. When I put something to her she acknowledges it, appears to genuinely search for the answers and she seems to be engaging with me. I’m facing myself here and it’s crazy because I’m even fooling ME! But then that’s what I did all along. Sober Me should have known better than challenge Drunk Me. I don’t think anyone would get her, she is THAT clever and cunning. She is playing with me.

Sober Me: Do you not consider your drinking a problem?

Drunk Me: I would probably say I drink too much but it’s not a problem in that it’s not causing any actual problems. I mean, I have no brakes and I’d say I binge drink so obviously I need to think about that. But you know, it’s just who I am and I’m aware that I tend to go full throttle. I’m the same with food though! You should see my portions! They’re bigger – much bigger – than my husband’s! Isn’t that funny? He’s 6’2! 

Nice. Very slick. I have nothing. I can’t point out how she lost her kid or husband or got fired or crashed her car drunk. None of that has happened (YET). And that fucking trembling is some sort of condition. She’s offered that she binges and because she did that, I now have fuck all. The cogs in my mind are turning whilst Drunk Me keeps eye contact all whilst that friendly and polite little smile plays on her lips.

Sober Me: How did you feel this morning? And please don’t lie because I know you drank almost an entire three-bottle box of wine last night so I know you have a full-on hangover. 

Drunk Me: Haha, yes, I’ve felt better, truth be told.

Sober Me: Please listen. Please. 

I’m choking up again.

Sober Me: Ditch the act. I know you hate this and you’re exhausted by having to conceal how big this problem is getting for you. I know how terrified you are of asking for help even though you already know you can’t fucking fix this on your own. Now listen. 

She’s no longer smiling but I have her attention still.

Sober Me: This morning I woke up for the 280th time with a clear head and even despite this cold that seems to be creeping up on me, I felt so grateful I could have wept because I didn’t have a hangover. I was sleepy and didn’t want to get up but hubby had an early call so the coffee was already on. I felt happy because I didn’t feel shit standing in the shower or had to worry about collapsing, and then guess what? I had three mugs of delicious morning coffee and vaped – you know how you love coffee but can’t have it in the morning because it makes you feel even dizzier? Well, it’s beautiful and it’s every morning. This was my morning! I got myself to work and didn’t have to worry I’d pass out on the way or feel overcome by anxiety and I didn’t have to avoid talking with people because my mind is clear and alert. And I felt extra good because last night I went for an 8k run and I ran the whole way and it felt fucking amazing! This is your morning EVERY MORNING when you stop drinking. And then imagine what everything is like too. It’s all been a hoax! Trust me, none of the things you think the wine does for you is true, not a single one. It won’t take you long to discover that! And this is the best part because I think you might worry about it – you won’t have to go through life feeling pissed off because you want to drink and you can’t. You won’t want to drink! You will have lost nothing, everything will just become so much more amazing.

Her eyes are still on me, head tilted like before. I can’t read her and wonder if anything I’ve said has registered. Will she, like I eventually did, realise that this is precisely the morning she always wants to wake up to? And I haven’t even had time to get on to everything else.

Sober Me: That’s just the morning. There’s everything else too. It’s going to get so ridiculously good. Oh, and you joined the gym. 

Perhaps it’s a moment of bonding but this has us both laughing out loud.

Drunk Me: Yeah…. ..don’t think so. Nice try though.

Sober Me: You do hate it, that’s true. But you’ve done really well and last night you ran for nearly an hour. 

Drunk Me: I do miss running. 

My ears prick up. She misses running. Did I just detect a buying signal here? That’s good because I don’t want to mention anything relating to Bambino because I know she’d explode at me, so no matter how awesome that part actually is I can’t go there. She would go nuts at me and I wouldn’t have her attention anymore. But she misses running! This is safe territory.

Sober Me: It’s all coming back and it won’t even take that long! You’re about to discover something so amazing! 

I find it hard to keep still. Is she listening? As in, is she REALLY listening? Is the thought starting to take hold?

Drunk Me: Well, thanks for this and I’ll think it over. We’ve booked a weekend in Paris and another in Gothenburg coupled with a Foo Fighters concert. I’m not going to go to Paris and not drink wine. 

Sober Me: Yes you will! 

Now I’m actually jumping up and down with excitement.

Sober Me: Not only will you go to Paris and not drink, you’ll go sober to the Foo Fighters concert in Gothenburg too and I know it sounds crazy but it’ll all be so much better because you’re not drinking. You and hubby will have the best time! Honestly, I swear on my life! It’ll only be BETTER!

She makes a move to leave and picks up her handbag from the floor. She turns around just before she walks out.

Drunk Me: I don’t believe you. 

……….to be continued.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Eyeball Deep In Denial

As I continue my inventory of my past and survey my experiences and people I’ve known, I stumble across my last e-mail exchange with a friend I’ve previously referred to on here as Linda, which of course isn’t her real name. I much prefer the monikers I come up with, so from now on I’ll call her Tumbler. This is a reference to her pouring the largest amount of whisky I’ve ever seen anyone drink from a tumbler. I’m never been a whisky drinker but it’s usually a shot of, say, 25ml right? Tumbler poured aaaaaall the way to the top as you would a glass of water. Just like my glasses of wine were more like pint glasses, but THAT part I conveniently ignored and focused instead on how she poured all that whisky. Fuck me. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Our last e-mails are from April 2014. As I more and more discover is the case, my alcoholic, eyeball deep in denial brain has added its own spin on what we said to each other in terms of what was stored in my memory.

This is how my alkie brain would have me think back on it:

Tumbler tells me about two serious relapses, one during which she nearly died due to taking strong painkillers with all the booze and another where she got locked up at a psychiatric ward.

This is what is actually said and the bit that my denial has stripped from my conscious is that she, the alkie, is deeply worried about ME. I mean, what the hell? I’m FIIIIIIIINE! Someone had posted something alcohol related on my Facebook page, I think it was champagne glasses and “cheers to you!” for some reason – not sure what the context was and my birthday is in February so can’t have been that. Anyway. Tumbler had taken it upon herself to comment that I should NOT have alcohol to celebrate and also then went on to contact the person who’d posted the champagne comment (who was a mutual friend) to say she shouldn’t post stuff like that because I, Anna, was sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Now this was of course totally true! It takes one to know one, and just like I can spot a fellow problem drinker, Tumbler had sniffed me out like a blood hound. So it was me who started the exchange. It’s fascinating to read now. It makes me cringe and it makes me squirm. I was SO ready to speak with Tumbler about HER problems but was still entrenched in my stubborn denial and belief that I just binged a little too much. OK, deep down I knew – of course I did – but I pushed all of that away so deep down I was able to ignore it. And of course felt really offended that she would think I was in trouble! Perhaps I also conveniently forgot that just like she confided in me, I also confided in her and perhaps my tongue had loosened given we were both drunk during some conversations. Me in London, she in Florida.

Here it is, and I’m so ashamed of it I can barely make myself put it here, but this is the Era of Brutal Honesty. I’ve left out the irrelevant bits, where we talk about our kids and work and stuff, only leaving the booze related conversation. Read and weep!

Anna to Tumbler:

I don’t know how to interpret your comment on my Facebook, that I actually removed – I got a couple of messages asking me if I’m OK, not because of the post itself but because of your comment, kind of “what does she mean?”. So I suppose I’m asking you! 🙂 Was just wondering what you hinted at that is “off the wall” and/or what it is about me that “needs to be straightened out”?

Tumbler to Anna:

I’m surprised my comments on your Facebook are so sensitive. It also worries me as it feels as though you’re constantly trying to protect yourself from other people worrying about you. But we ARE worried about you. You have said yourself that you have no breaks.

Anna to Tumbler:

I think, hand on heart, that I’m generally sensitive to criticism which isn’t a great quality to have. My spontaneous reaction if anything is questioned, regardless how tactfully, is to get my heckles up. Well, before I have thought it through anyway. When someone asked if I was OK, I thought perhaps I’d posted something when I’ve been drunk and you’d got worried for that reason – THAT would be the only thing I’d be sensitive to. Do you see what I mean? In the moment I wondered so I asked and underlined that everything’s fine. And I don’t blame you, just so you know! After all, no breaks.

Tumbler to Anna:

I know full well that you have to hide the boozing in order not to be exposed to the wrong people, that’s what I had to do for many years. And this worry that you’ve written something on FB when drunk I also recognise fully, there’s a fear there. I am so glad I openly went out on FB about my addiction because no one can use it against me today.

But I have recently had two serious relapses. I’d been drinking one evening but felt I hadn’t had enough and because I didn’t have the energy or ability to get more alcohol I decided to munch my Oxycodone, a narcotic medication my spine doctor prescribes so I’ll be able to get to sleep. It’s for my chronic ache and I take one pill every evening. This evening I took several and it ended in me not breathing. Luckily D was at home, he’d just got back from a trip. He discovered I wasn’t breathing and did First Aid until the ambulance arrived. I have no memory of what happened between when I took the pills and waking up in the ambulance. Had to stay at hospital for three days and D was busy covering up what had happened as he had to get our staff to take my shifts. :/

Just three weeks later I’d drunk so much D ended up calling the police who took me to the psych ward. He didn’t think I’d go voluntarily and I was furious as three police officers came to get me and handcuffed me. So I was at the psych ward for three days and D had to once again ask our staff to cover my shifts as well as hiding from everyone what had actually happened. After the first day when I was battling the hangover I had a really fun time. A woman in her 60s was admitted on the Sunday, a nurse who was under too much stress and had herself decided to get admitted. She and I found each other straight away and on the Sunday evening we sat there with gossip magazines in our laps, talked about celebrities and giggled like little girls. Lol. She was sad when I was discharged quickly, which happened because I had gone with the police voluntarily. If I’d resisted, the American law concerning arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour had applied and they’d been able to keep me in for longer.

Oh well, that’s that and I’m over it. Now I feel great and working as usual. I don’t know if D is over that I stopped breathing, it must have been traumatic for him. His second wife passed away from a painkiller overdose and D was the one who found her dead. That’s what played out in his mind so it was a big shock. Truth is I would be dead now if D hadn’t been home that evening.

Just short of two weeks after this exchange, Tumbler drank herself to death on her 48th birthday. I was in contact with her husband, D, some weeks later and he confirmed it was an echo of the other episode she’d told me about and she’d again taken Oxycodone. Only this time he wasn’t around to save her. What I need to point out here is that at a party or in a bar isn’t where an alcoholic is in the most danger. We’re in the most danger when we’re home alone. 

With this, I want to show how I just refused to acknowledge my problem and my absolutely crippling fear that people would see or know. How my brain has catalogued this last exchange with Tumbler is also shocking evidence of the power of denial when you compare it with what was actually said here. Without reading through our exchange, I would have probably told you – thinking I was being honest because that’s what denial does too, it makes us believe in this alternate reality – would be that I was worried about my alkie mate. Nope. My alkie friend was worried about HER alkie friend: ME.

It’s so sad, what a waste of a life. Also heard of someone else, a boy I knew in my teens, who passed away last year. Apparently his drug and alcohol fuelled psychotic episodes had reached a point where armed police would have to chase him down. 42 at the time, leaving behind a son who must now be into his 20s. It’s so utterly tragic. Tumbler had two sons, both now in their early 30s I think. It’s hard to think about. I know Bambino will have to bury me one day, but I don’t want that to be after having found me sprawled in the hallway having choked on my own vomit. Anything other than a self inflicted death like that. If I can’t give him anything else, I want to give him a mother who discovered she could save herself and showed some strength. He deserved – like all children do – to have that all along, but I cannot change the past. I can change my path though and I hope I’ll always stay on this beautiful, sober and infinitely healthier course.

This turned very sad, which isn’t my mood today at all. In fact I’m really excited because my brother D and two of my nephews (D has four boys, four beautiful blond clones) arrive tomorrow. Due to a case of slight miscommunication – aka me not listening properly due to being too caught up in myself – it turns out hubby needs his fancy A5 Sport Audi and I will now collect my three Swedes in my battered old Mini. This will add half an hour to the journey as my car doesn’t like speeds over 60mph. Quite different in fancy Audi that is smooth and steady as a blue whale at 80mph (OK, and sometimes beyond). And comfortable too. My Mini is NOT comfortable. But hey, it’ll be fun and luckily they’ll be travelling light. I measured the boot and D reassured me they won’t have any more than can fit, which is basically a toiletry bag. Anyway. I’ve booked a bunch of stuff and can’t wait to have them over – it’s a first for my brother D (and for his sons too) who’s avoided my home town of Londres due to an intense dislike of chaos and lots of people…! Bit like his sister really – sometimes I do wonder what possessed me to desert the stillness of the nature and vast forests of Värmland for the madness of this town, but strangely it became HOME from the word go. Well, I will do my best to show D his sister’s idea of home as gently as I can without missing out on the must-see tourist parts. I don’t know how gently you can introduce Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden but I’m sure it’ll work out fine.

Sobriety has not curbed my time optimism and as usual I’d gone and planned and committed to more than today can possibly contain, including a chat with the manager at a recovery facility – unfortunately I had to cancel but was able to reschedule. It really irks me to cancel stuff now that I’m sober. ‘Cancel’ was my middle name when I was an active alcoholic and I am loathe to do it now, but I also need to accept that when there are reasons other than drinking getting in the way, cancelling on occasion is actually completely acceptable. It just really didn’t sit right with me, but again I have to remember that being sober doesn’t – and won’t ever – mean I’m always going to do everything 100% right and be perfect. It’s called LIFE.

Today I’m not going to drink.