Her Daddy Loves Her

Friday night and the drink in front of me is a glass of water. Dinner was a bread roll and a packet of Super Noodles. I don’t know what the “super” is doing there because they’re the student food type that you make by just pouring boiling water on them and adding a sachet of flavoured powder. These spartan living conditions as far as cooking goes are down to kitchen renovations and for the next three weeks we will be living off takeaways and things that 1) don’t need to be refrigerated, and 2) can be made using a kettle. Oh, and don’t leave much washing up. Hubby is on the other side of the world in his native New Zealand so he will thankfully miss most of the chaos. Bambino is holed up in his room with a friend and they’re watching a film and playing X-box at the same time – when it comes to screens, clearly more is more in their teenage world.

And Anna?

Anna had a stressful week. Had the most frightening experience yet at work – a client who should NOT have been admitted was admitted and it really shook me up. It was down to unfortunate events and a few things slipped through the net, like for example the fact that he is a violent schizophrenic who has been sectioned several times due to psychotic episodes and once stabbed someone. …aaaaaand so I witnessed this individual in a full blown episode of the aforementioned variety. Oh, and obviously on top of this little molotov cocktail of severe mental illness we’ve also got booze and various other drugs added to the mix. Off he went after two ambulance crews with police assistance turned up and it was the first time I actually felt really unsafe at work. As in, physically unsafe. When I stood out by the gate wearing a high vis vest to direct the approaching ambulances and police car I could see the front door move like it was vibrating as the guy was hitting and kicking it from inside in the reception area where Beethoven and the doctor on duty were doing their best to contain him.

It was frightening, unpleasant and knocked me for six. Informed Beethoven that this is not something I’m equipped to deal with and, well, I won’t. Drunk/high and irate is one thing. I can deal with verbal aggression and that sort of nonsense. Hell, I do a lot of things that I find challenging at the rehab – I’ve sat with clients who’ve been covered in their own faeces and tried to help clean them using baby wipes when they’ve come in too messed up to be able to stand in the shower. I’m a tough cookie but this I can’t do. Madness is something else. Madness is unpredictable and volatile. Beethoven patiently listened to me as I tearfully conceded that perhaps I can’t do this job if I’m expected to be able to deal with this.

No, no, no – this was an unfortunate situation and it shouldn’t have happened,” Beethoven boomed through the phone emphatically, “don’t worry, girl.

I do worry. I can’t deal with that sort of thing,” I snivelled, upset at the prospect that I’d let everyone down and most of all myself.

No one is expected to deal with that here, if I’d had even a sniff of this guy’s extensive history he would never have been admitted and he will never be admitted to any of our centres again.

Beethoven, who is a trained mental health nurse along with a bunch of other qualifications within the field, went on to explain what had gone wrong and offered some helpful tips on what to do if I were ever (although he also stressed that this should never be the case there) exposed to a situation like this again. Well. I felt a lot better after talking to him because I’d had a mini-meltdown thinking this career I’m so passionate about might be all but over.

Onwards and upwards!

Stressful week with everything going on and with Hubby so far away. Lots to organise for the kitchen stuff, but I got there in the end and today had the installers pop in to finalise everything. Wall tiles now ordered so we’re all set. I’m on top of it and it’s all going to plan.

Starting the counselling course was also overwhelming and yes, my heart nearly beat out of my chest as YEP, I had to talk in front of people. Well, I knew that was coming so accepted I had to face the fear and do it anyway. As much as I wanted to get up and leave, I stayed put and I made myself do it. And guess what? I’ll do it again. And again. And eventually it’ll begin to feel like the meditation and reflection groups I sometimes run at work, and catch a load of this – I often look forward to those these days. Thank you very much, sobriety!

This evening when I could finally draw breath and look away from all the things I had to sort out in preparation for the kitchen, I spent a few hours going over the course work and all the bits that seemed so difficult and hard to make sense of I’ve now got a grip on and completing the first couple of bits of work turned out well. I feel much calmer now, more on top of things. I don’t do well with new things because I’m such a control freak and hate not knowing everything at once, but this is something I have to manage and slowly does it. Yes, I’m looking at ME – you hear me, Anna? ONE STEP AT A TIME. EASY DOES IT. I’ll get there in the end and it would seem a week during which I’ve felt stressed and unsettled is ending with a sense of accomplishment and peace. Approaching things thoroughly and in an organised manner does that, unlike the Drunk Me approach which used to entail speeding through life like bloody Schumacher on amphetamine.

And to round up this Friday evening, Dad rang and we had a nice little chat. My inner child understands that her Daddy loves her. He may not understand addiction, or perhaps it’s that he just cannot connect addiction with his daughter, but he does love me. We didn’t speak about that, by the way, only about him off hunting in the north of Sweden this weekend and also about our new kitchen. A neutral chat, but it was just nice and lovely. It was just one of those times when I hung up really knowing I’ve got my Dad and he’s got me. It isn’t always like that, but that’s another blog post perhaps. He’s a good man, my father. Harsh sometimes and judgemental often, but his heart is in the right place underneath it all.

Recovery is fucking awesome.

Happy Friday to you all.

Today I’m not going to drink.

There – I Said It

And so he came back. A boy who checked into the rehab with his longterm addiction as baggage along with some paraphernalia we had to confiscate. I say ‘boy’, because even though he is in his late 20s, his drug use began in his teens and so he’s never had the opportunity to grow up and find out who he is. He is a little lost. I walked up to him and gave him a hug and he awkwardly returned it as I put my arms around his slender shoulders. In the few weeks since he discharged early, he’s gone back to using and was zonked, his head dipping as we admitted him, eyes rolling back. But despite the deadly grip of his addiction, in his beautiful, dark blue eyes there is a stubborn light that first appeared during his first stay. It was still there and I saw it.

On his first admission he’d been in a bad way and spent the first few nights in hospital, but a few days later as the drugs wore off, that light came on. I see it all the time but in this boy it was startling because he has been ravaged by drugs. He was getting his sparkle back and all of a sudden it was there. Even now, after falling off the wagon, that little light was still there. It’s come on and it’s refusing to go away. It fills me with hope. Somewhere, deep down, it’s taken hold and even if he relapses many times over, I believe it’ll defiantly keen on shining until he is ready to break free. I don’t know what it is about this boy, because in may ways you may think of him as a hopeless case, but I think it’s that light that I’m so convinced I can still see. It came on during his first stay and it refuses to die, I know it. It’s there, in his beautiful eyes. His pin prick pupils may tell the story of a devastating opioid addiction, but they also betray that will to break free that he might not even know he possesses. YET.

Stuff like that fills me with hope.

Then there’s everyone else too. I love my flock. Some want it and are ready, others still have some “research” to do but I consider myself so privileged to do what I do regardless of when recovery takes hold for someone. They’re all miracles.

As for me, I’m steadily rediscovering who Anna is. Like that boy, I was so lost for so long and it’s only now that I’m figuring out who I really am. Stopping drinking was just a small part of it. Rewind 18 months and I would have told you that drinking was the problem. Stop drinking – problem solved! Not so much, it turns out. Now I know that drinking wasn’t my problem at all. Drinking was my attempt to solve the problem. Gosh, it’s requiring so much work and digging I’m starting to feel like an archaeologist as I continue to explore and excavate the darkest corners of my soul. It takes time. Each little artefact has to be carefully extracted, painstakingly brushed off and deciphered. Go in too hard or too fast and you may clumsily destroy some of it. Little by little, piece by piece. All in good time.

It’s with a sense of inner peace – I know, right?! – and cautious joy I sit here on the couch this morning. In roughly 36 hours, I’ll be sitting with Hubby on the deck by the west wall of Falla and gazing out over the fields. I’ve sat there many times blurred and obliterated by booze, but these days I’m present and able to absorb those magical summer evenings in their fullness. Just like I’ll sit there in the mornings with a cup of coffee and feel full of life, not full of death due to all the poison I guzzled the night before. That’s magic. Magic in its purest, most divine form. May I make a recommendation? Recovery! It’s really fucking special, lemme tell ya. God willing, long may it continue. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.

Yep, life on the Pink Cloud continues to be pretty damn spectacular. I get to work in the addiction treatment industry alongside kickass colleagues and clients, all of whom I learn so much from every single day. I’ve enrolled for a three-year course to become a counsellor, which is the area that tickles me the most. Who knows where it’ll lead or even if it works out, but right now I’m exactly where I want to be and heading in the direction I want to be going.

Today I am grateful that:

  1. I woke up without a hangover.
  2. I don’t have to drink today, thank God.
  3. I have a wonderful son, an amazing husband and two lovely bonus sons.
  4. My family is a great – if a little nutty – bunch.
  5. My friends are literally the best people on the planet.
  6. I get to do something I truly believe in and feel passionate about for a living.
  7. I am healthy and strong, and capable of so much more than I sometimes give myself credit for. There – I said it.

Most of all I am grateful that:

Today I’m not going to drink.

My Time In Captivity

Here’s the deal: I don’t want to drink. Not “I know I shouldn’t” or “I know I can’t” – I don’t WANT to. Fair do’s, as my kiwi husband might say, the ‘shouldn’t‘ and the ‘can’t‘ are absolutely true – I shouldn’t drink and I can’t drink, but that never was and never will be enough to keep me sober.

I don’t want to drink and I genuinely believe this is the only reason I am sober today because if my brain told me otherwise, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’d be pouring that huge glass of wine, soda water and ice right this minute. In fact, I might already be on my second. Well, I hadn’t quite sunk to morning drinking when I stopped drinking 511 days ago, but it was heading that way so although I don’t know where I’d be had I not stopped I can only really say this with certainty: right now I’d either be drinking or I’d have made plans for drinking later on. Fact remains though, that the reason I’m not drinking this morning or planning to guzzle Sauvignon Blanc later is solely because I have no desire to. I don’t want to drink.

Since February, I work at a rehab as those of you who know me will know. This springs purely from a desire to help others find this amazing gift I was given and get a shot at reclaiming their lives, but more importantly, themselves. Even 511 days later, on this five hundred and eleventh morning, I still wake up and feel tearful of joy and gratitude that I once again begin a new day without a hangover and the crippling hell of active addiction. Yes, I’m a little nuts, but out of these 511 mornings I’d hazard a guess and say I’ve cried tears of joy at least one hundred times. On my five hundred and eleventh morning sober my morning coffee tastes epic. On my five hundred and eleventh morning I am steady on my feet and my mind is clear.

I imagine this gratitude comes from my time in captivity. Would I feel this grateful and amazed at just waking up in the morning if I hadn’t been trapped for so long? Would standing up in the shower strike me as so wondrous if I’d been able to do it all along? Call me crazy, but I doubt it. By the way – sometimes I cry of joy in the shower too, simply because I no longer have to crouch. I can freaking STAND in the shower! Hallelujah! And so I consider myself very, very lucky. Lucky to be an addict, lucky to be an alkie. Perhaps my appreciation for those small, simple things in life – even the fact that I’m breathing – and the joy I feel is this strong and overwhelming because I so very nearly threw it all away. It makes sense, no? If you’ve been confined to a wheelchair for years and years, of course having the use of your legs again will seem more of a miracle and something to be thankful for than it would if you’d always been able to.

When we overcome something terrible, I believe it’s a human reaction to want to pass on the gift and help others. I know what that captivity feels like, I know how it feels to be stuck in the hell of addiction and not seeing the way out. But I found a way out and so when I see someone else who is suffering, all I want to do is let them know that no matter how impossible and unlikely it may seem, they can find their way out too. Take any charity, any foundation – almost always founded and run by those who have themselves been through it, no matter what it is. I only have to look around me at my colleagues – the few who aren’t themselves in recovery were lashed by addiction having either grown up with parents who were addicts or had to stand by as a partner or sibling went through it. Every single one of us, regardless of how addiction affected us – directly or indirectly – is at the rehab for one reason only: because we so desperately want to help illuminate that elusive pathway out of hell and reassure those who suffer that it IS there and can be found.

At the rehab, we work with the 12-step program. I attended AA meetings during my first two, three months of recovery but it hasn’t quite been my path. As I mentioned, I am sober today because it’s what I want more than anything else. Or rather, I’m sober today because I don’t want to drink. To my mind, why would I need to go to meetings to stop me doing something I don’t want to do in the first place? But here’s the scary bit: almost every time someone relapses the immediate response is “they stopped working the program“. The philosophy goes that you have to attend meetings and practice the 12 steps in all your affairs and it’s what keeps you sober. I want to be clear though – nowhere does it state in AA literature (as far as I’m aware anyway) that it is the only way to get sober and you’re encouraged to “take what works, leave the rest“. Healthy approach, if you ask me. And I guess that’s what I’ve done. And to be even clearer, I absolutely love AA – if it saves just one poor soul from the deep abyss of alcoholism and addiction, then it’s thumbs up from me. AA, CA, NA and all the other As do save hundreds of thousands of us. Millions. As far as I’m concerned, if you keep sober by running naked around your house at dawn each day – keep doing that.

Through my recovery, I’ve sometimes felt prickly at those words. “They stopped working the program“. It gets me prickly because I don’t seem to be “doing it” in the straight-up AA way. But when I put my toys back into my pram and quieten my obstinate inner child, I realise that I’m absolutely working a program. Or THE program, even:

  1. I admitted defeat and accepted I was powerless in the face of addiction.
  2. I wanted to find a different way of life.
  3. I asked for help.
  4. I looked inward and took stock of my life and what’s fucked me up.
  5. I honestly and sincerely laid those things that fucked me up bare.
  6. I resolved to face them all and work through them.
  7. I set out to turn resentment to forgiveness, anger to love, and fear to faith.
  8. I felt a desire to put right the harm I’d done.
  9. I acknowledged, took responsibility and asked forgiveness.
  10. I keep a close eye on myself and correct myself when resentment, anger and fear threaten to engulf me.
  11. I practice mindfulness.
  12. I put my heart and soul into helping other addicts find their way to recovery.

Bill W would be pleased, I reckon, and you don’t need to attend meetings to live your life according to these principles. It makes me chuckle, because it’s almost like I’ve gone and 12-stepped in spite of myself. Nice work, Bill W – you got me! I’m glad though, I just needed to see it for myself and reframe how I think around what it means to work a/the program. It kinda happened organically. I’m not saying I’m a genius but then neither was good ol’ Bill W. Bill W was simply just like me – a drunk, who practiced a new way of life that kept him in balance. And sober. And that’s really what I’ve come to believe recovery is all about: balance. It goes without saying that we’re much more vulnerable to harm, be it addiction or any destructive behaviour at all, if we are broken or carry resentments. Sometimes we just have a deadness inside, a void, a hole in our heart or whatever other way you want to use to describe it. Sometimes there’s just this restlessness and discontent that can only be stilled with drugs – until we find a better way of keeping ourselves balanced.

No, I don’t want to drink on this fine day. Call me cocky, but I wouldn’t drink if you offered me £1,000,000 to do so. Well. I wouldn’t agree to kill myself for £1,000,000 either and that’s what drinking would mean for me because I’m an alcoholic and I can’t drink the way you can. You get my drift though. I don’t want to drink and at this moment in time there is nothing, NOTHING, that could make me. But don’t be fooled, I am always vigilant – that’s where the mindfulness comes in, see – as I still have the brain that threw me into captivity to start with.

What I wanted to get at, although it seems it took me a while to get to the point, is that I do work a program. No, I don’t go to AA meetings very often but I spend a huge part of my waking hours focused on recovery – both my own and that of others around me. I share – here, at home, with friends, at work – and stay open and honest. And I try my damned hardest to pass on this beautiful, magical gift. Some of us get put off by AA and I have to admit this has at times been me too, but then I remind myself that we’re all just doing the same thing – trying to find that balance and work on our recovery. If we do it in a certain order of steps or affirmations or rituals is irrelevant. The 12 steps I believe is something that almost comes naturally when we get sober – when we remove the anaesthesia all our emotions come flooding back and we have no choice but to learn how to deal with them. And I reckon that’s what Bill W did. And how helpful of him to cobble together a guide to give us a nudge in the right direction in case we’re a little lost initially. Personally, I think everyone – addict or otherwise – would be better off going about our lives that way.

It’s all about balance.

Today I’m not going to drink.

That Goddamn Bottle

Something curious happened.

We were talking about you earlier and everyone was saying that we just can’t imagine you drinking.

I must have jumped, as if someone had prodded me with a stick. Startled, but absolutely delighted, I looked up from what I was doing. The client whose medication I was administering sat on the chair and was smiling at me, an alkie like myself, waiting for me to put her lunchtime batch of detox pills into the little paper cup. She has eyes the colour of the sky on a summer’s day – that solid, light blue – and they were sparkling like eyes do when we’re coming back to life from active addiction. She, like so many others, is again a bright and bubbly individual and already so far removed from the tired and wrecked person who was admitted to the rehab only a week or two ago. It’s a beautiful thing when we begin to recover who we really are. Sobriety does this and it’s fucking awesome.

It was off the back of the morning relaxation group I’d run. The topic had been “say when” and holding boundaries, and I’d shared a little (to prompt discussion) about what my life used to look like when I was drinking. I told the group how I’d say yes to everything and then be too fucked to follow through. I set this in contrast to how I can now say yes and deliver on my promises. Or say no and draw the line. It’s good stuff, that! It was a really great session and many people added stories and insights of their own. I love my tribe and I almost feel a little guilty because I reap so many rewards from working at the rehab – it’s an absolute privilege to be around these fine folk who are in recovery just like I am. I may be getting paid to support THEM, but I’m on the same journey – albeit a little further along – and they help me too. More than they know.

Oh my God – really?” I asked, a little bewildered.

Hell, I have trouble myself sometimes to really believe I’m without the wine now. Being a lush, wine glass forever in hand, was my identity for so long that to hear someone say they couldn’t imagine it really threw me. A good friend of mine, who of course knew me all along and therefore more than familiar with Drunk Me, said the very opposite when I first got sober, namely “Anna, I can’t imagine you without wine!” and laughed. And here’s now someone, or several people actually given they’d apparently talked about me, who can’t actually imagine me as anything other than the person I am now – Sober Me.

Absolutely, we can’t imagine it!” she emphasised and smiled even wider.

I’ve only known you sober too, I can’t imagine you with wine either,” I told her truthfully.

Hah! Just check that awful photo on there, it’s horrible,” she replied and rolled her eyes.

She was referring to the photo on her MAR chart, the medication record we keep for each client. On each one we staple a print-out of the client’s photo, just another safety measure to ensure nothing gets mixed up and the right client gets the right meds. I flipped it over and we both had a look.

Mm, you do look a little tipsy here! Were you drunk when you came in?” I asked.

No! Just really hungover. I missed a trick there, everyone else is saying they drank right up to the last minute,” she chuckled.

Oh God, that’s so funny, I know exactly what you mean! I was looking for this particular bottle of wine the last time I drank and couldn’t bloody find it but I knew it was somewhere,” I said, “then a few weeks sober I realised it was in the wine rack! That really pissed me off at the time because it was like oh, I should have drunk that and now I’d missed out! Isn’t that crazy?” I added and couldn’t help but laugh.

Exactly!” she agreed.

Well, I suppose you’re getting the best value seeing as you didn’t spend the first 24 hours coming right and could just get right in,” I told her and raised a knowing eyebrow, “but yes, I know where you’re coming from. It’s like that, isn’t it? Drink the last drop.

Well. Just one of many, many little conversations that take place at the rehab but one that happened to contain the best compliment I’ve had in a while. SHE COULDN’T IMAGINE DRUNK ME! That’s fanfuckingtastic, no? It’s the same for me though and just as I told her, I can’t quite imagine this lady – who is so perky, smart and articulate – as a drunken mess either. But that’s what we both used to be, a hot mess, and it was pretty cool – one hot mess to another, seeing the other right there in that moment as the opposite of that and the only (very small) difference being that I happen to be a little further along.

Gosh, I remember that wine bottle so well and how I searched for it high and low during one of my last drinking sessions. Ironically, it was right there in the wine rack. Only a raging alcoholic wouldn’t think to look there. Putting bottles in the wine rack was something I never did because, uh, WHY exactly? Right into the fridge to chill and rip into straight away. I never understood wine racks, they always seemed like unnecessary faff to me. Keep the juice handy, I say. But yes, it pissed me off at the time that there it was, that last bottle I should have poured down my neck. I felt deprived! I was going to have that goddamn bottle and there it was again, having fucking hid from me the fucking thing and now laughing in my face! Naaah-nah-nah, naaah-nah! Fuckery.

Now when I think about it, it illustrates something important – namely, how when I was in active addiction it was always a case of tomorrow. I’ll stop after THIS one. Always ‘tomorrow’, never ‘today’. Sobriety is NOW. We can only recover when we go for it, not when we’re putting it off for another time or delaying so we can have another drink. I think Hubby had that bottle – in his normal way of course: it found its way into the fridge and he would have had it one glass at a time over several days – but with hindsight I wish I’d kept it as a reminder. The bottle of wine I never drank. The best bottle.

Today I’m not going to drink.

What Sparks a Light

Holy moly, that was LONG. But oh so worth it! A stretch of eight days at the rehab and my first terrifyingly tiring taste of a 12-hour shift, but strangely I walked away motivated and energised. Poor Hubby may disagree as I was starting to fade by 8.30pm Saturday evening, but even so. Turns out I’m quite the grafter when I’m not busy drinking myself into an early grave. Or, the following is true:

“You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.”

No idea who said it but I suppose that sums it all up – I so genuinely and oh so deeply CARE about this! Even when I am absolutely spent I could go further and faster. OK, so working out what these last three weeks’ 100 hours amounted to in cold, hard cash made me choke on my coffee, but that was never my motivation anyway. BANG ON! Maybe this will wear me out. Maybe I’ll lose interest tomorrow. Who the fuck cares! Right now it’s where I want to be and precisely what I want to be doing. I’m learning so much and beyond that I’m also growing – both in confidence and as a person. I’ve run the morning relaxation group a whole bunch of times and although it still gives me palpitations and makes me so nervous my hands tremble, I’m getting there and I no longer dread it like I did those first few times.

How do you feel about driving the van, Anna?” Beethoven asked.

You fucking kidding me? That thing?! In actual TRAFFIC? With seven or eight people or whatever it seats? How do I feel about that? Oh, lemme think…

No. Sorry, no chance, absolutely not,” I replied despite feeling quite bad I was blatantly saying no to a boss I’m desperate to impress.

I saw no point in giving half baked excuses, I ain’t driving that thing. I’m a terrible driver, not at all confident in city traffic and I wouldn’t be able to park even if I had an entire, totally clear runway at Heathrow at my disposal to park aforementioned thing. Sometimes you just have to be realistic and I just can’t see myself doing that. I’m sure I would get used to driving it, but I don’t think anyone would much appreciate an “outing” being driven around a loop and just back to rehab without stopping anywhere, given I can’t park to save my life. And don’t get me started on LANES and ROUNDABOUTS and other things that are to do with traffic rules and regulations. Unlike the relaxation sessions, this is where actual people could actually die. Whilst I can appreciate the clever psychological device of having a group of people in treatment return to the rehab with a renewed sense of THANK GOD I’M ALIVE, I find that slightly cruel.

What if we do some driving lessons?” Beethoven suggested and smiled.

Fine,” I sighed wearily, “but I’m not taking anyone out in it until I feel confident.

Good girl,” Beethoven boomed, “there you go!

Oh fuckety-fuck-fuck. Clearly I still have some way to go with the boundaries and standing firm. See how my resolute no turned to defeat? Bollocks. Well. If you spot an eight-seater van the colour of cafe latte full of terrified passengers who appear to be alternating between hysterical crying and being deep in prayer, giz a wave. Or honk if you’re happy and you know it. Or something. Perhaps make room the way you do for blue lights, I dunno.

Well. Time to catch my breath now – no work tomorrow! A few hours on Thursday and then three whole days off before I’m back on Easter Monday. I’m absolutely loving it, and the people I get to spend my days with make me happy and I actually refer to the clients as much as my colleagues, if not more.

I didn’t go to treatment myself, but I can tell you that there are no people I admire more than those absolute superheroes who somehow find the herculean strength to walk through those doors. There are moments when someone’s just come through them and they seem so beaten, so broken and so low – every goddamn time I want to just shout LOOK WHAT YOU JUST DID YOU ABSOLUTE CHAMPION!! Perhaps in that moment someone will feel utter defeat, yet they’ve just done something that makes me want to worship right there at their feet. It makes my heart soar every time. Hand on heart, I don’t know that I’d been able to do it. I don’t know that I would have had the strength to walk through those mirrored doors, much less last even 24 hours inside them. I’m not sure they realise just how much they inspire me, move me and fill me with such hope I could just weep of gratitude. Sometimes the human spirit just blows my mind. There really are so many truly beautiful moments. And let me tell you this – I spend time with these superheroes (colleagues and clients) who go into battle with the Beast with nothing but a fucking toothpick to defend themselves with, and I’m so immensely proud that I’m one of them even though I didn’t walk through those doors in the way some of them did. I never thought I’d say it, but being a recovering addict makes me feel proud because we are fucking AWESOME. These people know how to swing a sword, lemme tell ya.

Uhm, feeling borderline religious here… I really am turning into a smug hippie. Yuk.

Time to switch off now. Time for me. Time for family. Time to smile about all these things I have to be grateful for. Most of all I am grateful that:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Stark Naked, I Swear

I crashed. I hit one of those bumps in the road that I – when I was in active addiction – avoided like the plague. I.e. the sort of bump that I’ve been avoiding my entire adult life, running away and hiding from any potential friction long before it could even form aforementioned bump. When we get sober, I think some of us have this little disillusion that our lives will just magically transform and be perfect – I hear it all the time in various recovery groups: “why am I still not sleeping well? I’ve been sober for weeks!” or that we are pissed off that even though we did that horrendously scary thing and got sober, we’re still in pain! That’s so unfair! Me, me, me!!

Don’t get me wrong – sobriety DOES transform our lives, of course it does. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t make us bullet proof. We still lose our jobs. Our partners still leave us. People we love still get ill. People we love even die. Whilst this may make us bitter as we may feel we deserved better for cleverly and bravely fighting our demons, I think it’s so important to remember that what sobriety actually means is that we get a shot at being the best we can be and be best placed to not just enjoy the happy times but best placed to deal with the shitters too. And that’s where I found myself this Saturday just gone.

I ran the relaxation group again that morning. For those of you who are used to talking in front of people and/or don’t get consumed by anxiety of doing so, it really is no big deal: sit in a circle with 20 people, let everyone know what we’re doing (ten minutes of being silent, then a reading and then we share our thoughts and experiences) and just lead and moderate the discussion. For ME, this used to be unthinkable. Saturday was the second time I did this and it all unravelled. The worst thing that could happen, DID happen. I lost control of the group, couldn’t bring it back in when the discussion turned chaotic and some of the clients ceased the opportunity to wreak havoc. No, it’s not my responsibility to recover for them – my responsibility in this instance is to facilitate a relaxation group. They’re adults, for God’s sake! It’s their responsibility to take the session (and their own recovery) seriously. They didn’t and it was a disaster. Any time I opened my mouth, to steer the conversation back to what it should have been or to ask people to speak one at a time, I got sniggered at, laughed at and it just escalated. I would have felt more comfortable if I’d walked into that room stark naked, I swear.

So here I am, pulling on my big girl pants and making myself do something that actually terrifies me. And it ends up exactly in that place that has had me running from this all my life: I failed. My inner voice had a field day, lemme tell ya. Oh you useless piece of shit, look how pathetic you are! You can’t do this – what a joke! Run away and hide so no one has to be around you, you ridiculous, embarrassing and utterly despicable little bitch. Go hide. Go scratch. Pathetic! Have a drink, obliterate yourself because that’s all you deserve, you fucking failure and ridiculous excuse for a human being.

That’s right. I am actually a very kind and caring person but to myself I am often the meanest piece of shit you could possibly imagine.

I walked away from it angry. I hated each and every one of those clients in that moment. I don’t fucking go to an AA meeting and begin sniggering and being disruptive if someone shares something I personally may think is a load of shit. I respect other people and I am there to recover. By the time I left, my anger had dissolved into that old, familiar feeling – the deepest sadness and the firm belief that I’m good for absolutely fuck-all. Got home, told hubby I’d hit the wall and needed a moment all alone and in silence to just land. I sat on our bed and cried my eyes out. I allowed myself to feel all the things the situation triggered in me. It was shitty and I felt utterly destroyed. Who was I to think I’d be any good at this? Just look at it!

Well. I’m done crying about it now. I think I can now see it for what it was. I did my best with the tools I had. I learned some very useful lessons. Rio, Beethoven and the therapists all hugged me and regaled me with stories of their own, reassuring me they’d all been there and that I’d indeed been good enough. Because what this was, was a bump in the road and one of those I can’t avoid. This is part and parcel of learning and growing. Yesterday when I walked back in through those doors, I ensured my back was a little straighter and I also put a new little strategy in place: I didn’t apologise to anyone for doing my job. Or for using up oxygen by breathing. I didn’t say “excuse me, sorry to interrupt your lunch, you’re next for meds, I’m so sorry to be a pain“. I said “right, you’re next, now please“. Progress, not perfection.

I needed to hit that bump. Be in a situation I find so uncomfortable I want to crawl out of my own skin or stick my fingers into my eyeballs and swirl them around just for the fucking distraction from the pain I feel. What this showed me was this: the worst thing I thought could happen DID happen, but actually….. ….the worst that could, and did, happen was nothing. No one died. I doubt they sat around afterwards having a good old laugh at how they shot me down. Or maybe they did! So what! I’m there to support them in their recovery but I’m not fucking there to recover FOR them. So yesterday I faced them all and I don’t know if it was my straighter back or lack of needless apologies, but dare I say it – I was in charge. And part of the reason why is because I hit a bump, crashed hard but instead of running and hiding, I picked myself up and got back in the saddle. Bring it, biatches. I’m done running and hiding.

Weirdly, I’m looking forward to Wednesday morning when I’ll take that group once again. Yep. Life is life and sometimes everything will fall into our laps and sometimes life will kick our asses. But sobriety does transform us and I’m quite happy – excited, even – to walk back into a situation that last time felt like that nightmare where you’re naked and on stage and everyone points and laughs. I kid you not. Sure, it does also make me feel a little sick but this is what I want to do, it’s what I believe in and what I’m passionate about and if it’s not worth fighting for, then why bother?

IMG_9958

Today I’m not going to drink.

Milk Or Sugar With That?

Beyond tired. But it’s a good tired. What an awesome week! I’m sober, Bambino’s been a superstar, Hubby is on his way home this evening from another work trip and I can’t wait to pinch his bottom kiss him stupid, and I am a paid member of staff at the rehab and all signed off to fly solo with the medication. Rio’s verbal machine gun instruction style has paid off and I feel quite confident. Except one pill flew out of the stubborn blister pack and landed on the client’s head and then I had to chase after another as I missed the detox meds. Still. I could just picture Rio staring at the screen in the staff room at the CCTV with these mishaps and throwing his hands in the air and shouting oh come on, Anna, what are you doing girl? Look at this, what’s wrong with this woman?!” in his usual manner. It’s endearing though and today he’s been mostly smiling. Actually, that’s not quite truthful. He’s mostly been laughing at me, starting with bursting out into a loud cackle the moment I walked in at 6.45am.

I’d say I’m reasonably bright but I’m just so bloody ditzy with it. Sometimes my brain just locks up completely and things that are really obvious become incomprehensible. When I’m tired I can barely work a zip. It’s a good tired, but it’s a full on tired. These shifts would be exhausting if I worked 9-5. That doesn’t exist at the rehab. It’s 7am-3pm or 2pm-10pm. After a bunch of those and often the early one straight after the late one, meaning I’ve not had more than five hours’ sleep, and things can quickly start to spin.

Last night I was going to take my maiden voyage admission. It wasn’t to be. The client was in a state so serious that the doctor asked me to get an ambulance. Fair dos. I reminded myself I’m Calm Anna with ice in her stomach and dialled 999.

Are they unconscious?” the dispatcher asked.

Not quite, but dangerously intoxicated and the doctor who’s with them says they needs to get to A&E,” I responded, already impatient and stressed as I realised I was in for a questionnaire.

How’s their breathing?” the dispatcher lady continued, “is it normal or are they having trouble breathing?

I am not with them,” I told her as firmly as I could without snapping having already explained the situation, “I am in a staff office and they’re in a different room but it’s serious enough that the DOCTOR who is with them and who has examined them has instructed me to call for an ambulance.

The doctor popped his head in at this stage, just for a second to check the ambulance is on the way and to tell me to inform the dispatcher that the person is vomiting blood.

They are vomiting blood,” I parrot and drum my fingernails against the desk, “can you confirm the ambulance on the way?

Rio dashes in to fetch something as I’m confirming some other details and then the doctor is back in, again to check for reassurance the “blue light” (as he calls it rather than ‘ambulance’) is indeed coming. I’m at this point fielding a few more vomit questions.

Yes, he’s vomiting blood,” I repeat.

Ground coffee!” the doctor adds hurriedly, before disappearing off again.

Huh? I freeze for a moment. They’re puking coffee? But I’ve told them they’re puking blood! Holy shitballs.

Uh, they’ve vomited coffee,” I say and scrunch up my nose as I don’t get why the doctor is so keen to specify this.

Whether he’s vomiting coffee or orange juice doesn’t matter, right? Blood I understand wouldn’t be great, but why is he so specific about this? Coffee? Do I actually need to do closer inspections of vom in the future? Oh please God no, I’m just too squeamish. No vom for me. Eurgh. But how did I misunderstand this? I was so sure the doctor had said they were vomiting blood, surely? Oh well, now it’s coffee and I repeat this on the phone. Several times. Who knows, perhaps coffee clings harder to your stomach or something and if THAT comes up it’s serious or something?

The poor client is picked up and they take him in. It turns out “ground coffee” is code for blood from the sacro-something or other. Rio has a laughing fit when I tell him the latest tale illustrating my utter stupidity and having asked for an ambulance for someone who’s vomiting coffee. But at least it arrived, eh, and quickly too. The doctor makes a noise as you would at a daft little puppy that’s just chased a ball and too late realised it’s clumsily charging straight into the wall. Still. All’s well that ends well. The client is where they need to be and will be back with us as soon as they’re well enough to begin detox and their recovery journey.

So my maiden voyage admission was instead a lovely lady who checked in this morning and a very pleasant flight I have to say, in the great scheme of things and compared with many I’ve sat in on. And it was right after my maiden voyage running relaxation group. Spoke and didn’t fall apart. Can’t say I was overly assertive but Rome wasn’t built in one day. Neither was Stockholm. I did OK with both, I think. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but good enough for my first solo flights. I fucking love this. It’s tough and it’s heartbreaking and it’s exhausting, but even now that I’m so tired I doubt I’ll last beyond 8pm, it makes me smile and feel really fortunate that I get to hop out of bed tomorrow morning at 5am to head off to rehab on a Saturday morning. My ex-bosses gave me a lovely card when I left that reads “do what you love and love what you do” – I think this might just be it.

Counting my blessings would take forever, but the fact that I’m sitting here 430 days sober is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given alongside Bambino and Hubby. Oh, and my bonus sons. Sobriety and my boys and loving what I get to do for a living – life’s pretty damn awesome on Planet Anna.

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Few Minutes of Plinky-Plonky Music

Here’s Little Anna kissing Mum. It was in June 1979 in hospital and she’d just given me a little brother. She deserved a kiss, definitely.

IMG_2639

We’re all addicts, aren’t we?” my mother mused when I spoke to her on the phone last night. She said it in that gentle, sweet way she does when she mulls things over and wants to show she relates. “We all have those things we think of as rewards.

Mum, however, was talking about chocolate. She giggled knowingly and told me in that let-me-tell-you-a-secret kind of way that she has on occasion hidden chocolate bars. The way she told me and the way she said it was how you might expect someone to confess to something really quite naughty or controversial. Like my old systems for hiding wine and then disposing of the empties. Bless my beautiful and utterly lovely mother. She was, of course, making perfect sense.

Thank God it’s just chocolate! What if I’d discovered drinking or smoking?” she added, still with that smile in her voice that I could hear all the way from Sweden.

Somehow I can’t quite picture my mother drinking or smoking. She’ll cautiously take a small sip at an infuriatingly small glass of wine at, say, Christmas, but never have I ever known her to DRINK drink. And trying to picture her smoking a cigarette makes me laugh because it’s more unlikely than if she were to moonlight as a stripper. Point is, though, that she did what we do when we really listen to someone talk about something that’s difficult and we want to show we have taken it onboard, wanting to illustrate that we can relate in some way. I believe it comes down to wanting to be kind. Discussing my addiction and recovery with one of my bestest, oldest friends went down in a similar manner – my friend brought up her own view on drinking and I know it was a genuine way of reassuring me that hey, buddy, I hear you. I’ve said it before – I’m very lucky.

We all want and need to be heard, and when you talk openly about what used to be a dirty, shameful secret it’s uplifting to be met with this sort of kindness where your loved ones want to show they really thought about what you said and searched for ways to relate.

Life is manic now. Manic in a good way, but I do have to take care not to allow my full throttle brain to take over. I finally have that coveted employment contract and have been given the first bunch of course work to solidify all these new things I am learning. Today is a day for Anna. Monday I got home closer to 11pm following an evening shift and got up at 5am Tuesday to start another at 7am. Working at the rehab isn’t like an office job with breaks. Kiss 9-5 goodbye. Nevermind the leisurely 9-2 I cruised along at. I’m served lunch by the chef like everyone else, but I have yet to spend longer than ten minutes eating in peace before rushing off to the next thing. I’m yet to complete a task with no interruption. This is where I have to make a conscious effort to breathe and slow myself down because my brain works in PRECISELY in this way – this is the speed setting my brain naturally likes. And it’s PRECISELY the speed setting that had me plunge head first into severe alcoholism. So whilst I’m now feeling restless at this self imposed Day of Chillax and itching to complete all course work I’m able to access, I’m pushing myself back. Jeez, slow down, gal.

Beethoven actually pointed out how Rio has used his addict’s mind to get as good as he is at his job – this top speed, almost frantic approach. So yes, being wired in this way isn’t necessarily a bad thing and my addiction super powers can indeed be strengths, but what I’m saying is I have to be mindful of how I’m feeling. Feeling energised and motivated is one thing, compulsion is quite another and I do 100% feel rattled by a pile of course work I want to churn through. So I’m deliberately leaving it sitting there. Today is Anna’s Day of Chillax. Blog, go for a walk, perhaps bake something. Tomorrow it’s another late shift, followed by a 7am start both Friday and Saturday. Today is self care and deep breaths. Clear my mind and just BE.

This is something Beethoven is always very clear on. Well, the man has worked with addicts for years and at the rehab he also employs a bunch of us. When Rio was throwing shifts into my greedy little hands, Beethoven emphasised I should only do what feels right and not say yes because I feel I have to.

Your husband might come down here and shout at us!” Beethoven joked and Rio laughed out loud and gave a high five, “[Rio] and I might end up in big trouble.

I doubt it. Now he has a wife who comes home from work and is excited and wants to tell him all about her day,” I told them and immediately cringed at how fucking cheesy it sounded.

Aw, that’s really nice,” Beethoven said and smiled, “that’s how it should be, I’m glad you said that.

Drunk Me would have gone bright red for even being in a conversation and the discomfort this always used to entail. Drunk Me would blush furiously if even spoken to. Sober Me smiled and just got on with it. Some days I don’t even recognise myself, so long had I been buried, but I’m slowly learning to be me again. Rio informed me that I’ll run the relaxation group occasionally. This involves talking to a group of roughly 20 people, lead the discussion and moderate following a few minutes of plinky-plonky music and meditation. Had you asked me to do this just 14-or-so months ago I would have refused and run a mile. Even for a handful of people – no fucking way. Never mind a group of 20-odd that on top of things may occasionally include a well known face. Not a problem. The thought doesn’t make me anxious or nervous. Why? Coz I’m sober. Turns out these things don’t actually scare me. It’s just another thing to do, something I’m learning but happy to attempt even if I don’t know it all. Even the idea of getting something wrong doesn’t terrify me. It doesn’t even bother me. What a lovely surprise, Sobriety! I sure as hell didn’t expect THAT. Whatever next?

Well. 428 days sober. That’s a miracle. I well up just typing it because I can’t quite believe it’s real. What a gift. And I’m so grateful I got to wake up again with a clear mind and free from all that heavy shame and regret. For the first time in 15 years, I come home from work knowing I gave it my all and that I did well. For the first time in 15 years, I know me being there made a difference. I haven’t felt this way in so long. And I remember her now, the girl I used to be. I lost her there for a while.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Whacked Them All

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

Eek! Did I just do something silly? It’s been a long time (14-ish months) since I with my heart in my throat checked my phone to see if I’d posted something really stupid on Facebook. Back to the present moment and I believe I just announced to the world that not only did I abuse alcohol, but my exact words on Facebook just moments ago and now there for all to see were that my drinking problem was of epical proportions. I mean, I’m all for calling a spade a spade but holy cannoli, I think I just whacked them all with a goddamn shovel!

The husband of one of my best friends is big on health. An osteopath by trade (and founder of the Stockholm College of Osteopathy) and a firm believer in looking after our whole being – mind, body and soul – his updates often feature photos from his latest spiritual retreat in places like Kenya or articles around preventative methods of promoting good health. Today he listed ways to promote good health and questioned why not more of Sweden’s national budget is used towards those measures, which would mean a relatively small investment now will prevent huge cost later. So drunky-drunk here felt compelled to jump in. I went to town. No, I strutted into town like a defiant peacock and I made it clear to all and sundry that I’m a sober alcoholic with years of aforementioned EPICALLY PROPORTIONED alcohol abuse, who now wants to see us put this screwed-up world right. I rounded up by asking him if he wants to join my crusade. Well. When I am ready to open my chain of addiction rehab centres that will revolutionise how we treat addiction, I will want experts like him by my side so let’s hope he’s up to the task.

Did you expect me to start the next paragraph or sentence with “jokes aside“? I hope you’ve scheduled a good chunk of today’s available calendar entries as “wait for Anna to say she was joking“. Tomorrow’s too.

Today is a day to survey my arsenal and regroup for Stage Deux of my crusade into the world of addiction treatment. Fine, it’s not really a crusade yet, more of a fact finding research mission but I’m determined that no matter what, part of the mighty All Blacks’ philosophy will remain my focus. For those of you who aren’t into rugby, the All Blacks are New Zealand’s national rugby team and I guess you could say they are to rugby what Canada are to ice hockey – the ones to beat. One of their team mantras is to “leave the jersey in a better place“. That’s what I want to do. Whether that will mean that just a single addict will remember me as someone who treated them with kindness and respect when they underwent treatment or I’ll take my place in the history books alongside Bill W is irrelevant. My best will be good enough and it’s all I can do, but when I wear that jersey I will be humble, honoured and hellbent on leaving it in a better place than I found it. End of story.

Gosh, aren’t I a little hell raiser today? This is the cool thing about being sober though. Not blurt out some crap whilst drunk that you neither actually feel nor particularly care about sober and then regret it with shame burning inside you, but stand up proud and shout from the roof tops the things that you truly feel in your heart. That’s a gift and it’s one that I treasure. Please God, never let me fall back. Please God, help me always remain on this path. I’ll be ever so good, I promise, just help me stay sober.

Now on to lining up my ducks. I’m going to get on LinkedIn and connect the shit out of every recovery professional I can find. Hubby took me through how he uses his and what you can do on there. Gosh, how grown up! But I want to network and find the people in this industry, read relevant articles and find my way around my new career. It feels so amazing to feel this serious about something that really matters to me and be bubbling over with motivation, inspiration and determination. I’m so grateful to be here.

How’s everyone else doing? I feel so absent recently, even though the reason for not commenting and interacting as much as I’d like is a positive one. The blogosphere is still my anchor and reading other people’s blogs is still what most helps me make sense of my own addiction and recovery. It’s here that I found my tribe, some of whom have morphed into amazing real-life friendships. Having said that, as lovely as it is to connect beyond blogs and nicknames, these connections we make in this sphere are every bit as invaluable. Finding your tribe would probably be one of my first pieces of advice to anyone in recovery. There. I’m done. A bit of hell raising and a little declaration of love for my tribe.

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 09.42.01

Now let’s carpe the fucking diem!

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Best Answer

No run last night. To be honest, I don’t know if I have the energy to go tonight either. Work is beyond frantic and so it’s self care time at Casa Anna these evenings that follow days at the rehab – peace, quiet and sweet, sweet solitude. Blog, chomp down the odd cinnamon roll and generally just unwind. Hence I’ve declined Hubby’s run request via WhatsApp and will just go for a brisk, long walk. Sometimes a no is the best answer and as we all know, the days of Anna saying yes to everything are over.

Today I mostly went around with a colleague I hadn’t had a chance to get to know much – I’ll call her Raven because she has gorgeous, jet black hair – and like Work-Hubby, she is adding another fantastic layer of knowledge to everything I’m learning. Rio is like a machine gun and brilliant to learn from as he does everything to the letter, something the law abiding and rule loving little Swede in me massively appreciates. Hell, I don’t even cross the road unless there’s a little green man telling me I can do so, and Rio’s approach is therefore wonderful. It’s also awesome to learn that way as it means I from the outset get entrenched in good habits as opposed to taking shortcuts. He does seem to get quite stressy though – actually, make that agitated on occasion – and one second he’ll shove something into my hands only to rip it out of them a second later because he’s changed his mind or suddenly thought of something else for me to do – I’ve had to slow him down several times by gently stating that look, buddy, can I finish this task first. But hey, that’s cool. I like him enormously and obviously the man is taking time to show me so I’m not about to whinge about the speed settings. Work-Hubby and Raven are as calm and methodical as Rio is frantic and full throttle, and this gives me a perfect balance as I’m A) learning to cross all the Ts and dot the Is, and B) allow myself to slow down and find little tricks for remembering the whats, wheres, hows and whens. Perfect.

Many of my colleagues are in recovery. In a team of ten support workers there are only two people who are not in recovery (although this is a guess – I don’t know this for sure) and out of six therapists two are, as far as I know, in recovery. Finding out more about their stories is so fascinating, in much the same way as I find the blogosphere and various recovery/sobriety communities and groups so valuable. They are all incredible people and I’m just so freaking lucky to get to work and be around them, but what struck me today more than anything else is how Work-Hubby is the very embodiment of serenity. He came on his shift shortly before mine was over and as always he has a smile on his face and kind words for every single person he passes – greeting clients and asking how they’re doing today, greeting us colleagues and generally just lifting the atmosphere by his calm presence. This is a man with over 20 years of sobriety who only months ago buried his oldest son who died because of addiction, heroin I believe. Yet there he is, grateful for his own sobriety and appreciative of doing what he loves for a living, totally at peace and content with where he’s at. You don’t start complaining about banalities around someone like that. Well, they’re all like that and I get to be around them and mark my words – I am trying with all my might to soak up their wisdom and knowledge.

Oh God, this turned a bit gushy. Sorry ’bout that. I never did know when to tone it down, never mind turn it off.

Rio just rang me as it happens to swap tomorrow for Saturday. Cool bananas. I was looking forward to tomorrow and getting another day with Raven and Work-Hubby, but there we are. Verbal machine gun Rio on a Saturday it is. Every now and then he comes out with something that makes me laugh out loud with recognition, sometimes a little story or, like in today’s relaxation group, a saying. Today’s little Rio-ism is one I might get printed and framed because it’s just too good. He told the group this to round up a discussion around being a newcomer in AA or NA and feeling worried about sharing when other people have much longer sobriety than we currently do:

TODAY YOU ARE A PEACOCK BUT TOMORROW YOU MIGHT BE A FEATHER DUSTER!

It just doesn’t matter if we’re five days, five weeks, five months, five years or five damn decades sober – we’re only ever one drink away.

Today I’m not going to drink.