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!

A Little Knot

It’s happening again! Not unexpectedly, because I knew things would pile up and get busy, but here we are and I find that what might actually hold the title as My Greatest Passion seems to be the thing I first de-prioritise: my writing. That strikes me as really quite unfortunate. And especially so because it’s here in the blogosphere and amongst you lovely people that I first found my foothold in this brave new world of recovery. The very foundation of everything that I get to have in my life now. Well, this was always my outlet, the place I came to make sense of it all, so in a way, perhaps it does make sense that I’m letting go of the support wheels a little. It does feel strange though. It feels like the aspect of my life that is so valuable and important to me is the first one to take a backseat, and that doesn’t seem right, does it?

The two worlds seem to have collided. Perhaps it’s because the world away from the screen grew so much bigger when I got sober? Things that were simply closed off to me before because of my addiction – studies, work, friendships – are now here in abundance. Those were things I ran away from and avoided. Now those are things I run to.

Maybe that’s OK. Yet, once in a while I feel like I should come on here more often. Perhaps it’s rooted in how I’ve never felt enough, and so it’d make sense that it comes back in full force now that life is busy and I can’t dedicate myself as much as I’d like to in every area.

The best thing with the counselling studies – aside from training to be a good counsellor, obviously – is how it’s forcing the spotlight on to my own process and emotions. Instead of just getting shitty feelings and carrying those around, I am more alert to them and make a concerted effort to understand their origins. Yesterday I spoke with one of my brothers. Came away with the feeling I normally think of as That Yucky Feeling. It can be described as a mixture of dread, feeling judged, disappointment, sadness and simply feeling stupid. The evidence? None. Did my brother say anything that could in any way be interpreted as criticism or disdain? Nope. Yet, there it was, That Yucky Feeling, and part of its yuckiness is that it lingers. I don’t have an answer. But things ARE changing because I was very aware of it, recognised it didn’t belong there and it prompted me to think about it. I guess that’s one to take to my personal therapy.

It’s all ticking along quite nicely now. The course and the work we have to do, the placement, supervision and personal therapy. Sure, some things rattle me, but same thing there – whilst it does rumble me, I’m more inclined to feel curious than I am to just feel rubbish. This is a good thing, I expect. I’ll get there in the end.

So here we are – Monday morning and life is pretty OK. Not perfect, but is it meant to be? Woke up with a bit of a headache but it’s not a hangover so that’s cool. I appear to have a sore muscle in my hip, so there is no morning run and instead I’ll head out for a long walk later. Very irritating as I absolutely LOVE my morning runs, but gosh, this is hardly a huge problem. Annoying but not the end of the world. Need to get a learning statement done and also another piece of work for the course. Working on a new translation (same trash literature but tonnes of fun) and this is all going to be a bit of a bugger to fit in.

My attention span suffers when I have a lot to do, so I need a plan. I need a time schedule, so this is what I’ll do next. Literally map out the days of the week in time slots. Otherwise I get myself in a flap. I begin a piece of course work but my mind wanders to the translation work and I start hopping back and forth doing tiny bits here and there, and this is when I get stressed. Also a few coffees planned with friends, all from the course. Two girls I meet with at the same time each week and I ain’t moving those. Was asked if I fancied coming along to a meet-up with a bigger group but here I was displaying integrity and a backbone and said I won’t have the time. That’s not an easy task for me. ‘No’ is not a word I gladly utter. But guess what? It was fine and I felt good about not promising something I really can’t fit in and the associated dread with the resulting mess of not getting everything done because of it. There’ll be a next time. This morning I’m going to NOT think of the course work, but it’ll require a bit of effort. I’m just going to translate. Spending a good four or five hours churning through the latest translation project will get me to a decent distance through it and that will in turn get me feeling more on top of everything. Otherwise I’ll be here this afternoon with little bits done here and there and still making no real headway.

So time now to get focused and create the week’s schedule. There’s a little knot of dread and anxiety in the pit of my stomach but I feel more and more equipped to untangle these each time they form.

  1. I’m not the worst person in the world.
  2. People don’t (at least not always) hate me on sight.
  3. I’m capable.
  4. I appear to have people around me who like me, just like I like them. They are not my friends out of pity. I hope. Hm… Er… I’m not entirely convinced so this one’s more of a case of convincing myself. One more time for the road: Hubby loves me because I’m worthy of love and he didn’t marry me for charity. God, why is this such an uncomfortable thing to even type?
  5. It’s OK if I don’t do everything perfectly right.

Right. Let’s go. Progress, not perfection.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Definitely Autumn

Monday, Monday… Another week starts with beautiful autumn weather. Yep, definitely autumn now and the oppressive, heavy and humid heat of only a couple of weeks ago is all but a memory. There is a distinct chill in the air. As a lover of autumn, I’m happy – welcome, darker season. Candle light, big scarves and cinnamon – I’m ready for you. I think I really showed my age the other day by getting all excited about crawling into bed after we changed over to our winter duvet. I mean, honestly. So sue me! These things do make me happy.

We’re on to week four of the counselling course and it struck me how it’s already happening quite fast. At first glance it seemed like such a long journey ahead, but considering the course spans a total of 70 weeks we’re over 5% of the way in by the end of this week. In just over three weeks’ time, we’ll be a tenth of the way there. It’ll swish past before we know it.

My Monday has started out the way all my Mondays seem to: a run in the park, then a late breakfast and now doing a bit of studying. We also have a mini-presentation next week so I’m going to throw together a few slides for that too. Nope, not freaked out. This one’s TINY. 15 minutes and four of us so we’ll each talk for less than four minutes. In June next year, we have the bigger presentations and I’m paired up with a lady I already knew from Level 2 who I really like and here are the words I never thought I’d ever say, much less mean but I do: I’m looking forward to it. I think it probably helps it’s with.. hm… going to call her Pocahontas because she has magical fairytale hair. Pocahontas is also morphing into a really good friend and beyond this she’s super smart, insightful and focused and therefore, fairytale hair or otherwise, a solidly great partner for this. Maybe it was meant to be that way. I think I’d be a lot more rumbled by it if I were paired up with someone I don’t “get” (or worse – don’t like!) or someone who I might not trust to carry their weight. As for now, I feel confident we’ll end up with something we will both put a lot into and contribute to. All good.

There really isn’t much to report from Planet Anna lately. Things are ticking along nicely. I have two clients and each week is a victory, I really am learning so much – it’s all coming together now. I did wonder when it’d all begin to make sense, and here it is: in the therapy room. My personal therapist is great too and I am really looking forward to it all.

My boys are all doing good too. Hubby’s busy with work, Bambino is on an up-swing at school and in general (and he is so goddamn TALL!! I can’t get over it), and my bonus sons are happy and thriving as well. Saw the younger at the weekend and going to see the older this coming Saturday. Can’t ask for more. Thank you, Universe, for sending these four into my life.

No dramas. Just in the midst of a gentle roller. Just right. I like it.

Today I’m not going to drink.

First I’ll Live

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

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

The placement.

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

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

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

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

The translation stuff.

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

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

But that’s not the point.

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

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

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

Bottom line.

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

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

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

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

Today I’m not going to drink.

 

Is This Really My Life?

Three wonderful things happened yesterday:

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

To say I’m happy is an understatement!

1. The placement.

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

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

YEAH!!

2. Freelance translation work.

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

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

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

3. Rain and thunder.

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

YIPPIE, YIPPIE, YIPPIE!!

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

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

Today I’m not going to drink.

Anna of Falla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardly!” I told her, rolling my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have you all been?

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Great Summer Breathe

It’s time to take a break and just breathe. This summer it’s not so much a summer break as it is a summer breathe. I have so much to be grateful for and my life remains a very happy one, but I need to switch off a little.

It’s progression time from the Level 3 course on to Level 4 and the college are diabolically bad at admin and how they handle these things. It was a nightmare and people were so stressed out last time around in February when we went from Level 2 to 3, and clearly no one’s bothered to make any improvements. People are left hanging. Some of us were sent a progression task a full 24 hours before others and the interviews were the same with some people left hanging. Now we’re waiting for the enrolment letters – some have them, others not and with this you also get the added stress that if you haven’t received yours, WILL YOU AT ALL? Because like last time, the fear of God has been put into all of us with more applicants than places. I’m doing my best to accept it’s completely out of my hands and what will be, will be, but it ain’t nice and I already feel like crying in case I don’t get my letter. Of course with a shortage of places, the later on you get the letter, the bigger the risk is that the day and group you want to be in will be full, so there’s the added crap of that too.

Grant me the serenity…..

Well. I’ve given it my best shot. Done my best with all tasks and assignments, handed in everything ahead of all deadlines and not missed a day or been late. I can’t do more than that. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be super disappointed. That’ll burn me good. But I know that I’ll handle it. Have a good cry, then lick my wounds and find another way. Deal? OK.

Also bristly because a couple of people are getting under my skin and I don’t like that shit. Need to figure out what it triggers in me and my part in it, sit with it, make my peace with it and then navigate it better.

So the Summer Breathe is well timed.

I haven’t blogged much lately, nor have I had the time OR peace of mind to write on my wannabe book, but I churned out the bulk of it during lockdown so it’s really just the home stretch now and I’ll be on it once the course stress is out of the way and I’ve had my breather. For now though, time to shut down and find my foot hold again. I need to reset, clear my head and find my balance again – the last few weeks with their challenges and stress of various descriptions have exhausted me. Time for reflection and grounding. This is best achieved in the deep forests of Värmland. We didn’t think it’d be possible to find a sensible way of getting there this summer, but with driving and a couple of night ferries we can safely get there and keep distance etc. It wasn’t an easy task to work all this out but thank God lockdown has lifted enough and we can do it this way. The idea of sitting by the west wall of Falla having my morning coffee in just over a week almost gets me tearful. It’s my favourite spot in the world.

Have a lovely summer break everyone – hope you are all keeping well and safe and I’ll see (or read, rather) you all again very soon. Some time into August I guess.

Today I’m not going to drink.

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