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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891 Days

The end is in sight now for the Level 3 Counselling course, thank God. Progression for Level 4 isn’t automatic just based on passing, and just like back in February when we finished Level 2 and wanted to go on to Level 3, there is now lots of stress and anxiety over getting a place. Level 4 is a two-year Diploma after which you qualify as a Counsellor and can practice and during this level you take real clients on placement, so it’s the serious part of it. We were given a case study task and if we pass this, we’ll have a progression interview and then see from there if we get a place. I’m keen to do it and still feel this is the route I want to take and I can’t deny I’ll be super disappointed if I don’t get a place (actually, make that devastated – it’ll HURT!) but at the same time I feel quite at peace with whatever life will throw me. I am, after all, living this life on life’s terms and so I don’t feel it’s my task to control everything. Nice.

And what if I miss out? What if they say “hey Anna, thanks but no thanks, we don’t think you’re mentally resilient enough” – this is indeed one of the things they will base their decisions on. To be a counsellor, you need to be pretty robust and of course you can only take your clients where you’ve gone yourself, so if there are things you cannot cope with, what hope do you have to help others cope with their stuff? It’s out of my hands really. I know in my heart I’m strong and can withstand any storm. Sure, lots of things fucking terrify me, but there’s nothing that I’ll run away from. Even presentations and fishbowl exercises – I’ve done it all without fuss and gone for each one. I’ve not shied away from any of it or tried to find an easy way through. Not once have I tried to escape. Not anymore. I’m sober now, remember? So whatever will be, will be.

I sort of look at this with anticipation to find out what life has in store next for me. If I get a place, hey great! It turned out the way I thought it would. If I get a no, then it might be life nudging me to re-route and this could be one of two things: reflection and more work on myself, or all the above plus doing the recovery coach certification I’ve had my eye on but have been delaying whilst I work on the counselling stuff. And a no doesn’t mean it’s a no forever, it just means it’s a no right now, this time, and so as much as it may bruise my ego and knock my confidence, I have risen from worse than this! That’s how I see it. Not a loss or defeat – an opportunity. A nudge from the universe, whatever scenario I’ll be facing.

Do I truly believe all this? Or am I trying to sound more positive and calm about it than I actually am? Hm… Nope, I do feel this way. Genuinely. I’ve done all I can, faced everything and not backed down or hidden away.

The future is bright. And it will remain bright even if it doesn’t end up looking the way I want it to or expect at every turn for this simple, beautiful reason:

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Big Spatula

Two magical things happened today. Both made me cry.

1. I did something I never thought I could do.

I did a presentation. I was so scared I couldn’t breathe, even though I spoke for less than 15 minutes and it was over Zoom. Hubby was apparently watching me through the glass panes on the living room door and took the below photo (had I known I would have gone loco in a supreme way, haha!). Yes, that’s a bucket, because I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t vomit. It also didn’t help it was 30 degrees and the sun is on the double windows all day – had a fan on full blast and tried to close the thin curtains but was still sweating like crazy. And the stress of it all… Let’s just say I had a meltdown leading up to it. I was paired up with a course mate so my bit was only going to take 7-ish minutes. He’d reassured me that if I freaked he’d just take over. It didn’t turn out that way. His wifi gave up and so I did almost the whole thing, bar for the couple of minutes he managed to get back on before once again getting disconnected. Well. I knew what’d happen (except for my team mate falling off Zoom) and I lived. But it was still something I did for the first time and something I’ve been too terrified to do in all my 44 years. I’ve turned down jobs because of it and at uni I convinced tutors to give me extra written work to escape having to talk in front of people.

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Despite nearly giving up and running away – old habits die hard – it all worked out. And in amongst all the dread, fear and anxiety that had me under siege, several of the lovely people I’m studying with had sent little messages because they know I struggle so much with this and they therefore knew I was in bits over it. In a way, I think the universe had my back, along with the lovely group I’m with. Had this been in the classroom I’m not sure I’d got myself there. I’d like to think so but the panic and terror I felt was over doing it over Zoom so God knows.

I lived. And it was OK.

2. Someone handed me their heart to hold. 

Bloody hell, I make it all sound so dramatic, don’t I? But these miracles happened for one reason only: I am sober. An old friend reached out because she is struggling like I did. I read the message in the car and a couple of tears trickled down my cheeks. A mixture of love, gratitude, admiration and sorrow. Love and gratitude because I feel honoured to be the person she feels she can approach. Admiration because I know only warriors can summon this kind of courage. Sorrow because she is hurting in this way. But there is also another couple of components in that mixture: hope and excitement because I know that there is a way out and I know what awaits her on the other side when she finds it.

Despite all I know about addiction and all the fellow addicts I have met along the way, perhaps old stereotypes live somewhere in my subconscious. Must be, because I found myself thinking oh my God, HER? But she’s so TOGETHER and SMART and all these other incredible things. Isn’t that crazy, that even now, this can even enter my mind? It’s one of the shitty things about addiction – we think there is something wrong with us, that we ended up this way because we are terrible or “less than” people somehow. Absolutely that was my first thought when I went to AA meetings. Almost exactly the words my own father said to me once when we talked about it.

But you’re so SMART!

I replied. Said I’ll always stand with her. Always be here for her. I don’t know where it will go or what she will choose and that’s not my business anyway. She hasn’t said “I’m an alcoholic” and so I’ll just honestly and openly share whatever she may ask about and point her to all sources of help I know of. AA of course and everywhere else I’ve found members of my tribe. Whether she wants to stop or cut down or just air her secret, I’ll stand by and hold her heart with steady and safe hands. I will share my stuff if she asks me to and I won’t decide for her what her path is. That’s what my tribe has taught me and I will do my best to honour this.

It’s magical.

I didn’t know who to turn to. And whilst it’s not everyone’s choice to be loud about their recovery in the way I’ve chosen to be, this is precisely why I am. I don’t care if the world judges me for being open or if anyone wants to attach stigma to addiction or shame me. One person overheard (or saw, rather, via Facebook) and that’s all that matters. That’s all that’ll ever matter.

Now for the questions, dear tribe of sober warriors – what do you do when someone asks for help? I’m guessing just being there will make a difference (carrying this around is hell, as we all know so being able to talk to someone obviously lightens the load a little). I will suggest AA because regardless of whether it’s the right path in the end for that person, it’s a bloody great start. I don’t want to overwhelm her – Christ, she’s just opened the lid a little so I don’t think going in and stirring a big spatula around is the right strategy – and I don’t want her to feel she has to adopt a label or be pushed into any promises or rules or commitments. I want to show her I’ll just walk beside her when she wants me to, no strings attached. What do you think?

Today I’m not going to drink.

A Smidge Better

When I began my recovery journey, it seemed to take forever to get to ten days sober and it was such a victory to see double digits. I was about to say “seems so funny now” but it actually isn’t – breaking free from addiction and throwing myself into sobriety was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done and when I was sure I wouldn’t make it to the end of the week, ten days was absolutely HUGE in a way that is still definitely UN-funny. Please smack me in the mouth if I ever tell someone newly sober “aww” or something else patronising when I’m told they’re on day 10. OK?

However, as with anything that requires effort to begin with, it gets easier as you get the hang of it. Just like running. Those first few runs are a freaking shit show and there is nothing pleasant about them whatsoever, except the satisfaction once they’re over. Now, my morning run is as much of a highlight as my morning coffee. Sure, some days it’s a hard slog, but mostly it’s just something I do because I love everything about it and it’s a massive part of my self care. Point is though, I no longer check Runkeeper afterwards to check how many minutes I managed to run before I had to stop and walk. Now I check if my fastest kilometre was the 1st, 5th or 8th. Or what my max pulse was. Or how long the new loop was when I ran a different route through the park. It just happens now. A bit like my sobriety. A new normal. (I don’t need to add here that my new normal is fucking magnificent, do I? Thought not).

Well. Here we are and two and a half years of blissful sobriety later I’m not so acutely aware of how many days I’ve been sober. Just checked my ‘I’m Sober’ app and it’s 876 days. Anyway. Royal Ascot is on this week. Hubby loves horse racing so he was recording one of the races that he’d placed a bet on, and it dawned on me that Ascot was one of the few times I’ve had the urge to drink since getting sober. Two years ago we went, and as we pulled into the car park and I saw everyone sitting around with their picnics and champagne flutes, it really did hit me. I immediately told Hubby (snitching on the Beast is a very good tool and Hubby is another!) and just sat through it, but it was there and it had absolutely grabbed hold of me. Funny. Yes, really, THAT is funny, as in “haha, those cravings are stupid, aren’t they?“. Remind me, if I ever get asked by someone newly sober to tell them with a knowing and mysterious smile that it’ll pass. Well. As long as you work on your sobriety and remain willing to throw everything you’ve got at recovery, that is. That’s the amazing beauty of it – it’s there if you really want it. Thrillingly easy and heartbreakingly hard at the same time.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the urge. I can’t remember the last time. Sometimes I deliberately try to tempt fate, which I do realise is fucking stupid, but even when I conjure up the most romantic drinking scenarios possible (like a summer evening by the river with Hubby) I just land at the same conclusion: WHY IN GOD’S NAME WOULD YOU WANT TO FUCK THAT UP WITH BOOZE? That’s nice. Not a time to get cocky though. Not at ten days, not now at 876 days and not if I sit here in 20 years still sober. Yep, Beast sitting pretty in its cage but it remains unlocked and if I start to assume the Beast will just stay there without me keeping a bit of an eye, I’ll be screwed. No, I don’t go around looking over my shoulder expecting my addiction to pounce out from the shadows and destroy me at every turn, but I’m vigilant. Just like I am when I go for a run. The park is full of deer and make sure I don’t get too close because, after all, they’re wild animals. I’m not fearful or preoccupied with it, just mindful. Just like I am with my recovery. Mindful. Look both ways before crossing the road. Doesn’t stop me going where I want and doesn’t dampen my mood – just good sense, that’s all.

I don’t know where I was going with this, other than to once again repeat what I always seem to be saying – thank God I’m sober and thank God for the life I now get to have because of it. Unbelievable. Someone pinch me. Hubby has a sober wife, Bambino has a sober mum, my parents have a sober daughter, my siblings have a sober sister and oh ehm gee the list goes on. And then what I get to have. Some things scare me stupid and I do get fairly frequent visits from my brain troll anxiety with regards to the counselling studies, but because I’m sober I can face that too. Would NEVER have happened if I was still drinking. Partly because I would be dead by now, but if I’d somehow survived I wouldn’t even consider a course like that. OR leaving the house unless it was on fire. And if I was still drinking and my house was on fire, I would probably have caused that fire by beginning to cook in black-out and forgetting all about it or passing out. Hah! You can really see it when you play the tape forward, can’t you. Hmm, what might happen if I drank today? I can honestly not find a single good reason. I can’t even find a tiny little reason that is a smidge better than terrible.

Yep. Sobriety is a gift. A precious one.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Lost in an Emotion

It’s so easy to get lost in an emotion and forget it will pass. When I feel a certain way, it takes over completely and I lose sight of how I won’t feel like this forever.

Take now. I feel such dread. Unsettled, uneasy and deflated. I feel small and defeated even before the day has begun and I’ve dreaded today for over a week. I have my counselling course on Fridays and because of the pandemic we are doing the sessions over Zoom. Learning has therefore been a little stripped back and whilst it has worked better than expected, you just don’t get as much out of it as you would if you were in the classroom with the tutor and peers. Well. Today is fishbowl day and I want to vomit just typing it. This, and presentations, is the worst part for me – I genuinely hate it. My brain senses a trigger and translates it to extreme danger. It’s so frustrating because I understand how it doesn’t belong there, how the signal my brain sends to my body is misplaced and just gets activated by a trigger. Still, I can’t make it stop. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps with time and more work I’ll get there but as of now I still get overwhelmed by it. Even though I know the present moment is a safe and compassionate environment, my heart starts racing, I find it hard to breathe and I start shaking really badly.

There is no way around it. Or over or under. The only path forward is through it. So I’m trying to remind myself that this is just one little step, one little day. The journey is a positive one. Like running a marathon. Overall a great thing and a wonderful achievement but there will be an inevitable and inescapable level of pain. Pushing through that pain when your body is screaming out to you to do the opposite – stop, hide, rest, give up, make it go away – is ultimately a victory and possibly the thing you’ll look back on and be the most proud of. So that’s how I’m trying to view today. I won’t die. I’m in a safe place. There is no hostility or meanness. It’s such a small moment in the grand scheme of all this. And by 3pm this afternoon, I will be out on the other side. I’ll get to the finish line and it’ll feel amazing. It’ll feel amazing because I’ve faced the fear and done it anyway.

Fishbowls = doing a counselling session with a peer in front of the tutor and the rest of the class. Max 20 minutes.

20 MINUTES! It’s nothing! I tortured myself in my addiction for over a decade. I suffered almost non-stop for well over ten YEARS. 20 minutes? Even if I completely fall apart, it’s just such a tiny unit of time and if it does turn into absolute torture, it’ll be mercifully short. I’m trying to put my trust in myself and my ability. I’m not a qualified counsellor. We have still just really scratched the surface of theory and skills. I’m not expected to be great at it. The exercise is partly there to help me see my blind spots and ultimately a tool to improve and learn. And whilst it might feel like an eternity and the seventh circle of hell if I go blank or get stuck, it’ll just be seconds and everyone is probably too busy worrying about themselves to massively notice and note how useless I am. And I’m not useless. I’m learning. I’m nervous in these situations. Actually make that terrified. But there we are.

Time to face the fear and do it anyway. And in just a handful of hours today’s session will be behind me and hopefully I can once again say I did something I never thought I could do.

Fingers crossed.

Today I’m not going to drink.

…..besides, IMAGINE what today would feel like if I were hungover too???? What a shit storm that would be!! Not that I’d even attempt it. I can do this because I’m sober. So really, really:

Today I’m not going to drink.

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Tanned Skin and Picnics

Monday, yay! I freaking love Mondays! Sorry, not sorry – I am an unbearably cheerful morning person and Monday mornings in particular make me happy. If anyone was hoping I’d mention something that I’m happy about and grateful for and NOT finish off with “because I’m sober”, today is not that day. Mornings and Mondays are magnificent BECAUSE I AM SOBER! 860 days today, in fact. I can’t remember how it came up in conversation last night but Hubby asked me how many days now. I knew roughly. I do check my ‘I Am Sober’ app once in a while, it’s nice to see that number and I get emotional every time.

Did you ever think you’d see that number on there?” Hubby asked.

I just laughed, shook my head and shut him up with a kiss.

Will it, and if so, when will sober rewards cease to feel amazing? It’s a serious question to anyone further ahead. It worries me sometimes, you see.

I don’t honestly see how it would be possible that I’d suddenly want to drink again, so that’s not my primary worry – I mean, you hear sometimes of how someone might have been really overjoyed in early recovery and then, sort of, got bored. I have the advantage, however, that my drinking life was boring as hell and it’s sober that I now actually have tonnes of fun – I’m making friends and connections all the time, I’m pursuing a direction I’m passionate about through studying, I go for a run every morning, I have been writing like a demon lately – and that’s just four doors that opened since I stopped destroying myself. So I can’t see how even my devious brain could trick me into thinking slow suicide would be preferable to all this life I now have. But you never know. So whilst it’s my deepest fear that I’d once again lose my life and take another descent into hell, I’m so happy here on the Pink Cloud I find the idea somewhat farfetched. I know it sounds cocky and that’s not what I mean. I guess all I’m saying is I feel quite solid still in my recovery.

Perhaps it’s a fear of letting go of the joy and gratitude of all these simple little things. Like waking up sober. *reward #1* Like this morning. 6.30am, half an hour before the alarm would have gone off. Snuggle with Hubby for a little while, then up to make coffee. *reward #2* Then sit and write for a while whilst waiting for the coffee to brew. *reward #3* And so the days usually go on. Long strings of little beads of reward, one after the other – sobriety is like that. Maybe it’s because my drinking was so bad and it was wrecking my whole existence, but sober almost my every last move is an exercise of oh my God, I lost this and now it’s here again.

I guess what I’m asking is, is when did things stop being amazing and just became stuff you take for granted?

I’m not saying I spend my life now bouncing around in awe at each breath I take or that everything’s perfect. That’s not the case. I have good days, I have bad days and I have days that are meh or in-between. But mostly, whether life is on the up or down, it’s very clear to me that it’s a gift I’m immensely grateful for.

It goes for the number of days too. Obviously, in the beginning, seeing double digits was a huge victory – TEN DAYS, WOOHOO! – and you’re not as acutely aware of how many there now are further down the line. It was 28 months on the 23rd of May and that honestly just slipped me by and I only realised the next day when I happened to check the app.

Part of this little niggly feeling I have when I think about this, I think comes from the sponsor I had for a brief while early on. Any time I expressed feeling great or whatever, she’d take me down a few pegs and tell me it was my “addiction talking” and that I shouldn’t go on like that. She kept telling me I should focus on the shit stuff about my drinking or I’d relapse in a hot second. I get it, and in a way I agree, but I think she failed to realise that the only reason I am – and have been all along – so happy and grateful to be sober is precisely because of the hell I was in. Is freedom really going to taste this sweet if you’ve never been without it?

This is going nowhere. I don’t know what I’m getting at. I feel like I’m looking for problems where there aren’t any. I’m sober and that makes me feel happy and grateful. 7.30am and time to head out for my run shortly. *reward #4* The sun is shining and even though the world is a mad and unsettling place to be right now, it’s still a great one and I do have lots of faith that after all this turbulence it will be a better place for us all.

Oh! I now tan. Shallow, but bear with me. *reward #5* Call me crazy but this is a sobriety reward, honestly. I never used to tan and once I stopped drinking I suddenly do. OK, my pale Scandinavian skin is never going to go the deep brown my kiwi husband’s does in the sun, but I freaking TAN! I go a lovely golden shade and I get freckles again like I used to. Has to be the absence of poison in my system. Drinking blocks lots of nutrients and vitamins and shit. Must be related. I’ve googled this like crazy trying to find evidence to support this but I’ve come up short. I swear though, this is another recovery thing. Makes sense, right? Our skin is our largest organ, so obviously this must be the case. Yep, a golden tan is a sobriety thing. It’s official. I only realised because my bonus sons said it yesterday when we went to see them for a picnic at a responsible 2 metre distance.

Anna, you’re tanned,” Bonus #1 said.

Yeah,” Bonus #2 agreed and nodded.

They’re both quite pale skinned and it was strange to me to a) be told I’m tanned because that never used to be the case, and b) not be the pastiest white person in the group.

Anyway. Apologies for this random load of pointless waffle. I don’t know if I actually had anything to say or where I was going with any of it. Perhaps it’s a sign of gratitude – noting how good life is and not taking it for granted. Perhaps worrying this joy will fade and go away is a sign that it’s very much here and I appreciate it?

I’ll shut up now.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Tootling Through Europe

This isn’t a new thing at all – I discovered this super early on in recovery – but sometimes it really strikes me how good it feels to be so productive. I mean, even when I’m not busy this is the case. Even when I’m having a comparatively lazy day sober, I find that it’s the sort of day that would have made me feel super accomplished back when I was still drinking. I was thinking about it yesterday and yesterday was a REALLY lazy day. It was bank holiday here in the UK and so we didn’t set any alarm and just got up when we woke up. By 11am I’d made breakfast for Hubby, been for a run in the park and we’d also done a trip to the recycling centre to dispose of Bambino’s old mattress. OK, that’s hardly a morning to advertise at a productivity conference, but for me – a recovering alcoholic – this is a huge contrast to how things used to be. By 11am back then, I’d still be fighting to form coherent thoughts and generally struggle to do anything at all. If I’d showered, that might have constituted an achievement. Sober, everything just feels so fucking GOOD. All the time! Even shitty days sober are better than my best days drunk, and I don’t mean by a little bit – I mean my shittiest days now are better than my wildest dreams back then. It seems ridiculous, but it’s true.

I have a busy few days ahead. An essay is due Friday and I’ve been untrue to form and have actually made a start. Not a flying start (I’m still me and unless a deadline is breathing down my neck with considerable ferocity, I find it hard to do anything at ALL), but I’ve looked at it, I’ve made a few notes on what to cover and I’ve made sure I know where I’m going with it. This is a huge improvement to my customary modus operandi, which has always meant I don’t even know what the damn thing is about until the day before. So by my own (admittedly low) standards, I’m super prepared this time. One step at a time. Stockholm wasn’t built in one day. Also need to submit another assignment, but that one I completed as soon as it was set – I mean, HELLOOOO WHAT’S HAPPENING?! – and that is something I have never done in my life. I did set myself a goal to complete the essay a week before deadline and obviously didn’t, but what I did do is still a massive improvement so I’m taking it as a win.

I don’t really have anything else to report. Lockdown is easing little by little. It does look as though we’ll have to live without heading to Sweden this summer, which makes my heart hurt so much, but it is what it is. I know quite a few people who are heading over despite the guidelines, but I just can’t do it. I just can’t rock up there when the locals are advised not to travel further than two hours away by car and if I lived there I’d be really pissed off if someone rocked up having travelled all the way from London for a holiday. It doesn’t seem right and no matter how much I try to twist the argument to form a “need” or solid reasons for making it “essential” I just can’t. It’s a WANT. And it will have to wait. I’m a stickler for rules and I just can’t break them even when I want to so much there have been several occasions over the last month when I’ve seriously considered getting in the car and tootling through Europe to get to my beloved Falla, the little red house by the foot of the mountain Tosseberg. Honestly, it makes my heart hurt so much. And this will be only the second time in my entire life that I’ve missed out on summer in Sweden, the first being between the first and second year of university – the summer of 1997 – when I was a student, couldn’t afford it and had to stay put in the UK and work instead. Well! There’ll be other summers. We’re in a pandemic and this is how it will probably have to be, unless by July both Sweden and the UK have lifted restrictions and we can go without flouting any rules or guidelines.

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Right. I seem to have cooled down enough after this morning’s run to hop in the shower. Yep, I HOP in the shower these days, on steady legs and free from shakes and dizziness. It’s such a miracle I feel evangelical every goddamn time, I swear. Another contrast from the drinking days right there. Gone are the days when I had to crouch and showering was a terrifying ordeal every time. Hoppety-hop-hop!

Today I’m not going to drink.

Wet Dreams and Fishbowls

The weirdest thing happened the other night – I had a drinking dream. It’s been a long time since I had one. This one was different and I can’t quite figure out what it’s trying to tell me.

Early on in recovery – say, the first six months or so – I had two or three drinking dreams that were all the same. I dreamt that I was already drinking, that is, when I “came into” the dream it was already too late: I was already on the sauce. These dreams triggered that horrible, old feeling of powerlessness and sorrow. I was done for, doomed and there was no way out. I was trapped. In these dreams I had no choice. When I woke up, the feeling of the dream was so strong that I carried it with me to the point where for the first few moments upon waking it seemed real. I could physically feel the hangover. Then, I’d realise it was just a dream and I was still sober and the world was still as it should be, and it filled me with a renewed sense of gratitude. Thank GOD I don’t have to do that anymore!

A little further ahead, I had another drinking dream. At a guess, this was perhaps about a year in but I can’t actually remember. All I know it was, until a couple of days ago, my most recent one. In this one, I was in the supermarket and in the alcohol aisle. I was looking at wine bottles and was holding one in my hand, reading the label, choosing which wine to get. And then suddenly in the dream itself, I realised “oh shit, that’s right! I don’t have to do this anymore!” and put the bottle back on the shelf. Waking up from that dream felt good. It felt like a little sign that I was on more solid ground, although I have never and still don’t want to ever lose sight of the devastation that would be put into motion if I were to fall back.

For a long time now, I’ve not had any of these “wet dreams”, as I like to think of them.

Until a couple of days ago.

This one was super weird. Hubby and I were in New Zealand and in a beach bach. ‘Bach’ is pronounced ‘batch’ and is what they call their beach houses. Anyway, in the dream it was early in the day and I became aware that there was a shot glass containing clear liquid. It was alcohol and the glass was mine – that was the sense I got anyway. I’d poured it, I’d made that decision and I was super aware and embarrassed that people might notice that I shouldn’t start drinking so early in the day. A flashback, I suppose, to my drinking days – the constant fight to plan, facilitate and conceal my drinking. It was super shitty of course but mostly just really weird. First off, I never drank vodka or shots or anything like that, it was always wine. Second, as opposed to those earliest wet dreams, there was no sense of whether I’d already started or if I still had a choice. Those first dreams were horrible for that very reason, you see – my choice was already taken away from me, I’d already been drinking so all was lost. In this one I couldn’t tell.

I didn’t wake up feeling dreadful, just curious really as to what it was trying to tell me. I mean, sure, it gave me a snapshot of how awful it was to drink, no doubt about that, but it didn’t result in any thank-God-it’s-not-real moment of any great proportions. Yep, I still feel enormously grateful, every bit as much as I did a year ago, two years ago and even two weeks after getting sober. This dream, however, just left me a little baffled. No, it’s not playing hugely on my mind or anything like that and it doesn’t make me doubt anything. In many ways it does just do what the previous ones did – it just underlines how shitty my drinking life was – but it also seemed so odd. It never came to anything, it was just us pottering about in the bach waiting for the day to really start and the presence of that shot glass that was definitely mine but that I wasn’t sure what to do with. It was sort of mine and I was going to drink it. Or was I? It wasn’t clear. It was just there.

Oh, it’s not important, it just made me wonder and it stands out because it’s the first time in a long time that I dream about booze.

Beyond this, I’m in a shitty mood today – not brought on by the above dream, by the way – which is rubbish as I have the counselling course and don’t at all feel like I’m in the right frame of mind. We have fishbowls all day today, which means we’re doing observed skills practice and with fellow students acting the client or counsellor. It isn’t something I find easy to do on the best of days mostly because I can’t freaking bear being the centre of attention no matter how low key, but today I really don’t feel ready for it. Over video conference as we’re obviously in the midst of this pandemic still, but whilst that does make the centre of attention thing a little more bearable, it makes it harder in lots of other ways.

Ah well. Face the fear and do it anyway. Do the next right thing. This too shall pass. One day at a time and if today’s a crappy one, tomorrow is still a mystery and I know that no matter what the universe throws my way I can handle it. What’s one little shitty day? It’s just one day. And I’ll face it head on. I won’t run away and I won’t hide either. Bring it!

Today I’m not going to drink.

The Best Bit

819 days sober and the UK is still in lockdown. Victories today are my sobriety, managing to run in the mornings instead of the evenings and writing LOTS. The morning runs was a tip from The Sober Racoon Returns as my sleep has been a bit meh lately. For some reason I don’t seem to have the same energy in the morning, which has always irritated me massively because mornings are freaking MADE for running! But it’s been OK and so I hope this continues and will also see if it has any impact on my sleep. Nothing yet, as I seem to be lying awake for ages before drifting off to sleep, but I shall persevere. It does drive me nuts, because sleep was my first recovery reward and probably the thing I’ve loved the most alongside of course the magic of morning coffee. Maybe it’s just a patch. The world is upside down, after all, and perhaps that’s why my mind takes longer to slow down at bedtime.

Despite the strange times we are living in, life is good on Planet Anna. How could it not be – I’m sober! But even so. Sometimes the days drag a little, but I’m writing like a demon and for the first time it’s not like it used to me any time I approached my dream of writing a book and had to force myself – right now the words are flowing like an unstoppable torrent. Maybe I finally have a story I really want to tell? I revised my target because I’m churning it out at such speed. I initially aimed for 80,000 words as a bit of a goal, but I’m on 50,000 after just over two weeks so have adjusted it to 100,000. Once I get to that, there’ll be plenty to look back over and see what’s missing, what can be scrapped and whether what I have can be whipped into some sort of shape. Whatever happens beyond that isn’t important yet.

No, honestly – I mean it! And I think it’s because suddenly I’m writing like I’m living in recovery: in the moment!

I’m enjoying WRITING. I’m enjoying the journey. I love my little routine these days:

  1. Wake up and not have a hangover – HALLELUJAH! This never gets old!!
  2. Enjoy two or three mugs of glorious, glorious coffee. Heaven.
  3. Go for a run in the park. Bliss!
  4. Shower – AND STAND UP, NOT CROUCH! Fucking awesomeness on a grand scale!
  5. Write for two hours and love the process!

And that’s what I realised yesterday when I revised my target word count and started to wonder “what then?“. I actually felt a little sad at the thought, because it’s the writing of the story that I’m loving. It’s finding the right words and stringing them into sentences to show all the things I want to show, say all the things I’ve thought about, wondered about, mused about and the few answers I may have landed at. It’s the moment I am loving, not where it’ll necessarily lead. And that’s all I need. Tomorrow is still a mystery and I like it that way.

Sure, I’m writing because I hope that maybe one day I can do something with it – it’d be silly to pretend otherwise, but unlike before I’ve in recovery learnt to enjoy the journey as much as I look forward to the destination. Turns out it really is the best bit.

Before recovery, in the dark days of active addiction, life was all about tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do this. Tomorrow I’ll stop. Tomorrow I’ll start [insert whatever failed project here]……..

Recovery is about this moment. It’s all I have. Now. The next right thing, right now.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Hard To Keep Still

Fucking anxiety! Gosh, it really, really pisses me off.

I’m having a hugely productive day, by the way, and thinking about it, it might just be driven by anxiety. Perhaps it’s not an altogether bad thing, although that’s of course how we tend to think of it, isn’t it? Anxiety = BAD. I guess all emotions are there to tell us something, it’s just when they get out of whack it becomes a problem and last night my anxiety was definitely a problem.

Over these past two+ years of recovery, I’ve read tonnes of books about addiction and anything else recovery related I can get my hands on, but at the moment I’m enjoying a succession of standard novels. I read before going to sleep, both because I love reading and also because it slows my mind and gets me sleepy. So there I was, my eyelids increasingly heavy and I turned the light off and snuggled into Hubby’s back, my smaller body fitting perfectly into his larger one like a jigsaw peace. And it took literally all of two damn seconds to realise I was wide awake and would stay that way.

Normally when my mind races with anxiety and I end up like this, it’s self doubt and worry doing the rounds (like: oh my God, I need to do A, B and C and X, Y and Z will go wrong with it) and often mixed in with really random shit (like: I wonder why running is so much better in the evenings even though I prefer mornings and would love to do my runs then). I gave up. I did lie there for a while, trying to remind myself that 1) I’m on top of things, 2) I’m not the world’s most pathetic human being, and 3) things are absolutely fine generally, even under the current, strange circumstances of this Covid-19 world. It didn’t work, so I turned the light on again and read for another hour. By now I was of course aware of my anxiety keeping me under siege so my eyelids remained light and sleepiness elusive. Just after 1am I finally turned the light off and managed to drift off.

Fuck you, anxiety.

This morning I churned out 2,800 words, then spent three hours doing all the homework due for the counselling course. It’s due next week and the particular bit that I was lying awake thinking about is due ON THE MOTHERFUCKING TWENTY-SIXTH OF JUNE. Aren’t you grasping at straws here? I mean, give me something REAL to worry about if you’re going to barge in like that, you annoying fucking thing!

I suppose however annoying this was, I used it to get super organised and have been hard at work all day getting stuff done so now I feel all accomplished and virtuous, but it still pisses me off because sleep is my favourite thing. It was the first, amazing reward of recovery and the one I still hold dearest, honestly – solid, restful sleep that has me waking up refreshed, rested and full of energy. Don’t fucking mess with it, anxiety! I’m furious! But look, I’ve indulged you and been a very good girl getting everything done in the hope that, if you decide to pay me another visit tonight, I’ll have a lot more ammunition to pepper you with, you stupid bitch. GRR. For the time being, I’m going to write this off as an instance where you spurred me on to get stuff done and be a productive writing and studying wizard. You’re not all bad, I’ll therefore have to concede, but please don’t be such a shit again tonight.

Is that a good way to deal with anxiety? I don’t know if it’s ever possible to always conquer it, but if I let it spur me on to keep a good balance and just do stuff I’ve been leaving to the last minute or trying to avoid, surely that’s a good thing so long as it doesn’t turn into some mental cross-addiction where I suddenly find it hard to keep still?

Do you battle with anxiety? A lot or a little? What do you do? What helps?

Right now defiant and pleased and still a bit pissed off but feel like I won this duel. This time.

What remains today is a trip to the supermarket and a long, brisk walk in the park. The sun is out, we’re still in lockdown and generally I’m pretty happy. Hubby and Bambino both with me, so the world is complete even though I’d prefer it if the bonuses were here too, but at least we caught a glimpse of them via Skype last night. Goodness, I can’t WAIT to have them over when the world goes back to normal.

Today I’m not going to drink.