Love and acceptance 

If you follow me on twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been venturing out with a few mum friends I know. Once a month, we go to the little community cinema and catch a film, and then head out for a drink and catch up. Sometimes we grab a bite to eat before hand, and it’s really lovely.

This may sound very usual, and basic socialising, but for me it’s been a big deal. The first time I went, was the first time I ever headed out sober without my husband. It was the first time I walked into a pub alone, in the evening hours. And the first time I went to meet and socialise with friends I was still getting to know, all without the comforting buzzy blanket of alcohol.

**Now, let me be clear and say I only took these steps because I felt confident in the company I was with, where I was going, and I had planned escape routes. Ie, I made it work for me without feeling I was compromising my sobriety, or opening it up to tests or vulnerabilities. Please do not do this if you feel it will be triggering in any way – sobriety first, always. Do what works for you.**

So. I’ve done this a few times, and always have been sure to have a taxi booked home an hour after the film finishes – gives me enough time to join them for a (soft) drink after, and I can leave before another bottle of wine is suggested, or before anyone starts getting a little tipsy.  I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been my monthly moment of sanity with friends. I am me, not mummy. 

And I’ve realised that I’m learning it all again, as a sober person, and it’s tricky at times. I’m learning how to socialise, how to make and instigate conversation, how to just be. I’m not always confident on what to say, or what an appropriate reaction is. Even body language is hard for me to sometimes read and offer appropriately, because I’ve always been too buzzed to really worry or pay attention previously. Or made sure I’m with people way drunker than I, who wouldn’t notice or care whatever I said or did. I feel like a teenager again, all awkward and learning how to navigate social niceties and friendships. Because I care deeply about getting it right; I like these women, I don’t want to cock it up in some way.

Anyway, my main mum friend (whose first name is actually the name of a festive liquor, I shit you not – Alanis would have a field day with that, I’m sure) came over on Friday and it was so great to see her, and have the kids play together. We got chatting and I decided to tell her, shaking and stuttering over my words. Why I don’t drink, why I leave at 10:30 on the dot like Cinderella, why I must seem a bit weird about it all when gently questioned.

She was wonderfully kind, and supportive, and gave me a huge hug. Then said ‘I wish you hadn’t worried about this – it’s not a big deal. We are here for you whenever you need’. It’s not a big deal. Because it isn’t, to anyone that matters. I build it up in my head to be something that’s huge, and a deal breaker (and it IS huge in my world, rightly so) when in reality to her it was as though I’d explained I get bad PMT, or ingrowing  toenails. Because she cares about me, my well being, my happiness, and understands that comes without alcohol – but there is no issue for her at all. It’s a path she will gladly hold my hand as I walk it, and support in any way, but it doesn’t alter her perception of me, or her judgement in choosing me as a friend.

More and more I’m finding that by being open about it, the response is far different to what I anticipated. I’ve people quietly championing my corner, and supporting me by just being alongside me as I trudge on. Never questioning, never judging, just unwaveringly rooting for me. And while they’ll never understand like my recovery angels, they are trying to, and offering what little they can to help. I feel very lucky, and full of gratitude. Sometimes, experiences in recovery have opened my eyes to how beautiful and accepting people can be, and that in itself is a huge blessing.

Re-directed Male

I’ve decided that I spend too long wondering, and pondering on things, rather than doing them. Sometimes, I can actually talk myself out of an idea that could go somewhere, or lead to excitement and I want to stop doing that. The only person who ever holds me back, is me. And I don’t want to just ciastcalong, being a person of inaction because I’ve spent too much time worrying and not enough actually DOING.

So. 

I’ve attempted contact with my estranged father. I think that’s the nicest term to use; I haven’t seen him for over 27 years, and there has been no contact at all throughout that time. 

He was pretty easy to find, and I’ve sat on his address for a while now. Waiting. For what, exactly, I’m not sure. I don’t know much about him, really – my mum has been so careful to never say anything bad about him that I’m almost not sure that the little I do know is entirely true. And he’s not spoken about bunny family (I have always been in contact with his mum, and some of his siblings – he disappeared on them too, and they’ve had the same lack of contact as I have).

I was worried for a while that he might be an addict. For a few reasons, that are (to me) justifiable. And then I worried that the overwhelming silence from anyone I try too speak to about it, about him, is covering something that I should probably know about before I make this step.

And then I thought – fuck it. I’m thirty one years old. A grown up. I’m a mother myself. I don’t need answers, or reasons, or explanations. I don’t need a father figure, or a happy fairytale ending. I don’t feel a part of my life puzzle is missing, or yearn for someone I’ve never had. I don’t feel angry, or hurt, or hopeful (indifferent, is probably an accurate description, though i feel that looks brutally harsh). I have zero expectations, or hopes. 

But I do want to stop wondering if I should make contact every few years or so. I do want to know what’s going on here, so I can explain to my kids when they ask. I’d like to put it to bed, find a resolution and not have it lingering over me. However it pans out, and whatever comes – or not – of this, I’m ok with.

So, the letter (more a note, to be honest about its briefness) is sent. My piece has been played, now the balls in his court. 

Introvert or insular?

I’ve been absent lately. Dipping in and out of social media, and struggling to be really present or social. I have little periods of time like this, and they’re for various reasons. This time, it was a combination of feeling a little blue (and so not really having confidence about what to say, or who to say it to) and also being more mindful of being present in my actual life, here at home. I’ve just been a bit, meh, I think is the best way to put it.

I’ve spoken to some much loved family and friends, and video called my mum and what not, so I haven’t been completely isolating from the world. But I’ve also realised that I’ve not really voluntarily left the house that much either, whether it be alone or with the kids, that I still have no real social movements or friendships close to me and that my world is really quite insular. And, more to the point, that I’m quite content with it. This is my normal now, it seems. 

I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, or how I should really feel about it. But I’ve tried to remember the last times I regularly had plans to do things, or see people, and despite a good eight months of baby/toddler groups with N after we first made the move over this way, I’m struggling to think of any.

I used to be a loner because of (and to help facilitate) my drinking, and because I moved away from an area that I had lots of friends and connections (mainly drinking buddies, but also work friends, various housemates etc). But that was seven years ago and I haven’t really re-built anything solid since then.

People think I’m pleasant enough, I think, and I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly divisive or inflammatory character. But equally, I’m not top (or even middle) of the list when it comes to making plans, or arranging to spend time with. I’m easily forgotten about, and I’m used to that – that’s not a new thing. I know I won’t be alone on feeling like I’m on the outskirts of friendship groups, or feeling I am missing out. 

People might describe me as an extrovert, or confident, but I’m not sure those descriptions really fit. It’s all an effort, and I’m usually anxious and sick at the prospect of going somewhere new on my own. I just grit my teeth and persevere with it. The children help cushion that, and I can focus entirely on them when I feel it’s all getting a bit much, but we aren’t really going to any toddler/baby groups either, as they’re all quite hard to get to. N isn’t at pre-school often enough for me to get to know the regular mums or anything. C doesn’t have a single baby buddy. So this state of affairs isn’t just about me, like everything in my world, it’s about them. 

I don’t know where I’m really going with this, just that I’m not sure if I should embrace my lack of upset over an insular, fairly isolating state of being, or concentrate on changing it. And really, how good and healthy it is for my kids? Maybe I’ll see how things go once I’ve finally passed my driving test at some point this year. Maybe my world will literally open up with new possibilities then. Until then I’ll let go, breathe out and take faith in it will all work out for the best, one way or another.

Out and proud…?

In the past few days, I’ve heard of four people I know with an alcohol problem, or problem drinking. Some I knew about, others I didn’t (and won’t be naming here).

At one point, in my early futile attempts to get sober, or in my early sobriety, I was looking for signs that everyone had as dysfunctional a relationship with alcohol that I had. Whether to justify my having a drink, or to feel less bitter about the fact that they could drink and I couldn’t, I’m not sure. But nonetheless, I was hung up on that for a while.

And now, I hear things that sound the warning bells and flash the red lights and I feel sad. The things I’m relating to are worrying, as it’s the sort of thing I did when I was desperate and drowning. One is drinking again after AA meetings, and laughing his destruction off as ‘over dramatic’ and ‘I still like a party is all’. But I also see him isolating, apologising on Facebook days after a session, and being extremely depressed. Another is adamant they barely drink, but smelling of alcohol at work and getting shaky hands before their scheduled lunch (away from their desk and the office. Returning full of cheer and smelling of slightly less stale booze). One is arranging for their partner to hide several full bottles of wine for her nightly tipple, while discreetly taking the empties, so family and visitors don’t know she is drinking at all. And another has celebrated six months of sobriety, decided it’s boring, and is now trapped back again in the cycle, isolating and portraying that she’s having a blast (I’ve spoken to her prior and I’m not buying the latest twist in her story).

And now, I’m wondering if I should be more open about my own alcoholism and subsequent sobriety. On Facebook (yes, I know) as that’s the only connection to some. I know when I was struggling, I wanted to talk to someone who might understand, but I knew of no one. I felt alone. And yet I read about celebrities sober stories, or rehab stays, or tragic demises due to their drug of choice, with a fever – I am like them. But I don’t know how to start getting well.

I know I can’t help everyone. I know that not everyone who drinks heavily has a problem. And I know that if they do, I can’t really do anything until they can admit to themselves that they have a problem and want to stop. But I feel I should do something, and that being more visible may help that. Maybe they’ll just know that if they need to reach out, they can. Or that I might understand or relate. 

If I do, I’ll need to speak to my family first, and others before, as I’d hate for them to find out via Facebook. I seem to be pondering an awful lot at the moment without actually doing anything about it, I’ve just realised! At least I’m getting it durn here, rather than staying in my head, I guess.

Are you publicly sober? And if so, how did you know it was the right time to go public?

It’s all in the balance…

Life’s all a balancing act, apparently. We all have busy lives, these days, and many balls that we valiantly attempt to juggle while keeping a cheery and positive demeanour. Sound familiar?

But how do you get the balance right? Seriously, I’m asking for tips here. Because most of the time I feel swamped, like I’m drowning, and I can’t even fit in the lifeboat because the kids are throwing a tantrum in there. Everywhere I turn there’s stuff to do, people to look after and who need attention and not enough time to cram it all into.

It’s not all as gloomy as it sounds. Sometimes I have days that I manage more than I could ever have anticipated. So many chores achieved (that’s extra plus the daily mountain), brilliantly fun games with the children, maybe some baking in a (not often) spotless kitchen. I might even squeeze in a shower, or apply make up too. I am woman, hear me roar.

And then, there are days where nothing gets done. Nada, zilch, zip. Intentions are great, execution is piss poor; because both kids have decided to screech for no reason, or the dog is having a bit of a wild day, or despite the fact I’ve spent the whole damn day racing around attempting to get things done, at the end of the day, I’ve achieved nothing. Nada, zilch, zip.

It only takes a few of those days before I feel utterly overwhelmed and defeated. The self doubts set in. I berate myself harshly. Tears are shed, usually irrationally. The days feel like endless gloom, with a bit of bleak tossed in as well. I realise that I haven’t shared my time equally. One of my many loves will have been compromised in the midst of the madness, and the guilt sets in. I’m not doing this right. Maybe I’m not but out to be a mum. They all deserve better than me. Etc.

I find it so difficult when this hits, because I’ve had depression throughout my life and postnatal depression after my son. And I’m never quite sure if I’m back there, and I need help, or whether it’s a rough patch that will pass. Whether it will pass, or get worse. Whether I’ll hit so low I won’t even notice that I’m seriously ill again. And whether medication would even work, as it didn’t last time (on a separate note, sometimes I conveniently forget that drinking on the medication would no doubt have contributed to this and negated much of the needed affect of the drugs. I chose self medication, and not to bleat on about my alcoholism again but that didn’t go so well. Obviously.) 

I think what I need to remember is that every parent has these days too – whether you’re working or stay at home, mum or dad. I don’t think anyone ever warns you of the crippling guilt that is a huge part of parenthood, and how overwhelming it can feel at times. How frustrating it can be to not manage to successfully toilet in peace, let alone tackle the laundry. But I’ll be checking myself, just to make sure that I’m not on a slippery slope. I don’t want to go back there again.

(If you or someone you know have beenaffected  by postnatal depression – or any perinatal depression – there is a twitter support group that runs between 8-9pm GMT to talk. It’s called PND Hour, and you can find it on #PNDHour. Also #pndchat is checked daily if you are struggling at any time, so please reach out. And the wonderful founder is Rosey at @PNDandme. The people in there have saved my sanity on many occasions, so please get involved, it’s a wonderful community.)

I remember it well 

This last fortnight has felt hard, at times. The whole house has been ill with a hideous cold thing, the kids have both had birthdays in the midst of the snot, and we are transitioning a very indignant lady into her cot, as opposed to co-sleeping in our bed. All of which feels harder when you are grumpy, feel rotten and are extremely tired. In recovery, you look for potential triggers that may try to unbalance you, and a common one is H.A.L.T. – hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Which is very apt, and accurate, but pretty much daily life with two small children anyway!

So, I was expecting to find my sobriety tested. It never goes away, you see, the little wicked whisper that wonders if it was really all that bad, you’ve surely proven you haven’t a problem with alcohol because you’ve given it up for 19 months! That alone practically deserves a toast! No need to be over dramatic about these things, it was all fine! The little needling thoughts, that make a point to stab deep, then recede quicker than the wine that used to disappear down my neck. It never fully goes away.

So as I was savouring my first shower alone in about ten days, I started to remind myself of why and when I realised I had an alcohol problem (initially, that’s how I referred to it. That or problem drinking, because, obviously, I wasn’t an alcoholic.) And I thought I’d share here, in the hope that I can always re-read this, or that someone who may be questioning themselves can. As I’ve had a bit more time to think with a clear head about my drinking, I’ve realised that I’d been behaving in alcoholic ways as long as I’ve been drinking – far earlier than it became truly problematic.

So. Obsessing about drinking, and amounts etc was pretty much a normal, daily thought process for me. The time I could open or buy a bottle (or two), and the rules that I adhered to to make sure this was socially acceptable. Remembering which shop I had visited the day before, so I could alternate with the other. How I would justify the need to consume as much as I planned to (good day, bad day, stressful day, celebrating something, date night, commiserating, I needed to unwind, it’s my one vice, I’ve earned this by working so hard, I’m cooking with it and it’s a shame to leave the bottle to sour, it’s a Monday and everyone hates Mondays.. you get the idea. Obviously bullshit, but still to my wine craved mind it was hugely necessary). The rituals and planning that went into my drinking, and the effort taken to justify it is exhausting to think about.

But also, my fevered interest in how other people were drinking, and their habits. Counting units and drinks consumed by others, to make sure I could keep to a ‘normal’ level publicly, but secretly ordering a chaser to drink at the bar, while buying the round. Being genuinely astounded when meeting for a coffee meant meeting for an actual coffee, because surely drinking and socialising went hand in hand?! And then being equally shocked that it was possible to have an enjoyable time without alcohol (but also being careful not to make such sober plans again). Making sure my friends and ex partners were heavy drinkers too, so my behaviour wouldn’t be out of place, or the worst in the room. Being ironically disapproving of people who repeatedly got drunk (ha!) because they obviously must have a problem. But not me, guv. I’ve no problem, because I haven’t what they’ve done. Of course, I then became the person that I was carefully measuring my acceptable drinking yardstick against, and so instead I found an obvious fix – no drinking outside the home. That way I couldn’t embarrass myself in front of anyone, no one would see how much I was actually drinking, and I would know that I’d made it home safely and without incident because I would already be at home! How I congratulated myself with my clever, cunning plan. It never occurred to me to stop drinking. If I had a social engagement, I would be sure to drink enough to keep my buzz, but not any more than that, and console myself that I had a bottle waiting for me at home. 

The angst and jittery feeling I would get if my acceptable time to open a bottle came and went without being able to. The panic of knowing I would usually be a few glasses in, and the rage I would feel at how unjust and unfair it was that I wasn’t. Resentment simmering towards whatever person or situation was depriving me of my intense relationship with Malbec. Having to be careful not to gulp the first glass too fast, despite how much I needed to, because I needed to offer an appearance of ‘normal’ drinking. Or, buying a miniature bottle that I could neck on the way home secretly, but being sure to pour a glass from the acceptable bottle swiftly when I got home so my husband wouldn’t smell my deceit on my breath.

And then, the feeling that however much I drank, it would never be enough, could never be enough. I’ve stayed up late into the night drinking alone, choosing to drunkenly stay in a morose state of drinking cooking wine rather than go to bed with my husband. Feeling depressed, lonely, and sobbing to myself while desperately trying to find someone I could call or Facebook message so I felt less alone. Finding anything that I could drink, and sometimes hiding the evidence (topping up spirits with water, hiding empty bottles, pretending that I’d cooked with the Japanese rice wine). Other times I couldn’t be bothered.

And the cold hand of terror that would grip the following morning as I tried to piece together what I had done, said, who is spoken to. What conversations I’d had. The feeling of despair and utter shame, self loathing. That was worse than any of my many instances of alcohol poisoning. Feeling like I was worthless, with nothing to offer, and then isolating myself from anyone I had spoken to out of sheer embarrrassment. Knowing that I was living a car crash, but unable to climb out of the wreckage.

You might be reading this and wondering how on earth I didn’t realise I was an alcoholic. It’s as obvious as the Sun in the sky. Right? But it’s not that simple. When you’re in an active addiction, your thoughts are not your own. Everything revolves around the next hit, the next binge. You’ll be morose, and promise never to drink again – it has to stop – but know that you’ll be nursing a drink later on. Maybe that week, or month, or day, but either way there will be another drink. Life becomes full of empty bottles, empty words, empty apologies and even emptier actions. You’ll aim to drown these feelings, sink them so far into oblivion that you won’t worry. But of course, that won’t work. Deep down, I knew this wasn’t normal. I would drunkenly assess my swaying self in the mirror, and tell myself that I was nothing more than a worthless alcoholic. That I needed to stop, I was being unfair. And I meant it, at the time – as much as you can mean anything when there’s too much blood in your alcohol stream, that is.

I would fill in alcohol questionnaires on the AA website and then feel resigned at the inevitable outcome. I’d test the waters with my GP, but lie about the amounts. I almost wanted someone to tell me, make the decision for me. Of course I was an alcoholic. And I’d deal with it, I really would, after I’d drank whatever was left in the house. That way, I’d have nothing to tempt me tomorrow. It’s simple maths, and common sense really. 

It’s an exhausting way to live. And yet, the cycle continued, for almost 6 years more before I finally stopped, and got serious. I could go on, but this is already a long post. If anyone reading this is affected by its content, please reach out to someone. There’s support out there, and it gets so much better. I’m always available to help.

Accelerate; brake

At the grand age of 31, I am learning to drive! I first started 18months ago, when pregnant with C (and when I started this sober stretch). It’s been on and off, but I’ve recently started back up again with a new instructor, and have been doing a 2-3 hour lesson a week.

I enjoy it. I love to learn. I love the quiet time. I love the feeling of doing something just for me, away from the house, the kids, the work.

But.

It’s showing me the harder and less favourable sides of my personality too. I’m incredibly frustrated with myself if I make a (what I perceive) to be a silly mistake. I can then get distracted because I’m too busy dwelling on that mistake. I get flustered when I’m embarrassed (from making a mistake). I procrastinate a lot (from changing address on my licence, to booking my tests, to actually revising for said tests). I’m very hard on myself, and will quietly brood about a bad lesson for ages, even if I’ve had some really positive aspects to it.

My last lesson was one such example. Previously, my instructor and I had discussed that if this lesson went well, and I drove consistently, we would be heading to the city in which I’d be taking my test to practice test routes. This is a big deal, as I live in the country and so this signifies a huge step in terms of progress and my driving ability. 

So of course… I stalled, holding up traffic. I rolled back, I attempted some things at the wrong speed, or gear. And then mentally fell apart as I knew I was messing up the basics, which we’ve covered often and I’ve done well at. Needless to say, the decision was taken to delay our city driving (which I completely understand, and appreciate his decisions. I trust his judgement and know I am learning well overall with him). And I was gutted. I haven’t written this before because I was ashamed, embarrassed and disappointed with myself. Ah, self flagellation, we meet again.

Once again, I’m trying to learn from this experience and not get hung up. There’s positives here, and were in my lesson too – my approach and perspective needs to change. Because I

  • Didn’t give up, or throw my toys out of the pram. I continued to try, and owned my errors and reasons why
  • Didn’t get angry, or turn into a spiky, defensive ball
  • Listened to and accepted criticism
  • Actually aced a number of manoeuvres (reverse bay parking, parallel parking, reversing around a corner and 3 point turn)
  • Was honest about my feelings 
  • Booked three lessons in advance, and asked for advice on how to improve
  • Thanked my instructor for his patience, time and honesty, and reiterated that I feel I learn well with his teaching.

These may seem like small things. But it’s a huge leap forwards in terms of how I would have handled it two years ago, in active addiction. So, there is no such thing as a bad lesson, as I’m showing progress each week, even if it’s personal growth rather than driving ability. And I remind myself that each lesson is a step towards a goal that I will achieve, no matter how long it takes me. I’m not giving up.

And it’s the same with life – sometimes you take a step back, or stumble, or take an unexpected turn. Sometimes we go back on ourselves and need to pick ourselves up, refocus, take smaller steps. But that’s ok too, as long as you keep moving. The trip from A to Z might sound easy, but there’s still a whole number of stops and letters as part of that journey.