Love letter to wine 

I never thought we’d be at the point where I’d be writing a letter to you, over two years after our love affair ended. Time has given me a new perspective, I guess, and shown me how strong I can be without you. I thought I needed you by my side always; it turns out I don’t.

In the beginning, our love was pure, fun. You offered me a way to come out of my shell, showed me joy that I thought I was lacking. We had some good times, GREAT times, even. We could hang out with friends together and smugly enjoy the unique relationship we had. We’d stay up all night, laughing and giggling while surrounded by good company. Memories of these nights meant I stayed with you far longer than I should have done. I hoped that we could go back to those days, before it all went toxic and sour. I know now I can never go back.

Because eventually, your hold on me was so strong that my friends were just a distraction from the relationship of you and I. You made sure I was alone. My reliance on you grew, and my obsession with you was all consuming. While initially you had soothed my insecurities, and drowned my fears, soon you allowed them to grow and engulf me. My solution became my biggest problem, and yet I had no idea how to fix it; so I drank it away, and choked back the poison. The fun  had ended long ago. I was trapped in an endless cycle of needing you, wanting you, feverishly devouring every bit of you, only to hate you and hate myself. I feared myself, when I was with you. I feared you, and your grip of control on me.

I tried to break up with you, many times, before it eventually stuck. Each time you whispered in my ear reasons I should stick it out. That I needed you. That no one really understood the good thing we had going. That my life would be awful without you as a crutch. That it really wasn’t as bad as I thought, and one more time for old times sake wouldn’t hurt. At one time, you were my sole confidant, my only friend. You skewed my perspective so much that I didn’t see how fucked up that was. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, you were my only priority and consumed my daily thoughts. I got through the days on autopilot until we could be together again, until I could pour my first glass and feel your warmth envelope me.

I gained unexplained bruises because of you; my face and body changed because of the damage you were doing. More than once I was so physically ill I thought I could die. I lied and stole, cheated and spewed hateful words, that no amount of pretending it didn’t happen would ever take back. My demeanour changed, I grew afraid of everything. The only light at the end of the tunnel was you, despite the fact that you were making my world so small and dark. The Fear you instilled in me still visits sometimes in dreams, and each time I wake, shaking and confused. Terrified. And still, I stayed. Because you were right; I couldn’t handle life without you.

Except I could; I am. And though it took a while to see, I’ve blossomed and grown in leaps now I’ve cut you out of my life. No longer do I hide from the world; I’m like a new flower, stretching to greet the sun. This hasn’t been an easy road, to get here. But the road you wanted me on would have was me to absolute ruin. Of that, I am certain. It was hideous enough, our twisted entanglement, and would only have got worse.

I know I’ve seen a darkness to you that many won’t – they will be able to savour you, and enjoy you for the casual release you are. I realise not all your relationships will be like ours was. But I know also that your grasp will tether others to you, and you will set out to destroy them too. I can see the signs in others, and I hold my breath – for a minute, I am back there myself. I know too well though that they need to see it for what it is themselves; I cannot help with a problem they don’t see. I hope they find the strength to leave you behind too. I hope one day, people can see how I’ve moved on and realise happiness is possible, without you tainting it. That living is so much more than chasing the next buzz, the next drink.

I’m even grateful to you, in a funny way. Despite the misery you brought, you have also blessed my life with wonderful people. They are in recovery from you too, and had we not got to the point we did, I would never have met them. I would never have tried to become a better person. I would not now be so grateful for my life today, or the memories I make and remember. I wouldn’t be present. I wouldn’t have tried to make amends, or admit my wrongs. Gf

So, here we are. I did the typical things one does after a difficult break up – tears were shed, I was angry at the world, I grieved and yearned for you. I even got the post break up haircut. And now, I see I never really needed you. You certainly did not enrich my life. And I don’t now. As fun as it was occasionally, I can proudly say I’m glad i feel I never need you again. Though you still enrich my kitchen, you will never consume my heart.

It’s not you, it’s me. Goodbye.

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Angels

I believe in them. Not the winged creatures that my more religious family members might envision, necessarily. But I believe that sometimes, people are brought into your life at such a time, with such a message or blessing that they surely can’t be anything but. Sometimes the way it happens is so coincidental, or with such unbelievably slim chances that it’s staggering. You were meant to meet them. They were sent to guide you on your path, or shed light. Offer hope. Angels exist, and are out there.

I’m lucky enough to have encountered this a handful of times, and each time they have offered blessings, and huge help. Each time there have been signs that our meeting is bigger than the two of us, strange similarities or links that cannot be ignored. Some have passed by fleetingly, never to be seen again but often felt in my heart and remembered. Others, stay, and you know that your life will never be without them in it. My friend Rachel is one of these, I truly believe.

This week my husband met an angel of his own. The odds of encountering this lady were minuscule; and yet there she was. With everything he needed at a time where he was low and despairing – kindness, expertise and a huge ignition of confidence. She has offered to help further, and I cannot stress what a blessing she has brought. In four hours, she brought a 180° shift to our circumstance. I’m not sure what our immediate future holds, but I know she will be there to guide us through it, as sure as I know the sun will kiss the horizon tomorrow morning.

I doubt she’s aware of her importance, or my angelic belief of her; in my experience, they never do. I’ve wondered if I’ve been an angel to anyone at a time in their life, when they’ve needed hope. I hope so, or that I can one day. 

Be kind to each other, be generous with your love, skills and experience and offer them as a gift to others whenever you are able. Your small contribution could be part of something so much bigger than you imagine; it could restore someone’s faith or love of life. You could offer something life changing , without even knowing it. I believe there’s an angel in all of us. And I will always believe they are among us, if we are open and try to keep a good heart.

Changes

This past week or so has been a doozy. I won’t go into details, but it started with travelling home to visit my sick grandma in hospital to probably say goodbye, to a series of bombshells dropped along the way. None fatal, but definitely life changing; I’m not wounded but very much affected. Every time I regain my balance, another tremor hits.

I know I’m not alone in this, we all face times where we wonder how we’ll get through them, or how much more body blows can the Big Guy deal at once (as I discovered – you can always take one more hit than you think possible) . But cope we do, and muddle through somehow. 

So there’s been lots going on, lots of talking and discussing and life altering decisions made. I tweeted earlier that if I’d had this week a year ago, I’d be drinking on it – and I’ve no doubt I would. I’m not sure I would have felt emotionally ready for some of what’s going on. In fact, if you’d have told me all this would happen six months ago I would probably wondered if it would have made me or broken me entirely. As it turns out, my emotional china has broken, but kissed back together with molten metal; I am forever changed and scarred but stronger for it. How grateful I am to be present and able to process, to trust my instinct more. For the gift of acceptance.

Instead, I feel calm. At peace with the situations – they is what they are, what will be, will be. If I can affect something I can act, otherwise it’s out of my control. It’s been a revelation to know I can just hand it over, and trust that I’ve actually been bestowed a gift, an opportunity, I just need to refocus a little to see it. This path is mine, ours, and it’s got rocky and treacherous before but I’m still here hiking, even if my breath is jagged.

And I’m resolved. I’m not sure where it’s come from, but a determination of steel has become my armour that I gather around myself and my family. I can’t describe it anymore than this – I know it will be ok. I know this is the right path, somehow. I know that we will be fine, and this is leading somewhere better. I don’t have 100% faith in many things, but I absolutely believe in my husband and I. Like the strong women in my family, we get shit done. And as long as we have all each other, and our health, we will figure everything else out. What I have under this roof is a blessing – a house full of love. And love always wins.

Recovering

I’ve talked here briefly about how I’ve had a difficult time recently, with anxiety and depression. It’s caused set backs, and difficulties, and I lost quite a lot of weight (when I didn’t really need to). I spoke to my doctor a few times and we’ve sorted out medication, and tweaked a few other things too.

After a few stops and starts, I’m in the process of healing, rather that just licking my wounds. I can tell I’m getting better! I cannot express how relieved I am to write those words. I think if you’ve experienced mental illness repeatedly, you always doubt if you will get better from each episode. Or if each new bout is just a new normal, and that your personality has forever been changed since the last bout. 

I feel better than I have in a long time. I’m not bouncing out of bed, or singing with the birds or anything. I’m still anxious at times, and have moments of bleakness or irritability. Who isn’t, right? But I’m excited about things, things that I thought I’d maybe never enjoy again.

I’m writing again, for a start. It’s not life changing, or ever going to be a career for me but I enjoy doing it. I’m thinking of starting fiction again, and maybe poetry too. I used to love those too, a lifetime ago. And I think I should give it a go again.

I’m motivated. I’ve cleaned, scrubbed, sorted and organised, and been more productive in the last few weeks than I probably have the last few years. And my god I feel better for it! I’m taking pride in keeping things tidy, of being organised. While I’ll never be thrilled at the prospect of housework, I’m cracking on and doing it – and more so than just the basics. We are even talking about doing some minor redecoration and I’m so excited – the thought alone of the change, effort and mess involved would have had me reeling.

And I’m back in my little kitchen again. I love to cook, usually. Feeding people and making them happy is a great feeling; pottering about trying new things was my happy place. I love watching cookery programmes, reading recipes, browsing spices and new ingredients to me. Until this latest bout, where I lost all enthusiasm for food – I couldn’t bring myself to eat, or keep food down I was so anxious. So the fact I’m cooking, and eating again means I’m definitely doing better. I haven’t put much weight back on, but I’m a little softer around the edges and eating in a healthy way.

I guess the main thing is that I feel able to do things again. For a while, everything felt so overwhelming that I thought I was suffocating. Even doing nothing felt impossibly hard, and going through the motions of life was all I could manage, in an anxious, panicked robotic motion. I couldn’t relax, or take pleasure in anything; I’m so thrilled now to be finding snippets of joy, no matter how small the pieces. And because I’m not choking on the tiniest of things, I’m able to be more productive with my days than I think I ever have been (it’s difficult to know whether I’ve always had underlying anxiety, or was just drunk/hungover. Could be both, neither or none. The main thing is I’m not like that today).

Dare I say, I’m even smiling at my bad days, or dips in mood, because for the first time in a bloody long time I can feel confident that it’s JUST A BAD DAY. And it will lift, and get easier. A bad day doesn’t make a bad life – seems to obvious but impossible to see when you’re stuck in the mire.

The only thing to be anxious about now is how I’ll be when I come off this medication… I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and just enjoy today instead. 

A Better Day

I’ll forgive you for choking on your tea when you realise this is a happy post. I know, right?! Yes, you are on the right blog. I think because I found it hard to see any joy for such a long time, that I’m overwhelmed with it today. I almost want to bottle it up, and keep it forever.

Today has just been a good day. Even at times when it felt incredibly stressful (that’s what two toddlers will do to you), we had a lovely day and did lovely things.

We went into town so I could pick my prescription up. And N chatted to me the whole time, explaining what he could see and giving me his tiny perspective on important things such as ‘rice really should be a vegetable or fruit mummy, if it comes from a plant’. And even though his incessant babble can sometimes be wearing, today I thought – how amazing is this? We can communicate, he can tell jokes, he can point out the things he loves to me, so I can share in his joy. He gets excitement from seeing a bumblebee, and I’m the first person he wants to show, and talk to me about it. And that’s a beautiful thing.

C has also been chatting away, blowing kisses to strangers and then very seriously waving and telling them ‘bye bye’. And it hit me how grown she is already, and how brave, charming and forward she is. Some of the qualities that drive me crazy (diva like attitude, death defying climbing, her insistence on escaping and determination to do EVERYTHING herself) will really take her far in life. She’s been signing to me that she loves me, and daddy, and she’s such a loving little thing that it’s hard to remember she was such a difficult baby who screeched if my poor husband dared to look at her. She learned some new signs today (makaton sign language) and she was so thrilled to do them, her joy was infectious. I don’t know which of us beamed the hardest.

We did some shopping, and N put everything in my basket, and helped me scan the items at the till very helpfully. I had comments about how lovely he was, and kind. And how happy C was. I saw them today as others see them – brilliant, loving and intelligent cherubs. I loved it.

We bought N some books and he proudly read them to his friend who runs the bookshop (they are truly lovely there). We had a chat and a biscuit with her, and he even used the staff toilet (no accidents! Still! And we were out for three hours!). And she touched my arm and said ‘you do wonderfully, look at how fantastic your children are’ and for a second I wanted to hug her. Because I must be doing ok, because they are kind, and loving, and fantastic.

As we ate strawberries on the railway bridge, waiting for a (late) train to spot, N counted the passengers and pigeons. C guzzled her strawberries and rubbed the mushy remains in her hair, making him laugh (‘look at that troublemaker!’). The train came, and he was beside himself with excitement, mimicking the sounds and waving enthusiastically to it. I felt his sticky little hand slip into mine as he said ‘I love you mummy. Today has been a wonderful day, with you here’. And you know what; he was right.

Recipe – Strawberry and Orange Oat Muffins

These are so easy to make, and because they have oats and fruit in, I can kid myself they’re healthy (as well as delicious). You can adapt this easily too – I’ve added lime zest before, used mixed berries (pictured), apricots or even pineapple. You could even do kiwi and mint if you fancied something a little different. Once you’ve cracked the basic recipe, you’ll have fun experimenting. You can use frozen fruit, no need to defrost, but make sure it’s chopped. Again I make my own buttermilk with full fat milk and lemon juice.

1) Pre-heat your oven to 200°c (180°c if fan assisted). Line deep muffin tins with paper cases – this should make 12.

2) Add 2.5 teaspoons of lemon juice to 175ml of full fat milk, stir and set aside to curdle into your buttermilk.

3) In a large bowl, add 50g porridge oats, 100g of plain flour, 3 tablespoons of ground almonds, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, a good pinch of ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Fork through to mix.

4) Once your milk has curdled, add one egg, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and the juice of a large orange (make sure you finely grate this before juicing and set the zest aside – you’ll need it in a second!). Whisk with a fork to combine.

5) Whisk together 75g soft brown sugar, the zest of a large orange and 100ml of rapeseed oil (canola oil) in a bowl with the jug of wet ingredients above.

6) Make a well in your bowl of dry ingredients and add the jug of wet mix, and 150g of chopped strawberries (or chosen fruit). Stir until just combined.

7) Divide your finished mixture evenly into your muffin cases. Bake in the centre of the oven for 18-20 minutes (I would check from 16 minutes as ovens vary – if a toothpick comes out clean when it’s inserted in the centre of the muffin, they’re ready).

8) Leave to cool in the tin and enjoy!

To the struggling drinkers…

I see you. I know that you try to hide it but I understand the anguish underneath your front. You’re not alone in this. You are never alone in this. This is written as I remember the times that I’ve found hardest, and so directed at no one in particular – though if it helps, I’m glad.

To the drinker trying to figure out if they have a problem, or are having a hard time – hi, I see you there. Things are tough, and self medicating, or hiding,  with alcohol might feel like the answer. I can’t tell you if you’ve a problem or not, but I can tell you I’m here to listen, if ever you need. Only you can decide that. I can tell you that generally, if you are considering if you’re drinking is a problem it probably is. I can tell you that it will start to get better, if you open your heart and share what’s on your mind. You are not alone.

To the person hungover, or going through withdrawal. Hi, I see you. My heart goes out to you – this can be the worse feeling in the world. I want you to know that support is out there, please use it. That shaking feeling, the sweats, The Fear, the craving already hitting even as you’re vomiting up the drinks of yesterday – I understand. I’ve been there. You are worth getting better, you are worth recovery. You are not alone.

To the person who has recently relapsed – hi. I see you. You haven’t let anyone down, this is a fight for survival against a powerful and cunning disease. It’s ok. You can still do this. Let me help you now the paths got tough – we aren’t meant to hike this trek alone. Reach out, talk to me, hit a meeting. Don’t be angry at yourself – your previous sober count isn’t wasted. This is so fucking tough, but pick yourself up and let’s get on track again. Forgive yourself, and move on – don’t dwell on it. I believe you can do this, even if you don’t believe in yourself right now. You are not alone.

To the person in long term recovery, wondering what their role in life, recovery and the universe is – hi. I see you. This journey is still challenging, no matter how many years in and when the ‘recovery’ medals shine has maybe dimmed. Some things get easier, some get harder. I can tell you your voice still matters – your story is powerful and the wisdom you’ve figured out on the way here is invaluable. Your contribution is huge, and you are helping others just by being here. You will inspire so many without knowing, and I’m proud of you, and to know you. Life is still tough, but look at how far you’ve come in dealing with it! Amazing. It will get easier and the hard times will pass. You are not alone.

To the person who is hiding a slip, or relapse, in fear. Hi, I see you there. You’ve nothing to fear, this is a judgement free zone. We’ve all made mistakes, and this illness is powerful – for some relapse is part of the journey. Remember you need to be open and honest to be authentic, and for us to help you through this time. My heart is open to you. You are not alone.

To the person who is testing how the word ‘alcoholic’ tastes in your mouth – hi, I see you. It might seem bitter to swallow now but I promise it is so much better than any alcohol you’ve drowned in before. This acceptance could be the first day of your best life, if you want. I know how terrifying, and overwhelming this feels. I know the thought alone makes you want to grab a drink. I know you wonder how you could ever enjoy life sober. You can, you can do this, and I’m here for whenever you need. You are not alone.

To the person who knows they desperately need to stop drinking, but doesn’t feel ready. Hi, I see you there. I can’t decide when the party stops for you – but at some point every drinker takes their last drink. I hope to God yours is because you’ve chosen to stop. Just do one thing for me, please – write down the five worst experiences that you’ve had due to drink. Sometimes this is frightening enough to realise we have crashed to our bottom but have been numb to the impact. You are not alone.

To the person doubting the sincerity of those in recovery – hi, I see you there. This might feel a little bit ‘much’ at times, and the phrases used might seem alien. But I can promise you that the kindness offered is meant – because the people that offer it have been in your position too. And it left such a healing on their hearts that they desperately want to pass it on, and help someone they recognise the pain in. You might feel no one understands, but trust me when I say these people do. Listen to the feelings, and the relatable parts. If you listen, it can help you. You are not alone.

To the person approaching a sober milestone but feeling flat and deflated – I see you. Birthdays are tough, and a complete head fuck at times. It’s ok to find them hard. Do what you need to to get through them, and know that I’m proud of you for doing that. You are valued, and doing amazing things. If it’s too tough remember, it’s just one day – and you can get through another. You are not alone.

There are so many more stories, and people, and experiences that I can’t begin to share. I’ve been most of these people, at one time or another, and so I get it. No matter what stage of drinking, or recovery you are, it can feel impossibly tough. Wherever you are at, remember it’s always a ‘we’ thing. We need you, you need us and together we help each other along. If you need help or support, reach out. If you think a member of our team might be struggling, reach out to them first. Check in with one another. Because without each other, we’ve got nothing to keep us on this road.