Does sober = sombre?

I admit it – this was my thinking initially. People who were sober, or simply not drinking, were a mystery to me. And obviously, they must be dull. What kind of life would they lead?! Drinking was a warm cushion to celebrate with, gossip over, dance the night away with, commiserate to. Most pinnacle moments or emotions involved at least a drink or two. Alcohol made me happy, confident and there was no better feeling than a warm buzz. 

Until, suddenly, it wasn’t anymore. And the sweet intoxicating nectar became a poison, meaning my nights now involved black outs, tears, many an ugly scene and words spat that could never be unsaid. Vomit, piss, tears, a mess of bodily fluids. I was tumbling down the rabbit hole, and so deep I couldn’t see the way out. I knew I’d fall further, but I didn’t know how far away my rock bottom was.

While I was in active addiction, people who could go about their daily lives without needing to drink were perplexing to me. An absolute mystery. And in early sobriety, perhaps more so. I hadn’t realised the full extent of its hold over me, it realised that my perception of alcohol and drinking was beyond warped. How could people go to a bar and order a lime and soda so naturally? How could people be thrilled to meet and chat over coffee, rather than wine? How did people not drink at least a bottle of wine with their meal at a restaurant?! These things were infathamable to me. I had more chance of understanding quantum physics, than the sort of thought process these dullards had.

Today, I’m happy to not drink, and know what situations I can handle and which ones I need to avoid. I barely think of it, and I can socialise with relative confidence (with a sober plan in case I struggle of course). I realise that obsessing over alcohol – whether it be the time to drink, the units measured, or how to limit my drinking to appear ‘normal’ – is not a usual way to look at life. And that waking with a daily hangover and hazy recollections of every evening is not the ideal lifestyle of a normal drinker either.

But in early sobriety too, I figured that once I had figured my sobriety out (physical and emotional) that life would be a sea of calm and I would instinctively know how to handle its difficulties, because, you know, serenity. I would glide through antagonising situations with a beatific smile on my face, and graciously always be the better person. I would instinctively know the right way to be, say, behave, even when provoked.

HA!

Nope. Life is still hard, I can still be an unreasonable twat, and my shit still stinks. Today has been a truly testing day, aemotional rollercoaster of manipulation and I still barely know how to hold myself. I lack the instinct to do the right thing, and sometimes do a) the worst thing because I’ve focussed on the wrong side of a problem or b) nothing at all, which can sometimes be worse than a bad reaction.

I guess what I’m trying to say is – sober is not sombre, but it’s also not always rainbows or butterflies. And it’s not supposed to be, because that’s LIFE. Everyone faces challenges, adversity and hideous situations at times, as well as moments of heart stopping moments of joy, where your cheeks hurt from how wide you’re smiling. If you get sober expecting to see miracles after, you need to remember that the gift of sobriety is your miracle. 

Am I a better person now, overall? I think so. I have better relationships now, and my priorities are obviously shifted back to where they always should have been. I can be relied upon, generally, and I’m less of a flake. I’m more honest and open. 

But life is still a struggle at times, as it is for us all, addicts or not. I’m just glad that today, I won’t use this tough day as a reason to justify a drink. 

Two years of sobriety, three of friendship.

A lot can happen in two years, and it feels like everything in my life has changed for the better since I quit drinking (for the countless time) two years ago. On 29th June, I celebrated two years of continuous sobriety. And I am so overwhelmed as I type that, I don’t even know where to begin. So I want to talk about the way a person can make such an impact on your life, you know that you are forever changed. This is why I will always try to pay it forwards.

I first admitted to someone (other than my drunken rejection in a mirror, that is) that I was an alcoholic, in May 2014. Just after Peaches Geldof was found dead, of a suspected but unconfirmed overdose. By chance, I chatted to a stranger on Twitter, who supported my unpopular viewpoint that someone cannot just escape the cruel crutch of addiction because they happen to have become a mother. My son was four months old, so I related to it on a personal level – my drinking was getting out of hand. We chatted privately, and shared stories – she was recently sober, I knew I had to be. I envied her strength, and her emotional maturity. She was smart, kind, and unbelievable empathetic and understanding. I wanted to be her; I wanted what she had worked so hard to already achieve.

I joined sober twitter, found the recovery posse. But slipped and slid into the bottom of numerous wine bottles, many times. At first I admitted relapses, then I pretended I was still sober, before disappearing altogether. I couldn’t stay in the circle, as much as they loved and welcomed me each time. I felt shit, and like I would never be able to do as they did, enjoy life sober, be a better person. I even mentally mocked some of their sage advice and wisdom – if I told myself it was all a bit hippy and insincere, I could justify my drinking more. I was lost, bitter and twisted with jealousy – so better pour another drink, to drown out my voices of self loathing.

Meanwhile, my new twitter stranger had become a friend. She remained supportive, and offered advice and love. Encouraged me, but offered some much needed hard truths. We exchanged numbers, though I didn’t ever think I would use it. After all, I didn’t NEED anyone to stop me drinking, I could regulate, right? Wrong. She continued to check in, even when I isolated myself into hiding. I don’t think she has ever once given up on me, or judged me for my many wrongs.

So. That night, two years ago. I was newly pregnant, and had found a way to justify a drink – just a small one, mind. My husband was away fishing, so he would never know. But I couldn’t stop. I was feverish with want for more drink, even after wasting myself on my late father in laws whiskey. I sobbed, full of self pity and remorse, and all manner of ills. I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I was petrified, I’d majorly fucked up and I would again if I didn’t take a step.

I called my twitter friend, and finally did the one thing she’d always reassured me I could – I reached out. In tears, drunk, slurring and snotting. And she listened, and reassured, and chatted to me for four hours, into the early hours – despite my probably not making sense. She offered her story, and shared her experience and I hung on to every relatable word. Without a second thought, she happily offered four hours of her time. Despite the fact that I was on such a fast train to relapse, so she knew that there was every chance I would still continue to drink. Despite she had to get up super early to drop her young son to school. Despite not being well herself, and desperately needing to rest. She promised to call the next day, and when we finally ended the call I cried again – but from sheer relief and gratitude.

She called, as promised, and sympathised with how rotten I was feeling (I hope you will never experience the horror of hangovers and morning sickness combined. It feels as repugnant as it is morally). She’d looked up AA meetings close to me, told me times. She listened patiently to my excuses and just said ‘you said yourself – what you are doing isn’t working. You need to try. Please.’ And I did. Partly because I knew she was right, and partly because I couldn’t bear the thought of letting her down, after all her kindness. I wanted to be like her.

The AA meetings didn’t stick (more on that another time), but my commitment to sobriety did. I read books, blogs, engaged fully and truthfully in the sober community. I listened to shares on YouTube, podcasts. Anything related to alcoholism, and recovery, oI immersed myself in. My friend sent books she thought I might like, complete with her own careful notes jotted inside. She sent cards to let me know she was thinking of me. She continued to support me, check in. And our friendship became more even as I became more sober – I could offer back kindness as she encountered tough times too. I can honestly say that I can’t think of a single time since I’ve known her where I haven’t spoke to her about anything going on with me – even an insignificant trifle (as we know they can sometimes leave the biggest ripples if we dwell on them).

I’ve said before that this lady saved my life that night – and I truly believe she did. I believe we were supposed to meet, as fiercely as I know she believes in me. We have many things in common, and strange coincidences (one being that her literal birthday is the day after my own). The friendship we have made, and the truths we have shared are of the most precious things I have.

So, what happened to this lady, you might ask? We are still close, and I treasure her. We’ve still never met in person, though I believe that will change one day. We talk a few times a week in the phone, and have helped each other out in numerous ways over our friendship together. I am not exaggerating when I say I consider her one of my best friends, and that our bond will always be something I will cherish. And two days ago, she gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received, a coin whose significance might not be realised unless you just know – a coin that I have smothered in happy, grateful and heartfelt tears – her own two year sobriety chip. 

Thank you. Thank you. Xxx

Hello darkness, my old friend…

It’s been a while, I know. I haven’t been well, and so I’ve been focussing on trying to get better and work my way through the ‘blah’. I struggle with depression (general and post natal) and anxiety, and it’s been giving me a kicking lately. I’ll be fine (I’ve survived my worst days, after all) but it’s an uphill battle some days. I have medication and action plans in place, and support systems a-go-go, so I’m hoping that the future will be less bleak. Anyhoo. Not the most uplifting start, is it?! 

I’ve wanted to write, but simply haven’t. Haven’t been able. Haven’t had the words, the focus, the commitment. I’ve abandoned posts after starting, because I know that a) it’s not really been that good and b) I couldn’t care less. I find it difficult to just ‘be’ in these times, let alone gain enjoyment or pleasure (I don’t even know what I enjoy anymore). So I gave up the half hearted attempts in the hope it would come.  Or that I’d at least stop worrying about it.

And then so much has happened, so many awful and heartbreaking things that any writing I considered seemed so silly and insignificant. My stuff is tiny, and I have faith in time that it will be better. That I will be better. While I’m trying to rebuild my world, I know some are facing things that are inconceivably hard, unfair,  heartbreaking, and feel that their world is crumbling around them. And again, I have no words.

I’d love to be able to wave a magic wand and make everything ok. To help pick the pieces up for people, to lighten their load and suffering. But sometimes it’s impossible because there is nothing you can do to make it better. It simply is that shit, and life can be very cruel. Just existing in this world is exhausting sometimes, and extremely difficult. 
The only thing I can think to do, is to pray for those hurting, show love and kindness. To be there when needed, and to try and let others know that I’m thinking of them during a terrible time for them. It’s not much, but it’s all I can think to do. And if everyone in the world did that, maybe it would be a better place. And to those that I know are having a hard time, know that I carry you and yours in my heart, always.

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?