Drinking Doesn’t Just Happen

“That. Is. Ok….I’m thinking about booze a lot….So what?”

Lock down life is ticking along. I realise considering I’m, you know, ‘writing a blog’ I should be more descriptive but there is literally no other way to describe it for me right now. It’s not particularly good, it’s not particularly bad…it’s ticking along. I’m lucky enough to have had the new life experiences of being in a new city and this for sure has broken some of the endless feeling of ‘just existing’. I’m grateful that I chose this time to move despite it’s challenges.

The high from moving to a new city and living alone is far from over, it still makes me happy everyday, but there is a gentle lapping dread deep down that I feel like I can’t ignore. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been giving it a pretty good shot and succeeding for the most part. Pushing it down with coffee and crime shows has been a welcome distraction. I’m pretty good at avoiding potential problems. In fact I’m pretty damn good at ignoring glaring problems too, *que nods from anyone who’s had a drinking problem*. I’m determined to let that shit go as it’s nothing if not toxic but it’s process. Turns out eating nachos and watching YouTube videos of cats is not an antidote to unexplained existential dread…it’s a great distraction though. Getting things out, however hard it is for me to do, is one of the few things that helps when my thoughts are creeping. I need to make sure that I’m the one in control and sometimes that means…I have to…”talk it over”…*gags*.

I was trying to figure out the uneasiness rising over the last week or so and then I remembered that absolutely everything had changed. Literally every single thing in my life has completely and utterly changed. So I’m thinking it’s probably quite normal to feel unsettled and weird and that’s not even factoring in staying sober. You’d think I would have considered this, I know you really would, but nope just went straight for the “I’m probably just losing my mind” train. I’ve moved away to a new city, I’m living alone for the first time, away from my support network, adjusting to huge changes, anxious for the future, nervous about the pandemic and trying to establish myself as competent in a new high pressure job. And….being honest….I have been thinking about drinking a lot. It’s been on my mind and it makes me feel so much more unsettled than any of the other stuff. Little thoughts here and there. Sometimes even little fantasies, but mostly just intrusive thoughts at strange times of day. They seem at random, I doubt they are, but the point is they are there.

Then I remembered.

That. Is. Ok….I’m thinking about booze a lot….So what?

Two things get me through when the thoughts start creeping in….you know the ones. “Well it a new city and new friends…they might not think you’re fun?” or “You’re seriously never going to sip a nice whiskey again?”. Now this bastard of a thought has been particularly prevalent. Hot take: alcohol free whiskey…NOT A THING! I’m tangent-ing again aren’t I.

Two things that I remind myself of all the time:

1.) A thought can’t make me do anything and..

2.) Drinking doesn’t just happen.

It used to really feel like it just happened, my god did it feel like that, but I now look back and I know that was because I had no control of my drinking whatsoever. I just took the steering wheel and passed it to alcohol, too drunk to care if we crashed. It doesn’t just happen. I don’t think about drinking and all of a sudden there’s a glass of Merlot in my hand, there are so many small decisions and actions from thinking “I’m going to have a drink” and then actually having the drink in my hand and drinking it. So much of this process for me has been taking myself off autopilot. Wrenching the steering wheel back and putting on the fucking breaks.

I am thinking about drinking a lot. I don’t like that I think because it scares me, the thought of starting drinking again. I just keep reminding myself that being scared that I’m going to drink says a lot about how much I want to be sober, and I choose that.

Drinking doesn’t just happen, these thoughts don’t mean I’m going to drink, and I know from going through this that I don’t fucking want to. Not even a little bit. I choose nachos, cat videos and existential dread, with both hands firmly on the steering wheel.

Change Inspires Change

“I was able to keep going, gloss over things and anesthetize myself, but whenever I stood still I wanted to pull my skin off. I was completely unable to be still.”

I’ve been quiet recently in the blogosphere but for good reason as I’ve been focusing on creating what is, essentially, an entirely new existence. House moves are in the top three most stressful life experiences, up there with changing jobs and break ups. Annnd I’m changing jobs too…just to spice things up a bit more. Why have a stress level of 8/10 when you can have a 10. Of all the things I have kept from my messed up relationship with alcohol being very “all or nothing” is, for sure, the number one character trait that effects me day to day. It is, however, significantly more productive these days. The lockdown does mean that I’m basically eating cookie dough and watching Netflix in my pants in new surroundings so it’s not completely the ‘life overhaul’ I was promised…but the potential is palpable.

I’m living alone for the first time in my life after spending the last 8 years in shared houses, living in one room for most of lockdown, and it is fast becoming second, after quitting drinking, for best life decision I have ever made. I pee with the door open. I walked around naked (for the grand total of 45 minutes as it is really not warm here and losing a nipple will probably hurt my dating game). I have a whole fridge and freezer to myself. This may not seem like a big deal but I do not miss playing ‘food Tetris’, as I would call it, trying to get a weeks worth of shopping on my one shelf in the shared fridge. I can walk around in the middle of the night….I mean I don’t because you know…monsters…but I CAN. I decide if I’m hot or cold and have free range of the thermostat. This has been great as in my last shared house I lived with people who had primarily lived in hot countries previously meaning ’30 degrees’ was standard and I spent a lot of time feeling like jerky. I sleep, eat, relax and work in different rooms and this has probably been the biggest change that has helped my mental health. Having a bedroom that is just for sleeping has improved my sleep problems noticeably and immediately, something that years of specialists, acupuncture, and sticking lavender in every orifice couldn’t touch.

It’s a weird time for such huge change given the global pandemic and the intense restrictions we currently live under here in the UK. The lockdown was originally a fantastic reason to be a big ol’ scaredy-cat when it came to moving away from everything I knew. BUT. It’s ended up being the perfect time to move, in so many ways. Before I moved I was not seeing my friends or family, not able to go out and socialise, adventures on pause and sitting around trying to figure out if a 10pm chocolate gateau is in fact essential shopping (defiantly is). To be totally honest none of that has really changed but, by moving, it at least feels in some way like life is moving forward which is so important generally but especially essential in sobriety. Getting sober for me is freeing, creates new adventures and gives me the ability to be present and enjoy new experiences more, however, in these weird times I’ve found I’ve had to get creative in finding new adventures. Perhaps moving across the country is a tad on the dramatic side…that “all or nothing” business springs to mind again.

I’ve read so many times that change inspires change and I feel like I’m living that right now. Quitting drinking made me acutely aware of the things I wanted and the things I didn’t, the things I loved about my life and the things that felt like they no longer fit. Deciding to move and doing it probably would never have happened if I was still drinking. I’m just going to say the thing you’re not supposed to say as a sober person, but it was way easier to think that I was happy before I quit drinking. But it wasn’t real. I was able to keep going, gloss over things and anesthetize myself, but whenever I stood still I wanted to pull my skin off. I was completely unable to be still. There is a peacefulness to being sober that creates this ‘head space’ thing every one used to talk about.

“Headspace and Gateau” is pretty much the tag line of a sober lock down for me….great album name…watch this space!

Sober Musings: I Suck At Goodbyes

“When you reach out to people, celebrate them for being exactly who they are, you stitch yourself into the fabric of people’s lives.”

So I’ve been a bit radio silence these last few weeks. I’d like to pretend it’s because I’ve been busy with an interesting life or working on world hunger. But I’ve mostly been mainlining pringles and watching Ru Pauls Drag Race. Both pillars of a happy lock down life for me don’t get me wrong, but hardly the actions of a ‘deep thinker’.

I’ve noticed at times with this blog I stumble and struggle to write, not because I don’t have anything to say but because I’m waiting for an event. Waiting for something life changing, meaningful or a milestone that is outwardly significant. But, lately in these weird lock down times I’ve come the realisation this process is so new and strange that everyday is in some way significant. Plus it’s pretty difficult to ‘try’ and be profound that’s how you end up with Trump *shudder*.

And so “Sober Musings” is born. Those weird and wonderful thought processes that I’m now sober enough to contemplate and, sometimes, conclude about. These thoughts do primarily just tap dance around my head like a burlesque dancer on speed but, perhaps, writing them out might help her to calm the fuck down.

This week is, as it happens, IS a big event. I’m moving away from the small town that has been my home for nearly nine years. It’s been my home through uni, new jobs, getting sober (the first, second and third time) and just the whirlwind of bad and good decisions that has been my twenties. It’s full of memories and friends that have become family. I’m swapping this for an anonymous big city, full of new adventures, new people and new opportunities. Naturally I’m really excited in a “what the fuck have I done” kind of way. I keep swinging from excited to overwhelming regret to physical anxiety and it was really worrying me but when you add it up into a simple formulae it’s hardly surprising….

First year sober x Global pandemic % “Hey let’s move to a place where I don’t know anyone” + New job and new team =

…..I really don’t help myself sometimes. But I sure know how to keep things interesting!

With the world as it is I couldn’t have a leaving party or even say goodbye face to face to some of the people I love the most in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are much bigger and more pressing issues in the world, but it’s all relative and for me that has probably been the worst bit of this whole thing. It feels a little like I’m just disappearing and I have a deep anxiety of losing friends I never thought I would. This week I’ve been contemplating how I’ll be remembered when I’m gone…which then spiralled into how I’ll be remembered when I’m actually like GONE gone. I know it’s a doozy. It used to terrify me. I would feel panicked that I wasn’t remarkable. It’s one of the reasons I always make a point of reading plaques and names on benches. Something I only noticed about myself recently. They matter to me, I feel I some how owe them my time. I feel both sad and touched in equal measure that the words are someone’s mark, a nod to a life.

It’s hard to be honest about but I think in a desperate attempt to feel like I was valid in the world there was always a selfish factor to my good deeds before. Charity and kind gestures that are so “instagramable”. Posting philanthropy on Facebook and watching the likes roll in. I used to think this came from a place of self-indulgence but having this headspace has made me realise it’s more likely a deep insecurity. I used to have a real need to ‘matter’, to influence and to ‘leave a mark’. Not bad things in themselves but often wildly misplaced in my weird brain. I so wanted and needed to be seen as a good person I would cling to big gestures and forget about the place it matters most.

The truth is that being a good friend means you’re always remembered, something I’m clinging onto for dear life as I move away from people I love so much. When you reach out to people, celebrate them for being exactly who they are, you stitch yourself into the fabric of people’s lives. Maybe being remembered by few as someone who made their life a lot better is, in many ways, more meaningful than being recognised by many. Hardly ground-breaking stuff but it’s one of the many things I understand better with out the blur of the booze.

I feel like now I do really like who I am while, at the same time, while getting comfortable that it’s unlikely I will change the world in any large way. Focusing instead on a little closer to home. The ripple effect of being sober changes so many things, but the thing I notice and enjoy the most is the fact I’m so much more aware of others who are close to me. It’s made me a better friend and allowed me to put my own shit to one side from time to time to show people how much they actually mean to me. I like making people smile, making people feel listened to and I feel in these last seven months I’ve taken than from external to internal. It’s not perfect, nothing is, and I don’t get it right all of the time but I know I’m a little closer than I was 7 months ago. I’m taking that as a win.

I really do suck at goodbyes so I don’t intend to say any. It’s only goodbye if you decide it is. It will be a new city and new memories, and when this weird world allows, people who feel like home. That’s the shit that matters.

I’m Alcohol Free…Pass the Brie!

“Merry Christmas to all.
May it be full of love in it’s many forms… mine will take the form of brie!”

It’s that time. The C Word. Not the bad one. Well that depends who you ask. Snowflake stickers are peeling in shop windows. That sexy M&S bitch is whispering over slow pouring gravy. Cheese is suddenly on special offer and, if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of various fruits being soaked in booze in preparation. It’s time.

I love Christmas. I honestly think it’s a bit magic. I’ve been lucky enough to be warm, fed and loved at Christmas time in my life and it’s something I don’t take for granted. I could understand someone less fortunate having a very different outlook on the whole thing. That said Christmas seems to have one thing in common whether you live in number 10 downing street or at a number 10 bus stop. The entire nation appears to wake up and starts drinking at 11:00 in the morning.

The new Tier 4 for some, and the shortened festivities for all, take this Christmas pressure up to a solid 324/10 and I think everyone is confused, anxious and frustrated. Not the most festive of feelings for the world right now and for many drinking to forget will be common place. Alongside the normal drinking to celebrate and, to be totally honest, I don’t blame a single person. Getting blotto in a Christmas hat is one of the few Christmas joys left for many this year and one that it’s hard to disparage given the utter inept fuckery that this year has been.

For me drinking is the only thing that could make this weird dystopian Christmas even worse so I’ve had to dig deep and find different coping strategies. This is not a list I recommend to any one particularly more my own mad ramblings…

  • I plan to spend as much time in my pyjamas as is humanly possible (I’m currently figuring out if there is, in fact, a way to shower IN pyjamas…watch this space)
  • I plan to walk in the northern countryside (always gives me Dickensian vibes which in itself is quite Christmassy in a “how does anything actually grow here” kind of way)
  • I plan to eat ‘almost’ an entire wheel of brie (As a lactose intolerant person this is very much going to become everyone else’s problem later in the evening…charming I know)

And

I plan to be kind and non-judgemental of those I love no matter what their choices this Christmas.

The government are struggling with unprecedented times, I get that, but the thing that has got me clenching my teeth is the way they have managed to turn this all around on the people. Creating a culture of finger pointing, mob justice and blame on each other to turn eyes away from themselves, their uncertainty and the advice they ignored for months.

Human beings are not chemically or biologically designed to live in a state of high alert for a year. After a certain point it comes down to the simple fact that brain chemistry trumps right or wrong, and people are, understandably, struggling.

I refuse to pull others apart for whatever decision they make this Christmas. I refuse to make judgements on who a person is or the kind of life they lead based on their struggles because, fundamentally, so many people were kind and non-judgemental to me when my drinking was at it’s worst. They did not define me by it. And I plan to return the favour in this small way.

Merry Christmas to all.
May it be full of love in it’s many forms… mine will take the form of brie!

The Bad Bitch Birthday Bath

“So I’m planning the mother of all baths…a bath for the ages….a ‘bad bitch birthday bath’ if you will.”

I’m getting old. I’m actually really not, but it’s the oldest I’ve ever been to be fair. I’ve pretty much never felt younger, as well as many other things, the last six months of sobriety has given me more energy than I’ve ever had. Which isn’t really that hard as I’ve always been one for sitting hungover in my pants eating yoghurt and laughing at passing joggers, ahhh good times. That said it is my unavoidable plan to celebrate the day of my birth this coming week and it is very possibly my first ‘completely’ sober birthday since I was, maybe, 14.

I thought I would feel nervous but in truth this is probably one occasion when the pandemic has worked in my favour. It looks like my big present this year will be Tier 3, cheers Boris. A big pub party is off the cards, as is a big meal with wine on the table and a big house party is socially irresponsible so that’s out too. All have the potential to end in handcuffs, and not even in a kinky way, so it’s just not worth it. In all seriousness I don’t want to risk making anyone ill, and the overarching reason for not having a shindig is really to ensure I don’t start the next year of my life as a selfish twat. Karma is probably the only thing that’s a bigger pain in the arse than quitting drinking and I want her on my side next year.

So ‘sober birthdays’ sound about as appealing, to most, as a tooth extraction and I kind of get it. If you’d suggested it to me a year ago I would have wondered what I’d done to offend you. It’s hard to think of the words ‘sober’ and ‘birthday’ with out imagining it as a punishment for some kind of wrongdoing. “He’s not allowed a drink on his birthday this year he called grandma a Nazi at Sunday dinner for voting BNP”….Fair. Drinking and birthdays is probably one of the most normalised marriages of celebration and alcohol and for most a happy one, but what if that’s not your reality?

You can’t write about sober birthdays with out writing about ‘The Birthday Card Test’. ‘The Birthday Card Test’ is something that has been spoken about to me a lot in various sober spheres and it’s hard to ignore once you’re told about it. It’s like if someone tells says your partner has an annoying laugh, the glass shatters, it’s all you can hear and then you’re suddenly ‘focusing on your career right now’. That was a bit of a tangent sorry, back to the point. ‘The Birthday Card Test’ is simple but it speaks volumes. I went into my local supermarket and looked at the birthday cards that were for neither a.) a child or b.) a religious person. It really shocked me. When I did it I was affronted with a shelf of cards with great glittering glasses of prosecco, bubbly pints of beer, martini’s in shiny glasses or bottles of wine. Out of the 18 birthday cards in this particular supermarket shelf 11 of them had some form of alcohol on them, 60% give or take. That is a lot.

Just to say, for me, I literally could not give a shit. I say that whole heartedly. Makes no odds to me and it’s a simple as supply and demand. Me and my sobriety should not stop people being able to purchase cards with booze on if that’s what they want to do. Cartoons of booze on cards are not particularly triggering or problematic when it comes to me and my recovery. But. It’s something I’d never noticed and it does say a lot about how we frame celebration. It’s not just Birthdays, celebrations in general are framed and decorated with booze as pretty much standard. It’s food for thought and the main thought I had was “well no wonder I feel like I’m the only sober person in the world sometimes”.

In lots of ways I’m lucky. The tier 3 situation means I’m spending my birthday in my house and seeing it as an exercise in how far I have come in life. I know, KNOW, that had I been drinking I would have thrown caution to the wind to make sure I got a birthday booze up. I love the new sober me, and the dissipation of the childish selfishness that came with my drinking, and I want to celebrate that more than I want to celebrate my birthday. So I’m planning the mother of all baths…a bath for the ages….a ‘bad bitch birthday bath’ if you will.

I hope all my birthday cards have baths on this year. More bubbles less battered.

Happy Birthday to me!

6. Months. Sober.

This post’s most important take away has go to be; “It was all so very completely totally worth it”

6. Months.

26. Weeks.

182. Days.

Half a year.

It’s hard not to be emotional. I don’t have to NOT be emotional but, 6 months sober or not, I’m still British. Six months. I’ve been staring at this little blinking line trying to sum up how I feel, and it’s impossible. It’s impossible to abridge the utter feeling of achievement and happiness that’s vibrating in my chest.

It’s the tits. If someone had told me even last year that at this point in my life I would be six months sober, with out being pregnant or locked up, I would have assumed they were a raving loon and possibly had them checked in for observation. But I am. I am wonderfully childless (my friends kids give me life), wonderfully with out convictions (other than the moral kind) and wonderfully sober.

There have been a lot of posts on this blog in the last six months where I have tried to be really honest about just how hard this process has been at times….this post’s most important take away has go to be; “It was all so very completely totally worth it”.

Self awareness and self improvement are always a bitch but I never thought I would be a person who is happy with who I am. It’s not all about the booze, feel free to stop reading as this may seem misleading from a sober blog, but honestly it was so much bigger than the booze. Being alcohol free did not fix everything, and in fact at times it made me horribly aware of other glaring changes that I needed to make. It sometimes felt a little like “oh my god stop I JUST fixed the last thing”. But this overwhelming sense of peace made putting my life back together easier. It’s not all about the booze but, I know for certain, if I hadn’t quit drinking then there is no way I would have had the head space or clarity to become all of the things I am now that I love.

I am healthier. I am happier. I have more money. I have never felt so connected to my family. I’m a better friend. I am speaking to myself kindly. I am taking proper care of myself. I’m looking at my life and evaluating what I want to keep and what I want to change with a clear head. I even do yoga…but more about that later…I’m not totally sold.

Everything in my life that has ever been truly great has been two things: hard work and scary. This process has been terrifying and at times horribly difficult and in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, it has been truly great.

6 months.

FAB?

“We remember things fondly even when times have been hard and it is truly a beautiful part of the human experience.”

Behold the scene…’Picture This’ if you will.
I know exciting start right? We’re doing story time. Not in a bedtime story, fairy-tale way that’s a warning. Maybe if Stephen King did bed time stories…any way.

I wake up. My head feels like it’s being squeezed by a firm yet squishy vice. Every time my head moves it’s like my stomach has a surprise for me that I won’t like. My brain is loose, like unbolted furniture on a rocky ship and feels like it’s smashing against the inside of my skull. My mouth tastes like old wine, old cigarettes and the outward layer of skin is missing, stripped. I didn’t brush my teeth. My room smells of take away grease, sweat and that charming old booze and cigarette smell. I have no idea what I said or to who last night past a certain point but the slow rising anxiety sets in. I scramble in a panic around the room. Phone, keys, purse…one or more is missing. On some days I find it, on others it’s gone forever. I’ve lost another coat or jacket or scarf (alcohol aside this was hands down the most expensive part of drinking for me). I don’t remember getting home. I cry for a bit then try and drink water and fail. I decorate the plug hole a few times. I press my face against the fridge door because it’s cold. I look at the puffy, grey face in the mirror and remember a flash from the night before and shudder.

It’s a pretty grim picture but the good news is I’m closing in on six months since the last story time like this….6 months seems like a dream. It almost feels like it can’t be possible but at the same time it definitely is.

Six months is a relatively long time (that’s me trying to be modest, it’s actually a really fucking long time and a huge deal and I’m really proud…waaaah), and I’d almost forgotten how bad my Sunday mornings used to be. I had many a foggy morning after a bottle of wine or two the night before but Sunday’s were physical and emotional carnage. Looking back at that story is pretty crap, and not easy, the ‘self awareness’ aspect of the process just keeps hitting me and it’s exhausting. Self improvement keeps smashing me in the face “coming at me like a shark with knees”, perhaps google The Mighty Boosh if you’re from across the pond it will probably make me seem less of a lunatic…or more. Writing all of that story, that reality really, is humiliating and grounding in equal measure, but it’s also just so damn important.

Fading effect bias (FAB…*que nods of realisation at the title*) is a really interesting concept built into the human brain. It’s also slightly ironic as it’s not massively that FAB depending on the context. It’s considered to be one of the brains ways of protecting us from trauma and means we as humans forget the bad far quicker than we forget the good, generally speaking. For example crying over an ex who constantly put you down and fucked you about because of that one time you went to the zoo and he wasn’t in a bad mood (maybe true maybe not). Parents having children and remembering them being very small fondly despite, the kid being really cute and all but, realistically, no one sleeping, shagging or having any kind of time to enjoy themselves. FAB can even go as far as to focus memories to positive experiences with domestically abusive relationships in all it’s forms, and is a hard part of therapy when people have experienced abuse, especially as a child. We remember things fondly even when times have been hard and it is truly a beautiful part of the human experience.

However, Fading Effect Bias can be pretty much kryptonite to those shooting for lasting change. People can go years with out drinking and then the thought of sitting out side on a summers day with a glass of wine, the dream of being cuddle up in a blanket with a Baileys or the thought of raising a glass of prosecco at a wedding, brings it tumbling down. For me it’s an in-built film of all my favourite parts of drinking that ONLY PLAYS at the worst possible moment…thanks brain. Thanks a bunch.

Its. Not. Real.
Go back and read that story again.
Now come back.
“I’m on a horse”…..Old Spice Advert?….No…
OK sorry reset…
Go back and read that story (again sorry it’s important for emphasis and what not).
Now come back.
THAT is my drinking reality.

It’s tough, in a way, falling into the Grey Area Drinking category (see the post on this blog ‘Shark Infested Custard’, or don’t if you don’t like being told what to do) as my drinking was never healthy but the rise was insidious. It may not happen on Day 1, I may even be able to hold on for a few weeks. I may get my glass of wine in the sunshine…I might be able to, for a bit, ignore that deep itch that I spent years trying to ignore. But I would bet my life savings (a grand total of £44.82 #humblebrag) that my Sundays would be grey and broken eventually. Square one.

Fading Effect Bias happens to literally everyone in some form or another which is actually great because certainties are rare in life. I find the devil I know fairly reassuring because it means I can plan. Writing that story above, that grey, gross, miserable story is the best possible way to remember. It really WAS that bad. It really WAS every weekend, by the end. It really IS so much better now.

It’s so easy to forget and it’s ok to have doubts but staying grounded in my drinking story, my real drinking story, is how I stay on track.

I can now spend my Sundays figuring out where to put all these bloody coats and jackets and bloody scarves, they are really starting to stack up.

Lockdown Blues

“I think in my experience if I spend too much time looking for answers or solutions I can sometimes end up with more questions, and certainly more feelings.”

I wish I had something better to write but quite frankly…bugger this. Actually just bugger this bloody bull shit. The country is a mess. Everyone is poor, tired, pissed off or all three. The fun has been stopping at 22:00, is now on hold and feels like it’ll stop forever when everything goes out of bloody business. Families are separated, friends limited and spontaneity fucked. The government are telling us constantly to “Be Alert” and shouts “Hands, Face and Space” at us constantly (which I now sing to the tune of YMCA…you can thank me later). Not very eloquently put but needless to say I’ve hit the absolute wall with COVID life. Made worse with the new phrase that’s being thrown around “the new normal” which makes it all sound horribly permanent.

I really like to think I’m a positive person (miserable rants aside) and I do try to be positive about life in general. For the last 8 months I’ve lost track of times I’ve said “I’m actually really lucky” and “it could be so much worse” and I do really believe that! But it’s draining after hit after hit. Doing the right thing for months only to now end up in almost exactly the same situation as we were at the beginning, if not worse, and staring into the face of another lock down.

The thing I loved the most about being sober (and single come to think of it) was the freedom and spontaneity of life. I could go any where and do anything until as late as I like and feel unscathed and shiny the next day. That’s all gone so I find myself living the existence of a much older, settled down person except on my own, a lot. It doesn’t fit. I’ve been trying to cheer myself up for well over three weeks and I’m failing. I can feel myself sinking. I’m tearful and exhausted. I don’t actually want to talk to anyone about how I’m feeling but am also some how gutted when people don’t ask. I’ve watched my friends visiting family at weekends and living with their other halves and I genuinely hate them a little bit. I’m getting resentful of people who have been able hug their mums, go for (alcohol free) drinks with their brothers and read the paper with their dads.

The problem with that kind of loneliness is it bleeds. It starts off just sitting alone on a Sunday night feeling nervous about the hours stretching ahead but then it grows. I have now found myself in the last few weeks sitting in a room full of people (of 6 or less of course) and feeling alone. I feel really, really, overwhelmingly sad all of the time. And when I feel sad I want to drink. I really want to drink.

I haven’t drunk and as I write I know I won’t for one simple reason. This is the most I have wanted to drink alcohol since I started this journey…and it’s because I’m sad and lonely. It’s grounding. Alcohol has never helped me feel better yet for so long out of habit, auto pilot, it was something to take the edge off feeling…well feeling anything really. A temporary numbness and then peak of energy and lightness that makes me giggle. The inevitable crash is still clear in my mind but fuzzy around the edges.

A concept I have come up with and applied many times, both in being alcohol free and recovering my mental health, is what I like to call the “And that’s ok” mantra. I think it’s easy when I’m trying to be positive, and especially with the whole British stiff upper lip business, to disregard feelings or push them down. It’s a kind of toxic positivity that, for me, can lead to burn out and overwhelm.

So I let myself feel my feelings and reassure myself at the same time. And I often do it out loud if there is no one around. Sometimes when there are people around actually but I do look mildly disturbed.

It sounds a bit like this:

I feel really anxious today…”And that’s ok”.

I’m a bit lonely today…”And that’s ok”

I feel a bit blue today…”And that’s ok”

I ate too many ginger biscuits today… “And that’s ok”.

I told my friend I had no interest in seeing another picture of her baby today….”And that’s ok”

I have mild toilet paper based anxiety… And that’s …actually that’s NOT OK…I mean what the actual bollocks is all that about…of all the stupid nonsensical…I mean really… just…..*exhale snort*.

It’s not a flawless system, I’m hardly a Buddhist monk, but it does help.

It’s not exactly rocket science, ground breaking nor a psychological revelation…but my god it works well for me. Just allowing myself moments to feel whatever it is I’m feeling while at the same time not letting it totally overwhelm me is a huge help. I think in my experience if I spend too much time looking for answers or solutions I can sometimes end up with more questions, and certainly more feelings. This allows me to just sit with it and most of the time (toilet paper based fury aside) it’s all I need.

This lock down will be harder than the last for pretty much everyone. I really AM lucky in lots of ways but that doesn’t negate the fact that I’m sad and alone a lot of the time. I’ll be upping the self care, and forcing myself to reach out even when I don’t feel like it, and probably go back to running like a nutter and eating chocolate in (almost) equal measure.

Things are a bit shit all round and resilience is low so I’m sure you were hoping for a laugh. I try and keep this a blog and not a rant but today I have possibly failed.

“And that’s ok”.

“Trick or tequila?”

“It’s all a bit Black Mirror right now lets be honest.”

I am, for all intents and purposes, a spooky bitch. The ultimate spooky bitch some may say. Halloween is honestly for me just the most wonderful time of the year. The weather turns colder and the leaves warmer. The big jumpers come out paired with the even bigger boots. Soups, warm bread and stews. Pumpkin lanterns lit with soft tealights. Cinnamon spiced coffees (pumpkins are not spicy folks) and dark evenings in. And, in the past, a great excuse to add Baileys to pretty much anything hot or, sometimes, cold.

Red wine by the pub fire. Whiskey, hot, with honey. Spiced rum. Bottles of red covered in blankets on the sofa. Beers with pizza and horror films. Crazy Halloween themed gigs, tequila shots, metal bands and stumbling around in fishnets, animal ears and fake blood. Drinking to stay warm, drinking to feel festive and drinking to fight off the blues as the evenings get darker.

So this year it already looks pretty damn different in the weird world we are living in. Masks that were once playful are now mandatory. The huge Halloween ragers that took up two to three weekends of my October are a pipe dream. Trick or treating that’s supposed to be funny and whimsical is now socially irresponsible. This may be the first Halloween little kids in fairy wings get bundled into the back of police cars (the evil part of my brain thinks that could actually be really funny). It’s all a bit Black Mirror right now lets be honest. Made worse by the fact this was THE Halloween. Saturday night. Full Moon. THE. ONE. But it’s up in the air, dystopian and strange. And that’s not even considering that I’m actually sober….first sober halloween…in a global pandemic. Christ on a bike.

A normal Halloween for me is the definition of a ‘high risk situation’. Triggers are defined as “the cause of something”, in the context of this blog this is drinking rather than chocolate chip cookies or sex (though both are wildly appealing right now). A trigger for me can be anything from an internal feeling of worry, to the external sight of a sophisticated woman sat with a glass of red. Both make my head go straight to the whole “maybe you can just have one” song and dance (yes there’s a dance now). High risk situations are events or places that contain a number of triggers, what ever they may be for the person specifically. For example:-

Triggers: pub, music, other people drinking, the smell of mulled cider, celebration, feeling cold, feeling tired, being dressed up, feeling nervous, socialising, feeling nervous about socialising…you get the idea.

High risk situation: A bloody night out for Halloween! (god dammit).

It’s one of the few occasions where the COVID world we live in may actually be doing me a favour. This year Halloween would have been fucking carnage. It would have been all kinds of ridiculousness. I had four parties to go to before the virus stepped in and put it’s foot down. And they would have been messy. The kind of 4 am, taking mirrors off the walls, empty bottles of spirits kinda parties that made me excited and fearful in equal measure, even before I quit drinking. So maybe this is a good thing. If I’m honest a big part of me feels I would rather have struggled at a great party then find sobriety easy on a dull evening in, but in the general theme of ‘focusing-on-what-I-can-control’ it’s probably going to end up being an easier ride overall.

So here’s some good things that I can think of about a sober Halloween:

  • My intricate three hour face paint/FX make up (I told you I was extra) will likely actually stay in place… well assuming the facemask I have to wear doesn’t rub it off…so maybe scratch that.
  • I can dance around and sing to a band with out being drunk….oh no wait it’s against the law…never mind.
  • Ok so sober doesn’t have a ‘bed time’ and at least I get to stay out late and party like I used to…oh nope pubs close at 10pm…ok maybe plan B then…..
  • I could try and pull a pumpkin of some kind, that might pumpkin spice up the evening…nope sex with people from outside your household is now illegal (because THAT doesn’t make it hot!).

…. NEXT Halloween. I’m going to count NEXT Halloween as my first proper sober Halloween.

I never thought that the first time I would get genuinely angry at the pandemic would be because I’m not allowed to go out dressed like a twat until the early hours of the morning. But it’s also kind of reassuring. There’s a big part of me that was worried that…well…a big part of me would disappear when I stopped drinking. That I wouldn’t be me any more. As much as I hate to admit it drinking was a big part of my identity, my personality even, and I’m still learning what that means for me moving forwards in a dry life. It turns out being sober doesn’t change who I am, I am still a spooky bitch who want’s to go out and be irresponsible in daft face paint, booze or no booze, and I’m keeping that.

So I’m planning a face mask friendly full face of spook and figuring out how to mull something alcohol free.

Tea. Turns out that’s tea.

Strike While the Iron is…Slightly Warm?

When it came to my drinking I struck while the iron was slightly warm and, in the long run, it stopped me getting burned.

Said no one ever. Apart from a friend of mine the other night and my non-alcoholic cocktail nearly came out of my nose. That is some funny stuff.

In the interest of full disclosure (says the anonymous blogger) the last couple of weeks have been really hard. It seems this process finds new and interesting ways to spin me out as the days, weeks and months go by and it’s annoying but certainly not boring. This last week I’ve felt wobbly recently, restless and unsettled in being alcohol free. My mind kept casting too wide a net, thinking about the life to come with out alcohol and it made me feel ungrounded and unsure. It appears I have inadvertently settled into overthinkers anonymous and made my self a horrible little anxious nest hole there. It’s hard to get off this particular freight train of thought once it gets going. It stopped at the usual stations. Calling at “Fuck I’m seriously never going to drink again”, now approaching “What about festivals?”, our next station is “Maybe I can drink when I’m retired”…. I’m in my mid (late *sob*) twenties and I’ve somehow got into planning a piss up for my retirement ….needless to say I lost the thread a little there.

I ate cake, I ate salad, I ran, I rested, I wrote this blog, I completely ignored this blog, I saw friends, I saw no-one all while drinking endless cups of tea but the mile a minute mind was still strong. So I did something I really never thought I would possibly do in all of my days on this planet. I went to my first AA meeting. I have to say I didn’t enjoy it at all, but, it did help one particularly weird and spun out Thursday evening. It seemed to be a lot of lovely supportive people being sober together so I guess that’s never a bad thing. However it felt a little stiff, like a church service with slightly more interesting sermons and the talking in unison bit felt a little like that scene in Indiana Jones before they pull out that guys heart, except with less interesting outfits. One thing I did notice though was I felt a little separate from most of the stories. Both the speaker and others in the group shared a barrage of stories of black out, waking up in police cells, days and days in hospital, losing all their money, losing their families and being totally consumed with drinking and nothing else. I was in awe, they’re fucking rock stars for getting sober and helping others on their journey too. But I have to be honest and say that was really not my experience of drinking. Perhaps I got lucky, perhaps I had better support systems, or perhaps I quit in the nick of time, but either way I felt strange sitting and listening to this as I didn’t really felt like I could relate. I felt kind of like a fraud.

Rock bottom is something that gets talked about all of the time in recovery and sober communities. People say over and over that rock bottom looks so different from person to person and it’s impossible to compare and contrast. In my opinion it can be down right dangerous. Looking at someone’s rock bottom and saying “well I’m not as bad as that guy” allows you to ignore the slow and steady steps downwards and miss the little warning signs on the glaring messed up journey to the crash. Rock bottom might be a police cell or it might be waking up the morning after a dinner party, not being entirely sure what you said but having horrible half memories of awkward silences and side glances and knowing you did something. *Shudder*. Both are valid and both are real. Neither cancels the other out as ‘better’ or ‘worse’…but it is understandable that those two people may not feel like they have a shared experience.

AA say that you should ‘focus on the similarities and not the differences’ and it’s pretty true. They’ve got some great one liners. I don’t think I’m going to be a person who goes to AA every week, but, I also am now not a person who would stubbornly rule it out completely. I feel this journey is all about being open minded and what’s nice is I now feel like if I was struggling or needed grounding that I wouldn’t be afraid to go to a meeting. I see it more as a sober insurance policy. It’s ok to need it, you’re grateful to have it if you do need it, but you hope to god you don’t.

There are so many ways to justify drinking too much especially in a society where most avenues, events and even emotions are pointed to alcohol. It’s easy to just keep waiting for rock bottom but I honestly believe if alcohol is taking from you, then you’re already there. I don’t judge anyone on their rock bottom, just their today. It just so happens I didn’t have to get wrestled by Rozzas or wake up in hospital to decide, and for that I’m grateful.

When it came to my drinking I struck while the iron was slightly warm and, in the long run, it stopped me getting burned.

Apart from by endless cups of tea….they’re bloody dangerous!

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