Burn the bridges

bridges

January is a bit of a shit month when you live in England. The softly twinkly Christmas lights and roaring fires have been replaced with cold dark days and broken resolutions.

We spent December in Africa with my family and we had an absolutely glorious time.

Flying with young children as opposed to toddlers/babies is just a dream. They had their own seats, they watched movies and loved the aeroplane food. Contrast this to a flight we were on a couple of years back where my son projectile vomited over me just as we took off. Yes I have another vomit story in my already full arsenal of vomit stories.

I could see he was going to throw up and I had no choice but to turn him towards me and ‘take one for the team’ as it were. I couldn’t very well let him vomit all over the passenger in front of us. Of course like a good perfectionist I took two changes of clothes for the kids but neglected to bring a change of clothes for myself so I spent the entire flight drenched in a sour vomit smell whilst trying to calm down a feverish/ vomity baby.

This time my son seemed to be totally obsessed with the safety instruction pamphlet. He re-read it several times and kept on practicing the brace position and checking for the oxygen masks. I’m not convinced that he completely understood what it all meant; I mean he wasn’t so much worried about a plane crash as much as he loves gadgets and things to play with.

When we arrived it felt like I never left and at the same time felt like I had been away forever. It’s seemed surreal, as South Africa is so remarkably different to England; it’s almost like another planet! I’d been away for two years which is simply too long for me.

My mum had a hard year and had several issues with her health so the reunion was bittersweet. The last trip to South Africa is when I realised that my body wasn’t cooperating anymore and I had terrible shakes every morning. This time I was sober so I feel so incredibly privileged to have been totally conscious and awake for each precious second I could spend with her.

My old friends from school came over one Sunday for a braai. A braai is not a just barbeque. A braai is an occasion, it’s a verb in its own right and it’s a way of life in South Africa. I was very anxious to see my friends, as these are the friends I used to drink with. My anxiety levels were through the roof and I didn’t really know what I was going to tell them.

They asked me why I got sober (again) as you may be aware I’ve done this many times before so should be a dab hand at it. I told them the story and they laughed. This is the kind of situation where only a very old friend can get away with laughing at your darkest story. After that was out of the way they said they always knew I had the alcoholic gene and we left it at that. I was happy to leave it there and didn’t feel the need to argue the ‘alcoholic gene’ point.

After the heavy stuff was out of the way we had so much fun! We reminisced, told stories, and laughed till we cried. I drank my non-alcoholic beer which really helped in that particular situation. I feel that there is a time and a place for the non-alcoholic beverage. At home I don’t need it but in the company of old drinking friends I did, it really helped me feel less conspicuous.

The rest of the holiday I spent my evenings knitting and drinking chai tea with my mum. Although I’m not attending AA meetings I have been working through the steps and the 9th step is making direct amend to the people you’ve harmed (except when to do so would injure them or others.) I made amend to my sister, brother and mum. I haven’t done it with my dad yet, I have some more issues to work through and don’t really know how to approach that.

It felt good to own my side of the story and to apologise for my destructive behaviour. I held myself very gently through this because the only way to get through step 9 is to feel compassion for the person you were and to realise that that person was doing the best they could at that time. I have to approach all of these things with self-love because without that I fall back into self-hatred self-harm and addiction. When I talk about self-love I don’t mean ‘permissive’ – I mean …gently hold yourself accountable, understand why you were they way you were then ‘do better’ in Maya Angelou’s words.

It was exceptionally difficult to leave my family in Africa and come back. It’s always a very emotional farewell, I can’t actually put the feeling of loss into words it’s just too great. It feels immense, like an enormous vice is clamping my heart tightly and I can’t breathe. I have been numbing out my depression with sugar, tv, social media and have had several dinking thoughts come up. I found myself thinking I could just slip back into drinking for a while and drown my depression and anxiety with a bottle of red.

Then I realised that I don’t have that option anymore because most people who know me know I’m in recovery. My family, my children and all of my closest friends all know the deal.

This is why we have to tell our nearest and dearest to be accountable otherwise its way too easy to just disappear into a bottle of whiskey.

We have to burn the bridge between active addiction and our new life so that when the bad days come we look for a way through the pain not around it.

Yes I am sad to be away from my family but I am so grateful and privileged to have been able to be fully present and sober to enjoy every precious moment with them.

Sobriety does deliver on all of the promises alcohol ever made to me but sometimes when life really sucks I still just want to check out. I still feel that thirst for oblivion sometimes.

Stay vigilant I tell myself…the pull towards oblivion can get really strong but for today I’m sober and a happy to be so.

The disappearing social calendar

photo
(photo credit: Bad moms movie)

Since I got sober my social calendar has slowly started to clear, almost as if a little calendar fairy waved her wand and just made all the parties that used to fill up my time disappear. At first it hurt my feelings, I returned to the school playground in my mind where I was the only one not invited to the most popular girl’s birthday party. You can’t help but feeling left out and excluded.

After the initial sting of rejection faded I started questioning if I really wanted to go to any of those events and the truth is I didn’t… but you know…I would still have liked to have been asked.

The fact is that these parties were ALL about the booze and I really didn’t have anything in common with this group of friends apart from the mutual love of getting completely trolleyed off our faces.

The connection between us was paper-thin as is the connection between all drug addicts. You are BEST MATES while you are getting wasted but don’t expect loyalty or love. This is a bond born and fused in addiction and it is false.

It’s foolish to underestimate the power of the tribal mentality we have around booze and drinking to excess. We share stories of how pissed we got and then share stories of how terribly hung over we all feel the next day, a couple of us would proclaim we are never drinking again…until the next time. There is safety in numbers and there is a feeling of being normal when addicts hang out together. We cant be alcoholics, we all drink like fishes! Some are a tiiiiny bit worse than others and secretly everyone is comparing…

I’ve realised that you can party sober and you can have a marvellous time but for that to happen you need to 1) be with people you really like and have things in common with 2) be in a setting that you are comfortable with

I am also making peace with a quieter life, a steady content way of life that is filled with so much richness, love and deep fulfilment.

Drinking promised me all of the things that sobriety delivers. Sure there are fewer social things but that makes time for other pursuits that really interest me, pastimes that feed my soul. I’m making art again; I’m knitting, cooking and doing yoga.

It takes a while to find your sober feet, so to whoever is on this sober path, don’t despair if it feels like your social life is waning…sobriety is making time and space for you to find true joy and happiness.

 

 

 

 

‘I wrote myself back together’

byronkatie

One year ago I was newly sober and dealing with really intense withdrawals and anxiety. I was scared to death. I didn’t know what the fuck to do but I knew I couldn’t carry on drinking.

With quivering fingers I slowly typed in the word alcoholic into Google, happened on some articles and then by a massive stroke of luck stumbled upon Sober Mummy’s blog.

A whole new world opened up. I couldn’t believe there were other women like me having the same issues! These brave women (and men) were candid and open about recovery and were keeping track of their successes and failures.

I was in a total mess at that point. Alcohol had literally brought me to my knees and my self-esteem was in tatters on the floor. I didn’t know how to be sober in this world. I felt naked and exposed… reality was a cold and frightening place to be. My crutch, my medicine was gone and I was utterly bereft. I was petrified to look around my life to really see the devastation the addiction had caused. There is that saying in AA: “If you want to know why you drank, stop drinking and you’ll soon find out.

I decided there and then that this blogosphere was a good place for me to be. It creates accountability and also takes care of step 4 (fearless moral inventory) and step 5 “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

I found a world with honest brave people in recovery that are rocking life on life’s terms. The ultimate bas assery!

I want to borrow a quote by Roxanne Gay that describes my feelings around this far more eloquently that I ever could-

I wrote myself back together. I wrote myself toward a stronger version of myself . . . Through writing and feminism, I also found that if I was a little bit brave, another woman might hear me and see me and recognize that none of us are the nothing the world tries to tell us we are.
–  Roxanne Gay

I am so grateful to this community for being there for me in what could be easily said was the most difficult (and most wonderful) year of my life.

The more I wrote the lighter I felt. It was like unloading bags and bags of heavy rocks that I had been carrying around with me for years! I didn’t realise I was in such deep denial and more time I spend sober the more I realise in what a bad place I was.

I was telling the truth about my addiction for the first time. This was huge! Addiction cannot survive when you tell the truth. It needs secrecy and lies to thrive.

Every comment that said ‘me too!” confirmed to me that I wasn’t alone in this struggle. Every kind word and lovely suggestions meant and still means the world to me.

My perspective has shifted massively in one year. I am no longer apologetic or shy-ish about the fact that I am sober. I think it’s a fucking bad-ass choice and I am proud of it.

I am no longer counting days. I don’t want to do it and no one can make me. I will count 2016 as the year surrendered and got sober.

I am no longer scared of relapses, this is a fear based way of living and I have no interest in it. I am focussing on living in love and staying conscious. I am focussing on accepting the things I cannot change. I am focussing on spiritual growth and staying in my own business. I am learning that I am not in control of everything and that Donald trump and climate change is here to stay whether we like it or not.

Wherever you are on your journey, 2 years in, or battling to string a month together just know that by writing it down you are increasing your chances of beating this thing…addiction cannot survive when you are telling the truth, the truth will…as they say… set you free.

Shame and vulnerability

shame

I visited a friend today, one of the mums that I used to drink with at play-dates. It’s all the rage now, play-dates sozzled in wine. This seems to be socially acceptable… in the circles I moved in at least. Since I got sober I’ve realised that my circles may have been limited to people that like to get plastered all the time, addicts like hanging out with other addicts, who would have thought? We used to crack open the Prosecco after the school run on a Friday and thought nothing of drinking the night away.

This is the friend that inadvertently helped me reach my rock bottom moment so in a way she sort of saved my life. This may sound melodramatic but I wholeheartedly believe it to be true. Our friendship was for the most part based on the mutual love of getting drunk. I knew in my heart of hearts that the dynamic would change and that the friendship would probably just fizzle out on it’s own. The thing is I didn’t want her to feel as though I was rejecting her because she is addicted to booze. I also wanted to keep channels of communication open so that if she ever felt like talking to someone about her problem she can talk to me. I never had anyone to talk to in real life because I don’t know anyone that is in recovery from addiction.

Back to my friend… She asked me to go around for coffee today. The atmosphere was strained and I didn’t really feel like we connected. She kept asking me if I’m STILL not drinking and also seemed quite uninterested in my answers as she kept looking at her phone.

She started telling me about an incident where she got really drunk and was talking about ‘the switch’. I think most folks with a drink problem will instantly know what ‘the switch’ means. That’s where something clicks in your brain and you aren’t there anymore, usually this is where things go south and you black out. I was saying that I had experienced it many times when she replied under her breath…”I know, at least I was never as bad as you. I mean I’ve been bad but never THAT bad.”

And there it was. The shame. I felt like I was punched in the stomach. The blood drained from my face and my heart sank right into my feet. The fucking intense shame that I thought I had dealt with in the last year just morphed into little fire ants scratching and scurrying around my skull. I was gobsmacked, she thought I was worse than her!?

I made an excuse and left very quickly. I cried all the way home.

After I calmed down I realised that she is obviously in really deep denial and is looking to justify herself by calling me out as the delinquent alcoholic.

Brene Brown calls shame the most powerful master emotion; she says it’s down to the fear that we are not good enough.

The shame is what keeps us stuck in our addiction and I recognise that my friend was trying to protect herself by calling me the one with the problem. I was in deep denial too and hated hanging out with people that threatened my lifestyle. People that didn’t drink enough or didn’t drink like I did made me feel shame about how I drank, because my conscience knew I was self-harming with alcohol.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~Brené Brown

Who drank the most is actually irrelevant. There is always someone worse off than us when it comes to alcohol; this is the trouble with the stinky man on park bench alcoholic stereotype. The one who stops is the alcoholic while the one who carries on drinking to oblivion just likes to have a good time…until they are the stinky man on a park bench.

Well, I’m calling bullshit on all of that. I’m also calling bullshit on the shame I felt today, fuck that. I’m not drinking anymore and that is something to be proud of.

As for my friend, my door will be open if she ever wants to talk. I’m going to look after myself and keep clear. Like Byron Katie says “Staying in my own business is a full-time job.”

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