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.