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.

Surrender – or why does it take what it takes?

rumi

I’ve been ruminating on why some of us relapse and others don’t.

What is it that makes us go back to drinking time and time again even after we swore that this time is the last time? Why do some of us go back to it even after we know we are addicted? Why does it take some of us a million day one’s before we really get it?

I open my eyes, I can’t swallow… my throat is raw. I’m still in last night’s clothes and my one boot is still on. I get a text message through… I’m trying to focus with my one eye but I’m still drunk. “Are you ok lovely?” “You had a couple of fall’s by the school gate”

I’m terrified. I can’t remember anything, last night’s events is a black hole…again. I hobble to the bathroom to assess the damage. There is blood in my hair and my head feels swollen on one side. I have deep bruises on my legs and arms. I try to swallow but I still can’t manage it. I start to cry, gin soaked tears are rolling down my cheeks and the sound I’m making doesn’t sound human. I fall to my knees and start to howl, I am shaking uncontrollably. I can’t fucking do this anymore! I can’t fucking do this anymore! There is nothing left of me. I don’t recognise myself in the mirror, the woman staring back at me has been in a fight, she has been in this fight for years. My face is sweaty red and swollen and my eyes are dead. The woman staring back at me wants to die. I want this fucking pain to end. The kids! …They’ll be better off without you; you’re a fucking disaster. What kind of mother are you? You are a waste of space, a disgusting fucking drunk!

That was the moment.

While I was looking at my reflection and those hateful words were shouting in a furious thunderous voice, somewhere else inside of me there was another voice whispering quietly “This isn’t you…you are SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS”

That was grace.

I’ve had many of those types of moments throughout my drinking career but this one was different. I was finished. I had been fighting with alcohol for decades and I was battle weary, tired to the bone. My soul was screaming out to me…SURRENDER. You don’t have to fight anymore. You don’t have to pretend anymore. Accept! Accept! Accept defeat! Accept that you cannot drink like a normal person.

My story is not a straightforward one, there wasn’t just one singular rock bottom resulting in a trip to recovery land with me riding off into the sunset on my sober horse. I got sober for the first time after I was arrested for public drunkenness, I was 19 . I was a student and I drank the same way my friends did but a bit more greedily. There was neediness to my drinking that my friends didn’t seem to have. I attended one AA meeting at the behest of my mother but there weren’t any young people in there, they were all at the NA meeting next door. The meeting was full of 50 years old men who all looked at me as if I were crazy. They kept on talking about being a ‘true alcoholic’ and they made me feel as if I was too young to be one and as if my antics were expected behaviour from a student. I didn’t go back.

I stayed sober for 5 years, white knuckling it as best as I could. I developed an eating disorder & the bulimia took the place of booze.

I met a man and moved to England where no one knew me and there I started drinking again. I had hoped that I ‘outgrew’ the binge drinking issues and that being older would magically help me to drink moderately. It went ok for a while but the drinking soon got out of hand again.

We started a family, I was sober for the pregnancies but as soon as the stress of motherhood hit, I used it to self medicate. The last 7 years I have been on lengthy sober stretches then relapses. 6 months sober 3 months drinking, 9 months sober…6 months drinking an on and on and on…. until last year when I had my moment of grace.

The reason some of us take longer to get there or go back out there is very simple. It’s a combination of lack of self-love and poor coping skills.

Who in their right mind would allow someone to beat them up over and over? Alcohol is like an abusive partner and the only reason we stay is because we think we are worth nothing. People who respect and honor themselves won’t allow someone to abuse them.

For this first time in my life I am really learning to love myself. Not just the ‘self love’ meme type of thing you see on Instagram (selfie time:)… I mean REALLY love myself. To be able to sit and look at myself with compassion and understanding is the only way I can stay sober.

The link between self-loathing and active addiction is obvious I suppose but I never understood it fully. Its only now with the clarity that sobriety brings that I can truly see that love is the only way.

To love and honor yourself every day. You are a divine being worthy of love. We are all divine beings worthy of love no matter how low this addiction takes us. The light inside of you cannot be touched by anything you ever did under the influence. That light…that is the real you and that is pure love!

 

 

Warning lights

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The cravings are coming thick and fast these days. I’m seriously having an uphill battle here. I feel really irritable, tired and want to curl up in sleep in a darkened room. I don’t want to see people, I hate everyone. Most people around me aggravate me and basically humanity as a whole sucks. As you can tell I am a regular ray of sunshine lately and it must be truly amazing to be in my presence. There is no farting glitter or pooping rainbows at casa Hurrah these days, just big, irksome rainclouds that won’t stop raining. My poor family are just patiently suffering through it. We had a meet up with friends yesterday and it just turned out to be ‘another thing to get done’ before I can rest.

I’ve also been feeling very uncomfortable in my own skin recently. I’ve picked up weight and feel like my skin is crawling with all the sugar and excess coffee. I can’t really stand to look in the mirror at all so I run past them like a mad person. During this stressful time of working so much and little sleep I really haven’t been paying attention to my nutrition, exercise or rest. These crucial things have all been on the back burner in favour of surviving because work and money has taken up all my time in the last two months. My word for the year is self-care and yes I stopped smoking and yes I’m not drinking but I am NOT taking good care of myself at all.

As you may or may not know I have been prone to relapse in the past, I’ve seriously lost count of the amount of times I started drinking again after making a solemn vow I’ll never do it again. I could call myself the ‘relapse queen’ but I won’t because I would like to stay stopped this time and don’t fancy being remembered as that.

Basically, I can feel myself slipping, so I’ve done a bit of research about relapses. This is my new thing now, I’m documenting my sober journey like an annoying little detective. (Sorry, but I’m seriously irritating myself to no end)

A relapse doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It just feels like it does, every time I’ve relapsed it felt like waking up out of a dream and not knowing how it happened. Like I had no say in it, it felt like my conscious choice was non-existent and my addicted mind took over my body. It felt very similar to the fight of flight response when your reptile brain is left in charge while your prefrontal cortex is taking a little holiday.

A relapse is a process,  not an event. It can start weeks or months before you actually pick up a drink.

The three stages of relapse:

Emotional relapse
You are not thinking about drinking but your emotions and behaviors are setting you up.
· Anxiety · Intolerance · Anger · Isolation · Not asking for help · Poor eating habits · Poor sleep habits – Not making recovery a daily priority

Mental relapse
You’ve started entertaining the idea of drinking, and the tug of war starts. You glamorise drinking and pine for the ‘good ol’ days’

Physical relapse 
It’s difficult to stop a relapse when it get’s to this point. (not impossible but much harder)

It appears as though there is a substantial amount of time prior to the relapse that gives you the opportunity to turn it around which is great news.

This is one of the reasons why AA’s maxim ‘one day at a time’ works so well. Staying sober is a daily practice of self-care, self-love, self-reflection.

This is not an easy thing for an addict to do. We tend to be all or nothing, go big or go home kinda people so the slow and steady, small steps every day is very foreign to me. I get obsessed so when I work that’s all I do, there is no balance!

I’m off to take a walk and then early to bed.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
— Buddha

Adulting all over the place

adulting

This weekend something happened that triggered me massively. I was in a state of panic fight or flight and just wanted to drink. Instead I went into the shed (the shed where I used to sneak drinks) and I breathed. I sat with my panic. I tried to remember the RAIN acronym (Recognise, allow, investigate, non-identify) but I couldn’t get past ‘allow’, I couldn’t remember past the word ‘allow’ because my prefrontal cortex was on holiday somewhere while my reptile brain was rearing to go.

I sat in the shed for a good 20 minutes and you know what? The feeling didn’t swallow me up and it did pass.

Still sober. Yay for me!. xxx

(PAWS) is it a real thing?

I’ve been feeling very ‘Pawsy’ lately. Been reading my blogging friends that are on a roughly the same day count as I am (91 days today). They all seem to be experiencing similar symptoms. Feeling generally down and anxious (not all the time) but sort of starting to wonder what the point is of being sober if you are going to feel shitty.

This got me thinking about PAWS. Is it a real thing? According to Wikipedia there have been few scientific studies supporting its existence. Because of this, the disorder is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or major medical associations.

This isn’t enough to persuade me that it doesn’t exist. Alcohol research that is truly impartial and will expose the true extent of harm the drug does and how addictive it is is sparse to say the least. Remember, research needs to be funded by someone and alcohol companies do fund research that will publish studies that are skewed or that tell half truths.

A recent survey by a US website called postacutewithdrawal.org found that ninety per cent of respondents to their online survey reported post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These results come as a bit of a surprise because it was assumed that only a minority of people who break away from addiction experience symptoms beyond the first few weeks.

Doctors and medical professionals that specialise and deal with drug addiction and withdrawal all know about and have direct experience with patients going through PAWS.

The length of time and severity of PAWS is linked to the amount of years and the volume you drank.

Post-acute withdrawal occurs because your brain chemistry is gradually returning to normal. As your brain improves the levels of your brain chemicals fluctuate as they approach the new equilibrium causing post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

The Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal

The most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Variable energy
  • Low enthusiasm
  • Variable concentration
  • Disturbed sleep

“The brain has tremendous capacity to heal, but it doesn’t heal quickly,” says Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers and Elements Behavioral Health.
As the body moves toward homeostasis, says Dr. Joseph Lee, Medical Director of the Hazelden Youth Continuum, it has to reach a “new kind of normal” in the process. Some people experience a more prolonged withdrawal, he says, “and it takes a long time to recalibrate.” In fact, instead of feeling better, many addicts in recovery feel worse.

The biggest thing Sack’s seen in his patients is increased anxiety. People are “more nervous, more anxious, less resilient; and that anxiety is experienced as fear, as uncertainty, a greater sensitivity to rejection.” Some of this excessive reactivity is linked to the glutamate neurotransmitter system, as many drugs of abuse block glutamate. In response, the body ups its production of this chemical, even after the drug is taken away. 

“The advice I would give is to be patient with the time it takes to heal and feel better,” Parrish says. “These tough issues weren’t created overnight, and they won’t disappear overnight. I have learned that when I feel particularly “PAWS-y,” that means I’m subconsciously working something out—this makes dealing with the symptoms of feeling a little crazy and not sleeping less exhausting. It won’t last forever.” 

extract from https://www.thefix.com/content/paws

I found this video from Annie Grace and Doctor Dr. Jaffe Ph.D from the Alternatives Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles that explains why it takes a while to feel better.

 

What my lapses and relapses have taught me.

This is a post for myself to refer back to if I EVER feel like drinking again. If this helps anyone else that is awesome too.

I had 5 years sobriety in my 20’s but was white knuckling it alone. In my thirties 2 and half years, then another year and half. Then a couple of months at a time (3 to 6 months stretches). I know it seems like I was going backwards in my journey but everytime I went back to drinking I learned something new.

A lapse is one night of drinking followed by getting back on the horse the next day. A relapse is sustained drinking until of course you stop again (if you manage to stop again I should say)

Here is what I learned from all of my lapses/relapses throughout the last couple of years.

  1. It get’s harder and harder to get back on that horse. The longer you relapse for the more shit goes down you are ashamed of and the more you want to drink it away.
  2. Once you’ve realised that you are addicted to alcohol going back to drinking is like going back into a burning house. You know the house is on fire so the cognitive dissonance of the addiction is there all the time.
  3. Alcohol doesn’t silence the inner critic. If you are addicted, the booze stops working the way it ‘used’ to. Even when you are drunk you are still aware of the inner critic voice. And the next morning the voice is screaming not talking.
  4. Alcohol doesnt soothe depression it exasperates it. Alcohol is a depressant. If it did soothe depression why are alcoholics so sad and lonely?
  5. Alcohol does not cure or help loneliness, the addiction isolates you. You can’t hang out with normal people and you can’t truly connect with anyone if you are drunk because you are not present.
  6. Alcohol doesn’t help anxiety. Alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can and does worsen anxiety.
  7. Your brain is permanently changed once you have repeated the addictive behaviour enough times you can never go back to normal drinking. This is not a ‘habit’ it is drug addiction and it’s progressive.
  8. Drinking does not relieve boredom. If you are bored with your life it’s because you’ve been drinking for most of it and there is nothing more boring that getting or being drunk all the time.
  9. Alcohol does not soothe nor help after a trauma. It makes the trauma ten times worse. All it does is press the pause button on what happened and the next day in the cold light of morning you are faced with two devastations, the original trauma which was bad enough and then the fact that you drank.
  10. It makes you sick. You body’s immune system is at an all time low and if you keep going back it’s just going to get sicker and sicker.
  11. Level of alcohol consumption will increase at an alarming rate if you keep doing what you are doing.
  12. The first three weeks are the hardest BUT I’ve also learned that your body needs at least 1 to 2 years of sustained sobriety to fully recover from the damage alcohol did.
  13. Depression is very common in early sobriety because your brain needs to heal and recalibrate. You’ve been messing with the brain’s pleasure centre in the most dangerous way so your brain needs TIME to recover.
  14. This addiction kills people but before it kills you it will take away your dignity and it can do irreparable damage to the people you love the most.
  15. You can’t do it alone and in secret.If you keep that back door open you will use it! You need to be accountable to your nearest and dearest and you need community. This time I have community(ya’ll) and I cannot begin to say how much it’s helping me to know that I’m not alone in this.

Word

newyearsphoto

I don’t know what my word needs to be…Initially I thought of the word ‘alignment’ but I think that’s overshooting a bit. I need to learn to walk before I can run. ‘Self-care’ seems like a sensible word to hold as my intention for the year. Learning to care for myself as I care for my children. Sleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, soothe myself with nurturing rather than self-destructive addictions. This year I intend to learn to care for myself the way a woman who loves herself would.

That is a big deal because it’s so far removed from what I’ve always done. I’ve always pushed myself to the brink with no mercy and no consideration for my body or my emotional well-being. I’ve always ‘punished’ myself into submission. Self-care is a new concept for me but I need to build a healthy platform from which I can handle all the trials and tribulations that will come my way. Getting sober is the first step but it’s not enough. Tragedy will strike, stress will happen and I need to re-parent myself so that I can handle all of that without reaching for a drink.

Happy new year sober peeps! See you on the other side.xxx

Trump supporters, pudding flops and ‘sexy ladies’

So it’s over! I feel a gargantuan sigh of relief that I managed to get through the blessed day with no alcohol and no scenes. We spent the last 3 days at my husband’s family. His aunt (the hostess) gets really nervous and overwhelmed about hosting so many people so I was working in the kitchen most of the time. That’s okay it kept me busy and out of trouble. I went for a cigarette and when I returned her pudding had flopped and she was hysterical,  running around in circles mumbling to herself. Thankfully we managed to sort it out and cooked and prepped as much as we could before Christmas day.

Woke up Christmas morning with a clear head and rushed downstairs with my two little ones to see if Santa has been. They checked the mince-pie and carrots and shrieked with excitement when they saw that they had been eaten. It was brilliant to be hangover free while they ripped open their presents and to see them beaming with joy. Once we had finished the military operation of cooking, warming everything up and getting everything on the table on time we sat down to lunch. Phew!

I was surrounded by people who have radically different political and ideological views to mine. The conversations centered around Trump and how pathetic liberals are for being in such a state after the news that he won. I am a liberal and I am a feminist so it was tough going for me to sit there and say nothing. Usually I would be downing my wine to drown out the words that were hurting my ears. This time I just sat there and I listened. I excused myself from the table when they stated laughing about a certain female politician whom Trump refers to as ‘Pocahontas’ due to her native american heritage.

I am more balanced when I’m sober because I realise they are just normal people with views different to mine. Tolerance is one of my core values after all, I need to live and let live and I need to learn to practice what I preach. So I managed to hold my tongue and let them be without feeling the need to argue my point.

In the car on the way home my son started singing Gam Gam Style and repeated the words ‘sexy ladieeeees’ over and over. His grandfather was in the car and had one massive bushy raised eye brow at the lyrics. I was in absolute stitches and could not stop laughing for love nor money. It was complete hysterical laughter, I think it was a mixture of relief about Christmas being over and just letting go of everything. I needed to let go.

Obsession

I read something on the ‘immortal alcoholic blog’ that resonated with me a lot.

If you’re not familiar with the blog its a woman who writes about her husband’s struggle with alcohol.

She describes the stages of an alcoholic’s life. I think everyone is different and this might not necessarily  apply to everyone, however Stage 10 caught my eye.

She writes:

“STAGE TEN – I must be selfish because I’m in recovery.

A regiment of 12-step meetings begins and nothing else matters. He’s never available because he must go to a meeting. Tunnel vision develops and 12-step groups become his only focus. He’s just as unavailable as he was during drunkenness. But how can his supporters do anything but support his quest for enlightenment?”

I think I might have become slightly obsessed with my recovery. I’m constantly reading blogs and just immersing myself into the world of recovery. But I think this might be another form of escape from actually dealing with my life. Am I procrastinating and diverting attention here? It feels like I am…

Perhaps it’s a stage but I think that I need to get some balance back. Recovery is about more than just not drinking, reading about staying sober and listening to people’s stories. It’s about rebuilding a life that has fallen by the wayside because of addiction. I need to pay attention to:

  1. Self care. – Getting enough sleep, eating sensibly and moving every day
  2. Attention – My kids need more quality time, way more than I’ve been giving
  3. Rebuilding my career
  4. Being creative again
  5. Spending my time more wisely
  6. Focussing on the now and really savouring each moment
  7. Learning how to deal with emotions in a grown up and balanced way

On that note I’m off to bed, it’s really really late – (not a great start:)

Sad/Mad today

I feel really sad today. I was looking through old photos of the kids on Facebook. You know the disingenuous FB posts where it says. “Here at Facebook we care about your memories look at this post from 3 years ago!”

Looking through the photos I was remembering the mother I was. I was SO fucking tired, I didn’t know what I was doing half the time and I was drinking to ease the depression.

I’m so sad for her! I want to give her a hug and tell her that it’s going to be ok and that she will get out of the fucking pit of despair that is alcohol addiction.

As I was scrolling through the posts on Facebook I came across several posts (my own) that made me angry.

Post like these
Image result for jokes about wine and moms
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wine1Image result for jokes about wine

These posts help normalise my drinking, made me feel like I didn’t have a problem because I got so many likes, laughs, comments and re-shares.

It occurred to me that I might have quit sooner if I didn’t live in this permissive enviroment where everyone is using alcohol to self medicate.

This culture we live in has a lot to anser for. It’s not fucking normal.

Sorry about the rant. I’m off for a run to recalibrate.

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