Yesterday was my 6 month milestone so a good time to take stock and reflect. Giving up alcohol has changed everything though outwardly I’m still the same person living the same life. Its very much a work in progress but this is where I’m at now.
My mindset about alcohol has changed completely which has really surprised me. It happened quite quickly this time though last time I stopped it didn’t which is probably why I started again. When I did the ‘Getting Unstuck’ course the things that really clicked for me was ‘addictive voice recognition’, playing the film forward and reading Ann Dowsett Johnson’s wonderful book ‘Drink. The deadly relationship between women and alcohol’. I read a lot of other books too but this is the one that really hit home. She describes the marketing of alcohol to women from the 1980s onwards so gives the political and social context to the rising levels of addiction. She also shares her own experiences. The take home message for me was how much we have been manipulated into seeing alcohol as ‘our friend’; the must have accessory to cope with our lives. I see that everywhere now. Collectively this is our consciousness. At work the other week when we were all reeling from the tragic death of a young person almost everyone made some comment to me about wine chilling at home. I would have done the same 6 months ago. I’d have been desperate to get home and block it all out. It’s normalised and acceptable and it keeps us all compliant non complaining consumers. I was the alcohol advertisers dream in that respect. I drank a lot and I partied hard but outwardly I was successful, healthy and happy. That wasn’t the real story of course but hey it’s all about appearances isn’t it?
I have to say the past 2 weeks have been the most testing time so far though. Not because I believe alcohol is the fixer I once thought it was, but because I can’t bear to be sad. I didn’t want a drink to take the edge off, I wanted to get smashed. Playing the film forward and recognising the addictive voice got me through this as well as posting on here and your lovely comments. I’d not realised before how unbearable sadness is to me as I’ve never allowed it for very long. At work it’s the really sad young people that pull my heart strings the most and have me reaching for my prescription pad the quickest. If my girls were sad growing up I’d take it as a personal failing on my part. I rarely talk to my friends when I’m feeling low. I hide away and feel ashamed. Writing this now is bringing tears to my eyes and a wave of sadness. I haven’t figured out what this is about or why I find it so unbearable yet – just that it has been my life’s mission to get rid of it wherever I find it.
I’ve also realised that anger can be a mask for sadness too. It’s easier to be mad than sad. It has energy and you can direct it away from yourself. Without alcohol though you really feel the guilt and the shame of dumping your own crap on your loved ones. It takes you back there quickly so you may as well allow the sadness in the first place.
So for me the biggest challenge of not drinking is managing my emotions when I have to suppress or contain them all day in order to help other people manage theirs! I started regular yoga when I first stopped drinking nearly 2 years ago and without it I doubt I’d have been able to stop completely. It’s changed how I breathe and I can now use my breathing to calm myself down. Childhood trauma sets our nervous systems to permanent high alert and rapid response but we can learn to calm it down. Meditation calms our thinking mind and gives us more control over it. These are my main tools alongside time with nature and when I don’t use them I struggle more or smoke more cannabis to get the same effect.
I had a lovely evening out with friends last night – I’m in London for the week on a course and enjoying some alone time. I didn’t even think about having a drink or feel even slightly uncomfortable. I’m used to not drinking socially now. I’m still not used to drunk people when I’m sober. This is childhood stuff too – I’m primed to notice the moment when merry becomes pissed as that’s when things could get dangerous. I’m managing it by avoidance mainly and that’s actually ok but I am going to miss out on things if I don’t get my head round it. It also means my friendships are shifting as I don’t want to hang out with the big drinkers so much these days. Ive got complicated feelings about these relationships and I really don’t know how it’s going to pan out.
So what next? I want to stop smoking both cigarettes and cannabis. (I’m having a break from the latter whilst away and actually it’s fine.) Allowing my emotions, accepting how life is, just being present and in the moment as much as I can – that’s what I’m hoping sobriety will help deliver.