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The Heart Failure Diaries (Endings and Beginnings)

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Last Saturday my mum realised she’s going to die – soon. We don’t know how soon but soon enough we think. It’s a strange space to be in, this one of anticipatory grief and loss. The knowledge blows around you – sometimes gently reminding you to really appreciate a moment; others catching you with a strong gust causing you to lose emotional balance. It makes everything intense. I have an urge to write. I realised as I started to write this diary of the end and what’s coming, my mind was swirling with memories. So I’ll start the end mixed up with the beginning – my earliest memories of me and my mum.

 My earliest memories are hazy. Riding my tricycle up and down on the path between the house and the farmyard – I know my mum is there with me or in the kitchen nearby. Watch with Mother, a daily ritual which she would leave me to watch alone- sneaking off to get lunch ready. The Clangers would have me transfixed. It’s strange that my 3 older brothers and sisters are mostly not there, I just recall me and mum. I do remember being with my brother T at playgroup in the village hall when a heavily pregnant mum came to collect us. We pretended to hide from her but not for long; running and hugging her warm belly all laughing together at the game. Fragments and images but they are all of the same emotional hue. Warm and safe.

I didn’t always have these memories. When I held my first daughter E as a baby, I experienced a sense of calm and inner peace that told me I too had been held this way. It was both a revelation and a comfort for me. The bad stuff meant I’d forgotten the good. I was distant from my mum by then; seeing each other but disconnected emotionally. It had been like that for years. Becoming a mother myself began the healing process and these early memories came back. The playgroup memory I would have been about 2 and 1/2, my youngest brother born not long after. He was sick and him and mum went away for a few months. My warm and safe memories stop there too. The next thing I remember is moving house when I was 4 years old.

Last Sunday me and mum took the new portable mobility scooter (christened the flying batmobile by mum) out for it’s first adventure. Inevitable issues for me folding and unfolding produced much hilarity from her. We managed it and off we went in the faint sunshine with it’s promise of Spring. I wondered if we would talk more or if we might lapse back into denial. Anyone who knows alcoholics will know that denial is something we do very well. These open honest conversations are new territory for us together – I wasn’t sure either of us would be able to stay in it.

She surprised me by announcing she felt better now she understood, and she was doing a bucket list! This mostly consists of me taking her to visit people! She is worried what will happen to her cat. My daughter E has promised to have him but her boyfriend is not a cat lover so she’s worried he will block it. ‘He loves her though so it will be fine’ I said, and we discussed the practicalities. We talked of the past some through the day; her childhood, some of her marriage to my Dad, and later on about my children and how my drinking effected them. We never really talk about my childhood and her drinking together – it’s like I was always a grown up. The shame she feels is too much for her to bear so has to be tiptoed round. We did and often do talk of the gift of the last 12 years since she’s lived near me. The fun, the laughter and the memories – made possible and better by her getting sober and then me. I hope that the gift of this period in our lives will be that nothing is left unsaid between us.

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Featured

Welcome to My New Sobriety Blog

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

Oscar Wilde

I’m quite new to my relative sobriety, finding my way in a world where I’m used to being the helper not the helped. I’m thinking there might be other people out there like me, scared to come out because of their professions so if I reach you and you feel less alone then I’ve helped us both.

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Sobriety Update

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Since my last post I’ve been busy living. Lots of work, some weekends away and I threw caution to the wind and bought a new horse! He’s an ex racer who’s had his basic retraining, and is very sweet natured. Hilariously he’s called Puff. Part of my thinking around getting him was that I would give up smoking ’puff’ in order to free up time especially given my mum’s health and needs. I’ve had him a couple of weeks now and have felt happier in myself than I have for a long time – probably since I retired my last horse in 2017. Looking back I think that was a catalyst for my drinking becoming increasingly problematic, the loss and more time to fill; followed by stopping alcohol, getting depressed and increasing my cannabis use to compensate. The pandemic allowed this to flourish and I withdrew more socially. Cannabis has been my default choice to fill my spare time for the last couple of years. Like alcohol it became less enjoyable as it became more compulsive. As I write this I have been cannabis free for a week.

It’s not all been positive. I’ve been grumpy with C, the return of the smoke devil! I’ve found myself thinking about drinking again. Could I have a glass of wine now and then? The idea of no mind altering substances to smooth the rough edges of life is difficult, especially as loss and grief are ever present currently. One day at a time is a helpful mantra to deal with this. Each time I’ve come close I’ve been glad that I’ve not succumbed. I’m feeling my feelings more with down days and ridiculously cheerful days. Im also getting more joint pain from my arthritis. I think I need to get some CBD supplements to address this.

The positives are I’m waking up earlier and getting more done. Things I want to do like riding and writing. I have more motivation to do other things, especially socially and like giving up alcohol, it’s liberating to not be thinking about when and how I’m going to smoke in any situation.

I’m not sure this is permanent. At the moment my thinking is that I might have it occasionally. I’m seeing this as changing my relationship with it – from best buddy and daily companion to a casual acquaintance. The therapy has definitely resolved some of the underlying issues that led to my addictions. I know old habits die hard though and I may be kidding myself. Hopefully having the new Puff in my life will mean there just isn’t the time and space for the old one!

The Heart Failure Diaries 2: (making memories)

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When I hear the song Memories by Barbara Striesand I think of my mum. This week I’ve been reliving my horse memories, as we’ve made the sad decision to retire the little horse. Too many issues with uncertain outcomes. I read of the horrors in Ukraine, the losses so many are having to bear and I know how lucky I am to be me right now. I’m not having a pity party, but I am allowing myself to be sad. I can’t remember the last time I rode her as I didn’t know it was the last time – we hoped she would recover with her time off. I think of mother’s not knowing the kiss and wave goodbye to their children isn’t the last, and all the last times people missed in the pandemic. My heart is overwhelmed with the suffering in the world.

With mum we are in a strange knowing but not knowing place. My siblings have been visiting. It’s reassuring they see what I see and we are of similar mind sets. Her optician looked in her eyes and said “You’re not well are you?” ”It’s bucket list time” she replied and made a joke about what she was getting me to do! Ever stoical to the outside world. Her echo is soon and then we will hopefully get a prognosis. Of course the doctors can’t tell us what we really want to know which is how long? Do we get another birthday? Christmas? We don’t get to schedule death and loss even if we can see it coming. What we do get to do is savour every moment, to notice them and make an effort to remember them. It’s intense living this way but we’re making memories to sustain us in the future.

Ive been scatty at work these last 2 weeks – forgetting things and feeling chaotic. I’m off for a few days now and this morning the tears came. “I don’t want my mum to die” I sobbed, the dam bursting as I have a day to myself so I have space to be sad. Tomorrow my eldest E comes for Easter, her boyfriend is coming too on Sunday for a family get together. Mum will be so happy she got to meet him. I’ll need to smile, be strong and be the reassuring grown up. We’ll have fun but we will all be wondering if it’s the last time we will be together like that. We don’t know but if it is we will have the memories.

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“Memories
Light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were

Scattered pictures
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we?
Could we?

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply to choose to forget

So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were” by Alan & Marilyn Bergman & Marvin Hamlisch

An Honest Conversation

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My mum has not been too good lately. She has had heart failure for many years, caused by excess alcohol damaging her heart muscle. Since Christmas she has been increasingly short of breath and sometimes breathless at rest. She’s cancelled things, talked about viruses, needing to shake it off and the like. I’ve gently suggested it might be her heart – often to be met with dramatic statements such as ’You may as well shoot me now then!’ Her doctor has done bloods and we are waiting an Echocardiogram and review by the specialist. I persuaded my brother – (the one with money!) to buy her a portable mobility scooter so we can go places. I called in to see her yesterday to plan our first outing.

Mum was looking a little better but still has the greyish pallor of someone lacking oxygen. We chatted and had a laugh as we always do. Then she got serious. She had spoken to the warden of her housing to let her know she wasn’t well. She wanted to ensure there was a ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR) in place. ”I’m not coping well with this” she explained, ”I know I wouldn’t cope if I was paralysed or something and I don’t want to put that on you all”. I agreed with her – honesty had replaced the dramatic statements. She then showed me the letter from Cardiology. “What’s that mean – BNP 1899?” she asked. “I think that’s a heart failure marker I said – let me look it up to be sure”. Medicine has changed a lot since I trained and I use Dr Google as much as the next person! My first search immediately revealed that high BNP is a prognostic marker, normal is 100. The latter fact was out of my mouth before I could self censor and I watched the penny drop for my mum; the one that had dropped for me a while ago – we are nearing the end.
“So what happens now?” mum asked. “We need to hear this from the consultant” I said, “then we ask if there’s anything medical they can do; then we ask them what’s likely to happen and how long it will take. When your heart can’t pump well enough your other organs will start to fail. So far your kidneys are holding up so that’s a good sign. It’s thinking what you want to do, and planning those things whilst we can”.

When I left Mum was joking again, but I felt bad leaving her to digest this uncomfortable truth. I’m glad I’m seeing her today. I’ve cried a little, and wondered just what the next months will hold. I know I can both sweep away worries and magnify them in my mind. I think I’m more balanced though with this. I’m not going to make any big plans; just be here, be present and available and make the most of the time we have day by day. I know I’m lucky to have had my mum so long, and blessed that she came back to us from alcohol – the thief that steals love slowly and surely once it gets hold of you. Today we will visit some gardens and try out the scooter. We will laugh and have fun and I will make precious memories.

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‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’

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It’s been 7 months since I last wrote here. I have hardly been reading sobriety blogs either. I’m not sure I completely understand why but perhaps it will come to me as I write now. I hope you are all ok in your worlds and finding your way forward on your paths. Here’s what’s been going on with me.

After the visit to my dad I started smoking weed again. The niggling pesky uncomfortable feelings were too much when I knew just what would make them go away. However I also decided to get some therapy. “Physician heal thyself” being a familiar refrain in my mind. ‘I thought I’d dealt with all this shit” I said at my assessment. ”You have cognitively but not emotionally” he said and allocated me to M.

One of the things that has put me off going back to therapy (I had some in my 20s) is the thought that I’m a scary patient to have; or that I will be dismissive of their knowledge and skills. A sense of being ’too much’ for them. Of course that’s not happened because what matters is the relationship and being seen as you are and accepted as you are. M is gentle and kind, and reflects things back to me in a helpful way. We started where I was at which was the losses – my own and my children’s. He recommended a book (https://bookshop.org/books/adult-children-of-emotionally-immature-parents-how-to-heal-from-distant-rejecting-or-self-involved-parents-9781626251700/9781626251700) that I’ve since recommended for my clients, my step-sister and bought for my daughter! I recognised my parents, my step mum, myself and my ex in there. I said this to my daughter adding ’I like to think I’ve changed though’. ’You have mum’ she replied. That comment means everything to me and I am holding onto it tightly.

So the autumn months were spent thinking about my parents divorce and my divorce; how I was in my first marriage and beyond. The key has been forgiving myself for my wrongs. that’s allowed me to forgive my ex and my parents, instead of holding us all to some critical judgemental standard. Acceptance can follow forgiveness. I visited my dad again and it was fine as before. I invited them to come visit me but they looked bemused. I know they won’t but I think I’m ok with that. We shall see.

As I work through this stuff, back and forth in between working and living, there are periods of heaviness, sadness and feeling weighed down; but then a joyful lightness of being – dancing in the kitchen, kneading bread, looking at trees when it feels good to be alive. I realise that my yearning to live in the countryside is in part about loss and I’m not yearning very much and am happy here now. I think I might be done with therapy but I’m still smoking so I figure M will help hold me to account.

So far so good. I finally get my vape working and stop smoking cigarettes with a plan to stop all tobacco soon, which will I think massively reduce the weed to a level I can live with. The fellow addicts among you will recognise the bargaining with the devil going on here!

Then I went out for a meal for a friend’s birthday. Not any old friend, my close friend who was my drinking buddy, who gets loud when she’s drunk and who I’ve had issue with in this situation before because she has a problem with non drinkers not splitting the bill. All of the above panned out again. We went home and once more I found myself preoccupied with it. Angry with her. When I brought it up at my next therapy session M got me to stay with how I felt in that moment in the restaurant. Wanting to disappear, embarrassed at being different. He commented ’you’re scared of her’. This shocked me as I get to feeling angry so quickly I hadn’t noticed any fear. I’ve spent this week feeling like a frightened 7 year old. Ive realised the significance of mealtimes, as that was often when things would kick off and get dangerous. The thing with alcoholic families is terrifying things happen and then you all just carry on. The title of this post is from another book about ’the rules’ that alcoholic families have. You don’t tell or trust anyone, you don’t feel, you just carry on as if everything is normal. No one comforts you. No wonder as soon as you can you find ways to comfort yourself. Trauma is frightening experiences without any comfort. Most children of addicts will not have experienced comfort as children making them so much more likely to become addicts themselves.

I’m working on feeling, talking and comforting myself in healthier ways. I don’t know what to do about my friend. She’s reaching out more and I’m stalling her. When I talked to her about the last time she denied having had a problem or very much to drink. I don’t feel safe sharing my feelings with her as I fear she will ridicule me to others. I don’t want to give her emotions that belong in the past and untangling it is difficult. I do know meals out with her are off the menu for the forseeable future! Thanks for reading – it’s good to be back. 💕💕

Unresolved and ongoing loss

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I went to visit my dad this weekend. I’ve only seen him once in the last 2 years. There’s been an underlying tension between my step mum and siblings in the 40 plus years they’ve been together but I’ve managed to be peripheral to that as I managed to get on with her and could see she makes my dad happy. I’m also close to my step sister so had stronger ties. I was my Dad’s favourite as a small child; a status that caused me issues with my sibs as they picked on me somewhat. I was the only one of the 5 of us who saw out my teen years there before leaving for university though my relationship with my dad then was terrible. Through my 20s I visited regularly but in the last 20 years or so it’s got less and less. My Dad rarely visits any of us – he’s come to my home two or three times in over 40 years which I’ve always explained away as him being a farmer, at sea out of his own world. My step sister recently moved away from where they live and they are visiting her for the 2nd or 3rd time soon so my mind had already started to doubt what it has told itself for years.
My dad did what he does and told stories about the past and people I don’t know or can’t remember. My step mum cooked us nice food; and we almost argued about politics. I noticed how threatened my step mum is by disagreement. She accused me of being miserable and unhappy when I talked about the state of the world. ‘I’m not’ I replied ‘but truth is important.’ Surprisingly my Dad agreed. They also talked a lot about their son’s baby, and my step mums grandchildren and great grandchildren; with only fleeting enquiry about my children and my life. I walked round the farm with C, looking at the old house that I grew up in that is no longer in the family, and reimagining it and the fields as they used to be. ‘It all feels so different now’ I said. All of this is normal for a visit there and I felt it had been a success.

When I got home I felt restless and bored. I really wanted a spliff but we don’t have any. I smoked a little last week when my daughter was home so I thought it was just the reawakened addiction rearing it’s hungry head. Then I thought about the wine in the fridge left over from her visit too. I realised I was wanting to block something out. I didn’t succumb and became tearful, angry and sad all at once. Angry that they seem to have a narrative that we don’t bother with them when it’s the other way round. When you make all the effort and do all the visiting in a relationship it’s not really sustainable in a meaningful way. My sibs blame his wife but he’s our father and he doesn’t know me anymore. Angry that my children’s father is exactly the same with my girls since our divorce and left wondering if my own unresolved and unacknowledged feelings had somehow contributed to that? Sad at the loss of a meaningful relationship with someone I love and feeling overlooked, unimportant and unvalued. The problem with the loss of a parent from divorce is the reminders as you go through life that the person has chosen to give you up. Death can’t be construed as a wilful abandonment. No wonder I berate C so much for ignoring me! I was also angry that at 56 I feel like this with a part of me saying ‘for fucks sake get over yourself!’ I thought about writing to my Dad and saying I don’t want to see him again, but after all this time I don’t think he will understand and his wife will get angry and dismissive which will impact other relationships too. I’m going to wait and see how I feel when I’m less raw. After all truth is important but then again it can’t always be heard.

I talked it over with C but got more miserable as the evening went on. J came home with the news that our horse isn’t right – more loss potentially. I couldn’t sleep so got up and watched the olympics until 2 in the morning. I thought about writing then but my mind wasn’t steady enough. Eventually I slept alone so as not to disturb C. I woke up not feeling any better so I’ve taken a mental health day and cancelled my clients today. Time and space to process and allow these feelings that I’ve kept at bay with drugs and alcohol for so long. I can’t help wonder if my life would have been different if I hadn’t blocked things out for so long? One of my daughters has given up on her Dad completely; the other says she prefers a fake superficial relationship than cutting him off. Is she doing what I’ve done and will she suffer later for it? Trauma is truly the gift that keeps on giving, through the years and the generations. Every time I think I’ve faced my demons another one surfaces. I’ve played whack- a-mole with them for years though, shoving them back into my unconscious so I can carry on being outwardly ok and keep up the pretence. I can’t do that anymore and now I need to find a way to make my peace with all the above, accept it and be truly free. Thanks for reading.

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Healing with Horses

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Last weekend I went to an introduction to Equine Assisted Therapy. Given my love of horses and mental health background it’s something I’ve thought of doing for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a growing field with an increasing evidence base for lots of human problems, including addiction. There were 4 of us on the training and we did exercises with the horses in the same way a client would. The idea is that horses being emotionally attuned animals who live in the present and seek connection, reflect back our inner states thereby helping us make sense of ourselves.

After some breathing exercises and a body scan the first exercise was simply ‘meet the herd’. We were told to go and meet the 6 horses in silence and notice what we experienced. The first horse I approached continued to eat grass as if I wasn’t there. ‘You’re ignoring me’ was my first thought – something I often say to C. The next horse greeted me with a nuzzle of my hand and I felt happy. She stayed close to me eating round my feet and I was comfortable with her. The 3rd horse turned his back to me 3 times – ‘you’re rejecting me!’ went through my mind. Boy do I need to be seen and accepted! I persisted with this one, slowly coming closer until he allowed me to stroke him. I’d no time left to do more than quickly say hello to the others. I thought about how I am attracted to the difficult people at work; people who don’t easily engage and who others don’t want to work with. Afterwards we learnt a bit about the horses histories. The one I’d spent the most time with had a very traumatic background.
The next exercise was ‘the journey’. There were 4 obstacles and we had to pick 2 positive areas of our lives and 2 negative to be represented and a horse from the 2 left in the field to come on our journey with us. The 2nd horse was ‘the interrupter’. The first woman who did the exercise was sobbing by the end of it and shared she rarely cries, let alone publicly. Another woman had the army as her interrupter, as her husband wants to join and this could disrupt her pursuit of her goals. As she moved from one obstacle, representing her current job, to the next, representing her future study plans, the 2nd horse came over and got in the way! She too was emotional at the end.

I picked family (as in all the people and animals I love) and sobriety as my positives; smoking and anxiety/stress as my negatives. My interrupter was my own mind. As I was trying to catch my chosen horse another was running up and down the fence in the next paddock asking to be picked so we let her in and she accompanied me. As we tried to get going she was nuzzling my feet and turning circles and I found myself leaning into her shoulder to direct her but not very successfully. When I stepped away that didn’t work either – I was too far away. This got in the way through the family obstacle somewhat and the other horse let out a big squeal as we progressed. This made me think about boundaries; how I can get too involved with my girls issues and clients and how that makes me ineffective; then I distance myself to correct it and that doesn’t work well either. When we stopped in the box representing smoking both myself and the horse were comfortable and could have stayed. The other horse let out a couple of loud squeals. The horse didn’t want to go near the stress and anxiety but when we got there we negotiated the obstacle with ease. As I got to the small jump representing sobriety I whispered to the horse ‘let’s do this’. I had a deep feeling of joy and freedom as I jumped the jump and the horse followed. I set her free but she followed me back to the group and we shared a meaningful hug. I then learnt she’s never done the jump before. Afterwards I felt every cell of my body tingle. ‘You’ve embodied something” the instructor said. This simple exercise had enacted aspects of my psyche in a clear easily understandable way. I expected it to be powerful but it blew me away.

I don’t think it’s unrelated that I watched the football that evening and did not smoke cannabis, even though several people I was with were smoking. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever turned a spliff down in my life and I was more than ok with it. I’ve not smoked cannabis since though have been around it again and although there’s a little part of my brain that’s anxious I could be tempted, the bigger part is saying I’m done with it and I recall that feeling I had of joy and freedom.
On a different note I’m actually glad England lost the final. The racist abuse of the players and the behaviour of the fans was appalling and if we’d won then that nationalism would have been rampant. As it is the players and a lot of the public have denounced both the racism and the government for their part in enabling it. These young men are essentially the only opposition we have to our corrupt, racist, selfish government at the moment and they make me feel hopeful for the future and immensely proud of them. Young people are essentially unrepresented politically in this country and the England team and their manager are stepping up and using their position for the greater good, challenging the government narrative when no one else is. Well played lads!

Friendship, Support and Football

Our back yard

It’s Saturday evening here and I’m making dinner with C in the kitchen, listening to sweet soul music looking at the flowers, birds and waterfall in our beautiful back yard that C created. I’m still not smoking cannabis and I have noticed a shift in my attitude this week. I’d normally be stoned by now on a Saturday so writing wouldn’t be an option! I know I want to do this instead of toying with moderation. I’ve been reading blogs again, and downloaded a tracker app as that helped me with alcohol a lot. Ive watched the tennis and football when I can and got really absorbed – fully present for the experience. I’ve planned and booked things over the summer including an Equine Assisted Therapy study day tomorrow. It’s something I’ve thought about pursuing for a long time so I’m taking the first step. Exciting! Writing the post last week really helped my motivation as did all your comments and support – thank you lovely people! Also had a lovely long chat with my best friend B last week. I’ve not seen her since before the pandemic and I miss her. We’ve been friends since our teens, united by a love of Paul Weller then and now and she knows me better than anyone. She has been the most understanding and supportive of all my friends in my quest for sobriety so if you’re reading this B thank you and I love you!
I’ve felt better all week, in spite of not sleeping well and being really busy. I’m more focused, more connected and calmer…..but I’m a little anxious about tomorrow. We’re watching the Euros final at a friends house and there will be smoking and drinking involved for others. It will also take me back to tournaments past when we all got together, got drunk and shouted at the TV. After the game against Denmark I was so hyped up I couldn’t sleep so I know I could be tempted.
Talking of football I love the current England team and manager. They are a breath of fresh air in this country when selfishness, corruption and hate seem to be championed by our government. They play as a team and there are seemingly no big egos. They use their position to highlight inequalities, racism and wear rainbow armbands. God knows what the nationalistic flag waving fans make of them but they give me hope. I wish Gareth Southgate ran the country! I love the collective spirit of watching the big games and it will be fun to watch in a group again. I need to remember that none of that is diminished by being sober, it will likely be better for it and certainly more memorable!
My other news is we have a new dog – Boy George! He came from Bulgaria where my younger brother lives. He’s taken to rescuing dogs and it seems to suit him. He’s a troubled soul having had the hardest time of all of us growing up. The dogs have given him purpose and I think this is the happiest I’ve known him. George is a delight and Clio has taken to him surprisingly well. Unfortunately the cat hasn’t as George chases him so we have a baby gate to keep them apart when we’re working. The cat has bullied the dogs for years so he’s struggling with his loss of power. I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to get it back in time!
So no doubt tomorrow I’ll be humming ‘It’s coming home’ all day as I have most of the week and will hopefully enjoy the match whether England win or lose but more importantly stay sober!

Boy George









The Forest of Addiction

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I started this post in the middle of May and it was titled ‘Becoming Content”. This is what I wrote: “Lately I’ve been noticing things more – the birds singing, the colour of the leaves against the sky or close to the earth, the smell of the blossom after the rain and the sunlight casting shadows in the woods when I walk the dog. The taste of my coffee and food, the smile on someone’s face, the warmth of C when I snuggle up to him. Each day is full of these precious moments and I’m noticing them and appreciating them more fully than I think I ever have before. I’m becoming content right here right now and it’s wonderful. Simple pleasures that make up a day and ultimately a life”.

Contentment is defined as a long lasting deep feeling of satisfaction and gratitude as opposed to happiness which is more about experiencing positive thoughts and emotions which are less enduring. Attributes of contentment are satisfaction, lack of envy, humility, discipline and abhorrence of greed and corruption (https://www.kofastudy.com).

I didn’t publish or finish the post because there was a nagging sense of a lack of authenticity. Why? Because I was smoking cannabis again on a daily basis. It felt fraudulent to talk of contentment on a sobriety blog whilst using. I’d had a significant break but it had crept back in. At first just occasionally and it was fun again with seemingly none of the bad effects – my senses weren’t dulled, I wasn’t tired and lethargic but I found myself wanting it more and more. I avoided my blog and others as I knew they would increase the conflict in my mind. I was having the best of both worlds and I wanted to keep it that way. I started to avoid yoga and other spiritual nourishment too. I continued to smoke and over the next few weeks my pleasure in life dulled and discontent began to get hold. During the day I would look forward to my evening spliff, then whilst smoking I would think ‘is this all there is?’ I felt bored, apathetic and fed up with myself. My head filled with the conflict – ‘don’t smoke tomorrow, limit it to the weekends’ etc etc knowing full well that I wouldn’t. I was back in the thick of the forest of addiction. My ‘friend’ cannabis was taking more than it was giving once again. I should have known; I did know this would happen but I wanted to be able to have it all. Addiction doesn’t work like that as we all know.

This week we ran out and I’ve stopped – hopefully for good. I’ve been emotional, critical and negative. Less physical withdrawal than last time but I’ve still felt raw. I’ve thought about drinking again – seeking a replacement for the substance I’m grieving. The sense of life being futile and everything being mere distraction and therefore pointless has returned. I’ve disconnected from my soul and my true self and become absorbed in the selfish chatter of my own mind.

I had a dream the other night. I had a tiny baby and was away somewhere. I rolled a spliff and left it on the side whilst I went out. When I came back the police were at the door and of course the first thing they saw was the spliff. In the dream I thought ‘I’m going to lose everything’. The police breathalysed me and I was relieved I no longer drank alcohol. They talked to me and left with a request that I go down the station. I snuggled my baby and fed her. I think the baby represented my sobriety: a little infant that needs a lot of care and nurturing and the warning was in the one spliff – it’s a threat and you can’t have it. Not even one.
As I write this I’m strengthening my resolve and reminding myself that there is life beyond substance misuse. There are other ways to quieten ones’ mind after a day of hearing the woes of fellow humans – a major trigger for me. There doesn’t have to be an obvious point or purpose to life beyond the moment we find ourselves in. All I need to do now is focus on staying sober and allow that to take me where it will. Out of the forest and into the light.

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Triggers for change

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I wrote recently about the ingredients of my addiction recipe but lately I’ve been thinking about the different things that got me to the point of making a change. I passed my 2 year alcohol free point this week. I didn’t feel the need to celebrate or mark it in anyway. It’s just how I roll these days. I saw some friends for a walk and food in a garden last week. Six people felt like a crowd and we laughed and had fun. I took a bottle of AF fizz. When I said that I really liked it a friend commented ‘until you realise it’s not working’. ‘Actually I don’t get that feeling anymore’ I replied and she looked surprised. I had no envy of their alcohol and it felt great.

It took me 15 months from 1st stopping to finally quit for good. I’d had the thought in my head that I needed to cut down for a good few years but the idea of giving up completely never crossed my mind. The death of George Michael in his 50s, heart disease related to addiction for sure and a friend of a friend, 49 years old, alcohol related, 2 teenage children gave me an uneasy feeling that disappeared when I drank. My attempts at moderation got less and less successful but if I had a couple of days off a week I thought I was doing ok.

When I divorced and met C my fears subsided and my drinking escalated. I was in love and having fun but also dealing with heartache – my own and my daughters. The two things don’t co-exist easily and alcohol helped. I signed up for an online rider training programme but couldn’t commit to getting up early to do the workouts. At the back of my mind I knew this was due to drink. I was also getting more erratic at work, increasing my stress and therefore my ‘need’ for a drink at the end of the day. I knew I was spiralling down but I had no idea how to stop it.

A few months before I stopped C and I were in London for a conference. I found the crowds difficult to deal with, I was anxious and irritable – a state that was becoming more normal for me. I now realise I was on a withdrawal intoxication see saw all the time. On the Saturday we had a perfect day. We walked and sat in the park in the afternoon and then went to the theatre, An American in Paris – great seats, drinks along the way. The play was magical and when we came out there was a busker and people singing with him. We joined in and danced in the street. I felt wonderful. Then we went into a restaurant and suddenly my mood switched and I had a go at C. We left without eating and I stormed off. Realising I didn’t know where I was I tried to call him but he didn’t answer for ages and panic set in. Eventually he did. He was in a rickshaw heading back to the hotel and came and found me. I got in and half for real half jokingly beat him up all the way back. My mood was teetering on the edge of happy versus angry and sad and I was too drunk to have any say over which way it would go. By the time we got back the bad mood prevailed. We argued – I don’t know what about and I spent the night sleeping on the floor crying. We missed the morning of the conference and the speaker I most wanted to see. I went home feeling dejected and a failure.

There were a few other incidents like this and I knew that the problem was my drinking whatever I might say in an argument. When I wasn’t drunk I was irritable and thinking when I could have a drink; when I was the nice part was getting more short lived and then I was turning on the person I loved. In those moments I felt like my mother at her worst. Triggered into disinhibited rage at the drop of a hat. I didn’t even know what I was angry about. It had a force of its own and was almost a compulsive re-enactment. Now I think the real argument was internal – between my true self and my addiction. This wasn’t my Mum’s stuff – we just shared the same problem. In spite of this slowly dawning realisation I kept pushing it away with alcohol as the idea of stopping seemed impossible. I wanted someone else to tell me and eventually my daughter did. Another night spent crying with shame and I decided to stop.

In those 1st few months I took up yoga and white knuckled my way through social situations. I felt physically better and both of my daughters and C’s tender care towards me confirmed just how much of a problem my drinking had been. The idea of permanence was still daunting though and at 100 days I decided to try moderation. Over the next 9 months things gradually slipped back. A yoga retreat in India in the autumn that I’d booked whilst sober gave me a break and strengthened my true self. I came back determined to control it but when I’d failed to do dry Jan, Feb or March I signed up for The Sober School, a blog I’d started following the first time round. I’d tried AA but didn’t like it and on line anonymous help seemed a better fit. I knew the demons were just around the corner and I didn’t want them back.
I read a lot of quit lit and followed the daily lessons. One of the most helpful things was learning about the addictive voice. Recognising this part of me as ‘other’ was powerful and a game changer. Realising how much we are sold alcohol as a solution to all life’s problems sealed the deal and half way through the course I realised I didn’t want to drink again. I have occasional urges but mostly it’s easy. It’s not will power it’s mindset and my mind is set to not drink anymore. I’m on the 2nd phase of the rider workouts and have a competition this weekend on the horse I couldn’t ride before I started looking after my body. My daughter hugged me when she realised it was 2 years and told me how proud she is of me. I wouldn’t swap that feeling for anything in the world.

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