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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I’ve just got back from our annual girls weekend away. This was our 30th trip – 5 of the 11 of us have been every time -we’ve gained and lost some friends over the years. We eat, laugh, dance, sing, walk, play games and usually drink – a lot. Last year I couldn’t have imagined doing this weekend without alcohol. This year I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.
I had two different thought processes going on beforehand in preparation for the weekend. I knew it wouldn’t work if I didn’t do some planning. The first was really thinking about the past weekends and the role of alcohol in them. The last few years I’ve been so drunk I’ve passed out relatively early; or not wanted to go on a walk the next day. My weekend was centred around drinking but for others that’s just a part of it. I used to manage the alcohol and all the other fun too – I’ve never been one for staying in bed even after the heaviest nights; but alcohol had been quietly stealing more and more from me in recent years. I thought about my friends. In my mind everyone gets pissed all weekend long. I reminded myself that not everyone drinks like I used to. I anticipated more conversations with my more sober friends and joining in more other stuff. I concluded that I had enjoyed the recent holidays less because I drank too much, and I would enjoy the majority of the holiday more this year without alcohol.
However my parallel thought process involved imagining myself feeling isolated and bored whilst everyone else was enjoying themselves; going to bed and getting woken up and getting angry. Getting irritated by someone’s comments and leaving abruptly or worse still arguing with them and leaving after a big fall out. Fears that my sobriety would somehow break the weekend and with it the bonds of friendship that have formed over 30 years. At no point did I imagine having a drink though.
Friday afternoon we all started to arrive. A drink and some food at the pub before the house. All ok. The on line shopping arrived and I started to have a bit of a wobble as I couldn’t find the Seedlip I’d asked for amongst all the wine and there was no San Pelligrino mineral water. (Can you imagine the hardship!) Stroppy words were coming out of my mouth – the enactment of ‘Mrs sorry for herself, I’m not going to have fun, it’s not fair”. I went upstairs and took a few minutes. Had a word with myself and asked what I really wanted? To spoil everyone else’s fun because of my resentment or to give it a go? Just as I decided on the latter I heard someone shout upstairs ‘found the Seedlip’.
I came down and joined in. Singing and dancing round the kitchen table as we all helped cook. For various reasons it wasn’t as mental a Friday night as it can be and I really had fun. I was pretty stoned but I didn’t drink and I was buzzing from the revelation that I could have this kind of fun without alcohol.
Saturday morning hangover free – that feeling never gets old does it? Most of us went on a walk and the day passed pleasantly. So far so good. Sat night caught me by surprise and off guard after Friday though. There was quite a lot of drinking before dinner and everyone got in the zone except me. Dancing, really into the music, loads of energy and laughing hysterically at pretty much anything. It was amusing for a while but that wore off. I danced a bit but I was tired, my hip was sore and I was probably too stoned. Conversations were brief, repetitive and dull. One friend wanted to talk about her drinking and wanting to stop herself; a conversation I’d happily have with her but not when she’s drunk ideally. I wanted to go to bed but didn’t want anyone to drunkenly try to make me stay up as I knew that would flip me into angry mode. Eventually I did and left them to it.
Sunday I was up hours before anyone else. I did some yoga and drank tea. I wanted to leave. I felt weird; separate and other. A lot of the talk all day was inevitably about the evening before and I wasn’t part of it. I didn’t go on the walk as it looked like rain. I was worrying about the pub lunch; would they all get drunk and repeat last night? I said I might go home later and kept my options open.
I ended up staying. Only a couple of people got drunk Sunday night. Everyone else toned it down a lot. They probably have every year but I’ve never noticed before! We played cards, sang along to old songs and had a lovely time.
So what have I learnt? Most importantly I have amazing friends and I genuinely enjoy their company. I was right that the rest of the weekend was better without alcohol and without a hangover. I was also right that really drunk people are not much fun even if you love them a lot unless you’re drunk too. Maybe this will change? Part of how I felt was grief for party animal me. I won’t be that person again and actually she did have lots of really good times. Paid a price but good times none the less. It’s not honest to say alcohol is never fun. I was missing out on Saturday and I did mind. Would it have been worth drinking to join in? No. I also don’t think being stoned really helped at all. It’s not a sociable drug really and I think I may have been better completely sober.
The best lesson learnt is that if I can do that weekend without alcohol I can do pretty much anything I want to! The key is ‘want to’. I actually think my partying days are probably over. I don’t want to be around people when their main purpose is to get shitfaced unless it’s something like this weekend when it’s a small part of a great time with people I really love.
After I wrote the last post I went downstairs and immediately picked a fight with C. Not much of one but the change in mood was sudden and marked after all the happy stuff I’d just written. Couldn’t figure out what was going on for a while then I realised. I’d not been completely honest in the post and the negative stuff was bubbling just beneath the surface and couldn’t help itself. Bloody projection – I’m a master at it and I hate it! Luckily C is a master at gently giving me back whatever I’m trying to dump on him so I’m figuring it out at last.
There are 2 parts to this. The first is that I left out or glossed over the difficult bits of the night out. I did have a good time but I had been looking at my watch and thinking of leaving the minute I got there, and intermittently through the evening; interspersed with actually relaxing and enjoying myself. My mind was able to focus on the positives afterwards ( totally necessary at this stage I think to not drink) until I typed and then deleted the line ‘I had fun but not the way I used to’ or something like that. That thought, quickly banished from my preferred perspective with the back button, wouldn’t lie down and disappear, and triggered my change in mood.
The second part of this is that I’ve been debating whether to share about my cannabis habit. I’m alcohol free (124 days) but not cannabis free. I know that means lots of readers will say I’m not sober. That’s why my blog is doctor getting sober; I know that too. When I write about going out sober I feel fake because I’ve had some spliff. In fact I have spliff every evening so the fake feeling is fairly constant. The more I interact on here the more fake I feel so I need to come clean. I’ve also taken other drugs but not in the same compulsive way, and not for a while. Cannabis has seemed the lesser evil in recent years compared to alcohol, and in many ways it is, but it’s still a mind altering drug and I’m addicted to it.
My original idea for starting this blog was to use it as accountability to stop smoking dope as well. Early on in the Getting Unstuck Course I was starting to think that cannabis would have to go too. I wanted to start blogging but I found I didn’t want to stop smoking yet, so I shifted the focus of the blog and started anyway. So what’s stopping me from stopping? In part the old chestnut of the girls weekend coming up in August. I know this is a classic addict excuse – wait for the right time. There is no right time only now. I know that but it works as an excuse if you’re looking for one. The other reason was one others have reinforced. ‘You need something, don’t you?’ – a lot of people have kindly said when I’ve commented about my not so sober sobriety. I’ve been pondering this a lot. As a society we are programmed to believe that we ‘need’ something in order to relax and enjoy ourselves. Life is so stressful and fast paced now it’s like we have to have a shortcut to speed up the unwinding so we don’t waste too much time relaxing! It also keeps us all compliant and non-complaining. Useful tactic for the decision and money makers. This quote from Anne Wilson Schaef’s book ‘When Society Becomes an Addict sums it up perfectly:
”The best adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie. When you are dead you are not able to do the work of the society. When you are fully alive you are constantly saying ‘No’ to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interests of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society functions as an addict”.
I think it’s interesting that there is political awakening and discontent currently alongside a growing interest in sobriety, meditation and spirituality. Young people are more likely to be teetotal than my generation. Perhaps we’re all starting to realise we’ve been had? Anyway, the idea of needing ‘something’ is not just our addicted brains talking; it’s social conditioning. Conditioning my mind has embraced wholeheartedly and even framed as rebellion.
I think it was when I was reading Catherine Grey’s wonderful book ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’ that I first had the thought that rather than missing out on drinking I was missing out on sobriety by continuing to smoke. That’s been bouncing round my consciousness ever since. I know I’ve still processed a lot of emotional stuff since ditching the booze. Cannabis isn’t the consciousness obliterator alcohol is; though it’s good at dampening difficult feelings. It also takes your motivation and energy and makes you live too much in your own head. Perhaps that’s been useful for these early AF days, but I know it’s holding me back now.
So I’m going to stop – soon. After next weekend. Experience being me chemical free. Stop being a zombie. I’ve really no idea what will happen other than I think it might be a white knuckle ride emotionally. No more numbing. Anyway I’ve got my ticket, I’m in the queue, and there’s no getting out of it now.
I’ve had a busy weekend socially. The night out on Saturday and then dinner at my friend’s on Sunday, both situations I’ve been avoiding since I stopped drinking. I last wrote on Saturday morning when I was dreading going out. I went and I had a good time! So what’s changed and what have I learnt?
I’m getting used to not drinking so I’m no longer battling internally with the wine witch when I’m socialising. The social awkwardness is a reflection of this internal battle I think. Why can’t I be like everyone else? What’s wrong with me? It’s hard to be relaxed when this is going on inside, hard to be present. I noticed that I’m more tolerant and less judgemental of others. Now I’m more at ease with the new me I can be at ease with others choices too. I still noticed when they were getting drunk but it bothered me less. I was able to focus on what I like about my friends rather than not liking their drinking. Although I could sense some discomfort from them about my lack of participation it didn’t snowball as I wasn’t feeding it with my own anxieties.
Everything is more real without alcohol. There’s not the fuzzy haze surrounding things that makes a place seem exciting and cool. Just a room with some disco lights and people dressed up dancing. Music still has the power to transport though, can still get under my skin and into my bones and make me move! No anaesthetic though for the arthritic joints and the sore feet! Next time I go dancing I’ll wear comfy shoes!
Not everyone out is there to get drunk. This is obvious to the non- addict but an eye opener for me. Realising that getting pissed has been the primary aim of most of my social interactions for so long saddens me. Towards the end of my drinking career I started choosing to stay in so I could drink more. The awareness of the priority alcohol had in my life became too big to ignore. I was bored and fed up but I still chose drinking. Thankfully I didn’t lose the rest of life completely. I’m thankful.
When I used to go out I was always restless. One minute on the dance floor – then let’s get another drink, go for a smoke, go to the toilet. Let’s go somewhere else. Never settling in and just being. I’ve realised that this restlessness came from the desire to be intoxicated driving my brain. Unable to settle, always needing something. No time to really appreciate anything. I’m looking back on all those ‘good times’ now a bit differently. Thinking about what I missed out on by being drunk rather than what I’m missing out on being sober now. Both nights out last week I did what I’d gone to do – I watched the band all the way through and I danced. No distractions needed.
I went home early and that’s ok. Partly because of the sore feet, partly because the others were drunk but mostly because I’d had enough. Alcohol makes us stay longer and later – not because it’s so much fun but because we can carry on drinking. Making my own choice felt good.
I have to mention waking up on Sunday hangover free. Everyone says it but it is so good! I took my mum to watch my daughter show jump, and remembered all the lost time when I’d slept Sunday away or worse still got up and taken her to a show – grumpy and tired, argumentative and probably over the limit still. Without the booze I can have Saturday night and Sunday morning! Result!
I thought I’d find it hard not to be smug on Sunday when we went for dinner; that my friend would be hungover and not great company and I’d gloat a little – I didn’t want to but I thought I would. I was surprised not to feel this way. I didn’t mind that they had wine, I enjoyed the delicious food and the conversation. We laughed a lot. It was evident they’ve missed seeing us as often and I’ve missed them too. This is a huge relief. When I stopped drinking last time I didn’t get past this. One of the reasons I didn’t find AA helpful was the suggestion that I might have to ditch my friends and get new non-drinking ones. It’s probably why I decided to give moderation a go. I love my friends and dinner on Sunday showed me that the stuff in the bottle is not a necessary part of our friendship. I had thought it was.
We have our annual girls weekend away coming up when 11 of us stay in a cottage without men or children. It’s our 30th year! I’ve been dreading it and wondering how I’ll handle it without alcohol. I’m looking forward to it now – the laughs, the food, the games, the walks. If I’m honest I’ve not enjoyed the last few years as I’ve been too drunk. Unable to pace myself and crashing out early. This year there may be moments when others are drunk and it gets to me, but the majority of it will be more enjoyable and I’ll remember it! I feel I’ve turned a very important corner here. If you’d told me I would be able to socialise without a drink and actually enjoy it 6 months ago I wouldn’t have believed you. My mindset has changed – I’ve been reprogrammed! Thanks Kate Bee! (sober school blog and course – check it out if you’re struggling still).
If I’m honest I’m not sure I’ll want too many nights out like Saturday – there’s only so much disco dancing and drunken chat you need in your life! That’s going to be in the ‘every now and then’ box of entertainments moving forward. But old friends, great food and a good laugh – I hope that’s a regular treat.
I’ve been a bit of a social recluse since I stopped drinking. I’ve been on weekends away and holidays, gone for walks in the day or meals with one friend at a time but I’ve avoided gatherings on the whole, avoided drunk people or more specifically drunk friends. I can easily be around alcohol, there’s still quite a lot in my house. Just not people full of it.
We used to regularly go down the pub on Friday for early doors. Ive not been since I stopped drinking but I’ve found myself miserable and bored on Friday nights, slumping into a depressed mood without the distraction of work. Nothing to do and no one to see – poor me! The association between finishing the working week and starting the weekend by getting pissed has been the most difficult one to break for me. I can have a really good week and then Friday night 6pm I’m depressed. The wine witch is in full force when she’s pretty much gone the rest of the time. Takes me the rest of the weekend to get my mood back to some sort of even keel and then it’s back to work!
Last night was the first Friday this hasn’t happened – hooray! Since I off loaded some shame last week (see previous post) I’ve felt lighter, had more energy. I went out to a gig mid week and really enjoyed it. I let myself get into the music, and didn’t need to go to the bar or the toilet during the set – sober bonus! I also said yes to a night out tonight – some sort of disco night that I thought sounded fun, I could go, have a dance and leave when I’ve had enough. These things together allowed me to reframe staying in on a Friday as a positive choice. All good so far.
This morning though I’m dreading this evening. Triggered by the suggestion that we meet at my friends for ‘prinks’. I can’t bale out as I’ve got all the tickets on my phone – that’s how enthusiastic I was on Monday! The only reason to have prinks is to drink more for less money. I can envisage feeling awkward, bored and boring before I even get to the night out. I really don’t know what to do.
The 3 friends I’m going with all get hammered. Like I used to. One of them has been my partner in crime since medical school. Our daughters are 2 days apart in age and best friends too, our dogs are sisters. We are closer than family. I love her dearly but I hate her drunk. I hate myself for being so judgemental. I know this is more about me than her, I’m judging my old self without compassion for one, as well as re-experiencing the unavailability of a loved one through alcohol that was so much a part of my childhood. That makes me fearful but the worst my friend does is fall over! She’s not a dangerous or scary drunk. There’s no need for this fear and loathing but how can I get past it? I know if I’m uncomfortable and awkward the others will pick up on it and I don’t want to spoil their night directly. I’m not responsible if me not drinking makes them uncomfortable per se but I am if I’m judgemental and disapproving.
I could go later but then I’ll miss the sober part of the evening as well as replicating the feeling I used to get coming home from school. Not a good plan. I could meet them there but then I’m putting the awkwardness out there before the evening begins. I’m not worried I’ll want to drink – I really am past that. It’s more that I won’t be able to enjoy it and that will effect everyone else’s enjoyment.
I’d hoped writing this would help me come up with a solution or a plan but so far it hasn’t! I guess I just have to see what happens. From what I’ve read this gets easier with time. If I keep avoiding it then it won’t. Maybe I’ll decide that nights out like this aren’t for me anymore. Maybe I’ll have a good time and the next one won’t be so angst ridden. I feel ready to emerge from my cocoon and to engage with the world again. Everything is a new experience without alcohol. It’s like a blank canvass for life and I can choose what to put on it. I’m in the experimental phase – everything’s on trial. Live music is definitely a keeper – I’ll let you know whether nights like tonight are!
This has been a difficult post to write because shame is difficult. Not something we choose to share. I don’t think I’ve got in touch with it very much in the past (except in relation to my drinking of course) but I did last week. The irony that the one thing I was consciously ashamed of was what I did to keep my unconscious shame at bay is not lost on me. I think I’ve been running and hiding from shame all my life.
So here’s how it caught up with me. I had an email from one of the bosses asking for a word last week as someone had told her I’d ‘breached confidentiality’ in a meeting the week before. I knew immediately what it was about. A colleague had been off with stress and I was arguing that we needed to protect his workload. I spent the morning before meeting her coaching myself not to be defensive and not to get in to my own complaints. I sat down, she was perfectly nice about it but I couldn’t help myself. I did apologise but then I said all the things that have bothered me at work; told her I’m thinking of leaving and left the room feeling really pissed off. Came home with a self as victim attitude but woke up the next day feeling sad and vulnerable. Dealt with this by being negative with C who wearily commented ‘you’re still projecting whatever it is you’re trying to get away from’ or something similar. His words hit me straight in the heart and suddenly I was no longer irritable with him but ashamed. What came to mind was an incident from my childhood.
I was 7 years old and had a teacher and best friend that I adored and I was enjoying school more than I ever had before. We were very much the teacher’s favourites. On this day we were talking and messing in class and didn’t quieten down despite being asked repeatedly. Eventually she made us both stand in the corner until break. I was mortified. I don’t remember at what point I started crying but I was still crying when I got home and I couldn’t stop. I remember my parents desperately trying to find out what was wrong. I couldn’t say. They tried to ring my teacher. The next day she asked me if they’d tried to reach her and again I couldn’t say. I wasn’t able to speak it, I was so ashamed. I couldn’t allow anyone to comfort me or help me get some perspective. I had done something wrong but in my mind I was wrong. I think this is my first memory of shame.
So shame, it’s origins and it’s consequences have been on my mind since. Not least the mental gymnastics we deploy to try and avoid feeling it. For me it seems rooted in the need to appear perfect to others, to be the favourite or the best. If I’m not then what does that signal?Rejection? Confirmation that I’m not good enough? Unworthy somehow? Somewhere along the line I must have learnt that love is conditional. I don’t think this came from my parents, they were never performance driven with us. As one of five siblings I became ‘the clever one’; maybe it was a role I created for myself?
I don’t strive to be perfect though or seek to hide my flaws. I’ve often joked that I’ve been getting away with things all my life, whilst underneath hiding the unspoken anxiety of being caught out. When I do get ‘caught out’ it’s catastrophic in my mind. These fears haven’t been in my conscious awareness for many years until now. Especially in relation to work. As a student it was a perpetual anxiety. Everyone else seemed so much more confident and clever. I hid at the back, missed a lot and didn’t study much. I also drank a lot. For a long time since those days the combo of professional status and alcohol have kept it all at bay. Eventually the solution became the problem as it often does and here I am alcohol free with a slideshow of events where I’ve felt shame playing in my head.
I’m also increasingly recognising that one of the ways I deal with anything that triggers my underlying shame is to project it on to others. Moaning, criticising. Anything to get it away from me! I’m ashamed of this too. The 7 year old me couldn’t do that so I must have learnt this later on. Perhaps as a teenager when my rebellious nature kicked in; when I raged against the world and my Dad in particular. When he would shout back ‘you’re just like your bloody mother’. Maybe this was the shaming statement that I really wanted to escape?
There are 2 key distortions going on here psychologically. The first is my mind takes a simple human mistake and transforms that into an absolute statement about my own wrongness. This is unbearable to my conscious mind – the 7 year old girl who can’t be comforted – so I take my wrongness and put it into someone else, usually someone who loves me. The Groucho Marx quote comes to mind: ‘I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member’. There must be something wrong with you if you love me. This might protect me from feeling shame, but it still leaves me alone and uncomforted.
Today I’m learning to sit with my shame instead of drowning it or dumping it on another’s psyche. I’m watching the slideshow go past and thinking ‘it’s ok, it happened, let it go.’ Practicing some self compassion. I emailed my boss the next day to say I was sorry I’d had a rant, it wasn’t appropriate and actually things are ok, and I apologised to my colleague. I made a mistake, I dealt with it, I learnt from it. There’s no shame in that.
After I posted yesterday we had a really lovely day, took the dogs to the beach, ate a delicious pub meal. I was keeping the feeling the week had cultivated in me. Until we played Scrabble. The thing is since I wrote the last Scrabble post C has been winning; most games. Remember at the start of that blog I said ‘God I love winning’? Well I really wanted to win this game.
It didn’t start well. C played first. I’d drawn nearly all vowels so was relying on some consonants. He played Qi. Q fucking I! I flipped out at him, half joking but then he tried to placate me and I went too far. Couldn’t pull myself back from it so carried on sulking as I drew more and more shit letters, dumping my hand 4 times. We played on in silence, no one having any fun and eventually my luck changed and I won.
Winning felt crap. I wanted to berate C but I knew it was all my fault. I still tried to as that’s what drunk me would have done but my heart wasn’t in it. I’d not followed any of my own advice; and cared too much about the result to enjoy the process; alienating C and spoiling the fun. I realised I might be able to talk the talk but I sure as hell wasn’t walking the walk yet. Not even when playing a game!
We eventually talked and I persuaded him to play another game. I wrote ‘voided for bad behaviour’ on the previous result and C won. I praised his good play and we went to bed feeling amicable again.
When we talked C commented that although I’m not doing the 12 step programme this was like Steps 6 & 7; which are to do with removing your shortcomings and defects of character – (well asking God to which is one of the reasons AA isn’t for me). Having looked them up I think I’m more at step 4; making a moral inventory of myself. If I’m honest the way I behaved playing that game of Scrabble happens quite a lot. A lot less now I’m not drinking but it’s an old habit. When it does it leaves me feeling crap and then I project that out; minimising my causal behaviour – ‘you over reacted, I didn’t mean it’ – that kind of thing. At its worst I end up really upset, hating myself and everyone else; desperately trying to figure out how to get back from it and start to repair. Without booze I can often catch myself now, change the direction of the wind; blow the clouds away before the storm really gets up and everyone gets drenched. Slowly learning to walk the walk.
Today is our last day in Cornwall. We arrived late last Saturday as I’d been at a memorial event for a young person I’d worked with through her adolescence who had tragically died. She’d been a success story for us at the time – gone to University, stopped self harming. Her death and the event had put me in full blown life is futile mode (what is the point? Why are we here? etc etc). You can imagine it wasn’t the most fun car journey for C. We arrived late to our tiny cottage and there was a bottle of wine in the fridge. Once again I was reminded that the above train of thought leads to justification for drinking. ‘Fuck it – we’re all going to die anyway, may as well enjoy myself’ – you know how it goes. Anyway I didn’t and the wine is still there. I’m much better at fast forwarding the movie to the end (a tool from Kate Bee’s sober school) and reminding myself I don’t actually want to feel worse or go through the early stages of sobriety for a 3rd time.
For the first time that I can remember since childhood we’ve abandoned clocks and time. No routine, no mealtimes, just gone with the flow. Like the summer holidays from school where a day would just unfold. We’ve not done very much at all and I’ve let nature wash over me and bring me some peace of mind just as it did when I was little. I grew up on a farm and spent a lot of time outdoors alone. Walking with the dogs, riding in the fields, sitting by the brook. Just being. This week I’ve reconnected with that part of me which can be hard to find in my busy urban life now.
One of the ways I repeatedly live in the gap (see Scrabble post) is to focus on C’s age. He’s 20 years older than me and I can get preoccupied with what he can’t do and the likelihood that he’ll die before me. He’s pretty fit but he can’t walk very fast or very far compared to me. These thoughts are corrosive; burning away the feelings of love and contentment that we’re lucky enough to share right here right now today. Fears for the future eating up today’s happiness.
Mid week one of my oldest and dearest friends messaged me to say a dear old friend of hers had died. My last memory of him is him dancing with his daughters at her 50th. He wasn’t yet 50 when he died. Completely tragic.
I could have gone back into fuck it mode but really I’d have been using someone else’s tragedy as an excuse to drink. Far better to turn it to gratitude. So yesterday I went for a walk along the coast path with just the little dog for company. I figured that instead of focusing on what C can’t do, I could appreciate all the things he can and do the other stuff by myself or with others. I’m not really a co-dependent sort of person so don’t get why this has been so hard for me to work out? Seems so obvious as I write it now!
The walk was breathtakingly beautiful. The changing coastline; waves crashing on the rocks; birds circling above; wild flowers and wild ponies. It felt good to exert myself, to connect with the land and sense it’s deep history. A reminder of how little time and space we actually occupy in the big, universe scheme of things but without the sense of futility. Appreciating being alive.
I’ll be back in the city and living by the clock again next week. I was depressed when I left and I’m not now. I need to keep this nature filled, timeless space in my heart as full as I can if I’m going to stay grateful. Thank you beautiful Cornwall.
Since I stopped drinking me and my husband have been playing a lot of Scrabble. So much so that we’ve got a tournament going. Best of 3 games means a series, and I’m currently winning the series 11-4. God I love winning! Half the fun is C’s half pretend upset – ‘what’s the score now……Goddamnit!’. On holiday in beautiful Cornwall this week, we’re playing 3 games a night and I’m noticing how much of a metaphor for life the game is.
I’m prone to sudden switches of mood. A prime time is when I get home from work. If anything is not quite how I expect it to be I go from calm and relaxed to irritable, grumpy and unreasonable. A glass of wine would knock it on the head but now I’m having to figure out other ways. I think it comes from the anxiety of coming home from school not knowing what I would find. A clean house, tea cooking and mum smiling; or an almost empty bottle of gin with mum and her drinking buddy slumped over it, unwashed pots from breakfast in the sink. Anyway, C often asks me ‘What is it you’re telling yourself?’ (He’s a therapist if you hadn’t guessed!). I know what he’s getting at – what’s the automatic negative thought behind the emotion? What are you thinking that’s suddenly made your world appear so full of shit and deeply unsatisfying? It’s hard to catch those pesky thoughts and beliefs though when the bad mood has taken centre stage. Whilst playing Scrabble I could see them in action. A simplified version of life with the same processes at work shaping the direction of travel.
There are two variables beyond your control in Scrabble, the board and what letters you pick. The bit you can control is what you do with them but more importantly how you think about them. Do you see obstacles or opportunity? Whenever I focused on having shit letters ( 5 I s goddamnit!), or was thinking of throwing them in I invariably missed a place I could go or made a bad play. C did the same. The more we complained the worse it got. When I was more curious and open minded; treating each set of letters as a puzzle to be solved in its own right then I found the words and the scores.
Last night we were playing the 3rd deciding game. I was about 20 points ahead, all the letters were drawn and I knew C must have the Z and the Q. Both worth 10 points. I was nervous. It was his turn. He played Zinque – a made up word, laughing that I’d won anyway. ‘You could have done Zen for 22 points’ I said. ‘Yeah but then I’m left with the Q and nowhere to put that’. ‘You could have made Qi here for triple letter score’ I pointed out. ‘So I could’ve won?!’ C exclaimed. Yes he could. What stopped him winning was his focus on the barriers instead of looking for the opportunities. He’d mentally thrown in the towel and already decided he’d lost. To be fair this isn’t how C approaches life in the main at all. He just gave me the clearest Scrabble example! I’m the one who does that in real life, in spite of having a pretty damn good set of letters most of the time.
I read this morning about Dan Sullivan’s concept of ‘The Gap and the Gain’. Most of us focus on what we haven’t got, what we haven’t achieved, what went wrong – this is living in the gap. Happiness is not right now but when I have a better job, the kids are older, I’ve retired etc etc. Living in the gain is to focus on what is and how far you have come rather than where you are going. Judging yourself by what you have achieved relative to where you were, rather than where you would ideally want to be. Living in the gap is giving those automatic negative thoughts free rein to run around your mind so all you can see is what’s wrong. It’s fixing your mindset and closing doors to change. Or making changes and still being unsatisfied. Life never feeling quite good enough. Alcohol promises a temporary escape but really it’s rocket fuel for the gap mentality.
So I’m going to try and cultivate my best Scrabble attitude in my daily life. Each day is a new set of letters and it’s up to me what I make of them. Appreciate life as it’s happening, rather than focusing on what could be different. See opportunities not obstacles. Next time I come home from work I’ll take a moment to be appreciative before I open the door so I can enjoy what’s waiting behind it for what it is.
If I’m going to write about my past; unpick the reasons why I drank so much for so long; then my mum is going to be the leading lady – Judy Garland to my Liza Minnelli, cast as an unpredictable drunken purveyor of chaos and she’s not going to look good frankly. I feel bad about this. My mum is still alive, about to celebrate her 81st birthday and I love her dearly. I want to share the good stuff more than the bad right now. Maybe the bad will just appear in passing, maybe not at all – I don’t really have a plan for this other than writing this right now. So here are 5 of the reasons I’m grateful to have my mum in my life today.
My mum is great company. She can make any situation fun; find the humour, taking the proverbial out of herself or others when gleefully recounting a story. Prone to exaggeration we’re never quite sure how much is true. The more we laugh the more she embellishes it.
My mum is great in a crisis. Through my divorce she managed to be emotionally supportive of me; naming my unhappiness when I couldn’t myself and encouraging me to do what was right for me; whilst being kind and respectful to my ex and being there for our girls.
My mum is a wonderful granny. When the girls were little she came to stay every month so we could have a night out together and a lie in. She would go to the park, bake, play and cuddle whilst we slept off our hangovers! Now the girls are young adults they still love to spend time with her. Knowing they have her to turn to if they don’t want to come to me is a big comfort.
My mum is my No 1 supporter. I remember getting a rosette at a horse show and my mum was cheering so much the guy handing them out commented “I see you’ve brought your fan club”. She listens to my moans and groans, my hopes and dreams; encouraging and enthusing me. When we were younger she used to say ‘Aim for the stars, if you don’t reach them you might still get the moon’.
My mum has been sober for 8 years now. She moved closer to me 9 years ago just as her health started to deteriorate. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy misdiagnosed as asthma for a long time. When I ask her why she stopped she simply says ‘I realised it was going to kill me’. She did it on her own, quietly, no fuss. I’m in awe. Sobriety has definitely brought her more years in her life but also more life in her years. She’s learnt to paint and crochet; and had 4 celebrations for her 80th birthday last year with family and friends. She’s supportive of my efforts, without judging or criticising me. She is my inspiration.
Thank you mum for all that you are and all that you do – I love you💖.
For the last 6 weeks I’ve been feeling very low in every sense of the word. Low on energy, low on motivation and low in mood. It’s almost 3 months since I had a drink, and I’m very aware that it was at this point last year that I decided I would try moderation again. This year I’m not taken in by the idea that drinking will improve things but I am feeling the loss. Not of alcohol per se but of who I was. I started drinking regularly in my late teens like most people. I remember being very uncomfortable around alcohol and drunk people. Growing up with an alcoholic mum meant my radar for the transition between tipsy and drunk in others was extremely sensitive, and it signalled danger. My then boyfriend suggested I’d better find a way to get used to it as everyone at Uni got drunk. I took his advice. I soon learnt that being drunk myself dealt with that nicely. I duly went off to Uni and started to have fun, seemingly freed up from that anxious attention to others that I’d needed growing up. I wasn’t like my mum; I drank to enjoy myself, to have fun. I partied long and hard and I liked it. I met the friends that I still have today – we’ve been there for each other through all life’s ups and downs. Every occasion oiled with alcohol. Motherhood didn’t stop me, nor did my career. In my mind I was functional, sociable and having a good time.
Now over 35 years later I’m seeing the past a little differently as well as feeling a lot less sure of myself in the present. I don’t want to go out and when I do I feel anxious and awkward like my teenage self before alcohol. I’m ok on a 1:1 – it’s groups – particularly my good friends that’s hardest. My drunk spotting radar is turned on full, and when things start to get loud or messy I don’t want to be there. Then I get to thinking about all the times I’ve been that person and how others most likely saw me. Having a good time or being loud and obnoxious? Coupled with this intense judgement of people I actually really love, as well as myself; is the feeling of missing out, not being in the gang, being boring. ‘You’ll never have fun again’ whispers the wine witch as I’m checking my watch to see if I can leave yet.
So I’ve been pretty unsociable and pretty miserable. I keep thinking about mistakes I’ve made; impulsive decisions where the consequences only now seem important. The money I’ve wasted. The flaky parenting. Recognising that all along alcohol has been the real centre of attention and how much it got in the way of everything else. The what ifs and the could have beens. I’m not usually one for regrets, so I’m in unfamiliar territory. The loss is both what I could have been without alcohol and who I was with alcohol.
I don’t want to be the drinking me again but I’m not sure of sober me yet either. I know sober me is enjoying work more without the hangovers. Sober me is getting on better with my daughters. Sober me loves Scrabble. Sober me is smoking a lot and eating tons of chocolate.
This week I’m on holiday in Cornwall – just me, my husband and the dogs. I don’t have to socialise or see anyone. I can just be and allow the grief. Like a caterpillar in it’s cocoon I’m waiting to emerge anew.