6 months alcohol free

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.

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The wine witch is trying to stage a comeback

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I took my last post down as I got paranoid about someone somehow figuring out who I am and where I work as we are not allowed to discuss the details with anyone not directly connected with what happened. I knew that it was really unlikely – I guess it was more if work knew I’d put something out in the public domain and I got in trouble – anyway I worried about it intermittently all day – like a paranoid intrusive thought in between the grief so I took it down when I got home. I wanted to say thank you though for your comments from those that did see it – they really did help. You are a lovely bunch of people 💞

It’s been an intense and difficult few days as you’d imagine. I can be really strong then the tears come again. I don’t really want to eat much but I am sleeping. I am smoking a lot. I’ve wanted to get drunk the most I have since we said goodbye to C’s best friend dying of cancer in May. I haven’t but I’m away on a course next week and the sneaky thought ‘I could drink and no one would know’ has been floating around in all of this. Prior to this I was looking forward to being by myself on this trip. I’m in London and I’ve got myself an apartment rather than a hotel room as it’s a whole week. I’d been thinking about doing yoga, reading and writing without dogs to walk, horse to see to, husband to care for, mum to visit, daughters to check in with and work etc etc. I love all those things and all those people and they really don’t make demands of me but life is a constant juggle of things and it can feel like I’m always having to rush or think about the next task. I’d have course work to do but the luxury of only one thing to focus on, a few days of being a single person – I was really excited. C is coming for the weekend too. Now I’m anxious – too much freedom and no one to be accountable to except myself and I don’t trust me right now.

I’ve got a week until I go so hopefully this feeling will subside. I know it’s the wine witch – still there in my subconscious waiting for her moment. Telling me I can get away with it. Maybe it’s the smoke devil too as I am thinking that now is not the right time to stop smoking as if I do I think I’m more likely to drink next week. They’re working together the bastards. Anyway I’ve told C and I’ve told you. I’m not really a sneaky lying sort of person – I never even hid my smoking from my dad as a teenager very much – I was always more ‘fuck off if you don’t like what I’m doing’ – on the outside anyway. The remnants of the good catholic girl on the inside was ashamed of my attitude. It’s scary that I’m thinking of being so deceptive.

So I’m telling myself that if I say it’s ok to get pissed this time, then I’ve opened the door to all the other times that I’ll decide it’s ok ‘just this once’. I might manage to keep it to the heartbreak at first. Then what about all the happy occasions – weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays? Then it’ll be ‘hey it’s the weekend’ and before I can say ‘Sauvignon blanc please’ it will be pretty much every day again. I don’t want that. I don’t want to waste so much of my headspace debating with the wine witch, losing and hating myself for it. That is a big gain for me – freeing up my mind from the incessant debate. I’ll check in here and wherever else I need to and I will not drink!

More musings about time

It’s ironic that since I wrote the last post about time and taking things slowly I’ve been really busy and felt like I’ve had no time at all! No time to do yoga, no time to meditate and no time to blog! I’ve missed all of them but blogging especially. Managed to keep up with reading some other blogs though. Like a lot of you have also said you are really like friends and I get a lot from hearing how things are; and what’s going on for you all as well as from your lovely comments back to me. For the first time ever as a technology Luddite I get how people can ‘live’ on line and shun the real world. It’s probably my most important sober tool.

So what’s been keeping me away from you? Work mainly. I dropped to 3 days at work 6 months ago and started working for myself a bit too. I’d said yes to too many court reports and they all came at once, coupled with lots of deadlines in my day job. It’s interesting work but time consuming and I never allow enough time so always end up getting stressed. I did notice though this Sunday evening when the laptop failed to save what I’d just done I didn’t have a meltdown! Drinking me would have been distraught – having to delay that Sauvignon blanc another half hour would have been the final straw!

I’ve also been socialising a bit more in a low key way but I think that’s how I roll these days. One on one or small groups. I saw a wonderful play – The Red Dust Road, adaptation of the poet Jackie Kay’s memoir – by chance as my friends husband couldn’t go, then I got tickets for me and my pal to hear her interviewed a few days after about the play, her life, and she read some of her poetry. I loved the book and the play and I came away from the reading a bit in love with her and her words. I was really buzzing – and sober! That was great! Words, writing, reading, people’s stories. I’m rediscovering my passion for them. For me psychiatry and therapy has always been about people’s stories; not about what’s wrong with someone but rather how can we help them make sense of what has happened to them and understand how they have adapted to survive that? The difference with writers and poets is they can say it in a way that we all feel it, we all know what they mean and it’s just beautiful.

Today was the first day I’ve not had much to do. The time went too quickly and I got down on myself for not making the most of it. I did do some yoga and meditate though; walked the dogs twice and here I am writing so I’ll take that as a good day and time well spent. I’ve lots of ideas in my head that I need to find time to write, and lots I want to read, but that sense of not having enough time is creeping in again. I’m planning to stop smoking on 1st October and I’m hoping that will create some space. It’s not so long ago that I couldn’t imagine filling the time that drinking took so this is progress. I’m going to ease off on the work though for a bit and hopefully do more blogging!

Time to heal

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I’m writing this at the end of the weekend and it’s been a nice weekend with no dips in mood or sense of missing out. Hooray! It’s just C and me at home this week. My daughters have been here on and off the last few months which has been lovely but maybe having some space and more time to myself has helped?

I’ve been thinking about time quite a lot lately. What we do with it; how we perceive it and how that’s changed for me since I stopped drinking nearly 150 days ago. That’s a long time in some ways and a drop in the ocean of my whole lifetime too.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that I’ve slowed things down a lot. I’m more inclined to take my time. I’m not in so much of a rush to finish whatever it is I’m doing and move on to the next thing. If I’ve got something to finish off at work I stay and do it. Take my time walking the dogs at the weekend. In some ways I was living life as a series of tasks to be completed – in order to what? I’m beginning to realise that the what was to drink, or rather get drunk and ‘relax’. Other parts of the day rushed through to get to the drinking part. Never fully present as part of my mind was occupied by the alcohol gremlin’s whinging. Not consciously but that inner restlessness and inability to fully relax into what I’m doing has more or less gone now.

I really noticed this on holiday with my girls a couple of months ago. We took our time doing things, savouring the moments, and I realised that on previous trips I’d always got half a mind on when we would have a drink. It was the best holiday we’ve ever had together. I was relaxed and fully present like a non addicted person! One of the biggest motivators for not drinking is how my relationship with both of them has improved since I stopped drinking. They’ve been so supportive I really don’t want to let them down.

Another reason time changes when you stop is that not drinking means learning new habits and rituals and keeping to them; whilst processing old and new emotions; re-evaluating your past, your present, your future (I might not die of liver failure now so what’s the plan for when I’m old kind of thing). All this mental work takes time; needs time – lots of it.

The time freed up from not drinking of course can seem like too much time at first . It can be hard to fill with new activities and new routines – the first part of the task.

For the whole re-evaluation part I think we need time to just be, to think, to process. Making time to write this blog is a big part of that for me.

I’ve also noticed that taking my time with life generally has created a space to properly notice things; what makes me feel happy, makes me laugh but also what irritates or angers me and how I react.

I’m slowly learning that I can pause, take a little time for some rational thought and then choose how I want to react. When I’m busier and more time pressured I don’t do this so well. I didn’t do it very well when oscillating between hungover and drunk either. I’m noticing what I’m telling myself and what emotions that leads to and I can check it and question it. I’m less inclined to get caught up in someone else’s downward spiral thinking as well. I’m in control of my mind more of the time but I have to take it slow. I’m still learning.

I saw this posted by a friend last night after I’d been writing. ‘That’s it!’ I thought. I’m taking time to heal.

The Black Dog

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Since last weekend I’ve had the week off work, spent time with my girls and my mum for her birthday and generally been quite lazy. All ok until the weekend when my mood took a nosedive after going to a friends barbecue Saturday night. I think it had started it’s descent Friday actually when I didn’t go to a party. Went to the cinema with C instead to see Once upon a Time in Hollywood but was disappointed. Didn’t grab me and transport me anywhere – I could appreciate the style and the acting etc but I was a bit bored. The feeling of missing out crept in. Saturday had a good day doing stuff with my youngest daughter. Headed over to friends with our Becks Blue about 7. I’d not done any mental preparation for dealing with it; probably because after last weekend I thought I didn’t need to. Big mistake.

I was still wearing shorts and no make up and my friend hosting had a dress on and looked gorgeous. Immediately felt under-dressed. Mistake number 2. Others arrived and it was all ok. Friend’s new man kept offering us rum punch but that didn’t bother me. Food was a long time coming as it often is at a BBQ so everyone had a few drinks. Had some good conversations but also felt really bored by others. I noticed how much people talk about drinking and alcohol – not for the first time. Long conversations about preferring less acidic wine now – ‘it all rots your stomach’ I wanted to interject but that wouldn’t have gone down well. A comment about how everyone needs to get pissed once in a while, from someone who doesn’t actually drink much – the queen of moderation. ‘It is possible to enjoy things sober’ I said but no one really heard me.

As the evening went on I was clock watching and thinking about leaving. I couldn’t help noticing how self centred and boring some of my dearest friends can actually be. The food was great and a welcome distraction. Others went to powder their noses and we left about 10.30. No one tried to persuade us to stay thank god.

Sunday morning woke up feeling really down for the first time in ages. Saw my sister who’s visiting my mum and as always talked quite a lot about family which made me feel worse. Moped about most of the day. I managed to not have a fight with C though I was making negative comments about being trapped in a place I don’t want to be, wanting to move to the countryside, feeling oppressed by the city etc. We’ve had these conversations before. C thinks it’s about looking for a geographical cure but I think it’s where the real me would be most at ease. I’m a country girl at heart. It took a lot of drugs and alcohol to make me an urban animal.

There are lots of reasons why moving isn’t an option now so no point dwelling on that. I tried to figure out what was behind my boredom last night and low mood today. Feeling left out? In part yes but I didn’t want to join in. Projecting my sense of being boring onto my friends?

(This post was interrupted by an iPad malfunction that deleted a paragraph, triggering a hissy fit from me and C finally losing his patience and pointing out that I’m magnifying negatives in my mind and that takes me to absolute statements like ‘everything is shit’ that have no basis in reality.) I got up, had coffee and cigarettes, took the dogs for a walk by myself and did some thinking.

So back to what is going on here. Maybe my friends are boring sometimes; getting wasted is boring in my mind now but if others choose to why does that bother me so much? Identification with my old self? For sure but to really be free of it I need to accept the past – I can’t change it. My negative feelings towards my friends show I’ve not come to terms with who I was. I’ve wasted a lot of my life getting wasted but there’s no point regretting it. I think I’m also berating myself for still smoking cannabis. I know that I’m still wasting time and energy I could put to better use. I’m doing a half arsed job of being sober; stuck in limbo between the denial of intoxication and full sobriety. I can’t get the denial back and maybe that’s what I envy the most?

I took a different path from usual on the walk with the dogs. I realised I’ve not been cultivating the new mental paths; gotten lazy because I don’t want to drink now. That’s the beginning of the journey, not the final destination. I’ve abandoned my toolbox, not been doing much yoga, meditation or practising gratitude. These new paths will quickly become hard to find if I don’t make a point of using them and situations that remind me of the old paths will become difficult to manage leading to negativity and unhappiness. I’m lucky that I’m good at a lot of things and I don’t tend to stick with things I’m not good at. I’m not very good at being sober yet. I need to work at this; it’s not going to just happen without effort. The difficult stuff is where the learning will be. I have to tread those new paths over and over before they’ll become my default settings. If I keep seeing the source of my dissatisfaction outside of myself and the solutions in changing them I’ll keep coming back to the black dog of depression wherever I happen to live. As I walked this morning Shanti came to mind – chanted 3 times to bring us peace from the 3 sources of suffering we experience in life. Suffering from the world beyond our control, suffering caused by others and the suffering we bring on ourselves. My black dog is fed by my mind and only by working on my mind will I ever be free of it.

The girls weekend

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.

There’s something I need to tell you…

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.

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Weekend reflections

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‘If it’s not fun sober it’s probably not fun’

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.

Going out

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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!

Let’s talk about Shame

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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.

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