And this is why I don’t come here any more…

Because of shit like this:

This podcast and the intro to it which popped up in my reader this morning. I haven’t been here for a while and I thought maybe the companionship would be good. But stuff like this triggers me to the point where I wonder if immersing myself in sober blogging is perhaps the reason I haven’t been able to string together any long period of sobriety for three years. 
So you don’t have to put yourself through the personal agony, this piece of whiny and judgemental crap just heaps a whole lot of guilt upon anyone who happens to enjoy an alcohol-free beer or a nice drink in a fancy glass as a ritual at the end of the day. That will allegedly tip one right back into drinking too much.

I’ve been having some excellent results using the ideas in Annie Grace’s “This Naked Mind”. I’m feeling joyful and free and happy about sobriety. Posts like the one above dig deep into the darkest fears I’ve held about never drinking again, like that I’ll always be hyper aware of it, that everything is a trigger, that I will never feel completely safe.

I know Belle has helped a lot of people. This, however, is just saying something because she appears to have run out of things to say about sobriety. Is living an entire life talking, writing and preaching about alcohol really living a life free of alcohol?

Sparkles once more

The comments on my earlier post were so helpful. This one, in particular, from karymayhickey, instantly helped…

“As one of my friends on the message boards pointed out today to another person who had broken her abstinence streak, “How would you have felt 9 weeks ago if someone had told you, you’re going to go 9 weeks without drinking and then you’re going to have 3 glasses of wine, but then you’re going to go right back to not drinking.” What would that scenario have looked like 9 or 10 weeks ago? Impossible? Well, now you’ve accomplished the impossible. You can do it again.”

If I went back in time to the morning when I woke up and knew, deep in my bones, that I had to stop drinking, and held my sad face in my own hands and said “you will not drink for 65 of the next 66 days”, I would have been ecstatic. I am ecstatic. I’m also so proud of myself for getting right back up on the horse before it bolted away again.

Maybe I’ll never be one of those people who gets to 15 years sober or some such. But if I can get 15 years down the track and say “I’ve been sober for 15 years aside from 3 occasions when I drank”, I will be fine with that. I’d be overjoyed with that, in truth.

This is not a pitch for moderation in the slightest, but a recognition that my path is my own and it may not be perfect. I’m raising my chamomile and lavender tea to imperfections, to life-affirming slips, to sober internet friends, and to keeping on going one day at a time. 

One more lesson learned

I had three glasses of wine on Friday night. I’m not planning to have any more.

Friday would have been day 63. 

I felt off all last week. A constant headache and low mood for absolutely no reason at all, which was a rude shock after feeling so fabulous for so long. Looking back, there were a few things going subtly wrong. Too much work, not enough exercise, definitely not enough sleep, miserable weather, a really stressful situation where a friend has gone completely off the rails with alcohol and drugs and has a tiny baby thrown into the mix. I didn’t actually think about drinking at all until I got home from work all tearful and frustrated and poured it before I’d really had a chance to think about what I was doing. 

I’m often a mess on Friday nights. My job is emotionally exhausting – let’s face it, nobody needs a lawyer when everything is going swimmingly. There is a disproportionate number of high conflict personalities – because nobody needs a lawyer if both sides are reasonable people who can compromise. And I am still learning what I’m doing in a lot of ways, which is totally frustrating, because by 33 I imagined I’d be CEO of the universe and not clinging to the bottom rung of my career ladder. As a result, I often come home with none of my self-soothing resources left, and if I don’t drink then I smoke a bunch of cigarettes or eat a stupid amount of chocolate or get into an argument about something I don’t even care about on social media. 

It’s not like I don’t know what the solution is. Or solutions. There are heaps of them and they have been working for nine weeks. Making plans to do something  which involves being totally sober – like ice skating or pole dancing. Or retreating to the bath to slather my face in a mud mask and read a novel and drink tea. Gosh, it’s not rocket science.

I didn’t realise how annoyed I was at myself until I sat down to write this and started crying hot tears of frustration. Three glasses of wine isn’t the end of the world. For me, though, it was enough to bring back the awfully painful gastritis symptoms I get from drinking, which don’t exist when I’m not drinking. I’d forgotten how puffy I get from drinking  – my socks leave elastic marks around my swollen ankles and my sunglasses leave marks on my face. These are more things that don’t happen when I don’t drink. And those are only the physical symptoms – if I was feeling flat before the wine, I felt downright miserable after it.

I liked that my sobriety date was my birthday. I liked how strong and brave and a little bit smug I was feeling. I liked myself, even. I have experienced too much of how great being sober can be to throw it away at this point.

Week 8

The highlights:

Falling asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow each night and waking up eight hours later.

Gorgeous almost-Spring weather.

Being inspired by the Olympic gymnastics to start a new back flexibility challenge and noticing results already.

Starting a new knitting project – legwarmers for pole dancing warm ups based on this pair I found on Pinterest.


Getting a much-needed haircut, including a hot towel hair treatment and glorious scalp massage.

 Figuring out how to connect the TV to the Internet so this household can step in to the 21st century.

The mundane:

A lot of work and occasional stress about how to do it all without spending 12 hours a day in the office.

A highly emotional 5-year-old.

The usual never ending  cooking, cleaning, washing cycle.

The weird:

People trying to convince me I didn’t have that much of a drinking problem and that quitting is a significant overreaction. My brother came to visit and I though it would be a good opportunity to speak about it.

Him: But you didn’t have a problem like Dad or so-and -so.

Me: I don’t want to end up with a problem like Dad or so-and-so. I was binge drinking 1 to 2 bottles of wine at least twice a week, drinking more than the recommended amount most other nights and the last time I drank I fell over and gave myself concussion for a week. I would go out intending to have two drinks and wake up the next day with no memory past the sixth drink. I think most reasonable people would call that problematic.

Him: yeah, but you could just cut back.

Me: that’s what I was trying to do when I fell over and knocked myself out. Didn’t seem like a spectacular success.

Another friend has also been questioning whether the quitting is necessary. These conversations aren’t not making me waver, I just figure they come from a place of literally no understanding of what it is to lack control over your alcohol consumption. 

I continue to love not having to try and exercise that control. It has freed up so much space in my life.

A disturbing new development

Pink clouds come and go. It’s not a problem when I fall off one. In fact, it’s something of a relief to not be so crazy-ridiculous happy. Like last night, when I was leading my dance students through some stretches and I started giggling like a mad woman in child’s pose. I told the class I was remembering something funny from the day, but really, I was just happy to be alive and feeling good and not hungover. 

I still have problems. Some of them are pretty huge. I have not had the time or inclination to write about them. They all involve external factors. Me? I am fine. Better than fine. Kicking myself for not figuring out that alcohol was my biggest problem sooner than this, but fine. Absolutely no inclination to drink and ruin this. Day 48.

Distance and perspective

When I was lurching from one blackout night and miserable hangover to another, I did not fear the next time. In a remarkable similarity to childbirth, I forgot the pain almost instantly. I guess denial played a big part in that. If I could have recognised how much damage I was doing to myself, I would have had no choice but to stop. It wasn’t until that terrifying head injury (which still hurts a little when I reach up and touch the ridge where my skull cracked, 44 days later) that I was unable to deny it any longer.

In a complete reversal of the childbirth-like loss of memory of pain, I can now see what my life was like, stuck in that cycle, in excruciating detail. I can close my eyes and feel it. I am terrified of going back there. Every step I take away from the last three years is a step in the right direction. 

I am quite simple

After some trial and error over the past eight and a half years, I have come to a point where I can usually figure out how to soothe my children when they are tearful, or hyperactive, or needy. The number one problem is usually exhaustion. The wonder of sleep is something I will never take for granted after experiencing the grim reality of an overtired child. Sometimes a big glass of water can work miracles. If it’s hunger, then it’s a boiled egg or a piece of fruit or a cheese sandwich they really want, not the chocolate biscuit they keep asking for. A warm bath, a cuddle and some favourite soft pyjamas before snuggling under a blanket in front of the TV is pretty handy for fixing anyone who has a cold or is a bit emotional. Back scratches and foot rubs never go astray. And a walk in the cold weather, even if bits of ice are hitting you in the face, is something I have learned to endure for the sake of running off some of that never-ending energy.

While I may have learned to regulate my emotions a bit better than they have, my need for sleep and nourishment and comfort and routine are the same as my children’s. I’ve spent all weekend in a funk. I have a cold and a painful sciatic nerve issue and a serious need for some weather above 10 degrees Celsius. I am all off-kilter. I keep running into things and spilling tea on myself. This is exactly the kind of time when I once drank, a lot. It was the only answer to the question of how to feel better. So, how to feel better now? Exactly what I outlined above. An early night, mainly. Comfort. Cozy socks and cuddles. It’s pretty clear that staying up late to drink too much of something which would make me feel worse would be a pretty insane thing to do right now. 

I have managed to pour some of my new found time (oh, the hours I have now I’m not obliterated) into my first ever attempt at knitting a hat. Lots of babies due in my circle of friends in the next few months so there’ll be more of these to come. There’s nothing better than a baby in a ridiculous hat.

Day 37.  Figuring out what I need and getting better at it.

An enormous, tiny milestone

I can’t quite believe that my 30th day sober has dawned. It dawned pretty early, too, because I woke up with horrific period pain and tiptoed out to the kitchen for painkillers and a heat pack. Then it occurred to me that it was my 30th day so I also helped myself to a chocolate biscuit and had a 4am party for one in my pyjamas, grinning like a fool, because sobriety doesn’t mean the end of odd and ridiculous behaviour.

I’ve been trying to get here for so long, ever since I first attempted Dry July in 2013 and made it six days. I had no idea what kind of struggle I was in for. My rationale for wanting to take a month off was this: if something changes, I would know alcohol was the problem. If nothing changed, I could go back to drinking my face off and assume that I was just a miserable excuse for a human being. Deep in my bones, I knew that something would change.

I didn’t know how profound that change would be. For the past week or so, I have been noticing how being sober is affecting every part of my life in a subtly positive way. Little shifts in attitude, and energy and self-respect are making everything easier. Work, relationships, the never-ending pile of washing and the daily debates about vegetables with the kids. I have a lot more physical capacity to handle everything because my body is singing with wellbeing, but it is the clearing mental space which I really love. I spent so much time thinking about when I would drink, how much I would drink, the last stupid thing I had done while drunk, whether I should stop drinking, how I would stop drinking. 

Oh, the thoughts I have had since some space has opened up in my head. “Should I go to the mountain or the waterfall? How can I best settle this ridiculous case without ending up in court? Oh, look, an unfurling leaf on that tree over there! Hey, I love this song. Can I dance to it? I should call my friend tonight and chat. What’s for dinner? And dessert? I wonder what is behind the recent election of so many racist politicians. If I had met Kit Harrington before I met my husband, would things have worked out for us? What will I knit next? How many more hours of pole dancing can I legitimately do in one week before my arms fall off?”

It’s a busy, colourful place inside my head when I am not consumed by obsession and shame. 

Another thought which has really sung to me just lately is that this keeps getting better. It is more than a thought, it is a knowing. If I have kept on feeling a little bit better each day for 30 days, there is no reason to think it ends here. I am curious to know how I will feel at 60, 90, 365 days. Let’s find out.

Waking up

Most days I spend some time in that foggy place between asleep and awake and do the full body hangover scan before I remember that I didn’t drink the night before. I check for a pounding head, smoky hair, scratchy eyes full of yesterday’s mascara, gluey mouth, quivering stomach. There is nothing quite as sweet as the relief of realising that I am gloriously, luxuriously fine. I stretch and smile and wriggle down into my warm bed and enjoy an indulgent moment of really, genuinely being proud of myself for the first time in a long time.

Not all moments during the day are that special, but some light is creeping in. 

I have done a lot of reading about the effect of an addictive substance on brain chemicals. What I have learned, to sum it up in simple terms, is all about pleasure and reward. If you flood your brain with something that increases those happy chemicals, then it becomes harder and harder for your brain to find pleasure and reward in anything else. Eventually, you need more of the substance and even that doesn’t work any more. It’s a grim situation.

Luckily, it’s not permanent. I feel like I’m waking up to all of the potential millions of things other than drinking which might make me feel great. Not even big things, but things which have been there all the time. The luxurious morning wake-ups, sun on my face, ice-skating with my friends for the first time in years, the texture of a really good Camembert, a bush walk with the kids, a coconut oil bath, the smell of clean laundry. Everything is more beautiful and intense and sometimes harder. I’ve watched the news with tears streaming down my face for those innocents in France, and felt the sting of a friend’s reprimand too hard and deep. But at least I am feeling something apart from shame and exhaustion, finally.

Hi!

A quick post from the road. It is the winter school holidays and we’re doing a family road trip around south-east Australia. Alpine valleys and historic towns and gorgeous scenery. Kids have been remarkably well-behaved, husband is so relaxed he keeps making up silly songs about me and we’re having a lovely time just all being together.

I’m trying not to spend the holiday buried in my phone so I’ll keep this short. I just wanted to say that it has occurred to me that maybe I’m having such a great time because of being sober, not in spite of being sober. I feel good and I’m sleeping really well. I also, excuse the vanity, look much clearer of skin and brighter of eye.

Trying not to put too much emphasis on counting but in case you were curious it’s day 18. Cool and sunny with a chance of pink clouds.