Immune system has meltdown

For the past two months or so, I have been ill most of the time. The kids come home from school with a bit of a snotty nose and I get the full-blown flu. I was just starting to feel okay and then yesterday my throat was scratchy and last night I woke up at 3am with a raging fever, chest too cold and legs too hot, so insanely uncomfortable that sleep was totally out of the question. I got on with today full of cold and flu medication because, when you have three small children, there really is not much else you can do but get on with stuff.
Have had tests done. Everything is normal. My whacky thyroid levels are under control with medication. Doctor says he cannot say a bad word about my diet and exercise. Cigarette consumption is down to a couple a week (as in two cigarettes, not two packets). Am off the sauce. I’m a ridiculously healthy 31-year-old woman who is sick all the time.
The worst thing about this is the effect that illness seems to have on my mental health. I just feel so useless and unhappy when I am not physically well. I cry, a lot, when I am sick.
I’m over it. Tired. Sore. Exhausted.


Thinking differently… or not at all

One of the things I struggle with whenever I try to stop drinking for a while is an internal argument over whether I am, in fact, an alcoholic.

For the affirmative, we have a stern-looking littlemsjones dressed up like a librarian and pointing out facts like this:
1. You have tried to stop before and you found it tough.
2. You go out intending to have two glasses of wine and next thing you’re passed out on the kitchen floor with a shoe missing.
3. Your work, study and family life has suffered as a result of drinking.
4. You have a family history of alcoholism and you should just stop playing Russian roulette with your own sanity.

For the negative, we have littlemsjones sitting nonchalantly on a barstool, drinking French champagne straight from the bottle, smoking a cigarette and looking fabulous. She points out that:
1. You have a cupboard full of spirits which you never touch except when a recipe calls for them.
2. Your husband is adamant that you don’t have a drinking problem and you’re just a normal young woman blowing off steam (and, like, husbands are always right).
3. When you do stop you might miss wine but it’s not like you get the shakes and have to go to rehab.
4. You just finished a law degree while working and raising children, which is something an alcoholic just could not manage.

Anyway, I have decided to ignore all of these arguments because none of them are actually helping me. It does not matter, at this point in time, whether I have a full blown alcohol problem or merely a predilection for occasional excess. It does not matter because the point is just not to drink. Just for 100 days, and then re-assess. Who cares if I am an alcoholic? Not I, and not today, because today I don’t drink. Today I go pole dancing and paint my toenails and read to my kids and watch that terrible tattoo competition on the telly and that’s what matters.
This way of thinking (or not thinking) seems to really be making this easier. I read this quote in Caroline Knapp’s book which kind of sparked it for me:
“If you’re an alcoholic, you can’t drink. If you’re not an alcoholic, you don’t need to”.
See? Right now, it does not matter.

Epic struggle

I have really wanted to read “Drinking: A Love Story” by Caroline Knapp for ages because I keep hearing great things about it. Today I decided I wanted to read it RIGHT NOW, because I am one of those on-the-cusp-of-gen-Y types who must have things immediately delivered to my digital device when I want them. This was not as easy as you might think. After a couple of hours fighting with the Internet and the blatant invention of a US postal address, I have it.

This morning I baked a cake, cleaned the house, lit a scented candle, took my kids to the library for reading and an indoor playground as it was a rainy day. I had a coffee and watched my middle child (three and a half) and my youngest (two next month) play. There was a little cubby house with a slide to get out and they were happy just running around to climb up the stairs and go down the slide again and again. And my little boy would wait at the bottom of the slide, every single time, to catch his sister. She would hurl herself delightedly at him and then they would go up the stairs and repeat the whole performance. He did not once forget to wait for her at the bottom, even though she was perfectly capable of landing safely herself.

I was simultaneously struck by a glorious thought and a horrifying one. The first: that I must be doing something right to raise such well-behaved children who are so tender and caring with each other. The second: that maybe they cling to each other because they are solid places in a chaotic world. And I thought of my own childhood and its unpredictable swings between light and dark, between safe and frightening, and of my fierce protection of my little brother and the constant worry for him which still has not gone away.

I was also thinking about how I never quite feel my identity as a mother solidify. When I am baking and cleaning and reading and doing wholesome middle class things with the kids, I feel like I am still playing at being a grown up. I don’t feel real in the same way I feel real when I am not with my kids. It is not that I don’t want to be with them, not that I don’t enjoy being with them, not that I do not love them overwhelmingly. It is just that I feel inadequately prepared for this task. Or that I am not sure what the task even is. How do I find an identity as a parent when I am still struggling to figure out who I am? Is it the conservatively-dressed soccer mum on a Saturday morning? The outrageously drunk in a mini skirt and heels 30-something on Saturday night? The hungover misery on Sunday? The friend who has become the vault for everyone else’s deepest secrets but cannot share her own? The party girl or the one who sits at home convinced that nobody actually likes her?

I am hoping that some sort of actual personality might emerge when I am not full of liquid courage. I also worry that maybe my shape-shifting is more pathological than mere low self-esteem and that maybe I am disordered in the personality department. I don’t know. Maybe I am about to find out.


So, the studying is over. The celebratory champagne has been consumed. The head is pounding in its typical Sunday morning fashion. And I am done with this time in my life.
I am going to stop drinking. I am going to stop fooling around with this idea and just do it.
In January this year, we went on a holiday to the beach. One morning I went for a run early, before everyone got up. I sat on the beach in the morning light and had a long, hard think about the events of the previous year. And I decided that 2014 would be the year I didn’t have a hangover.
It has not been that year. It has, in fact, contained the worst hangovers I have ever had. But it is not over yet. There is a chance to get to the end of this year feeling proud of myself, feeling that I have learned from my mistakes. Feeling new and fresh and alive. It starts today. No more excuses. No more arguing with myself. No more Googling the “am I an alcoholic” quizzes. Whether or not I’m an alcoholic who needs to stop drinking isn’t the issue. I need to work with what I know, which is that I am a binge drinker who wants to stop drinking. For the 100 days I set out to do at the start of the year, at the very least. Until I feel like I am on solid ground again. Until my last hangover is a dim memory and my self esteem has been pieced back together. Until I feel good, and happy, and calm, and strong.
I will do this.

Rambling thoughts

I simply do not have time to write something even halfway decent but I need to write because my head is swirling so apologies if this post sounds like the rantings of an exhausted crazy person.
Sober weekend. All good. Here on Sunday morning, pleased with myself. Day 4.
Last uni exam on Tuesday after five years of studying part time. Feel like I should be ecstatic at this prospect but am nervous. I know studying has had an impact on my relationship with alcohol in both positive and negative ways. The positive: I have had to keep my consumption to one glass of wine on week nights otherwise I can’t concentrate. The negative: My need to switch off and not think about studying means that the only way I have been able to do that is get so drunk I can’t remember anything. Also, have found it hard to concentrate on sober work (blogging, reading, connecting with gorgeous sober friends) because voice in my head tells me “this is only another way of procrastinating and you are just wasting time you should be spending studying”. Yes, that’s right. I have even managed to feel GUILTY about getting sober. I am an idiot, really.
So, when my exam finishes on Tuesday I could go out for big boozy lunch and then spend the next fortnight pissed in celebration. My nightly consumption could go up to two or three glasses (or more) now I can just chill in front of the television. I could end up 10 years from now not knowing what the fuck happened for the last decade.
Or, I could not do that. I could celebrate the end of my last exam by buying a stack of books and movies I haven’t been able to enjoy for the last five years, by having my friends over for dinner, by travelling to visit friends on weekends, by going to bed early, by starting the ballet classes and guitar lessons I have had on my list of things to do for ages. I could focus on giving my children the sunny, stress-free childhood I want them to have. I could exercise myself into the best shape of my life. I could end up 10 years from now thinking “wow, my thirties were a fucking blast! Bring on the next decade”.
I do not think the latter version is possible at my recent level of alcohol consumption. I know it is not.
I know things will change after Tuesday. I guess it is up to me if they change for the better or not. That is scary, but also interesting. I like a challenge. Maybe this is my next challenge.

Two steps back

It is October. Spring is here. Everything is veiled in blossoms and the beginnings of leaves. The earth is warm and the sunlight feels like medicine. It is Thursday morning and I am still locked in the eternal winter of my own personal hell. It’s not just another cracking hangover. Or maybe it is just another cracking hangover. Something feels different. Last night was different. I am not going to spill all the ugly details – this is too public a place. But last night involved perhaps just enough terror and risk to my personal safety to teach me a lesson. I am incredibly fortunate a lesson is the only permanent scar I will take away. I would like to emphasise that I did not actually do anything bad or particularly stupid – just found myself in a situation which I would not have been in if I went home at the same time my friend went home instead of staying out late to drink more beer. I also don’t want you to worry – I am fine, but my confidence in my world as a safe place is a little shaken.

Women who stay out late drinking beer don’t deserve to have awful things happen to them. But awful things happen. Awful people lurk in darkened pubs at midnight, stalking their vulnerable, tipsy prey. Awful people are out because they don’t have anyone who likes them much at home. And good people, like me, with all the reasons in the world to be tucked up at home with the people I utterly adore, are out because we like chaos and alcohol. Because, let’s face it, if there wasn’t beer involved I would have had absolutely no interest in going out last night with people whose company I find tolerable rather than enriching. I would have been at home. On the lounge. Comfortable pants. Sleepy and warm.

But because I like to drink, and drinking at home on the lounge is a line I have not yet crossed because it would make me feel like an alcoholic, I was out. This is stupid logic. Twelve standard drinks on a Wednesday night is twelve standard drinks on a Wednesday night, venue notwithstanding. Going to the pub does not make that level of alcohol consumption any more reasonable.

I was feeling wound up and edgy before I went out. Heart racing. Spoiling for a fight. I knew there was a good chance I would run into people I did not want to see, and I went anyway. There is a part of me which craves the chaos and annihilation of running into people who don’t like me very much so that I can then feel shit about it. So that I can analyse every detail and beat myself up for not being cooler, more aloof, sexier, funnier, more likeable. I could just hang out with people who think the sun shines out of my arse (trust me, there are a few), but that would not serve my self-destructive purposes.

My best friend wisely pointed out to me today that I am bored and need an adventure. She is right. While everyone else was gallivanting around the planet in their 20s, I was studying, having babies, settling down, saving money, working, working, working. And now I need adrenaline like I need air. I have got to find a way to entertain my restless mind in a way which is safe. How? How do I stop drinking without feeling like my only link to excitement has been broken? How do I fulfil my need for drama in a way which is safe, healthy and life-affirming rather than dangerous and self-destructive? How do I learn to like myself enough to go home at a sensible hour? How do I learn to treat myself like I am worthy of all the love in my life instead of feeling like a fraud who is about to be found out at any minute? How do I put one foot in front of the other from here without slipping backwards yet again?