Going my own way

It has been alternately snowy, drizzly and foggy all week in my town. On Thursday it was all three of those things wrapped into one fairly unpleasant evening. A friend who has just had a new baby invited me and a few other girlfriends around after dinner for some of that support you give people who have just had new babies (mopping up tears, doing their housework, reminding them that this, too, shall pass). 

I had a headache from being in my too-warm office all day and a sense of itchy irritability from not being able to exercise outside all week. I didn’t feel like going but I knew my friend needed me. So I settled the kids into bed and the husband in front of some reality show about tattoos, dug out my warmest and most waterproof clothing, wrapped myself up so that only my eyes and nose were visible and set off on a 3 kilometre walk to my friend’s house because the ground was too slippery to safely run. The first kilometre was awful and I didn’t feel nearly warm enough. Then I got into a rhythm and Pandora kept throwing up excellent songs in my headphones. The slick roads shimmered in the glow of the street lamps and a plump snowflake drifted under the umbrella to become tangled in my eyelashes for the final seconds of its existence.

By the time I arrived I was warm, headache-free and enjoying the freshness of winter air in my lungs. I was so glad I decided to walk instead of drive because I just had an instinct, which I trusted, that a walk was exactly what I needed.

My friends were outraged that I had walked in such terrible weather and described me by various terms of worried endearment such as “batshit crazy”. I didn’t mind. As we all know, there are far worse things to be addicted to than exercise.

You learn things from trusting your instincts. That it doesn’t matter if you are the only person on the planet who would have chosen to walk that walk; that just because a choice is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That being the girl who walks in the snow to make things better for a friend might be closer to who I am than the girl who knocks back buckets of wine and becomes insincere and loud. That criticism isn’t always about me. 

All these little moments of trusting myself are adding up. 

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One year on

A year ago today I was crying before I even opened my eyes. I cried doing the housework, cried in the shower to silence myself, cried holding the baby as if she was a life raft and I was a drowning child.The day was not different in any way to any other Saturday of the preceding year or so, except in the way that my heart, and not just my head, felt broken.

My clothes, as usual, were smoky and strewn across the floor.

My stomach, as usual, quivered dangerously.

My phone, as usual, revealed a series of increasingly attention-seeking messages to people whose numbers I should have deleted long ago.

My memory, as usual, was patchy.

That was a night when I had gone out for a couple of drinks with friends. I ended up doing shots of tequila and drunken show-off yoga at a friend’s house, wobbling to a bar in my high heels and catching up with another friend who had been a confidante and witness to me at my chaotic, self-pitying worst. He was usually pretty sympathetic to my end-of-the-night stories and tears, but this time he told me to go home and not come back again until I had done some growing up.

I don’t know if he did it because he was being selfish and saving himself the grief, or selfless and trying to save me. I don’t know because we haven’t spoken since. A tiny part of me is still incensed with rage about the unfairness of all, and the rest is too ashamed.

That friendship was the first tangible thing I had lost, in a long time, because of alcohol.

 The plan, when I started this blog on that day last year, was to stop drinking.

A story in a movie might work that way. Linear. Organised. I am not a movie, though.

I haven’t successfully stopped drinking for any significant period in the past year, although I have spent way more time sober than in any previous years when I wasn’t pregnant. There have been many Day Ones. Some utterly crippling hangovers, many more tears, a battle with denial which is the hardest I have ever fought.

The elevator has not kept going down, though. It’s a handy expression, but it does not reflect the vastness of our experiences.

In many ways, I am a world away from where I was a year ago. There have been moments of pure bliss and many, many things to be proud of. My first thought today, waking up with yet another week of being sober behind me, was thank you. Thank you for my clear head and absence of panic and my clothes neatly folded and my phone which stayed in my handbag all night long. I don’t know who I’m thanking – I don’t believe in a higher power. I am nonetheless grateful.

 A couple of posts have inspired me this week. The  first one, by Primrose, is about the power of yet. That just because I haven’t had a DUI, yet, or ruined another relationship, yet, or woke up in a gutter, yet, is not a reason to think that I shouldn’t get sober. Because I don’t want any of those things to happen. I’ve ruined enough.

 The second is by Laura at I Fly At Night, and it doesn’t just resonate with me – it sings to me. Go read it. It is exactly for someone like me, whose drinking is fairly outwardly normal but inwardly shattering. For someone who doesn’t fit the social or medical picture of what it is to be addicted, but is haunted by the spectre of addiction. It is for me every time I have been awake at 3am asking myself “Do I have a drinking problem?” and hoping the night will answer me.

 Both of these posts have inspired me to listen to that voice in me which worries about this, in the face of my own denial and the protestations of those around me that I am not an alcoholic.

 I’m not a hypochondriac. The opposite, in fact. I tend to ignore uncomfortable symptoms until it is screamingly obvious that I need to go to the doctor. I never consult Dr Google when I have a headache and conclude that it’s brain cancer. I like being well, in good physical and (generally) mental shape. This, however, I cannot ignore. I can’t shut it up, this nagging voice which tells me that alcohol is not my friend.

 Because of that voice, my life has changed enormously since that day last year. The very knowledge of this problem, and the continued determination to do something about it, has expanded my life. Instead of saying no to things out of my comfort zone (basically anything which doesn’t involve drinking), I’ve been saying yes to all of it. I have built a foundation of healthy, sustaining things which are there to catch me. Tackling this without much support, especially from my husband, has given me (along with a lot of frustration) a new sense of independence and resilience. There is a feeling of aloneness which was paralysing, but is now freeing. Also a feeling of togetherness, with everyone who reads and comments and the amazing friends I have made via email. What a generous, hilarious and talented bunch of people. I just wish you all lived in my street.

 Another inspiring thought this week came from a meme I saw on someone’s blog – I can’t remember whose and the words weren’t exactly like this, but essentially it was “Getting drunk is like stealing the happiness from tomorrow.” Except that I rarely even get the happiness these days. I am chasing a feeling which doesn’t exist for me anymore.

 It is okay, because what I have learned in the past year is that the best way to grow up and get stronger is to experience living without something you still desperately want. This is life. Not having my cake and eating it, too. Learning to plug up my own wounds and hang on.

 I need to keep listening to me. I need to keep trusting me.

 I will end this anniversary edition with a poem I found on Pinterest. If anyone knows who wrote it, I’d love to know.

  

  

Got company

There have been some liver-ruining times in the past week. A series of social events and a huge celebration and generally no time to even think about sobriety, let alone practice it. Happily, though, after a chat with two close friends we have decided to do a slightly belated start to Dry July and take a month off drinking, starting today. It’s the first time I have actually done this with real life people and I am actually quite excited.

The three of us have all admitted to each other over the past couple of years (usually while seriously inebriated) that we worry about our lack of an off switch when it comes to alcohol. So also doing this with people who actually get it is good. We have already made some sober plans and everyone seems to be approaching it with great enthusiasm. Which goes to show how much we need to do it, because normal people don’t get excited about giving up something they love.

The end of the month will coincide with me travelling overseas for the first time in my life, to Europe. I do not intend for this long-awaited trip to be a drunken calamity. I hope that having a month off beforehand will mean that I am feeling well and refreshed and ready.