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.

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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.

10

More sleeping, less crying, no drinking. 

Not much to say, either, but I wanted to check in. Thanks to everyone who has shown so much care over the past week and a half. This place is where I can always come for complete understanding, and I am so grateful for that.

Day 7

The lump on the back of my head still hurts but it is slowly getting better.

I’ve been doing a lot of crying, not much sleeping, very little concentrating. A LOT of crying.

I haven’t been drinking, though.

Nesting

Game of Thrones, gorgeous new scented candle, open fire, comfy pants, chamomile and lavender tea, dark chocolate and knitting. I’ve made myself a little winter of sobriety nest and I don’t intend to leave it until I feel strong and safe again (obviously I will still go to work and take the children to things and exercise).

I think I have often made the mistake of trying to do all the things I’d normally do while drunk immediately after quitting drinking. I fully intend to have a bustling social life again. Just not until I can trust myself to do it sober.

I’m done

Concussion aside (oh my gosh, the headache), I’ve had some pretty clear thoughts during the last 48 hours.

I’ve told the important people, booked an appointment with the doctor and de-boozed the house. I’m done with drinking. 

I could have died on Friday night. Fallen a little bit further, hit my head on a different angle, not had someone to make sure I didn’t choke on my own vomit – any of those things and it would have been game over. Instead, all I managed to do was knock some sense into myself. What a lucky, lucky woman I am. 

I have never felt so determined and serious about this before. It is day 2 of forever.

A sign

I’ve spent a few months wishing the universe would give me some sort of sign that I needed to quit drinking – a big neon denial-buster that I could not ignore.

So how’s this for a sign: a blood-soaked towel under my head soaking up the consequences of a drinking-related injury. For all I can remember, I may have wrestled a bear or fallen naked out of a tree. I’m informed by reasonably reliable friends, however, that it was a garden variety falling over in a bar kind of thing. 

Today is my birthday.

I’m 33, and I woke with a nasty, bleeding bump on the back of my head and no idea how it got there. 

The sun is shining on the patches of snow left on the ground and it is just the kind of winter day I love. I’m in bed, still shaking and vomiting. My husband, for once, believes I may have gone too far. 

I’m so embarrassed and ashamed and heartbroken by myself.

Friday night

I checked on the children on my way to bed just now.

My middle child, 5, insists on going to sleep in our bed even though he doesn’t sleep in it all night. I picked him up and carried him back to his own bed, clumsily, and he did not stir. The weight of his sleeping body in my arms was warm. He is utter perfection to look at, with his dirty blonde hair and huge brown eyes, and a terror of moods and demands and fierce, unpredictable affection.

My eldest, 8, sprawled on the top bunk. Sleeping, as he has from his first night on earth, in horrifying silence. I tickled his hand for the slight reflex which would assure me that he was, in fact, still alive. Remembered those long first nights in the hospital of standing over him, listening, until my aching pelvis gave in and I flouted hospital rules and took him back to my bed.

The littlest, 3. I buried my face in her warm neck and she smelt of everything good and comforting in the world. Bubble baths and flannelette pyjamas dried in the sun. Marshmallows and lavender.

There are 3 perfect reasons for living a good, honest, safe life. If I cannot do it for the love of me, surely I can do it for them love of them.

Apparently not. After drinks last night to comfort a grieving friend, so many drinks, I was lost to everything today. Unfocused at work and absent for my family. Shaky, exhausted and nauseous. I ate a heap of junk food, drank a lot of water and tried desperately to get a grip on the huge pile of work on my desk, to no avail. I looked at my phone and found a message sent at 1am that I have literally no recollection of sending. I came home and floundered helplessly in the sea of noise that is Friday night in my house, feeling like a stranger in my own life.

I’m not drinking daily, or in the mornings, or secretly, or any of those things which tell myself a “real” alcoholic might do.

But I do this, every week. Twice a week, sometimes three times. I do it again before my  stomach lining and self esteem have recovered from the last time. I do it even when I make plans to do things I really love at 8am the next day. I get sober for a week, two, three, and I fucking loathe it. I’m bored and edgy and self-conscious and restless and sleepless and weird. I return to drinking, set limits, break them within days. I come back here. To this horrendous, hungover place.