#50

Today I am sober 50 days. Everything is starting to fall into place, I’m getting stronger, and I really feel I’ve got a handle on my life. All is good – apart from the fact that I’ve been ghosted (again). I’m trying really hard to not let it get me down, feel disappointed, or even surprised, but it does hurt and it’s one of the emotions that should come with their own warning lights and siren. The ones that I like to swerve, because they’re too painful and raw, and historically I’ve always dealt with them through the medium of wine – then come at them like a raging bull.

So I’ve made coffee, come back to bed, booted up the laptop and started to write.

I started counselling last week at the Women’s Centre. I like to think of these sessions as my “all rounder” counselling, where I can talk about any shit whatsoever, without thinking: hang on, this doesn’t relate to drinking, bereavement, or the attack. It’s a place where I can just open up about anything that’s on my mind that day, and work out where it’s coming from, how it’s affecting my mental health in general, and what can we do to avoid it taking me closer to a relapse. 

Bearing in mind Wednesday was my first session, my new therapist summed me up pretty well: ‘so you’re very good at distracting yourself from certain emotions, but not so good at facing up to them’. Spot on, doctor. 

Over the last year, I’ve become very adept at articulating my story to therapists – probably as a result of having 7 repeat mental health assessments since last December –  and understanding where certain behaviours come from. I’ve even started learning from mistakes and relapses (only taken 33 years, like). But for certain subjects, when there’s the slightest whiff of them being brought up in conversation, or a question directed about how I feel about them, I recoil in panic and get that sickening feeling in my  stomach which I now know is cortisol sending me into flight mode. I still can’t do it, mainly because I’m scared about what might happen I face them head on and accept them for what they are.

I’ve realised it’s the same with music. In the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered Melissa and Jade’s Hooked podcast on the BBC. I was listening to the second episode while walking to my volunteer placement at Sue Ryder, yesterday, and they were discussing the power of music throughout addiction and recovery. One of the  songs they played was a more acoustic version of ‘Took a Pill in Ibiza’, and by the end of it I was sobbing my way through town like a total nut job. The lyrics ‘you don’t want to be high like me’ had struck a chord, and reinforced that overwhelming feeling of loneliness and despair you get with addiction, when everyone thinks you’re being selfish and indulgent but really all you’re trying to do is drown out the unbearable pain that you feel inside.

I’ve stopped listening to music while in recovery. Completely subconsciously. But I’m starting to wonder whether it’s been a self-inflicted defence mechanism? Music is powerful, and does stir up a huge amount of emotion within me – both good and bad – but like with recovery, you’ve got to be careful of all things good and bad, as either can set you down the path of self-destruction again. Christmas 2017 during one of my most serious and almost successful attempts of drinking myself to death, I went through 6GB of data, just listening to music. Without the drink, I’m missing my protective shield, so find it difficult to listen to anything emotive. It’s like I’m protecting myself with ignorance – or fantasy – so I don’t have to face up to how I’m really feeling or the reality of certain situations. If I can’t see or hear it, I can’t feel it, which therefore means it’s not there. Totally fucked up and deluded – but that’s addiction for you.

So as far as being ghosted. I’m not setting myself back  because of it. At least I can say I’ve changed, in that respect.

Birthday week & AA vs. Group

All in all, I’ve had a glorious birthday week; not that I’ve done anything crazy or amazingly wild. I had lunch with Mum (on the actual day) and hosted FB and her gorgeous little man the next day, so it’s been pretty ordinary, I guess – but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Last year, I hadn’t spoken to Mum since March (let alone seen her), was still pretty estranged from most of my friends. And had just broken my leg. And was trapped with an absolute c*nt. What a difference a year makes!

Anyway, it was back to business on Thursday with SMART group. SMART basically stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training, and approaches recovery from a more secular, science-based angle, using cognitive behaviour techniques and motivational methods to help you work towards long-term recovery. My Foundations group coordinator had encouraged me to give it a go as a possible alternative to AA – which incidentally, I’ve struggled with no end. 

So far, I’m finding this style of recovery structure more relatable and comfortable than the AA meetings. I’m very much of the mindset that I am responsible for my own actions, and I am ultimately the only person who can fix me. Of course, I need the support of the recovery-services, peers, friends, family etc. along the way, but I’m struggling to get my head around the concept of surrendering yourself to a “higher power” that AA teaches. Yes, the 12 Steps framework was established in a very different time, and the idea of “God” as the only “higher power” is no longer relevant within today’s society, but I’m still not comfortable with the notion of handing over control…

Who exactly am I handing it to? For someone like me (who doesn’t really know what to believe in), who on earth (or not) is supposed to be my higher power? Shouldn’t that actually be me? 

I get that it’s nice to have that community feel of AA, a sort of camaraderie and sense of belonging… but I get that in groups like SMART and Foundations, and through the wider Recovery service. The difference is, in Group, I actually get to unpick theories, question them, debate them and bounce ideas off others who are looking for a solution to the same problem. Sometimes in AA I feel like I’m sat awkwardly listening to one person after another talk about how the “fellowship” has helped them cope with life’s challenges, when all I want to ask is: HOW?! There’s no structure, no discussion and no outcome.

I went to an AA meeting last week – with one of the girls from Group – and promised myself that I’d give it 6 weeks before I made a decision (even though someone tried to shove Jesus down my neck – again). Tonight, I didn’t go because I had a deadline with my freelance work, and I’m really stressing about whether to go back at all. I should go – I think? Or am I just trying to take on too much?

Ughhhhhhh!!! I thought I was getting better at making decisions for myself!!!    

Starting from now

Today is day #38 (again). And today I am 33. 

I haven’t blogged much in the 55 days since my last relapse. Granted, it only took me 5 days to sort my shit out, but it really knocked the wind out of me, and it’s taken a while to drum up the confidence and motivation to start writing again. I won’t bore you with the details of how it happened – I took my eye off the ball, and it just did.

In the last few days I’ve been reading Belle’s ‘Tired of Thinking about Drinking’ blog, and it’s one of the few new things in my life that has inspired me to keep going. I’ve started from the very beginning of her story, so I don’t know what happened after the last post I read (currently in September 2012), but it is so refreshing to read a brutally honest, well written account of the early sobriety and the mix of emotions and experiences that it can bring.

Two days ago I came across a post which started with a sentence that really struck a chord, and frankly could easily have come from my own mind: 

‘the first thought I had this morning was “I don’t have time to be *sober* today, i’ve got too much to do.”’

https://www.tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/2012/08/05/stay-alert/

I completely relate to this; trying to be sober is like a full time job. It’s not just putting the drink down (tried it – doesn’t work), the hard part is NOT picking up again. The real work comes when you start having to pick-apart aspects of your entire being, to understand: what caused me to drink in the first place?; why do I relapse even though I know what will happen?; who/what/where do I need to avoid in order to stay on track?; who the hell am I, anyway?! 

It’s exhausting, and sometimes you just want to kick back and forget about trying to stay sober, and get on with life. Unlike other full-time jobs, you can’t just “clock-off” at 5, collapse on the sofa and pour a glass of wine – you’re on duty ALL the time. 

Which is why I felt Belle’s piece of self-advice, where she writes a note to herself as a reminder to not to give into complacency, and that not drinking is totally worth it, was so important. 

Complacency is a word that I use A LOT (you should add this to your mental game of bullshit bingo, for when we next speak). It is, after all, my reason for relapse: I get a bit of time behind me, congratulate myself on doing so well and move on to more pressing issues like getting back into work, losing weight, finding Mr Right etc. etc. I never thought I had an ego before – far from, it in fact – but my complacency with drinking/not-drinking suggests the complete opposite (actual words to J in July: ‘look who’s doing a fucking fantastic job of “recovery” – ME!’). Combined with an equal dose of crippling self-doubt (weird duplicity, right?!) losing focus leads to no end of trouble.

So today, I’m with Belle on NOT giving it. Starting right now – on my 33rd birthday – I pledge to do something EVERY.SINGLE.DAY so I don’t lose sight of the importance of my sobriety. (And stop comparing it to a full-time job. This is not helpful, either).

Hello, emotion – it’s been a while

These days it’s very rare that I cry or get emotional – at least while sober! It’s like I’ve suddenly developed this thick layer of skin that no harsh word can get through. I’m not phased by things like I used to be, and certainly do not have patience with first-world-problems (“the under-floor heating in the kitchen doesn’t work with the new tiles”…f**king spare me!). Obstacles are now challenges, and I’m much more of the “just-get-on-with-it” mentally that my mother spent 30 years trying to instil in me. 

Think the Snickers’ ad with Mr T charging a football pitch in a tank, screaming “GET SOME NUTS!”… this is genuinely the image I have in my head when I’m quietly congratulating myself on my new found resilience. (Disclosure: *Or the words I am silently saying to you as I stare at you blankly, eyebrow raised*)

On the other hand, in recent weeks, for example, there have been a couple of occasions where my hard-exterior has crumbled unexpectedly, and I’ve found myself sobbing uncontrollably and been complete and utterly overcome with emotion The first time, five weeks ago, on hearing the words it felt like I’d waited a lifetime to hear. The second, two Saturdays’ ago, getting on the train and seeing my mum for the first time in months. And thirdly (and fourthly), twice in the last week being reunited with two of my most favourite people in the whole-wide-world, both of whom I haven’t seen for nearly a year. (Oh, and watching the Four Paws ad on TV this lunchtime. Heartbreaking).

The fact of the matter is, I miss my people. The ones who make me genuinely feel good about myself, build me up, make me laugh-out-loud, and remind me of who I am. They say it’s the people who you surround yourself who make the difference. And they’re absolutely right.

In the 18 months since I went missing, up until the beginning of this year, aside from J and the professional services, there was not one person I came across who didn’t try to exploit me in one way or another, or take advantage of my vulnerability. That’s an awful lot of time being around people who would rather see you destroy yourself rather than recover.

But I was one of the lucky ones. Despite alienating myself from pretty much everyone, two old friends emerged from the ashes of the nightmare I had created, and without them, I don’t think I would have ever got free of the web of destruction I’d got myself tangled in. They were my saviors, the only links to my old life, and the ones who kept my head just enough above the water so that I could eventually gather the strength to pull myself out…and survive. (*Love you long-time, T & AF*)

I emerged from 2018 as a wreck; a frightened little mouse who trusted no-one and was clinging onto finest of threads to protect the shield I’d built around myself. My people got me through it, and it’s my people who will help me rebuild my life and keep me anchored throughout the good and bad. In recovery they say that you need a reason to fight, and to keep fighting. My reason is the people who make me feel whole; and it’s for them I reserve my tears.