Still not getting it

I’ve just walked out of my second recovery thingy of the week, which proves that Wednesday was not just an off day. I’ve always struggled with AA, but sitting there in tonight’s meeting – staring at the back of the same heads, listening to the same old recovery story – I realised that this just isn’t for me. Everyone is lovely (those who acknowledge you anyway) but I’m just not grasping it the same as I do with NA. Is it me, or is everyone’s share the same: here’s an account of when I started drinking; here’s how it transpired throughout adolescence; then when I became an adult; then suddenly I couldn’t stop, stopped washing my hair, didn’t want to get out of bed; then I found AA, so here I am. The End.

My cynical voice is coming out again, which I really hate, but it’s so hard to quiet it when I feel so disillusioned with the whole damn thing. I appreciate everyone has their own story and it doesn’t matter how dramatic their rock bottom was, it still had an impact on their lives and forced them to take stock on their relationship with alcohol. But for me, addiction is so much more than just about the substance. Alcohol, coke, crack, smack – whatever it was, it was just the tip of the iceberg.

I want someone just to say: ‘my life became unmanageable. This is what made me stop and this is how AA/NA/the Step programme made/makes sure I stay stopped’. As I’m writing this, the answer is flashing in my mind: unity, togetherness, that amazing feeling knowing you’re not on your own and that people get you. I get this with NA but I don’t with AA – weird, right?

I’m sure I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll quietly feel bad for faking a migraine, promise to be more patient next time, and try another meeting this week where the set up is more inclusive (i.e. doesn’t involve staring at the back of someone’s head). But then how long do I have to keep “giving this a go”? Do I just accept the fact that I’m not getting it and stay focused on NA? Or do I give it another month? One thing I do know is that I should not make any rash decisions while I’m due-on, hungry and generally feeling meh.

Tomorrow is a new day. And I don’t have AA. Halle-fucking-lujah.

#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).

What’s the point, anyway?

Could I be feeling anymore defeatist today. I’m wallowing in self-pity. And it’s pathetic. 

Started the day with a ‘woooo – new term, new rules!’ Tweet (#strongwoman #nomangonagetmedown, #etc.etc.etc). Which was how I felt. Is how I feel. But I still feel shit. And the fact of the matter is, I’m still coming to the same conclusion: what’s the frigging point, anyway?

I can hide behind as many self-motivational posts as much I like but ultimately I am still self-harming (‘that’s it girl, claw at your skin until you are no more’), struggling with triggers (love, life, other peoples’ problems, boredom, regret, seeing every other fucker on Facebook get married, have a baby, hit another milestone in their career…), and I’m only 2 weeks sober after having had another relapse.

Although my relapses are MUCH shorter and further between than before, every time it happens it feels more difficult to get back up – much harder to silence the voice in my head that’s telling me to just give up. Last year relapses went on for week-upon-week (sometimes months), so I know I am getting stronger in pulling myself back together quickly and U-turning back to the right path; but emotionally, getting there is becoming increasingly harder. Every time I lapse (regardless of how long for) I naturally piss someone off or do something as ridiculous as before (drinking myself into a 24 hour vodka induced coma on Bank Holiday, for example) which then intensifies the nagging voice inside me that is telling me that I might as well just not even bother getting better.

That said, after this last blip, it’s become apparent that my body has started to call the shots and, for the first time in my life, is actually starting to out-weigh my head.

What started with half a larger two Thursdays’ ago, transpired into a few vodka-cokes at the pub, which then led to 3 days of vodka. FUCKING VODKA. What normally happens (and what did happen) after a bender is my body goes into complete meltdown; every inch of me is crying out for a drink. I’m shaking, I’m anxious, I’m retching. It’s vile – but unfortunately pretty standard in terms of alcohol withdrawal. Last year I had a fit when I tried to cut down too quickly and the prospect still absolutely terrifies me. Two weeks ago today, as I lay on the couch physically unable to move, I knew that I couldn’t just stop but there was no way I was touching vodka again. 

With my housemates away, and in the knowledge I wasn’t going to get any sleep for at least 48 hours, I bought 3 bottles of wine and settled myself in for the first day of recovery. 24 hours later I’d only managed to keep down half a bottle and spewed up the rest. 48 hours later (after a second trip to McColls), I’d done another half bottle of cheap Pinot and was left contemplating the remaining bottle and a half. How in God’s name had I gone from putting away enough vodka to take out an army, to one bottle of 12% wine in just 2 days? 

And so I gave in to my body. No matter how much my head is telling me to do recovery safely, I physically just can’t take it anymore – my body is finally rejecting alcohol.

I poured the remaining wine down the sink. Which in itself is a miracle. 

I needed to write this post – however un-jointed and incoherent it may be – because it’s made me realise that, yes, I could give up but then what do I do in between sitting here now and my Final Judgement? Allow my organs to slowly shut down, and live the rest of my days in agonising pain? Mentally, it’s a tough one to endure, but I know that I just have to keep going. Even looking at the small mercies in life I can see that I’ve taken massive steps in the right direction over the last 12 months. This time last year I was stuck with an absolute arsehole, two weeks away from breaking my leg, and heading for a Community Order. Today I’m still not where I WANT to be, BUT I do have my own place, don’t have a shitty-pot-smoking knob to deal with, and finally have a clear direction. I just need to be a little more patient with myself – and listen to my body when it says: ‘ENOUGH!’. 

Dreaming in Blue

This morning I woke up with the sense of impending doom; that familiar feeling of: ‘Oh God, what have I done now?!’ I was achy, anxious, had a throbbing headache and was tangled in a mix of emotions – fear, guilt, remorse – that were making my heart cartwheel.  This lasted approximately 10 seconds, followed by a wave of relief when I realised – it was just a dream. 

These “dreams” – or night terrors as I can only best describe them – are not uncommon and have crept up on me on countless occasions as I battle the demons that lay in my subconscious mind. Without sounding like a broken record, 4 weeks ago I put the bottle down for good and my intention is to never pick it up again – unless that be to pour the contents down the sink, or pass willingly to a sane, ‘one-glass-will-suffice’ friend. I’ve been here a million times (most instances recorded in the last year) and after the passing of the first couple of weeks, sleep takes me to a crazy, frightening fantasy, which is so real that I live every single moment. 

Throughout my life I’ve had vivid (and frankly bizarre) dreams, but I’ve always put that down to having a pretty active imagination. During my first year of A-Levels (when shit got real) and thereafter (Uni exams, first interviews, work pressure etc.), dreams would transcend into experiences of being caught up in tsunamis and plane crashes (two of my biggest fears). Since alcohol has become a “thing”, however, my nightmares now consist of 2 scenarios: 1) I’m pissed and in a panic as  I try to find more wine – willing to crawl over broken glass to get it; and 2) I’ve woken up in a place that drink has led me too (more often than not, the house of that screaming, drunk psychopath who N introduced me to), it’s chaotic, filthy, noisy, and I’m practically shaking with fear.

According to experts, these occurrence of “drink” and “drug” dreams is a known phenomenon among people in recovery. There’s one argument which  suggests that they are a sign of our mind readying itself for change, but still very little is known from a scientific standpoint about their prevalence, whether they subside with time in recovery, and (most importantly) their relation to relapse risk. For anyone who hasn’t experienced substance abuse first hand, the solution to avoiding a relapse is easy: just don’t pick up. The reality is, it is so much more complex than that;  you are always at risk because you’ve spent years conditioning yourself into believing that drink is the only way to cope. The beginning is always the most difficult time because you’re still reeling from the mess you’ve made in the short period of time you were drinking, you hate yourself, and your body is in a constant state of anxiety. 

Having that dream last night has put me in a pretty lousy mood all day and the “drying out” anxieties have started to rear their nasty little heads. Pretty much like the way a hangover makes you feel. I know that I’m still fragile, so perhaps these horrendous dreams are just my mind’s way of keeping me in check and to remind me of why it’s so important to keep being kind to myself and to stay strong – because the alternative is a pretty dark place.

I like myself – but only when I’m perfect

Starting my Mindfulness course again yesterday was harder than expected…who knew how difficult it would be to practice meditation with a whirlwind of emotions and worries whizzing around your head?! One good thing that did come out of the 2 hours sessions, however, (aside from spending most of the time on my back on a yoga mat, swaddled in a softer than soft throw) was hearing this quote:

“I like myself – but only when I’m perfect”

It stopped me dead. Actually made something in my head click (something that doesn’t happen as often as it should). 

Despite having the notes section of my phone literally bursting with inspirational quotes that I’ve picked up along the way (you get A LOT of these in recovery), this one really struck a chord. 

It’s pretty much what my head has been telling me all my life:

you’ll be better if you lose weight and get your hair done

you’ll be happy only when you’ve not touched a drop of booze or smoked a single fag for a whole year

and my personal favourite…

be on £30k by the time you’re 30 – if you don’t, you’ve failed’. 

In fact, I just smoked a cigarette, had my last drink 16 days ago (following my millionth failed attempt at sobriety), have roots that couldn’t even pass as a balayage, am up a dress size since Spain 2017 and I’m now a thirty-something receiving pittance from Universal Credit per month (because being a hard-working, educated individual qualifies you for fuck all when you go through a rough patch).

To sum it up, I’ve never liked myself that much because I’ve never achieved my unattainable ideal of perfection. Which is why I got in this goddamn mess in the first place – I drink when I don’t like myself and I don’t like myself when I’m not perfect. The only thing I’ve ever been “perfect” at is being an alcoholic – and making an absolute catastrophic mess of everything. To be honest, I’m surprised Echo Falls never headhunted me for the position of Global Head of Wine Tasting (‘I can’t feel my face and I left my dignity at the door – it’s perfect!’).

Ironically, 2 years ago, I’d been sober for almost 3 years and had it pretty good, but I can’t say I even liked myself then. Not really, anyway. 

Despite everything, today I’m pretty OK. Yes, things are still mad. Yes, I’ve got myself in a bit of a pickle (understatement of the year) – but I’m getting myself out. ME. I’m doing this – no one else – and for that, I’m pretty chuffed with myself. While I can’t say that I can now skip past the wine shop at the top of the road, hollering: ‘look at meeee! I’m freeeee!’, or not have those days when I batter myself for being so bloody shit at life. I can remember the quote and try to focus on the positives (rather than the negatives) every day, just to remind myself there’s at least something likeable about me – regardless of what’s going on and how un-perfect I am. 

If I don’t, there’s always another rock bottom to hit – and I don’t fancy going there. No ta.