Today I climb back aboard the wagon feeling a little like Kate Winslet clinging to a piece of debris at the end of titanic. It’s been a horrible three weeks marked by nightmares, loss, grief, the pain of friends and my own guilt and inadequacy.
There are times in life when it is actually impossible to feel everything there is to feel and to be there for everyone who needs you to the depth and degree that you feel they deserve. Whichever ever way you look you feel that you are neglecting someone or something, whatever you feel, you’re convinced that you should be feeling something else.
I did my best, but my best, I fear, has not been good enough and, of course, I fell off the wagon. I can for certain say that the alcohol didn’t help. It was less a friend and a port in the storm and more an act of desperation that deepened feelings of unworthiness and exacerbated sleepless nights. I feel glad to be leaving it behind. My views on the demon drink appear to have been permanently changed. I’m not sure that I will ever see it in quite the same way again.
A page has turned in my life and an era is now over. Time to move on in a new direction. I struggle today with the instinct to turn inwards, to assess privately and keep the world at arm’s length. I know that I need to open up more, to work harder at my relationships and to keep my circle a little wider but that is so hard for me to do. Where others seem able to moderate their words and emotions while being surrounded by people, I seem to say everything or nothing and the only control I have is the amount of contact I have with other people. Can I learn what they already know? And change my approach to the world? Time will tell.
When you decide to stay sober for a year you don’t imagine that anything more challenging than Friday night drinks will challenge your resolve. It doesn’t cross your mind that you may face greater difficulties.
Yesterday afternoon my husband came off his motorbike. He and his brother were on a track day and we’d made it through most of the day without incident, as we had done on the two previously occasions when the two of them had done the same thing. Nathan’s girlfriend, Vicky, and I stood in the stands watching, joking that Nathan needed to win that round to equalise, when Nathan made it round without being followed by Pete. Minutes passed, the red flag went up, other bikers came round and off of the track but my husband didn’t join them. We knew something had gone wrong and when Nathan himself came off the track, shaking his head at me, my world span.
In those moments you think of the worst. You imagine the unimaginable, you challenge yourself to face up to your worst nightmares. Vicky took my hand and guided me to the right place to ask the right questions and a nice chap who reassured me that Pete was well enough for me to slap him lead me to the medical centre. I am eternally grateful to them both.
He has a fractured collar bone, badly bruised but, fortunately not broken, ribs and a lot of swelling, aches and pains. He’s very sore and he can’t get dressed or eat his food without help but he’s mentally sound and among the walking wounded.
Those moments at the track were among the most harrowing of my life. As we sat in the pub later, eating a well deserved meal while Pete threatened to pass out from the morphine, I wondered at the fact that I didn’t want a drink. Just a little while ago, a glass of wine would have been my first resort in steadying my nerves, but yesterday it wasn’t even a temptation. In the face of all that, I surprised myself.
We adapt to new circumstances far faster than we expect.
When you decide to be sober for a year you don’t think that anything worse than Friday night
In less than two weeks, I will be a quarter of the way through my challenge and my greatest temptation so far as been the bottle of pink fizz that is currently lurking in my fridge. It was brought over, at the weekend, by a friend who then didn’t manage to drink it. It’s remains there, singing a siren song but I am strong enough to turn away. As much as I have fantasised about the tingle of its taste on my tongue when the year is over, 8 am planning on waiting until the year is over before I sup upon it’s deliciousness.
A blog to remind you that I haven’t forgotten. That I am, in fact, still not drinking. 70 days have passed by quite rapidly really. Only 295 days left, still a wedding, a Christmas and a New Year to go but totally doable. Laughably doable. I’m starting to wonder exactly what it is that I’m proving and then I have to remind myself that it’s not about what I’m proving, it’s about what I’m learning.
I’m learning that I’m shy. I can talk the ear off of someone when I’m comfortable with them but until then I prefer to hang back and let others do the talking. So much so that I can find that I suffer a sort of mental paralysis and I can’t think of anything of interest to say at all and then, when with someone who makes me feel comfortable, all my thoughts and feelings come spilling out in a verbal torrent that may drown the unsuspecting.
Interesting, I never knew that. I always knew that I was nervous of strangers, but I though that my instinct was to channel the nerves into the performance of sociality, but it turns out that that was just the drink talking.
I note that long time none drinkers can be very disparaging of those who do partake. The virtue of the tee total, whatever their vices might be, seems to give them the right to sit in judgement. At least in their opinion. As much as I can, to a degree, understand why they are making those judgements, I don’t want to be that person. I want sober me to be kind, tolerant and patient. To laugh with the worse for wear rather than at them. I also don’t want to be dull. It can be hard to fit with the ebullient ebb and flow of a night out when the others are all generously lubricated and you are still rather dry, you stick when you should slide.
Possibly, therefore, the biggest lesson that sober me will have to learn, and potentially one of the most useful, is how to lighten up.
'Are you okay? You don't seem yourself. Are you tired?'.
The concern is nice. It’s nice that people care. It’s an odd reminder however that there are those, who don’t know you well, who are accustomed to seeing you a little the louder for a glass of wine. I can be quick to smile and my laugh is loud to the point that even I find it annoying but I can also be intense and over-serious. Over serious is not good for casual social events and often that is where the wine comes in. Not now of course. Now I have to find my inner socialite and she can be awfully good at playing kind and seek. She’s also a little intimidated by my inner moralist and my inner activist even when I’ve told both of those ladies to take a hike because now is not the time.
When I was a drinker, I would worry that I talked too much and bored people. Now I worry I don’t talk enough and that I bore people. I’m painfully aware of how much I don’t have in common with most of the people I meet. I like the sound of rain and the crackle of a campfire. I sleep better under canvas. I read, a lot. I like syfy. I don’t watch soaps. I don’t accept casual racism. I don’t like junk food. I can be righteous and I don’t hate myself enough to be prepared to change any of that to fit with anyone. But I still sit there, feeling like the odd one out and wondering if everyone would be having more fun if I wasn’t there.
When I was a youngster, I don’t think I cared. I took the idea of being disliked to a degree for granted and expected the world to fit with me. Age has made me fear that my views were a little self-centred, as much as I’m convinced that my younger self was far happier as a result of her blinkered attitudes. I’ve changed. I think. Of course it could be that, as a student (I spent far too many years studying), it was just easier to find those who were like minded and so socialising didn’t feel like such a battle to find a way to connect. Maybe I am a blue tit trying to fit in with sparrows?
Answers on a postcard. 309 days to go.
The wedding was lovely. It was wonderful to see two people so happy and I was reminded again how my family genuinely are among my favourite people in the world. I survived the entire event without awkwardness and without even being tempted to touch a drop.
I’m left feeling proud of myself and at the same time disappointed in myself for not making more of an effort to spend time with the people who mean the most. Of course all of this happened only after I was able to shake the headache and tiredness that I woke with.
There is a sense of irony to making my way through a family wedding without touching a drop only to wake with hangover symptoms anyway. It’s as though someone upstairs decided that for me to wake the day after John’s wedding without a sore head was just so wrong that they had to make it happen some other way or that my own body was so convinced that a hangover follows a family event that I somehow made myself hungover as if I’d taken some kind of excessive alcohol placebo.
I spent the day feeling every bit as exhausted as I would if I’d been drinking the night before except without the compulsion to try some hair of the dog. I even wondered if I might be coming down with something but the symptoms seem to have faded. A psychosomatic hangover that just needed time to heal.
I’ve often suffered with hangovers that persisted long after they should have faded, only to disappear suddenly at a random moment thanks to a cuddle or the sight of something beautiful. The anxiety over the fact that I had drunk enough to make myself poorly being apparently the most powerful factor behind my feeling poorly at all. It’s worrying that that anxiety is so profound that it continues to have an impact without alcohol even being involved.
Still, I have 317 days to get over it…
My cousin gets married today. It’s about time. He’s a good guy and he’s been through his fair share of shit. He deserves to feel settled, calm and happy. I have the present sorted and something that might make for the highland dress he requested, I’m trying to handle the social anxiety and the knowledge that I’m going have to work my way through it sober and I’m driving.
A car is a remarkably useful device when attending an big event sober. Any questions about your drinking habits are quickly and comfortably diverted. There’s no pressure and no hassle. The problem for one such me is the awareness that I have to mix with a large group of people without a muscle relaxant. Social anxiety has been a growing problem for me throughout my life. I’m not particularly good with people. I can put on a mighty fine impersonation of a ‘people person’ and I think I can be entertaining in small doses but I find that I divert a fair amount of my mental and emotional energy to working out how to handle uncomfortable silences, whether I talk too much, what to talk about, what to do when people keep asking questions and never talk about themselves for long so you’re left feeling like you’re monopolising the conversation when they are making it that way, what to do when I am monopolising the conversation because I don’t know what to ask to divert the attention way from me and whether I bore people. It’s exhausting.
The idea of facing large groups of people fills me with same mix of excitement and terror that I experience while considering how I would handle myself if I faced some of the scenarios I see in films. On the one hand it’s a challenging and an exhilarating escape from the norm, on the other, one cannot escape from the thought that it may bring about premature death.
Wish me luck. The car guarantees that I will stick to my sober conviction. Whether I survive intact is an entirely different question.
It’s odd that after more than a month, a week of soul searching and even an anniversary celebration that a nondescript day like today would prove to be my biggest challenge to date. All that’s wrong is that I’m tired.
I have two work projects on this week, one is mostly writing and the other mostly reading. The reading project began at the end of last week and all was going well until I over stretched myself this weekend. I was busy during each day and would only start my reading once I’d completed all other tasks, often finishing off in bed and turning out the light in utter exhaustion some time around or after midnight. This morning I felt wrecked.
Over the course of the day I dropped all pretence at healthy eating and accepted that there was no way I was going to get through my work and my circuit training while my brain and body were functioning at a snail’s pace. Work was of course the priority and I finished some of it in the bath.
Accepting my state of uselessness Hubs picked up some fish fingers and plastic bread to make a comfort food supper and at 630 in the evening I am already in my PJs. It was then that the desire for a beer hit me. I want to be comforted, treated and babied. The last thing in the world I want is to be challenged.
Even Hubs thinks that having a beer right now would be forgivable under exceptional circumstances. I’m currently holding my own, secretly wishing that he’d thought to pick up alcohol free for me while getting the full strength stuff for himself and partly aware that that would only partially diminish the craving.
Only 323 days to go…
The last few days have really been a challenge. It started with a dispute with someone close over right wing views that I found frankly objectionable and then cycled steadily down. I looked at all the hate in the world, the events in Gaza, the anti-Semitic violence in Europe, the racial tensions in my own country and it got me down, really down.
Usually under such circumstances, I’d have a few glasses of wine, maybe rant a bit and then at some point it would leave my system, I’d forget and move on, pick myself up and feel better. As it was I found myself struggling to break out. I got addicted to reading the news. The days spilled by with no cessation to my anxiety and my low. It took a friend reminding me of the futility of worry to break me out of it.
I find myself now wanting nothing more than to close my ears and forget all the pain in the world in fear of the depths of despair that it may bring me to. At the same time I’m aware that that would be selfish to a degree and that I need to find a healthy way to take action that won’t leave me feeling drained of my emotional energy.
I’m going to give myself at least a day to recover before I take the next step. Then we’ll see.