160 days

I’m over five months sober now. Crikey! I had a week or so of feeling really blah, just uninspired and restless. I was mourning the pink cloud days and getting into a bit of an ‘Is this it?’ sort of slump. One day I was feeling particularly scattered, frustrated and cranky so I did my self-care duty and went to the woods for a walk.

I’d been sitting on my butt for a couple of days and my right hip felt tight and painful. I started slowly and concentrated on the beautiful surroundings. Gradually my mood improved and I remembered how much I need physical activity to feel good. Once I got warmed up, I really got going. I was yomping along in a really strange mood that I can’t quite describe. I think ‘fierce’ is the best word for how I felt. It just crept up on me. I made sure I put on a friendly smile whenever I passed somebody in an attempt to not look weird or scary. I probably shouldn’t have worried though. I’ve been repeatedly told that I look sweet, innocent and even angelic (huh?) No matter what darkness is stirring on the inside, on the outside I apparently look about as badass as Bambi.

That fierce, determined feeling seems to have stuck around to a degree. I’ve been looking forwards and getting fired up by lots of creative ideas and life possibilities. I have a sense of being ready to open up and explore, to grab hold of life in a way I never could while drinking. The balance seems to have tipped even more away from the ‘look what I’m giving up’ thoughts towards the ‘holy shit, look what I’m getting!’ thoughts. I appreciate the shift very much and I hope it continues. I also accept that it may not. I’ll make the most of it for now.

I’ve set up a separate blog for my illustrated poems and other creative sobriety-related stuff. I want to keep it completely separate from here. This blog is more my personal warts and all, let it all hang out kind of space. The other one is going to be more of an inspirational quotes, ideas and resources spot. I’m still not ready to go loud and proud so I’m writing it under a pseudonym and the artwork is different enough from my more commercially aimed work that I won’t ‘out’ myself (I hope). If you’ve enjoyed the bits of poetry I’ve posted here then come and visit at relightinglife.com. That’s the only time I’ll link to it and I definitely won’t be linking from there to here. Yup, separate it is.

I now have that wonderfully, thoroughly tired feeling that only physical exertion can bring. I walked almost 9 miles this morning. My legs are aching and I’m hearing my bed calling my name. I wonder if I can managed an episode of Game of Thrones before I fall asleep? I’m going to try 🙂

I hope you’ve all had a good week and wishing you a lovely weekend whatever you’re up to. Love and sober hugs x

 

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Day 21 – Less obsession and more pies please

A whole 3 weeks have gone by since I last had any booze. That’s the longest time without a drink in gawd knows how long, I can’t even remember it’s that long ago. Although I still get a kick every day when I check the day counter app on my phone I find I’m spending less time thinking about not drinking which is a big difference from when I first started.

I’ve moved on to figuring out why it’s been easier to stop this time, compared with previous attempts. Somehow, something has flipped that mysterious ‘switch’ in my head that somehow changes everything.

It’s not the first time it’s happened to me. I used to be a smoker. I used to smoke like a bloody chimney in fact – for 13 years. I tried to quit over and over and failed. I read the Allen Carr book and quit, then failed again.

I’ve come to the conclusion that quitting an addiction is as inexplicable as falling in love. No amount of intellectual understanding or logic can tell you if you’re in love – a switch flicks and you just are, and the thing that flips that switch is such an individual, subjective choice. I spent so many days making and pondering lists regarding smoking – and later drinking. Even though the pros list was tiny (and mostly illusory) and the cons list was as long as my arm it still didn’t do it. Even the living example of my mum who had a serious smoking related illness at far too young an age wasn’t enough to make me ‘get it’.

I think eventually I just got too tired of feeling shit all the time. I clearly remember walking up the hill to the nearest tube station to go to work one morning. I was in a sorry-ass state that day. I was severely hung over (a daily occurrence back then) and was struggling to walk up the hill. I had a fag on the go, was out of breath and was coughing and spluttering and coughing some more, holding onto my head because it felt like it was going to fall off and wondering if I was going to have to throw up in the gutter because I felt so sick. I remember thinking ‘This is fucked up! I’m only 27, this shit shouldn’t be happening’. And so began my experiential rather than intellectual understanding of why quitting smoking would be a good idea.

I think it took me about another 6 months to actually do it. Many more feeling shit episodes followed until I’d had enough. I read the Allen Carr book again and this time the understanding merged with the experiential feelings and the switch flipped and I quit easily. I remember stubbing out my last fag just as my housemate came home drunk. I told him that was my last fag and he laughed, having heard it all before. Fortunately he took the same journey himself a few years later.

Back to drinking (not literally!). I’m a very visual thinker and an image popped into my head that may go some way to explaining why not drinking seems easier for me this time. It went like this…

A common theme I’ve seen on blogs is how people struggle to fill their time when they stop drinking. Again this is a totally subjective experience. For some people the extra time seems like an abyss – wondering what the hell to do to fill it seems to become a source of panic and stress and therefore a relapse trigger. For others the extra time is a glorious revelation and an unexpected bonus.

I imagined the time as a big empty pie crust waiting for a tasty filling. Some people have no idea what to put in a pie / do with free time, and may panic. One option is to start checking out recipes for pie fillings and just get on with giving it a go. Some may remember much loved but long-forgotten fillings and get to work resurrecting them. The pie crusts are going to keep coming, day after day and our work is cut out to deal with them all.

My version of this is that I have plenty of fillings. The fillings have been queued up for years, stored away in cupboards, filling the fridge – packed into the freezer and the fuzzy bits at the back of my mind. Spending too much time in lazy, default drinking meant that I never got round to doing anything good with any of the pie crusts that came my way. Crust after crust went off, got dropped, got eaten unfilled because I ‘couldn’t be bothered’. In my treading water life there hasn’t been a decent supply of crusts for a long time and I’ve been thinking – ‘Am I just going to let this continue and sit there in my 60s, 70s etc. regretting that I wasted all that lovely filling or am I going to get off my ass and make some damn delicious pies?’

Now I’m finally making some tasty pies and not just sweeping forlorn piles of pastry off the floor and chucking it in the bin it feels like an experiential understanding of the benefits of not drinking, rather than just the intellectual ‘pros’ list. I’m drawing a lot, exercising, cooking nice food and not eating crap, I’m have the discipline to 5:2 fast again, I’ve lost 4lbs, taken time to play games and read etc. I think this is one of the main factors that is making it easier this time round and it’s a hell of a lot nicer than coughing a lung up into a London gutter 🙂

Now I read that back to myself I have no idea if it’s going to make sense to anybody else but hey, it’s how the inside of my head goes.

Happy pie making x

Day 12 was a mixed day

Some good things happened today, and some not so good.

One good thing was that I went swimming for the first time in almost 2 years. Seeing as I live a 3 minute walk from my local pool it’s not exactly a hassle to fit it in so hopefully I’ll keep it up – just once a week for now.

After about 15 minutes I was really starting to feel it so I thought, ‘I’ll just do half an hour then get out.’ It was feeling like a real slog and a chore.

After about 20 minutes the endorphins started flowing and I started enjoying it. At 40 minutes I could feel the slightest pulling at the back of one of my knees (they’re both injured) so I slowed down and did a very slow few lengths and stopped at 45 minutes.

During my cool-down lengths I was pondering the parallels between the swimming and sobriety. I had to push through the early stages and resist the urge to give up. Once I reached a certain point it became easier and even started to become enjoyable, creating a positive momentum of its own. It was still important that I didn’t push myself too far and to take care of my known weaknesses too. Yes, I think there are a lot if similarities between the two.

I also had another drinking dream 😦 I was very happy to wake up and realise I hadn’t had a drink but I can’t remember the details of the dream. This was probably triggered by an unfortunate conversation with my partner earlier in the day…

I’ve just arranged to meet up with another couple for a meal for my birthday in a couple of weeks. This is obviously a tricky point for me. I’ll be over 3 weeks sober by then but I’m not complacent about how difficult it might be. One of the friends is an old-time hard-drinking partner I’ve known since I was 18. We’ve both grown up and calmed down a lot but the strong association with him and drinking is still there in the background and has been known to occasionally pop up cause some ‘hilarious’ drunken shenanigans, even though we’re supposed to be mature now 😉

I offered to drive there, partly to ensure I don’t drink and partly because he drove last time. The next part of the conversation went into stressful territory…

Him: ‘No, I’ll drive, you’ve got to have a drink on your birthday.’

Me: ‘I’m doing a dry January and that includes my birthday.’

Him: ‘Come on… it’s your birthday!… you can have just one can’t you? That’s not going to make a difference.’

Me (thinking to myself): That’s highly fucking unlikely!

This could have easily turned into an argument and probably would have less than two weeks ago. Instead of getting pissed off I just quietly stated that not drinking is really important to me at the moment and that the last thing I needed was for him to give me any hassle me about it. He apologised immediately and we were OK.

This incident gave me plenty to think about for the rest of the day. One thing it highlighted was the pervasiveness of British cultural brainwashing about alcohol. This is even more pronounced when you consider the fact that my partner is from a muslim family who obviously did not mark celebrations with alcohol. I pointed this out to him and the conversation continued…

Me: ‘You’re from a culture that never included alcohol in celebrations so why is it so hard to believe I want to do it?’

Him: ‘Yeah but I always found celebration times stressful.’

Me (after a pause): ‘So you’re saying you could have done with a drink?’

Him: ‘Yeah.’

At this point we both laughed at the ridiculous turn the conversation was taking and any remaining stress dissipated.

He’s been immersed in British culture for about 8 years now and the booze brainwashing – particularly regarding birthdays – has obviously seeped in. He’s now a take-it-or-leave-it-only-have-1-or-2 sort of drinker but in the past he has made mistakes with alcohol. Coming from a background where drinking is entirely absent (and highly taboo) he was suddenly let loose in pissed-up Blighty and learned his alcohol lessons the hard way. He once drank so much so fast at the encouragement of his hard-drinking Brit work mates that he passed out and ended up in an ambulance. Something even I’ve never done and I’ve done a lot of stupid drinking stuff.

There’s nothing stressful about going for a tasty meal with 2 easy-going friends and I’m sort of looking forward to being fully present and focused on the people, the food and the conversation – not on drinking. I can’t predict where my head will be by the time my birthday comes around but I’m determined it’s going to be a sober one.