Day 18 and a huge step taken

As a major introvert I’ve always struggled with socialising and having to meet new people. This is probably the key factor that started me down the path of heavy drinking. When I was younger I forced myself to go out – which made me highly uncomfortable – and so I would get drunk to hide from the difficult, awkward feelings.

As the years have passed I’ve become much more accepting and appreciative of my introverted nature and have stopped shoehorning myself into inappropriate social situations. This being said, it does have a darker side. I have a stong tendency to isolate. While I think I’m lucky to be so happy with my own company and to find sanctuary in ‘alone time’ I also know that I hide behind it and use it to excuse myself from exploring life and the wider world.

Getting drunk tucked up on the sofa is so easy, and effortless, and after enough glasses I can just pretend that it’s all OK and anything challenging can wait until later. Life, as I hope to be living it, can wait until later. I find myself agreeing with wolfie over and over again – yeah, fuck that! it’s all just too scary out of my wine cocoon… And so, life shrinks down smaller and smaller until it becomes a shrivelled drunken shadow of its full potential.

I’ve suspected for some time now that alcohol is the anchor that is holding me still; a life spent just treading water instead of the adventurous voyage I believe it could be. Tonight I made myself take another step to change that. I went on my own to a class at a local buddhist centre 🙂

The feelings of anxiety and resistance started before I even got in my car. I almost chickened out but I promised myself 2 weeks ago that I would do this. Setting off on that short journey was about far more than just driving to a buddhist centre. It was about honouring a promise to myself and my life. It was about summoning up the courage to do something hard rather than shying away and hiding from (drinking away) the fear. Most importantly, it was about taking a decisive step towards finding a community and an activity that will support and complement my sobriety.

Although the adrenaline stomach feeling is horrible it was also oddly exhilarating as I realised it was a long time since I’d voluntarily kicked my own ass out of its comfort zone. Walking into a place full of strangers is excruciatingly awkward for me. I had a full-on rabbit in headlights moment as I decided where to sit in the busy room. All the seats were full other than the front row, which was empty – gulp! I sat alone, feeling exposed and conspicuous until more people arrived and joined me there. Then the teacher arrived, we all stood briefly in respect and the class began.

The talk and guided meditations were wonderful with a warm and humorous teacher. It’s been a long time since I meditated in a group setting and it is a truly lovely energy and feeling. I stayed afterwards for a coffee and a chat with a small group of people and learned enough about the place to know I’ll continue to go back for their weekly classes.

On the way home I realised the adrenaline and caffeine had left me a bit strung out and I had that oh so familiar thought of ‘Oh some wine would calm this right down’. I observed it as a habitual thought and let it pass through and disappear. There was no danger I was going to indulge it this time 🙂

I’m feeling positive about myself and my sobriety tonight and so happy that I found the courage to take another important step towards changing my life for the better. I guess one meditation class is a baby step in the bigger picture but it felt like a giant leap forwards for me.

I hope everybody has had a day of moving forwards, even if only in baby steps x

 

Day 8

I’m about 19 minutes away from ticking over into day 8 as I start writing this. Still going round in circles a bit but at least they are fairly large circles of weeks rather than days.

I’m being easy on myself, not trying to do too much at once. I’m working on my artwork when I feel like it but not pushing myself to achieve anything at all other than not drinking at the moment. Netflix binges are currently my friend and that seems to be helping. I know that can’t be a long-term strategy and would just be transferring my addiction but for now, it’s good.

I feel like I have a fair bit of energy and am clear-headed which is lovely. These are two things that have eluded me for a long time due to nagging illness. I’m eating low carb at the moment which actually doesn’t take too much discipline for me – as long as I’m not drinking of course – forget about any level of discipline after a few glasses of wine. I love fatty food and tons of vegetables and I just feel so much better when I eat like this.

I talked to an old university friend earlier who also happens to have been my partner in crime for a large amount of my past heavy drinking. He mentioned he was about to have some wine and beer tonight and I said I was still on a not drinking kick. He commented that the amount he drinks these days seems to be slowly decreasing with age. I wished I could join him for a drink and pondered how different that was to me and then told him mine was going in the opposite direction which was why I was looking at quitting. He wasn’t at all shocked. We talked about it a bit longer, no heavy confession session or anything but it felt good to be able to tell him about some of my worries around booze. It was slightly triggery but nothing too hard to manage.

I’m listening to lots of interesting podcasts at the moment. I find it an easy way to make a positive use of the time freed up by not drinking. Listening to new things feels like it expands my world rather than it shrinking and turing in on itself when I’m drinking. Sobriety, neuroscience, psychology, buddhism, biohacking and health improvement are my favourite topics at the moment.

Well, I think it may be time for a netflix session now. Wishing everybody a happy, healthy and sober Sunday x

 

Day 31 – A month done, cravings beaten and some plans

I’ve not been home from work for long and I’m celebrating finishing my working ‘week’ and a month of not drinking – with a nice mug of hot chocolate.

It’s been a mixed week. I’ve eaten far too much after allowing my birthday eating to go on for 2 whole days and have put back on 3 of the 4lbs I’ve lost. Hey ho, I’m going easy on myself, there’s only so much I can tackle at once.

I also had a bad craving session a couple of days ago. This ties in with the plans I’ve made for my creative/professional future. I decided to take a leap and spend a fair amount on some software to build apps. I’m going to try to build and publish some apps for android, apple etc and have it all planned out – in theory. I ended up spending about 4 hours messing about with my computer trying to get this stuff to work. There was a scary moment when I thought I may have wasted my money as I didn’t think it was going to work without me spending a huge amount more but in the end I have managed to get it set up and ready to go. Once I got it set up I was happy with what I’d achieved but after a quick look at the software I realised I have a huge learning curve ahead to even begin to make my plans happen.

I find messing about with tech really quite stressful – it’s actually the main reason I drifted away from a good career and now do unskilled work. I’m prepared to do this because I can do it at my own pace, I find my chosen subject matter really interesting and I really do want something better for my future. I learned it’s also a bit of a trigger point for me too.

I walked away from my computer pretty exhausted and wasn’t quite sure what to do next. You know the feeling when you want food but you don’t know what you fancy? I had that feeling about what to do next. It doesn’t happen to me very often so I find it really disorientating. There was nothing I wanted to do other than sit down and ‘reward’ myself for persevering with the software or ‘unwind’ from the stress with a mahoosive glass of red wine. Wolfie had crept up silently behind me and well and truly bitten me on the ass 😦 It came from nowhere and was shocking in its intensity.

I started up the Xbox and got busy shooting things and a little while later all the cravings had passed. I’ve been fine since then, no repeat attacks and I’m really glad I didn’t give in. I can now sit here and appreciate everything that a month off has given me.

My cat has just returned home from whatever cat business she was off doing. She’s pleased to see me and we’ve had a little furry, purring cuddle. I’ve fed her and am about to spend some time playing with her – I think she misses me when I’m off out at work all night. I’ve enjoyed my hot chocolate and I’m going to cook something nice for my dinner (breakfast to everybody else). There’s a little bit of sunshine peeking into my part of the world and I’m at a really good bit in the book I’m reading so I’m looking forward to a read tucked up in bed before I sleep. It’s the simple, gentle pleasures I’m learning to appreciate at the moment. I’m realising I’ve severely underrated them for most of my life.

Night night, have a good Tuesday whatever you’re up to.

Day 22 – weird dreams, more self-analysis and one reason why I think I started drinking

I don’t know what is going on with my dreams but it’s all getting seriously weird. I vaguely remember reading somewhere recently that alcohol depletes vitamin B12 and a shortage of B12 leads to poor dream recall. That fits, I’ve rarely remembered my dreams for years. In the last 22 days I’ve remember quite a few – vividly!

Yesterday I was throwing some sort of family party on a houseboat which involved my rampantly anti-drugs 80-something father smoking hash in a bong – the absolute and total horror!!! Today it got even stranger. I was with one of my historically hard-drinking-buddies in some sort of foreign package holiday scenario – lots of sunshine, outdoor bars and people partying. I had a craving for a nice cold pint of lager but resisted. Then I swallowed a pill that a total stranger just popped into my mouth. WTF?! I haven’t taken anything recreational in pill form since my twenties and even then I was always very, very cautious and would absolutely never in a million years just pop an unknown pill from a random stranger. Just what is going on in my head at night? (well, day actually – I’m a day-sleeper because of my job). Unbelieveable! I really don’t know what to make of that.

On a less weird note, I’ve woken up to find I’ve had some traffic to my blog and even some followers. My heart is warmed and I’m far more touched than is probably cool in this situation, but that’s me, about as ‘uncool’ and socially clueless as it gets by ‘normal’ standards 😀 I’ve become aware I’m writing the blog in a sort of diary form, not really reaching out in any way or getting involved in any of the other blogs I read. This is not because I don’t want to I just find it excruciatingly difficult to connect to people. I’m like this in real life and it seems I’m the same online. I’ve even clicked on ‘leave a comment’ a few times and sat starting at the empty comment box like a rabbit in headlights and eventually just given up and left. I’m also highly self-conscious about the fact that for some reason I’m finding it reasonably easy to abstain when others are really struggling. I’m paranoid about coming across as smug because that’s the last thing I want. I can relate to so many of the struggles that I read about – they just happened to me before I started this blog.

I’m pretty sure this is learned behaviour that stems from my childhood experiences. This is a subject I’m utterly and painfully uncomfortable writing about – even on an anonymous blog – which I why I think that I have to. I also think it goes some way to explaining how I fell in love with alcohol. I don’t really know how to start this and it’s probably not going to read that coherently because my thoughts squirm around when I try to pin them down, but here goes…

I’m not a fan of labels. I don’t want to be labelled as I don’t like the assumptions that so frequently go with them. Having said that, I’ve been given a few over the years – sometimes viciously and slyly stuck somewhere up my mid-back where I can’t see them – the ‘kick me’ joke style – and sometimes with the best of intentions. I’ve tried to peel them all off, roll them into a small ball and flick them as far away as possible. The collection I’ve had include:

Freak, weirdo, misfit, loner, loser, geek, boring, clueless, ugly, other, stoner, pisshead, quirky, chicken, brave, beautiful, different, maverick, radical, sensitive, gifted, creative, funny etc.

I’ve included positive labels too even though they’re not the ones that started me drinking. No matter how many people have given me negative labels I’ve never lost my belief in the existence of people that would – and have – given me good ones, they’re out there but there’s just not as many of them. I fear and dislike closed-mindedness, closed-heartedness, meanness of spirit and people (including myself) being judgemental. Even though in my more compassionate moments I try to remember that most mean behaviour is motivated by fear more than anything else I also have slowly, over many years and incidents been conditioned to expect the worst from people.

To cut a very long story short I’d summarise it as follows. I have always been a misfit and an outsider. I was bullied the whole way through school and spent most of my childhood in such a state of anxiety that the adrenaline and nausea would be pumping from a few seconds after waking, the whole day would be torture and I’d be miserable and exhausted by the end of each day. I wasn’t totally alone, there were always 1 or 2 people that would recognise my ‘otherness’ and be drawn to it. There was fortunately always a small lifeline of friendship to keep me sane but in the main I can honestly say I feel like my life started the day I left school.

On top of that there were also other ‘unpredictable shit happens’ life events in my early childhood that took away any sense of financial security and even the security that a parent would stay alive (redundancy and serious parental illness). I remember feeling that no matter where I looked, there was nothing solid to hold on to. When I hear people talk about the joy of carefree and golden childhood days I just can’t connect to that concept. I visualise it as being like a fairground house of horrors with the floor moving around and scary shit jumping out at me from all angles. Even in my 40s my pulse raises and my muscles tense up when I concentrate on memories of being a kid. I remember being so tired of coping that I actually broke my own arm over a concrete step just to get a few days away from school. I still don’t know how I did that – I’m such a pain wuss.

You get the general picture. I was a wreck of a super-high-anxiety, rabbit in headlights teenager on the edge of a nervous breakdown sort of kid. Eww, blimey even just describing this is taking me as close to wanting a drink as I’ve been for 3 weeks. I’m not going to though.

Then, at 14, hidden away in some woodland near my dreaded secondary school I got drunk for the first time. Oh my fucking god, the bliss I felt that day. I was drinking cans of guinness and trying to ignore how foul it tasted. When that first sense of creeping numbness started I could feel my tightly strung-out tension receding. The more I drank, the further away all the shit seemed to go. For the first time ever I was feeling something close to relaxation and it felt like some sort of divine revelation. No wonder I fell in love with drinking from then on.

My drinking partner that day was my best friend at the time – a lass even more way-out-there-on-the-fringes than myself. I think we both had a similar sense of relief that day and both continued to drink heavily from that day onwards. I always remained fairly high-functioning but sadly she went into a slow slide into mental illness (depression and paranoid schizophrenia) and some horrendous self-induced tragedies. That’s a whole other long story 😦

So, I don’t think that was too long or rambling – I have a tendency to stray off the point when I write. I’d say I spent the first 30 years of my life desperately wanting to fit in) or at least be unobtrusive in not doing so) and trying to pretend to be more normal. I’ve spent the last 10 years observing that what is classed as ‘normal’ in our society is actually not all it’s cracked up to be and preferring my take on life – finally growing to like my ‘otherness’. I can even say that now, entering my 40s I’m actually very happy to have my ‘otherness’ and to be me. I’m not perfect and I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I can honestly say that I like and respect myself and my values, strengths and weaknesses.

Now I’ve (mostly) stopped wishing to be anything other than what I am and started embracing who and what I am it’s brought a level of inner peace that’s eluded me for most of my life. I suppose it’s a far healthier version of what I thought I was feeling all those years ago in the woods with the illicit guinness. It’s a tentative peace and I can easily lose contact with it but I know it’s always there within my reach as long as I am able to make the effort to keep an attitude of self-honesty, gratitude and acceptance rather than lose my way worrying about ‘social norms’ or chasing after a false alcohol-induced copy of it.

Bloody hell I’m exhausted now, I think I need a nice cup of tea. If you’ve got as far as this then thanks for reading and I’ll make you a virtual cuppa too 🙂

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 20 – So how bad am I really?

Day 20 was actually yesterday but my internet connection was having none of it for the whole day. I’m back on today so here goes.

This non-drinking experiment has been a long time coming. I’ve been pondering my alcohol intake for years, whether I drink too much and whether I should knock it off – probably since my late twenties if I’m honest with myself. Now that I’m not drinking I’m finding it fairly easy, which is a shock and not what I expected at all. I know this is a common – and potentially dangerous – theme in quite a few of the alcohol blogs I’ve looked at, but I can’t help thinking – how bad is my drinking really?

A few months ago I was chatting to one of my colleagues while we worked. She is well known for being a wine lover and we’ve had a few pleasant conversations about nice wine-drinking-chilling-out scenarios. This night I asked her how many bottles of wine she drinks in a week. The conversation went like this…

Me: So how many bottles of wine do you drink a week?

Colleague: (She pondered for a few moments as she needed to take her husband’s consumption into account for shared bottles) Hmmm… probably about 6 bottles a week plus quite a few Jack Daniels on top.

Me: Shit!! Really!!! You look so slim and healthy you’d never think it!

Colleague: OMG don’t say it like that! It’s not that bad is it?! There’s only 3 glasses in each bottle so it’s not that many drinks.

Then I realised that she was totally in the dark about how many units of alcohol she was actually consuming.

Me: Ummm, I really hate being the person that’s saying this to you but each bottle of wine has about 9 units depending on its strength. I’m also guessing you’re not pouring singles of the JDs.

Colleague: (laughing nervously) Er, no… probably not.

Me: (cringing apologetically) So, I’d guess you’re drinking around 70 units of alcohol a week.

Colleague: Hmmm… maybe I do need to consider cutting down a bit.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t a young party girl. She’s a bit older than me and is a devoted mother of 3 with what sounds like a lovely home life. That level of drinking is totally normalised with her husband and friends. She went on to say a close friend of hers had been warned to give up drinking for at least 6 months as she was showing signs of liver damage. Apparently she hasn’t managed to stop.

This gave me some perspective on my own drinking. I drank similar amounts in my teens and twenties and at some points in my thirties but I haven’t drunk anywhere near that amount on a regular basis for years now. Recently I’d say I have generally had 2 bottles of wine a week, 3 bottles would be a heavy week. It’s never spaced out though – a glass here and there – it’s always open a bottle and finish it on 2 or 3 days of the week. It’s rare that I drink more than a bottle but it does happen occasionally. Even my bigger drinking over Christmas wasn’t anything raucous or extreme. I drank 4 bottles of wine and a 4 pack of lager over 3 days and that was done slowly with plenty of food. It was enough to give me a bad hangover on the 4th day though 😦 As heavy drinking has become so normalised it’s sometimes hard to remember that even 2 bottles a week – with about 18 units – is still more than the health guidelines say is safe for a woman.

The other side of the story that rarely gets told during ‘how much do you drink’ conversations is how much mental energy is spent to keep a person’s drinking at that level. Sure, I’d only drink on 2 or 3 days a week but I’d usually be tempted to drink on at least 5 days. This means I was using focus and willpower to keep my intake down. This means I’ve also been losing focus and willpower from other areas of my life to compensate.

During my previous attempts to take a break from drinking I’ve managed up to 10 days and then started again. I’ve jumped in my car in the early hours to go to a 24 hour supermarket to get some wine after having vowed to go another alcohol-free day and then decided – fuck it! These attempts, however many days they were have also always required immense levels of self-control and willpower. This time something is different – very different – and so far it’s been easy. I don’t fully understand why but I’m certainly not complaining.

I’m on day 20 now so doing a month is looking very manageable – even including my birthday meal next week. I read recently (on the hello Sunday morning website I think) that at least 3 months off booze is required for you to fundamentally re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol so I’m going to extend my dry January to do 100 days.

I’m actually thinking that a year would be amazing too. Judging by how much I’ve managed to get done in the last 20 days I feel like my life would be totally transformed if I scaled that up to a year. I’d also have done everything in a year that would normally involve alcohol so would be in a position to observe its role in every aspect of my life.

Ambitious talk for day 20 I know but may as well aim high eh? 😉

Happy sober new year!

New year’s eve came and went and I didn’t drink a drop. I cooked some ras el hanout spiced lamb and stayed at home with my partner to eat nice food and chill out. I put two wine glasses on the table and a bottle of red grape schloer which tasted ok, if a little sweet. My partner rarely drinks and when he does it’s only one or two then he’s had enough, unlike me 😉

My partner actually ended up going to bed at about 11.30pm, his eyes were drooping and he could hardly stay awake. I told him it was ok to go to bed and not worry about midnight as I knew he was working long hours today.

At midnight it was just me, (with a big glass of sparkling water and elderflower cordial) and our cat. It was really nice, and quietly contemplative – once the fireworks had stopped and the cat had come down from defcon 1. Being alone can provoke feelings of isolation or solitude depending on the person. As I’d describe myself as about 75% loner I’m fortunate that for me it’s the latter.

New year’s day without a hangover has been pretty good and for me it’s day 5. It’s not been particularly productive but I did manage to dye some beige cords black which I’ve been meaning to do for weeks. They needed dyeing because I stained them by dripping red wine on them a while back – oops!

I’d say being sober is going well so far and I genuinely haven’t had any cravings though I know from past attempts that they will come. I’m sleeping lots today, mostly on the sofa. Doze, wake up, eat some leftover Christmas goodies, read for a while, shoot some xbox aliens, doze again etc. I think I’m having a mini-hibernation but it feels quite restful and happily doesn’t involve any headaches, clamminess, crushing anxiety or nausea.

Happy sober new year! x

Day 3 – changing my Tuesday mornings

Tuesday morning is my equivalent of Friday night. I work nights and Monday night is the last shift before a 4 day (night) break. Every Tuesday morning I get home from work and crack open a bottle of red.

Not today I didn’t. I had lots of herbal tea, a coffee and a pepperoni pizza for a treat. The pizza really did feel like a ‘new year’ sort of treat because I am aiming to be much stricter about excluding gluten next year.

I noticed there was none of my usual mental wrangling through the night about whether I was going to drink in the morning, how much to buy, whether I should lay off a bit etc, etc. Life did feel a little bit simpler this morning which was good.

It’s lunchtime now and if I’d had the wine I’d be starting to feel crappy now. I’d be droopy and sleepy and headachy after drinking with a physically tired body and probably an empty stomach once the first glass hit and I couldn’t be bothered to make breakfast (dinner for me). Instead I feel pleasantly tired, relaxed and am really looking forward to a decent sleep.

Change feels good at this moment.