Archive | July, 2014

Letters of Note

28 Jul

Letters of Note is a fantastic site and book which publishes some of history’s most influential figures’ letters.

Today one from author Henry James to his tortured friend really caught my eye. Behind the poetic words of consolation to a friend suffering depression is a message that speaks directly to the challenges of sobriety.

He writes:

You are right in your consciousness that we are all echoes and reverberations of the same, and you are noble when your interest and pity as to everything that surrounds you, appears to have a sustaining and harmonizing power. Only don’t, I beseech you, generalize too much in these sympathies and tendernesses—remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another’s, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own.

I love the way he acknowledges the ‘special’ feeling that plagues the depressed, the ‘no-one understands me’ feeling that we can fall victim to as drinker, but has sympathy for the tendency to catastrophes and take the weight of the world on her shoulders. He reminds us to keep focused on what we can control, to accept the things we cannot and to not let the very positive trait of a capacity for empathy run wild and cause us emotional distress.

And what poetry, ‘the terrible algebra’ of our problems, the unique set of letters and numbers that makes us individual, but when thrown out of balance, can make us feel truly rotten.

James goes on to talks of the concept of fellowship and unity which for many of us is the cornerstone of our sobriety:

We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live.

This is what we’re all doing here, reading, blogging, commenting, going to AA, supporting another sober person. We help others spread the load, to balance that tricky equation out. 

And as is so important in sobriety, acknowledging the the transience of intense emotion is paramount:

Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see.

YES. This has been my biggest lesson in sobriety, the notion of ‘this too shall pass’, that no emotion is eternal and can be overcome.

I’ve read this letter several times tonight, savouring the words and finding comfort in them as I cherish my sobriety after a tough weekend. 

To read the full letter and other Letters of Note, visit here

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A Regular Bridget Jones

26 Jul

Saturday 26 March
Calories; 1,750
Cups of coffee: 10,000
Miles run: 8
Alcohol units: 0

I’ve had a really up and down week feeling like a regular Bridget Jones. Insecure, man obsessed and utterly ridiculous. Life is full of contrasts at the moment. On the one hand, I’m incredibly happy in my job- it’s varied, challenging and fulfilling. On the other, it’s bloody stressful. I’m under a lot of pressure to deliver and am spending a lot of time travelling on my own, which usually would be the perfect excuse to drink. Stress x no one to judge me? Yes please!

But now drinking isn’t an option anymore, I’m settling into the habit of finding other ways of coping. My main comfort, now is knowing that these feelings will pass. Everything is transient. Happiness, sadness, joy, despair, the extreme discomfort of travelling on the tube in 30 degree heat…

For the first time in a very long time, my body has been besieged by anxiety. That’s harder to cope with. The snake in the pit of my stomach was hissing it’s poisonous words, demanding alcohol to be my medicine. Anxiety was what caused me to drink destructively in the first place, so my brain is still trained to think: anxiety = drink. I’ve been trying to breathe deeply and get enough sleep to help soothe myself, which has worked to an extent, but I need to try and loosen this knot further.

I know the cause is a combination of work stress and worrying about men. The latter bit is ridiculous. I went on a date which I thought we were both enjoying until he cut it short 2 drinks in. It was a “thanks but no thanks” signal. That should be fine. I should walk away, chin up knowing that the conversation was good, I looked fine and maybe we just weren’t a match. But that’s not the way this brain of mine works. I was almost in tears on the train home, having decided that no man would ever find me attractive and that I’ll die alone, a lonely old sober alcoholic who doesn’t even have a drink to comfort her. Walking home from the tube in full miserable singleton mode, I wondered with a sense of irony “What would Bridget Do?” Drink a bottle of wine and sob to sad songs. That’s what I really wanted to do. To drink and to wallow a little.

As I type this out, I feel better because doing so exposes that thinking to be ludicrous. This is exactly the sort of stuff I’d have drunk over in the past, but now, I write, I examine and I try my very best to move on.

I’m looking for external validation from the male species all of a sudden when what I need to try and be doing is feeling strength from within.

When I reflect on where this sudden boy madness has come from, it has coincided with me living alone for a period. I come home after a really long day to an empty flat and crave human contact. When my male flatmate is living there, I get a hug, a snuggle on the sofa after a tough day. When I’m living with a female friend we sit curled up with each other, the image of companionship.

This is another sober challenge I need to adjust to, not filling holes in my time or emotions with booze. Some days this is a breeze, this week I’ve had to dig deeper. I feel so spectacularly insecure at times, it’s like being a teenager again. I can’t work out if these unhelpful mind dramas are because I’m an alcoholic or because I’m in my twenties. A bit of both, probably.

Tonight I’ve got a party to go to and I intend to put on a nice dress, get a big bag of ice to take with me (I’m obsessed with drinks chokka with ice at the moment!) and stop being such a bloody drip. Appreciate what I have. Which is abundant. My gratitude lists overfloweth at the moment. If only my insides would get this message, and the knot would loosen.

I’ve got a long way to go until I’m sober and stable but I’m 192 days sober and that is a glorious gift.

Happy Saturday!

Making it look easy: a brief history of dysfunctional drinking

22 Jul

This is amazing. I can see myself in these moments of looking at the problem but not addressing it yet.

This blog helps keep me sober, because I think I don’t have a problem then reread the pain.

If I drink again, I will only defer again the brave decision I took last year to try to get sober. Drinking is deferring the inevitable.
So today, I’m staying on the sober side.

And Everything Afterwards

In a private conversation with a friend who reads this blog the other day, I learned that I was making this sobriety thing look easy.  It was meant as a compliment.

Goodness knows, very few things in life feel as easy as they look from the outside, but I am aware that I’ve been posting relentlessly optimistic, cheerleading posts for a while now.  It helps that my life is completely amazing at the moment; I’m studying something I love, I moved into my dream house in April, last year’s financial worries have dimmed somewhat, and I’m not sure how much of that is directly attributable to sobriety or not, but it all adds up to amazing.

But this is what I want to say:  You guys are reading the success story because the failures never made it to air.

Here is a thing that I wrote to some close friends, back in 2005,

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The Hangover Paradox

16 Jul

Never, in the entire course of my sobriety, have I woken up wishing is been drinking the night before. I don’t peel open my eyes, stretch out in my comfy bed and think “ohhhh I could really go for a dry mouth mixed with an all encompassing sense of doom right now.” But today, for the first time, I missed having a hangover.

Craziness right? Let me explain.

Last night, for the second time in a week, there was a big boozy work event. Last night was an out til 3am job for everyone else. I departed at around 10, having had a perfectly nice evening with colleagues and seeing that it was going to be A Big Night. I love a sober all nighter on the right day, but last night just wasn’t it. So I left.

Today I watched them roll into the office clutching their mega coffees and bacon sarnies, telling their war stories from the night before, and I felt left out. I used to love these team debriefings after a work bender, the new closeness that comes from sharing a wild night with people you rarely see let their hair down. I also, bizarrely, used to work pretty well with a hangover. It gave me a strange kind of focus, and a weirdly comforting sense of all being in it together.

All of these small pangs are FAR outweighed by sobriety, but as you can probably imagine, it niggles away at me at times, this lack of ability to join in that particular kind of fun.

I remember a sober friend once saying to me “In all honesty, I might not have made it to where I am in my career without going out drinking with the boys.” This worried me, because I know I’ve reaped the career rewards of being a fun person to go out with. It doesn’t help much, of course, but it undoubtedly helps in a small way. Especially when the bosses are big drinkers. Of course the impact of not drinking on my career will be minimal, whereas the benefits of being switched on day after day will be huge, cumulatively.

Again, this whole conversation I’m having with myself proves two key things I keep learning over and over again in many different ways:

1) I am unhealthily preoccupied with alcohol (“it would further my CAREER to drink!”)

2) British culture is saturated by booze. Having a can of gin and tonic for “hair of the dog” was acceptable today nay, ENCOURAGED. Madness.

For the benefits I reap from sobriety, I’m willing to endure these fleeting moments of being slightly out of the pack. I ain’t giving these 6 months away for anyone. Because I’m the boss of me 😉

Happy Wednesday!

Boys Boys Boys

13 Jul

Being sober and contemplating romantic relationships is HARD. What if they mind me not drinking? What if I mind THEM drinking? What if it’s too soon to be even thinking about a relationship? WHAT ABOUT NEVER SHARING A BOTTLE OF WINE EVER AGAIN??? You know, that sort of head chatter.

I’m not sure what’s happened, but over the last fortnight I’ve gone boy mad. I signed up to no less than THREE dating sites. I’ve gone even further than that tonight asked someone out for a drink that I’ve had a huge crush on all year IRL (he made an appearance here but nothing came of it). I don’t think he’s interested, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?! And after seeing him a few times over the last few months, I’ve decided it’s worth a shot. I am sitting here like a teenager compulsively checking my phone to see if he’ll reply. Gah. It hurts my tummy. 

That particular mini-drama that I’ve engineered aside, the other boy-seeking antics I have engaged in are utterly unhelpful. Online dating seems to be just the WORST idea for me right now. I did a little but of it after the break up of a long term relationship and that was just fun and silly, but this time, I’m doing it for the wrong reasons, I think. I’m doing it because I want a self esteem boost by getting some male attention. This has backfired massively by having the opposite effect. My self esteem couldn’t be lower.

As is bleeding obvious to anyone with a brain, online dating is a world where you’re judged in about 3 seconds on your picture alone. Nowhere is this more brutal than in the world of Tinder, the dating app that has really taken off in the UK. In case you’re not aware of it, it works like this. You upload a set of pictures and then the opposite sex browses the library of women (or men) like an online clothing catalogue, swiping left for ‘yes’, right for ‘no.’ It’s brutal. I hate it. And yet I’ve subjected myself to this. Exposing my face to strangers so they can judge and approve or reject. 

Tinder I can handle, as I’m not looking for anything concrete out of that and I take that completely at face value: superficial, false, a hook up app and nothing more. You don’t know whether someone has ‘liked’ you unless you’ve liked them back. It’s playground stuff, really. But it’s one of the other sites I’ve signed up to that’s causing me real heart ache. I have lovingly crafted a profile, sought out members I like the look of and sent them messages. 15 of them, in fact (you’ve got to give yourself a chance, right?!). Not ONE of these men has replied. This is NOT what I needed, because it has prompted my little alcoholic brain to scream ‘YOU ARE DISGUSTING- THEY WOULD NEVER FANCY YOU, YOU WILL NEVER FIND A HUSBAND YOU WILL DIE A CAT WOMAN LIVING ATOP A HILL WHERE YOU WILL SPEND YOUR TWILIGHT YEARS UTTERLY ALLLOOOOOOOOOOOOONE (echo echo echo)’ 

This is utter nonsense. I’m not a knockout, but I am not unattractive. I have lots of friends and forge deep and meaningful relationships with lots of people. I’m a grower. People find me attractive if they know my personality, which is A Good Thing. Chances are that one day, I’ll find a man I like who likes me back and it might grow into love. Who knows. Now, I’m not really sure I’m actually looking for a relationship. My ego just wants some validation from the opposite sex.

I need to do some work on where this sudden burning desire for male attention has come from. I have never IN MY LIFE been like this. I’ve always focused on fun and friendship and relationships have happened organically. I have never sought out male attention. Looks have never been important to me- I know that people like me for who I am, not what I look like. But all of a sudden, I want men to fall at my feet and tell me I’m beautiful.

This yearning is coming from somewhere else, and I think it’s because I’m not feeling that spiritually sober at the moment. I haven’t been to a meeting for 11 days, I haven’t been praying as much as I should and I’ve been in my own head a little too much. The ego is piping up and causing me problems.

It’s funny, when I joined AA I was sceptical of the need to go to regular meetings and to do what the programme suggest daily. I wanted to stand on my own two feet in sobriety and it all sounded a bit, well, cultish. And I bit much- I wasn’t a REAL alcoholic. I just needed to stop for a while. But the further down the road I get, the more I realise the truth in what they say about alcoholism being ‘a thinking disease not just a drinking disease’ is spot on for me. My obsessiveness gets overwhelming and when the crutch of booze is taken away, the only thing that helps me is getting to meetings and exercise. Exercise clears my brain, but on its own its not enough.

I know what I should do- work on my sobriety, get off these goddamn dating sites and get of of myself a bit by helping newcomers. I need to get all of this down on the page tonight- it helps me work through my problems. Hopefully it will keep me accountable, too.

Sweet dreams bloggers x

2 Bottles of Wine

11 Jul

I’m having someone round for dinner tonight, and I just walked home with 2 bottles of wine in a carrier bag, one for me, one for my guest. One of them (mine, obvs) is non alcoholic wine.

This is the first time I’ve bought Pretend Wine in this sober stint, and it’s because I want to feel like I’m having the real deal. I want to open a bottle and fill my glass with something straw coloured. To pretend to be a grown up drinking wine, just like the old days. I walked home from the shops, listening to the satisfying clink and wondering which one I would drink tonight. What would happen if I opened the REAL wine. How bad could it be? I’m just in the safety of my flat after all…

I’m going through a really weird period of sobriety where I am at once SO HAPPY to be sober and also a bit rebellious about the whole thing. I feel like I’m playing with fire a little bit, buying wine when I’m alone with 3 hours to kill before my guest arrives. It’s like the time I opened up a bottle of vodka in the flat to smell the intoxicating fumes. I’m testing myself, and I don’t quite know why.

It’s fine today, TODAY I won’t drink, and the act of writing this blog post is keeping me accountable but I worry. Why am I doing all these little rebellious acts, inching closer and closer to the edge of a precipice? If I lean too far over to take in the scary view below, I’ll fall.

I’m not quite sure what to do to snap myself out of this childish phase of testing myself unnecessarily. Any suggestions are very very welcome.

Happy Sober Weekend to you all!

‘When you’re sober, the party is the morning after’

10 Jul

I don’t know where I read that line recently, but it made me smile.

I LOVE that feeling of waking up after a night out, checking yourself and remembering that you didn’t touch a drop. I did that just this morning and I KID YOU NOT, I did a little air punch. I’m surprised I didn’t exit my bedroom and slide down the bannister, Mary Poppins style.

I went out for a big party last night and I was EXCITED to go. A feeling a little tipple would have enhanced- I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to murder a glass of wine. But of course I cannot. So, as I often do these days, I felt a little pang when I told a new acquaintance I don’t drink as she popped open a bottle of prosecco in her flat before we went out. But these pangs are shorter and shorter lived these days. I got to the bar, got myself a Becks Blue and settled in for the evening of mingling, chatting and giggling.

The night ended with a huge dancing session which, bearing in mind we were in a pub on a Wednesday night, was pretty bold. I got up, I danced, I threw my arms in the air and I thought thank GOD I am sober. I can guarantee that if I’d done the very same thing drunk I would have awoken the next day anxious at my ‘outrageous’ behaviour.

There’s a slight suggestion in the line ‘when you’re sober the party is the morning after’ that going out sober is a trial or an exercise in delayed gratification, and that your reward only comes when you awake hangover free, but I know that not to be true.
I never thought I’d enjoy going out sober, I thought it just wouldn’t be the same but I can confirm that IT IS FANTASTIC- it’s life affirming and self-esteem boosting.
I’ve blogged before about the feelings of elation I get when sober dancing that are almost as great as the ones I experienced with vodka in my veins. It’s awesome just being high on life. On a good day when I have energy, I feel a sober sparkle that’s as intoxicating as the false confidence alcohol brought.

I’m 180 days sober today and it’s not without its challenges, but it feels great to live another day alcohol free.

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