Archive | December, 2014

The Same Story Over & Over &…

28 Dec

Quote-Art-of-StoryTelling

One of the things that helped me submerge myself in recovery was the power of story. As a lifelong bookworm and someone who has made storytelling into a career, I’m endlessly fascinated by the common threads that run through the stories we tell.

In recovery and reading about recovery, I’ve been overwhelmed by the same story points that occur again and again in our narratives about drinking. I wrote about it here, some time ago. And again, today I come back to that thought: the stories are different but the ingredients are the same.

Someone very close to me recently confided in me that they were calling time on their drinking. We’d always drunk together and she was a bigger party animal than I ever was. When I sat her down a few months ago to tell her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about my drinking, she didn’t appear to take it in. She listened, and made noises of shock and sympathy, but something didn’t seem to click. I had then niggling feeling that this was because it might be shining a light upon her own drinking, but we’ve never spoken of it again and she’s never expressed worry about the way she drinks. Until now. Hearing my story had set off alarm bells for her and as we talked, she expressed key feelings and experiences she had an they were the same things we hear over and over in stories of problematic drinking: the time it wastes, the niggling feeling that you’re wasting your life drunk or hungover, the shame, the reliance upon it to socialise, the gradual creep of needing it more and more and perhaps most importantly, the knowledge that the problem has been there for longer than we would like to admit.

One of the things that they tell you to do when you come into AA is “listen for the similarities not the differences” when taking in the stories of others. Time and time again in those rooms I’m hit by how uncannily similar the key elements of drinking problematically are. All this seems bleeding obvious when I put it on paper, but it wasn’t to me until I started actively seeking the similarities that I realised I might have a ‘proper’ problem.

One of the things I feel more and more strongly about as my sober time increases is being more honest about why I’ve stopped drinking. Stigma breeds stigma, and without speaking out with at least a version of the truth I feel like I’ll be contributing to the issue of drinking problems being shrouded in some sort of secrecy. So I’ve been experimenting with the story I tell. Since I posted this, I’ve been getting a little bolder with what I say to people about why I stopped drinking. If they’re close to me, I tell them a true-ish version of the story: drinking was consistently making me feel terrible, and I hated doing it, but bloody loved it at the same time. It came to a head when it really was making me feel terrible and I had to weigh things up;  it emerged that the only option for me was to stop, because drinking was taking away too much. It was hard to stop but I have, and I’ve never been happier.

Depending on their reaction, I will share more, telling some people (most of) the whole version. Now that I actually feel a bit more secure in my sobriety I want to demonstrate that there is a different way of living: for some of my friends I don’t think they can envisage having a ‘fun’ life without booze. It may achieve nothing, but given the impact that other people’s stories have had on me, I’d like to start sharing mine more. Slowly and sensibly, but share I will.

And with every comment we write, post we share and conversation we have about being sober, we’re helping to spread the sober word. May that message disseminate far and wide 🙂

Happy Sunday.

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How AA Changed my Life

26 Dec

What a luxury to have time to post! I’m enjoying the space that Christmas brings to think and reflect, and of course, my mind is coming back again and again to how I have got and stayed sober.

Someone who has been following this blog asked for help this morning and as I responded, I found myself writing about what changed for me the final time I put down the drink.

I’ve written about how AA has worked for me previously, but I want to document it again, because its power has, for me, been overwhelming.

When I found the blogging world I rejoiced because all of a sudden, I found people who I could relate to, who drank like I did. I would NEVER have called myself an alcoholic. I was just someone whose drinking had got painful and out of control. I looked around at the women wiring these blog and thought “this is it! there’s a breed of people just like me who aren’t proper alcoholics.”

I confess, whilst finding the blogging world was a godsend on one hand, on the other, it initially turned me off more traditional recovery methods. I saw an undercurrent feeling which defined this kind of sobriety as a (perhaps preferable?) route to living without the drink, a stance of “we don’t fit AA and we’ve found a way to get sober on our own.” This alternative way that wasn’t necessarily anti-AA, but somehow felt like a more Middle Class & intellectual way of getting sober. This approach to getting sober was at first encouraging as I witnessed person after person stopping drinking through their own strength and the help of the blogging community. Writing out and working through my problems as others around me were doing seemed a perfect solution. And yet, when I kept failing to get sober, I saw it somehow as a lack of strength- if these women around me could do it, why couldn’t I?

I remember vividly reading something on Soberistas & their related literature which positioned that community as an AA-alternative, for those who didn’t fit AA or didn’t want to go. Because of my ego and image of myself as an intelligent young woman, I aligned myself more with a community like Soberistas than to AA. And yet it didn’t get me sober. And I suspect, for me, it never would have done.

When I finally dragged myself to an AA meeting through sheer desperation, it felt like Coming Home. I have NEVER in my entire life experienced a sensation like I did that day. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief wash over me as I knew that not only was everything going to be ok, but that I had found my people. People who on the surface came in all shapes, sizes and from all strata of society. But who underneath were just different shades of the same colour that is my essence. From that day onwards, there was a solution for me that actually worked. Almost a year on, ‘the compulsion to drink has been removed’ just as they promise and I have found a great group of friends.

And more than just stopping me from drinking, working through the programme and 12 steps has helped me in ALL aspects of my life. My relationships are improving, my spirituality has grown into an ever-present comfort blanket, the lifetime undercurrent of anxiety I have felt has subsided. Little did I know when I walked into that room that declaring myself an alcoholic would answer a question I’ve had my whole life: ‘why do I feel different?’

I knew from when I was very small that I was a super-sensitive soul, and as I grew into my teenage years, the gaping chasm of nothingness I felt sometimes threatened to topple me. Here, in AA, I had found a group of people who understood these feelings and have found a way to work through them. Therapy hadn’t worked, self help books hadn’t worked, but sitting in a cold room with friendly faces and terrible coffee turned out to be my lifeline.

My sense of a ‘higher power’ is a fluid one. Sometimes it’s a ‘God’ in the more traditional sense, who has a life plan for us. Sometimes it’s a less tangible spirituality that I draw strength from. Whatever form it takes doesn’t matter. Stepping outside myself and believing there’s more to the universe than the strength (or otherwise) of my own will has been transformative.

I hear over and over again people saying they won’t go to AA because of ‘the God stuff.’ I felt the same. And yet here I am, having found great comfort and fortitude in the notion of a higher power

I’m not writing this post to preach or to push AA- one of the traditions of the programme is that its appeal is through “attraction not promotion.’ But I wanted to put pen to paper to articulate the amazing diversion my life has taken since coming in. It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I DID NOT WANT TO GO. I thought it would be the last place that would help me, but it turns out that when I get off my high horse, it’s the place I feel most at home.

Happy Boxing Day to you All

Message in a Bottle Part II

25 Dec

Last year, I wrote this post :

Christmas would have been so different if I hadn’t drank. I feel down, anxious and helpless. Today would have been day 45, I would have gone on my annual Christmas run with joy in my heart. Once I drink, the negative effects last for days. I ran this morning and derived no pleasure from it, I felt ashamed, self loathing and deep rooted sadness. I wanted to sit down in the middle of the street and cry.

My family are big drinkers and watching them do it today is making me even sadder. My brother suffers from depression gand has just got out of a spell in prison, and just looking at him drinking bottle after bottle of beer makes me want to weep.

But, every day is a new start, and tomorrow I’m hoping the post-drinking blues abate and that I start to get some of my sober clarity and peace back. 

This time next year when I post on Christmas day, I want to do so with a year of sobriety under my belt. I want to re-read this and remember the pain and discomfort that drinking has brought back so quickly. I want to have worked through how to cope with my low moods and be a stronger person for it. I want to be 100% sober and comfortable with a new lifestyle. Drinking ruins so much, it’s just not worth it. I’ve written it time after time on here this year and keep slipping. One day, I’ll no longer slip, I’ll wobble along sober but will no longer fall.

This post is like a little message in a bottle for what I hope the next year will bring. It will be my 2014 Christmas Day treat to read how far I’ll have come. I can do this, I know it’s within me to. I just need to keep the faith in myself, which I currently don’t have back, but  with a few sober days under my belt, it will come. 

Here’s to ending 2013 sober and starting 2014 on the right foot. 

It was all possible. I am so happy to have run down the same road this morning where last year I begged the universe for help. I ran around this beautiful landscape and my heart sang.

Thanks to you bloggers, my AA community and my higher power (the universe!) my wish came true. Best Christmas present ever.

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Relapse

22 Dec

This weekend was a reflective one for me, because it was precisely a year ago that I had my last relapse.

I was 40+ days sober and drank again. It started small and then spiralled out of control very very quickly. It was the final piece of proof I needed that I am unequivocally an alcoholic.

I thought that one or two nights of drinking wouldn’t hurt, that with so much decent sobriety under my belt I could just pick back up where I left off. Now I know this isn’t true in the slightest. It took me weeks of misery and one final “rock bottom” moment to get back to sobriety. And to get back, things had to get really really bad- on my last day of drinking I started on the wine at 10:30am, because I was stressed and hadn’t had enough to drink the night before.

During those final few weeks of my drinking, I wrote a post while drunk, where i itemised what I’d had that day: “4 glasses of wine, a nap, a bottle of cava, beer and gin and tonic.” In this post I’m amazingly coherent for someone who had drunk that much. In the old days, that would have been an excuse for why I wasn’t that bad. If I don’t *sound* drunk, it doesn’t count, right?!

Last Christmas was absolutely shrouded in depression and shame. Drinking dragged me down into the gutter and left me there, curled in a ball weeping.

This year things couldn’t be more different. I’m full of hope and vitality and love. I can’t wait to spend a Christmas with my family where I can be fully present.

If I could summarise my experience of the past 12 months in a sentence it would be this: “The impossible made possible.”

Sobriety was always within my grasp, but I couldn’t seize it until something inside clicked for the final time.

Happy Christmassy Monday!

A Life Beyond my Wildest Dreams

17 Dec

One of the promises in AA is that through that spiritual programme, you can achieve a “life beyond your wildest dreams.”

When I first came into the programme, I was hoping for nothing of the sort. All I wanted was to stop drinking. What life would feel like sober I didn’t know- I knew from white knuckle periods of sobriety that it would be painful, so I imagined long term sobriety to be an unpleasant existence, characterised by dull pain and deprivation.

At 11 months sober, I know that this vision was so far off the mark its unbelievable.

I haven’t posted in some time because life is so full and wonderful I haven’t had a spare moment. I am overflowing with joy. I feel a serenity I never thought was possible. I’ve never really had relief from the grinding cogs of dis-ease that have been a big part of my life since I was very little until now. My brain has quietened down. My stomach is no longer in knots.

The life I’m living is hectic and scary and full of big risks. But because I’ve been doing lots of work to lay my sober and spiritual foundations, all the emotional wrangling that usually would be such a struggle seems to be working its way out under the surface without giving me any problems. Sobriety has empowered me to be brave and trust that everything will be ok.

I could never, ever have imagined feeling the way I’m feeling and living the life I’m living but here I am.

I’ve got lots of work to do, I still use external things (food, men) to make me feel better sometimes, but I’ve come so far since last December when I had what (I hope will be) my final relapse.

I’m inching towards 1 year sober and for my soberversary I have planned a big trip to reflect and savour the occasion out of the bustle of city life. And I can do this now, trust myself to be in a fit state to enjoy something like that. To travel alone and be present with myself rather than filling the space with booze.

Ahhhhh sobriety is so worth it. Worth all the struggle and heartbreak of those final days drinking, the pain of early sobriety, the roller coaster of emotions that comes as we settle into our sober selves.

This year has been one of the best I’ve ever had, and it’s all due to being on the sober path. The impossible has become possible.

Happy Wednesday!

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