Tag Archives: alcoholism

The Food Thing

2 Mar
So last week I posted how I had fallen off the sugar wagon dramatically. Ever since, I have been thinking about what’s going on inside and why food has, of late, become such an issue for me. Combining this with a very painful conversation over the weekend with someone who told me I could lose a few pounds to be at my best (I know, I know, unhelpful. But it’s probably true. That’s what so annoying about it.) I’ve been reflecting on how I can change.
Because what I’m dealing with now is emotional eating and that needs to be tackled head on as part of my recovery. Weight is one factor of course, but emotional health is another one. Doing what I’m doing is making me feel rubbish.
What I can’t wrap my head around is how someone who was once so controlled around food has lost it entirely. I’ve observed recently that many of my friends who have also come out the other side of an ED have put on a few too many pounds, and I wondered whether I might not be alone in this. Because at a very first look, it doesn’t make sense, does it? Woman with eating disorder who has been absolutely terrified by the idea of being fat gets, well, a little fat. Logically it sounds absurd, but for many psychological and emotional reasons it makes absolute sense.
I started looking around for evidence of whether my experience is common online and came across the below article by Charlotte from The Great Fitness Experiment who I’ve followed on and off for years. And she reaffirmed what I suspected; being in the position I’m in and wanting to shift a little of that extra ‘recovery’ weight is completely normal. What struck even more of a chord is her observation that many many women who recover from an ED tend towards bulimic episodes or turning to alcohol to help them transition out of their ED. Well that was entirely my experience as readers of this blog well know. It has made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about my behaviours and also given me the beginnings of the tools to change.
As ever, it’s not about the substance it’s about the emotions. And this is what I needed to realise once more.
I’ve posted the full article below because it’s incredibly helpful to me (especially the image, which made me LOL!) and I hope might help some of the others who are in recovery from an eating disorder AND alcoholism who want to change something in their current behaviours….

What Happens If You Need to Lose Weight and You Used to Have an Eating Disorder? [Reader Question]

Warning: May be triggering for those with sensitivity regarding eating issues, food or eating disorders. Actual numbers are not used nor are diet tips but you know what you need right now – please take gentle care of yourself today.

stress

Here’s a dirty little secret about anorexia: You can’t do it forever. They won’t tell you that on the pro-Ana boards and there are even some celebs that make “functional anorexia” look like a viable life choice. But it isn’t. It doesn’t work. Some people, heartbreakingly, die of the disease. But what of the rest of us? The human body has a powerful life force and eventually it will rebel against starvation. For us champion dieters, food restricters, obsessive compulsives, perfectionists, we eventually have two choices:

1. Do our best to make our peace with our bodies and free ourselves from the tyranny of dieting and weight worries by learning healthy habits to replace the demons one by one.

2. Stop restricting but turn to other diet techniques and/or eating disorders.

Obviously choice #1 is optimal and what we aim for in recovery but I’ll be honest: I know very few anorexics who haven’t boomeranged into bulimia (whether purging by chemical, physical or exercise methods) and/or substance abuse (alcohol, diet pills, amphetamines, cocaine) as a means to try to regain control over their weight and bodies.

From the outside an eating disorder may look like the ultimate expression of self-control and willpower but I can tell you from personal experience and from years of hearing other people’s stories that it is about one thing and one thing only: pure, unadulterated fear. And I wouldn’t even say it’s a fear of getting fat. It’s that, yes, but really it’s a fear of being unloveable, of being imperfect, of having powerful needs and desires, of not measuring up, of failing. So many, many fears. An eating disorder is a terrifying roller coaster of highs filled with delusions and lows marked by denial. For awhile we have the illusion of control – food is so passive! So easy to push around! So obedient! – but eventually we realize that our entire lives are being controlled by something that’s not even sentient much less very nice.

So we give in and eat. And for a body so used to restriction this temporary lifting of the bans leads to a bottomless desire that we’re sure can’t be filled and will consume us instead. We eat and eat and eat. There is no balance – when everything is forbidden then that means it’s all equal, apple or apple pie. The body is trying to stay alive even while the mind is trying to kill it. But if we keep eating eventually we gain weight. Often this is a good and necessary thing for healing and recovery. But here’s another secret about eating disorders: They don’t always make you skinny. Moreover, you don’t have to be skinny to have one. Lots of anorexics don’t look “anorexic.”

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to immediately get right back in touch with our hunger cues and eat exactly enough to gain just the right amount of weight and live happily ever after. It didn’t work that way for me. I daresay it doesn’t work that way for a lot of people. Instead, after years of dieting and restricting and other unhealthy habits, suddenly we’re supposed to be the picture of health to be “recovered” and yet we have no clue how to do it. How would we know? I personally have been dieting in earnest since I was 10. Which means that some of us gain more weight than we are comfortable with.

I’ll wait while you laugh.

Actually we all gain more weight than we’re comfortable with. That’s ED treatment in a nutshell. But some people gain more weight than is deemed “necessary” or “healthy” which is such a fine line to walk. How do you talk about what is appropriate or healthy with someone who has no concept of either? And what happens when – if – you end up in a position where you legitimately need to lose a bit of weight? Dieting is just another trip down the rabbit hole. And you’ve worked so SO hard to recover! Plus, by this point, you may even think that dieting is anti-feminist or unsocial or simply unkind. Are you even allowed to think you need to lose weight?

I don’t know the right answer to that question but I do know a lot of us think it, as evidenced by a letter I got from Reader K recently:

I do realise you must get about a zillion of these questions per day, but I would really appreciate it if you found time to answer this.

I am an almost 20-year old girl (gosh, I should probably start saying “woman” by now…) with some history of disordered eating and exercising. I was never diagnosed and wouldn’t say I was ever bulimic/anorexic, etc. but I certainly dropped too low in my weight and exercised too much for quite some time (from sometime around 12 years old to about 18, is my best guess).

I am XXXcm high and the lowest I ever was was about XXkg, which put me in the high end of underweight. What followed were major arguments with my parents about my not eating enough, my feeling exhausted and cranky 90% of the time and secondary amenorrhea. I did pull myself together though (most probably because I absolutely LOVE to eat – ah, the irony – but I guess that was the reason for my being a chubby kid and being made fun of in school, leading to the dramatic weight loss).

I was diagnosed with mild osteopenia [charlotte’s note: that’s bone loss, the precursor to osteoporosis], but otherwise my health is in good condition now. I am fully weight restored and apart from occasional low body image bouts, I am OK. (An aside, the funny thing is that I started liking my body more after I gained weight, how weird is that?)

But here’s my problem:

I am eating normally, trying to follow my hunger cues and eating what I like. I try not to count calories because that leads to restrictive behaviour for me. The thing is that I have only time for exercise 3 to 4 times per week, sometimes less, as I am extremely busy. After I got to my senses I started gaining weight… to XXkg. I am not comfortable at this weight – bot aesthetically and how it makes me feel.

And finally, here’s what I really want to ask – do you have any suggestions/advice as to what I should do, given I cannot increase my activity level, to lose weight the healthy way? It’s driving me nuts because I already eat extremely healthy, following my hunger, but seem to keep gaining!

Advise would be strongly appreciated

If I were any good at the metric system I’d swear I’d written this letter to myself, that’s how much I relate to what K is saying. As I’ve mentioned here before, after starting outpatient treatment for my eating disorder several years ago, I gained a certain amount of weight back and eventually it stabilized at a point which I maintained for two years. While I didn’t ever lose the latent wish to be ten pounds lighter, I did grow to accept and even love my body at that weight. I got comfortable with it and ditched my crazy clothes and bought ones that fit. Most importantly I did it while practicing Intuitive Eating (Geneen Roth style) and so I ate almost everything. My recovery wasn’t perfect but I felt good about it.

And then about a year ago for reasons I still can’t explain I gained a not insignificant amount of weight. I weigh more now than the day I gave birth to Jelly Bean. It changed my clothing size and suddenly I was right back to loathing my body. I felt like a total failure and not just because I had to go buy all new pants. Rather I felt like I was a failure at my ED recovery, at Intuitive Eating, at showing body acceptance – all of it. And so I know quite well how Reader K is feeling. So what’s a girl who’s still recovering from an eating disorder (because recovery is going to be a lifelong process for me, I think) to do when she thinks she might need to lose weight?

I have a few suggestions for K – and for me – but I hope you guys will help out too! This is such tricky territory for me.

1. Get professional help. I spent a long time in therapy. Not only did I complete my eating disorder therapy but I also did a lot of personal therapy. You mention that you never got help for recovering from your ED and it might be helpful, even now. One of the things ED therapy taught me was about proper nutrition. It sounds silly to someone who can spout the caloric content of any food from memory but I learned a lot about what a proper portion looks like, how to balance meals and – most importantly – what “normal” eating looks like. It helps.

2. At least see a nutritionist or dietician. And be honest about your history with disordered eating! He or she can not only help you devise a healthy plan but also serve as a person to be accountable to – not for the weight loss but for the healthy habits part.

3. Get an objective opinion, preferably from a doctor you trust, on whether or not losing weight is really in your best interest. Body dysmorphia is part and parcel with an eating disorder and we’re often not the best judge of what we look like.

4. Focus on what you can eat, not what you “can’t”. I recently cut out sugar for a while in an effort to help my mental state and it was a lot easier when I focused on how my body was feeling and all the yummy foods I enjoyed, rather than torturing myself thinking about all the forbidden treats. Whether or not you lose weight, mindful eating and staying positive will help in a lot of ways.

5. Eat some more protein. I hesitate to make any specific recommendations but I’ve found through personal experience that when I get overly hungry and munchy or crave junk food it’s often because I haven’t had enough “real” food earlier, usually protein and healthy fats. Note: I’m not saying that’s ALL you should eat. But rather that adding in a bit more high-quality grass-fed meat or eggs or coconut oil can help head off a cookie bender. (Also, from looking through your daily meals that you sent me, you do not seem to get much protein…)

6. Do things for yourself that you enjoy and make you feel happy and confident, no matter what you weigh. Being super busy is hard on the body in so many ways, weight being only one of them. I love hiking, skiing and skating – those things always make me feel better about myself. And I love realizing how my strong legs carried me up a mountain rather than focusing on how much they rub together. Reading, painting, piano playing, photography – anything that gets you out of yourself and using your body in a creative way!

7. Accept that life circumstances change and your weight does too. You’re at a really busy time in your life! But things won’t always be this way. Sometimes we weigh more, other times we weigh less. It doesn’t mean that we’ll keep on gaining weight forever and ever.

8. Meditate. It sounds silly I know but a few minutes a day of quiet contemplation/prayer/meditation can do wonders for bringing us back in touch with what we need to nourish ourselves on many levels.

9. Get enough sleep. Stress wreaks havoc with not only weight but also mental state and one of the single best things we can do for our health is to have a good bedtime routine of going to sleep before midnight and getting a solid 7-8 hours, every night.

This is such a touchy topic and I hesitated to broach this on here but eventually I decided I needed to because I know that Reader K and I are not the only two recovering ED’d people to be in this situation! I’d love it if you guys have any other suggestions, advice or even corrections!

P.S. I’m not a doctor and this is just my opinion and all that!

Sober Library

19 Jun

As a life-long dusty-book fan who has spent hours of her life holed up in century old libraries, I never expected to fall in love with my Kindle. Blasphemy! I cried when this electronic device boldly announced itself. We need real books! With paper! And smells! And mucky-fingered stains! But low and behold, just a few months after they launched, the thought of lugging another entire rucksack of books on holiday was enough to make me cave, so I bought one and have never looked back.

When I first got sober, I couldn’t read. I just couldn’t sit myself down with anything other than a short blog post or a Twitter update. My concentration was all over the shop. My kindle lay gathering dust in a corner of my room. When I turned it on the other day, it gave me a shock. The number of sober books/books about alcoholism I had worked my way through in the 18 months prior to stopping drinking was INSANE. Here’s a little catalogue of what I read, starting in October 2012, when I first thought about getting sober. If you’re thinking about getting sober or are not sure if you have a drink problem, choose some of these to read, I implore you. It helped me through the tricky ‘Am I really?!’ phase and over a ling period of time brought me to a position where I could finally stop. 

Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Control your Drinking– I read this, glass of wine (bottle) in hand at a beautiful bar on a chilly Autumn afternoon in 2012. I resolved to stop drinking. I didn’t. Alan Carr’s approach of drinking being a poison resonated, but it didn’t make enough of an impact for me to stop.

Jason Vale- Kick the Drink, Easily- again, I understood the point he was making intellectually (drinking has NO BENEFIT WHATSOEVER), I even endured the SHOUTY CAPS he peppers the text with. But put down a drink? No way. His approach really works for some people, and mirrors the mindset I’m in now (drinking is a waste of time/energy/I can’t think of anything WORSE to do with my time) and is definitely worth a read. 

I Need to Stop Drinking! Liz Hemingway- no idea when I read this, what it said or whether it had an impact on me. I was probably drunk when I read it. Hmm…

Cleaning Up: How I Gave up Drinking and Lived– Tania Glyde, again, I don’t remember much about this one, but I do remember vaguely recalling that this person wasn’t me. She drank LOADS more than I do, she hid bottles forgawdssake! 

Ice and a Slice– Della Galton- A novel based on one woman’s true experiences. It planted the seed that there was a life better than being caught in the cycle of drinking but at that stage, I still wasn’t ready to hear it.

Woman Walks into a Bar- Rowan Coleman, hilariously, I thought this would be about drinking. It’s a chick lit romp about dating. OBSESSED MUCH?!

Drinking: A Love Story- Caroline Knapp- one of the sober classics. I read this in a hungover daze, weeping, knowing I needed to stop, then drinking later that night. I’ve heard criticism that this book romanticises drinking but for me, reading about someone who hides vodka bottles in the cistern of their mum’s house lacked romance and was a wake up call.

Last Orders- A Drinkers Guide to Sobriety- A humorous account of a Proper Lad who makes a bet with his mates that he can give up booze for a year. He struggles, then falls in love with the Pink Cloud feeling of no more hangovers and finding exercise and WOOO!!!!! loves life sober. 

High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze- Jill Stark- Binge drinking health writer Jill has suffered one too many drunken nights out that have ended up with her collapsing on the dance floor in front of her colleagues or rendering her unable to move for the entire next day. As someone who writes frequently about Australia’s dangerous drink habits, she decides to commit to a year off the sauce, exploring Oz’s drink culture along the way. I loved this book, particularly when I was unable to label myself ‘alcoholic’- I liked the idea of taking a year off and seeing how I got on. She ultimately went back to drinking, but more moderately. Highly recommend this one. 

The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers drink– Olivia Laing,  LOVE this book. I luxuriated in it whilst on a beach somewhere, drinking cider in the morning to take the edge off last night’s hangover, sneaking a gin and tonic by the pool while my holiday companions weren’t looking. I’ve always been obsessed by tortured writers and this book was a beautiful yet tragic read. The whole reason I started writing this blog today was that I came across this article on the Guardian about women authors who drank: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/13/alcoholic-female-women-writers-marguerite-duras-jean-rhys If you like your literature, I suggest you take your time over this glorious yet painful read, and then read Echo Spring. It is just wonderful, and sad and worth every moment you give to it. 

The Sober Revolution: Calling Time on Wine o Clock– Lucy Rocca & Sarah Turner- THIS BOOK WAS TRANSFORMATIVE. It spoke to me in a way no other sober book had. It draws a parallel between drinking and an abusive relationship, and the subtle, manipulative way ‘He’ keeps you coming back. Having just extricated myself from an emotionally abusive relationship, not only could I see the stark truth that alcohol was my new abuser, I could also see I had the strength to walk away again. 

Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women & Alcohol: Ann Dowsett Jones- This was the big one for me. I read it on the way back from an all inclusive holiday where I’d sneakily drunk all day long, taking drinks from the mini-bar into the shower so my room-mate didn’t see them, desperately sucking down iced cocktails that didn’t have enough booze for my liking and going back for more… I lay there, jet lagged, reading this and having the most overwhelming feeling yet that not only was I a problem drinker, I was an ALCOHOLIC. I needed more help than the sober blogging world was offering me. I started my final solo sobriety run of 40 days, drank again, re-read this book and took myself off to AA.

So there we are, my drinking library. On a day when I’m not feeling alcoholic at all, it’s been great to look back at how much work I needed to do to convince myself I was one, how much time went into reading this stuff.

I was all worth it. ALL of it.

Happy Thursday to you! And Happy reading 🙂

 

 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/13/alcoholic-female-women-writers-marguerite-duras-jean-rhys

Am an I Alcoholic?

16 Jun

I was looking through old computer bookmarks this morning, and I came across this wonderful article by Veronica Valli. She could not have made answering the question ‘An am I an alcoholic?’ easier for me. My experience of alcoholism, which she summarises so wonderfully here, is that it’s about how I THINK and FEEL as much as how I drank. That’s why it’s been really hard to explain to my binge drinking friends I’ve confided in how I differ to them, without turning myself inside out before their eyes. 

Have a read of the article, and take a look at Veronica’s site, which I have found packed full of great insights:

Am I an alcoholic?

That’s a very good question.

Are you?

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In all honesty, there is no straightforward answer to that and whichever ‘expert’ or professional you speak to will give you a totally different, if not conflicting answer. This is because there is no scientific way of measuring this, it really is an opinion. Alcoholics Anonymous for instance, will let you make up your own mind. No one diagnoses you. Doctors and other addiction professionals have other ways of concluding an individual may be an alcoholic or not. Alcohol dependency will usually indicate you are.

 

It is, in my opinion, fairly easy to diagnose. What follows is a description of the traits of an alcoholic. If they fit you, then you may have to come to the conclusion that you are an alcoholic.

Firstly, and I can’t emphasis this enough, ordinary people do not think about their drinking.
It rents no space in their heads.

Period.

This means if you have spent some time looking for solutions for why you drink the way you do and have ended up reading this page.
Then the answer may be yes.
Because it’s renting space in your head.

You have a problem.

Alcoholics know they have a problem.

They know something is most definitely wrong.

It’s a nagging feeling that won’t go away.

They are vaguely aware that they drink too much but have loads of excuses and reasons for why that is.

So, by the sheer fact you are reading this, you know there’s a problem right?

We’ll go further.

Alcoholism has nothing to do with alcohol.

No, really.

Are you surprised?

Alcoholism is about the way you think.

Let me explain.

Alcoholism is a state of mind, a way of thinking and being, that is so uncomfortable and unpleasant it is expressed in how they drink.

Which isn’t normal. Because alongside this state of mind is a physical allergy that means when alcohol enters the body of an alcoholic they respond differently to other people. You lose the power of control over alcohol; something else takes over and they find it extremely hard to regulate or stop drinking when they start.

The mind and body work against any intentions or ‘will power’ you may have had of not wanting to drink.
Any alcoholic can stop drinking or using for a while, or for a good enough reason, its staying stopped that’s the problem.
When an alcohol isn’t drinking alcohol to manage their internal state they will invariably be using other kinds of unhealthy behaviours to manage their emotional life.
Look closely and you’ll see how.

An alcoholic is so uncomfortable in their own skin that they will always return to alcohol to ease the discomfort in their own minds (and souls). Once they start drinking the physical allergy kicks in and they find that they nearly always drink or use far more that they intended.

The common misconception is that it’s how much you drink or use and how often that makes someone an alcoholic.

Not so!

Certainly, in most cases alcoholics drink far more than is acceptable and on a more frequent basis than ordinary people, that’s for sure. However, you can be an alcoholic and drink infrequently; it doesn’t necessarily have to be everyday.
What differentiates a binge drinker or heavy drinker from an alcoholic is how that person thinks. It’s exactly the same with addiction.

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have created a culture that has normalised abnormal drinking – we call it binge drinking, and everyone seems to do it. We have also moved the goal posts with drug use, ‘but everyone does it, I know all the dangers’ is the bulls**t lie that addicts will tell themselves in order to justify what they are doing. If you normalise something it becomes acceptable. We surround ourselves with people who are just like us, who then reflect back to us who we are. We look for justification for our behavior.

 

Of course not everyone who binge drinks will go on to become an alcoholic.
Many will naturally regulate their drinking as they mature, or the circumstances of their lives change and they find they have no desire to drink at abnormal levels anymore. Others, despite becoming older or their lives changing, will still, whenever they have the opportunity, drink far beyond what is reasonable and to the point that it impacts all areas of their life.

What is reasonable?
The recommended weekly allowances for an adult male are 21 units a week (UK measurement), spread over the week and not all in one night. For a woman it is 14 units. A 250ml glass of wine is the equivalent of 3 units. If you drink consistently over this amount you can expect to have some kind of mental health, physical health, emotional, financial, and social consequences.
Most people are surprised at how low this is. Because so many people are drinking way beyond acceptable levels, we have normalised the abnormal.

And the biggest excuse that most people give for drinking way more than is good for them?

Everyone else is doing it, so it must be ok.

Wrong!

An alcoholic will find it easy to hide amongst binge drinkers because they drink the same way. What makes them different is what’s going on inside of them.

Pay attention, we are really coming to the crux of the problem now; this is the most accurate description of an alcoholic or I can give you:

An alcoholic just feels different than everyone else. It’s like they were born different; some people have described it as looking at the world through a glass screen, watching everyone else get on with life in a way that they just can’t seem to. It feels like being born without the instruction manual for life, and whatever you seem to do it never works out in a way that seems to satisfy or fulfil you.

Alcoholics always have a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness, and they are always looking for something to fix that feeling. Alcoholics tend to believe that if they get the right partner, job, house, or car it will bring them the feeling of satisfaction and happiness they crave.

They are always looking for something outside of themselves to make them complete.

And what happens?

Temporarily, these outside changes fix that hole inside of them. Everything seems like its going to be okay, but it’s always just temporary. It escapes them again, it’s like sand running through their fingers, they can never seem to hold on to it. Just when they are almost there, when they feel like they finally have the thing that will make them happy, they lose it and they revert back to their old feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness.
In addition to living life in this unsatisfactory way, alcoholics also experience a lot of fear.
A disproportional amount of fear.

Fear is probably the defining characteristic of alcoholics.

It’s fear of everything and nothing; it’s always with them. It’s hard to put into words but fear is a daily companion to an alcoholic.

An alcoholic will very rarely be able to tell anyone close to them about the ‘fear’.

They are scared of what people might think of them.
They are frightened of not being good enough, of being found out, of people not liking them, of failing. An alcoholic will do whatever they can to hide this fear to the outside world, and they even find it hard admitting it to themselves. They are so used to living with this fear that they can’t remember what it’s like to be without it.

So you can see that when you feel this way on a consistent basis, it becomes so uncomfortable that you will do anything to change it. Alcohol can achieve that. In the short term it removes that sense of discomfort and uncomfortableness and for a short while you feel like everything is okay. You feel happy and unafraid, like you fit in with the people around them; the glass screen separating you from the rest of the world has been removed.

For a while at least.

It was only artificially and temporarily induced, courtesy of alcohol, and you are back to being the way they always were, still searching for whatever it is that will make you feel better (feel complete).

You can see then, that alcoholism is an internal problem rather than an external one. That the problem arises from how you think and how you feel, and that drinking is only a symptom.

You may argue that other people who don’t drink also feel that way and you’d be right. They will be expressing their internal dissatisfaction in other ways, other behaviors, alcoholics and addicts pick substances because they are accessible, widely used and very, very effective.

Pay attention, though – look around. Notice how other people express their internal dissatisfaction through unhealthy relationships, overspending, gambling, sex, moving, food, shopping, rampant consumerism etc. All that behavior is just a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Feelings motivate all behavior.

By reading this far, then chances are that you have read something you have identified with, that intrigues you.
If you can recognise the traits or alcoholism, if you can identify your problem, then you can get help much earlier. The truth is, that this condition this way of being and thinking won’t go away just because you want it to. My experience of working with alcoholics and addicts is that you can’t think your way out of it and you certainly can’t do it alone.

It comes down to this: how much longer are you prepared to accept living this way?

You may have read this and thought,
‘Yeah, I identify with some of that, but it’s really not that bad.’

Hel-lo?

Are you really prepared to accept that in your life?

Are you really prepared to accept less than you deserve?

Do you want to look back on your life and see that you settled for 70% or 50% of what you were capable of?

Are you prepared to live through one more day feeling the way you do, when now you know there’s a way out?

Now may be the time to get really honest with yourself.

So, are you an alcoholic?
Yes, or No?

Taking up Space

9 Jun

Image

I’m still struggling a lot at the moment. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it’s there and real and uncomfortable. I’m walking down a very well trodden and familiar path.

When I’m unhappy, my discontent at my body starts up, and my relationship with food turns funny again. I want to eat for comfort, but start despising my figure, which fuels the desire to eat. Fucked up and irrational, yes. But it almost exactly mirrors the weird relationship with drinking I had. Drinking makes me miserable, and I want to quit drinking and I’m putting all my energy into not drinking, so I’ll have drink to take away the pain. Madness. 

I’ve had some sugar slip ups, but I’m trying to keep on fuelling my body in positive ways, which is hard when I either want to starve myself or eat everything IN THE WORLD. 

I’ve blogged many times about my relationship with my body and food, and at the moment, how I perceive myself can do a full 180 degree swing in the matter of moments. Yesterday I went from working out in front of a mirror at the gym and being amazed at how explosive and powerful my box jumps onto a really high platform were, to hating the chunk of my thighs. I can vacillate from one overwhelming feeling to another in seconds. 

I often stay at a friend’s house where cruelly, one entire wall of the bathroom is a mirror. What I see on any given day as I prepare to shower entirely depends on my state of mind. Increasingly, I see a figure that’s simultaneously toned and soft, that is slender but has a womanly curve to it. I think ‘yes, this is how a woman should be’, thankful I’m no longer the bag of bones I once was. On a bad day, I look in horror at my shape, the boldness of my round bum, thinking: ‘it wasn’t like this until I started doing so many hill sprints, I’ll have to cut those out.’

I look at myself and see failure, flaws and feel entirely helpless. All my self esteem is sucked away in a momentary glance. I wait for the steam of the shower to erase what I see. 

I’m so sick of the way my mind constantly undermines me. When it wants to be, it can be a happy, sparkly place full of rainbows and unicorns. I get REALLY happy frequently, like jump-in-the-air-and-do-a-little-heel- click happy and would consider myself a pretty positive person, but when the gloom comes, it’s a bloody battle. 

I was catching up on the clever and wonderful After Alcohol’s blog this morning and this post really spoke to me. The fear of suddenly losing control and blowing up to ‘DIE OF FAT.’ The post is wonderful and mirrors so many of my feelings, but what hit the nail on the head  for me was a comment Primrose made:

those extra ten pounds have been a false focus for me for much of my adult life. if I had spent as much time thinking about my relationships with others or my career or even learning a language I would be Professor of the Liberal Arts at the University of Florence right now. so much wasted effort.

Lord, that’s it. That’s what’s been bothering me. I am pissed off at how my brain works, how much TIME and EFFORT I’ve put into thinking about food and alcohol. About losing weight and giving up drinking. The endless and dissatisfying circle. You know the myth of Sisyphus? The bloke who was eternally condemned to push a rock up a hill and then have it crash down upon him? That’s what my battle with my mind feels like. What a waste of time and energy. Although the struggles with alcohol have got easier, they’re still constantly there. I’ve thought quite a few times about jacking it all in and just having a bloody drink, which is the kind of self defeating thought which got me here in the first place.

The space these thoughts and feelings take up is huge. Thankfully, I’m mostly too busy to let them in at the moment, but it feels like they’re lying dormant, ready to get me whenever I have some spare headspace. I spend hours on sobriety & fitness/dieting, reading about it, listening to podcasts about it and thinking about it. I want some space in my brain to think about other things. When I can help others, this spiral is more under control, so I’m trying to focus my energies on that. 

I’m having a day off today and need to try and make positive use of it. I’m exhausted, but resting makes me anxious and dissatisfied, so I’ll try to spring into action and feel like I’ve achieved something today. 

It aint over ’til it’s over

18 May

Yesterday I was SO close to drinking.

If you read my post yesterday, you’ll know I was tired, stressed and had full intentions to have a relaxing day to get myself back on balance. That went flying out of the window. 

A new problem has emerged with my house buying plans and once again I find myself looking for somewhere to live. I went looking yesterday and the whole process was incredibly stressful because the market is crazy and the financial pressures of the whole thing were too much to take. This combined with the idea of having to start the whole lengthy search again was too much. My body was screaming with anxiety.

I was meeting my friends for dinner and had 2 hours in town to kill. I was almost certain I was going to drink. The ‘fuck its’ were strong and I thought ‘how bad could a night of drinking be? I can start again tomorrow.’ I was slowly walking towards a pub, calculating how much I could drink before I met my friends to appear sober and feel drunk enough to satisfy me. Annoyingly, one of the friends I was meeting knows I’m in AA so I had to remember that once I met them, I wouldn’t be able to drink any more. Bugger. I was contemplating ringing my sponsor, but didn’t. I was accepting my fate of drinking. 

There’s an individual who reminds me of my last night of drinking, an experience so horrific to me I never ever want to feel like that again or see him again. Let’s call him James. I half heartedly asked my Higher Power to give me a sign by getting James to contact me, to remind me of how bad it was. No such sign came. I got closer to the pub.

I walked in, went up to the bar, looked at the larger taps glistening and found myself asking for a pint of lime and soda. I gulped it down and decided what to do next. 

The pub was rammed- it was the FA cup final (big football championship here in the UK) and the local team Arsenal were in the lead. The atmosphere of nervous excitement was palpable. I ordered another drink, a water, and felt my seconds ticking down to meeting my friends. My insides were churning, all I wanted to do was have alcohol running through my veins, but I drank the water, watched the football and let myself get swept up in the atmosphere. 

The footie fans were chugging pints jovially, getting excited and tense and loud. The match went into extra time, and everyone was on tenterhooks. I was very very slowly going off the idea of drinking, being so wrapped up in the game. 

Arsenal scored what looked like it would be the winning goal and the pub went absolutely effing wild. My whole body was covered in goosebumps and it was electrifying. At that moment, I was glad I didn’t drink. 

I loved the final few minutes of the match because once again, I’d been reminded of the wonder of life without alcohol. My body had shifted from being a ball of nervous tension to experiencing the profound joy of being part of something exciting in the matter of what, 45 minutes? An hour? 

I went to meet my friends and we had an absolutely brilliant evening, swapping a meal out for takeaway, some philosophical conversations, some plain silly conversations and some ridiculous singing. 

As I checked my phone at the end of the night, my silly prayer to my higher power had been answered. One missed call: James. Seeing his name made me put my head in my hands at the sight, realising what I’d escaped by not drinking. THANKS UNIVERSE.

Sobriety is hard, but drinking is harder. In the space of a week I’ve gone from feeling utterly comfortable in my sobriety to finding it agonising and guess what? That tide will turn again. I was walking to that pub thinking drinking was a foregone conclusion I’d resigned myself to, but my fortunes shifted by finding myself in a life affirming situation, and my desire to numb ebbed away. 

Another day another lesson. Day 124 and still sober. 

AA: My First Chair

8 May

Thanks to everyone who wished me good luck ahead of my first AA chair yesterday. 

As predicted, it was pretty terrifying but also a wonderful experience. Luckily, I’d been asked to do it at my home group where everyone had seen my come in 16 weeks ago and sob my little heart out. 
 
It’s hard for me to believe that it was that recently that I went to my first meeting and how much my life has changed since then. 
 
Until that day, AA was never an option. I didn’t truly believe I was an alcoholic, didn’t like the sound of what went on there, didn’t have a concept of God and didn’t think I’d fit in with the people I met there. 
 
How wrong I was. 
 
I’ve written about this before, but from the very moment I walked through the door into my first meeting I knew I was at home. Followers of this blog will know that I spent the whole of 2013 trying to get sober and failing repeatedly. I was desperate for something to change, as my life had to very small very quickly. I felt myself eroding away my insides and knew that if I wanted to have the life I desired, drinking had to stop. It was going to kill me, if not physically, certainly emotionally. 
 
Last night when I arrived at the meeting I got so many friendly words of encouragement from fellow members, took up my seat at the front of the room and talked for 13 minutes. It felt like no time at all! I hate speaking publicly and my voice was a bit wobbly with nerves, but I shared my story honestly.
 
It was important to me to convey that for years I had a very benevolent relationship with alcohol, that it was my friend when I wanted to let loose and have a bit of fun. I wanted to share this for the newcomer who was having the battle that I did of ‘am I an alcoholic?!’ which in part was difficult for me because alcohol turned on me so quickly I couldn’t quite get my head round the shift. 
 
I talked about the agony of trying to quit on my own. I spoke about this blog, and how when I started writing to work through my alcohol issues, the internet started to speak back to me. Women all over the world putting their hands up and saying ‘Don’t worry honey. I feel like that too.’ 
 
I didn’t want to tell any drinking horror stories, so focused on how hard it was to quit and how each time I relapsed, my drinking got worse. 
 
Finally, I spoke about how the programme has helped me. For me, AA has been utterly transformative. Alcoholism is just a symptom of something deeper for me that over the years has manifested itself in different ways. I am a chronic relief seeker, always wanting to change the way I feel. I’m a sensitive soul, wounded by others words and actions. The AA programme has not only helped me to stop drinking, but it’s given me the tools to treat what’s underneath. 
 
It was an amazing privilege to have people share back and tell me how they related with my story. There were a few newcomers there who were really encouraged to see someone only slightly ahead of them on the sober path being so content in their sobriety. It took me a long time to get here, but once I got some time under my belt the shift to happiness happened very quickly. 
 
I have so so far to go on my journey through sobriety, but at 114 days sober I know I simply cannot go back. I feel a real sense of calm acceptance that I didn’t feel even just a few weeks ago. I’m gaining SO much more through being sober than I’m losing through not drinking and that’s an amazing place to be.
 
It’s important to me that I don’t suggest that AA is the only answer, as I know many people get sober without it. But it is a very very special place and I’d recommend that everyone who’s struggling to get sober gives it a go. What is there to lose by trying something out before you rule it out? That’s the attitude I took, and here I am happy as happy can be to be a proud member of alcoholics anonymous. Who’da thunk it?

Clubbing Sober

5 May

Early sobriety is full of firsts and there were few I’ve been more nervous about than going clubbing. 

I’ve done endless work events, nights in pubs and bars and even danced at a wedding but I hadn’t yet gone out clubbing until last night. 

I love dancing and really needed to let my hair down so when someone suggested a Bank Holiday evening out I jumped at the chance. By the time the day actually came to go, I didn’t want to. The thought of heading out at 11pm was unbearable. But I prepared as best I could- I slept in the day before, had good nutritious food and my new Sober Saviour for getting through long events: Zero Calorie Red Bull. 

As with every other sober first, it was a fascinating experience. 

Here’s what I learnt (I’m quite into my lists of sober lessons at the moment!):

It’s all about the company and the music- if either one of these isn’t spot on, the night can be uncomfortable or boring. But when the two come together perfectly, it’s a joy. 

Drink only slightly heightens the experience- the ‘sweet spot’ of drinking I once had where I wasn’t smashed but had enough of a buzz to really get high on the music was fantastic while it lasted. But it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to control my drinking and get that. Last night, I got the same surges of joy from the music and flashing lights without the consequences of downing vodka. 

Drinking is a waste– I watched my friends get wasted, and some of them went off to do coke, which I was pretty shocked by. Those who took the drugs were completely out of it. They just floated around the dance floor, barely engaged with what was going on. 

Being sober is the best money saver ever!- I sort of knew this already, but last night I spent SIX POUNDS. SIX ENGLISH POUNDS. I got a night bus home because I was in a fit state to keep myself safe and paid for the cloakroom and some sparkling water. Amazing. I treated myself to a gorgeous pair of £50 boots this morning- I would have spent much more on a night out. 

Hangovers aren’t just caused by drinking– I was out til 4am and this morning I’m REALLY feeling it. The lack of sleep has got to me, but it was so worth it. Because I’m not hungover too, I went out and blasted a workout to perk myself up and then will get an early night tonight. When I was drinking I probably would have had a drink at 4pm to get me through the day and ended up finishing the bottle and starting the hangover cycle all over again. 

If you want to leave, get out of there– I knew that if at any point I left, my wasted friends would notice but not care. They were too wrapped up in their own drunk/high thing. That was a really comforting thought when heading out- I knew I could leave at any time I wanted, especially if I fancied drinking. As it turned out, I stayed to the bitter end because I was having so much fun. Happy days. 

Being sober helps me squeeze every moment out of life– Yesterday I went to 3 social things before clubbing. Had I been drinking I’d have started at 4pm and not stopped for another 12 hours. Instead of a blurry day, I had a wonderful one full of clarity. 

I was talking to my sponsor about how great sobriety feels at the moment and she said something that EXACTLY describes how I’m feel ing at the moment:

‘I think as time goes on, and we stay sober, it becomes a precious thing that you feel inwardly proud and quite protective of. It’s all part of the long term sobriety where you actually want to be sober instead of not wanting to be an alcoholic.’

I love this thought. It really hits the nail on the head of the shift from ‘WHY ME???’ to ‘HURRAH SOBRIETY!’ 

Long may it last. 

 

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