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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Thanksgiving and Thanks Giving

I never really understood the phrase used by AA members 'You have to give it away to keep it.'
It is used in reference to sobriety and how we each support each other. In my early days of quitting, when I went to a few AA meetings, I felt quite needy and that I fed off those members with many sober years under their belts. I wondered, what was in it for them? They clearly had the thing licked, it was working for them, why stick around to help others like me so much? 

Other than human nature, which makes us want to help and share what we have found, I realised a far more important reason to stick around.

I will quietly celebrate being 20 months sober on Thursday, along with those of you in North America celebrating thanksgiving. During this time I have been contacted by various people who read this blog (thank you) and others who have found my book SITNB useful (thank you again). They often ask me for advice (me?!), ask how I got to where I am and whether it is easy to stay sober after such a time. It seems I portray a sense of true unwavering commitment to the cause!

Well, no. It is not easy. And each email I receive from someone nearer the beginning of their journey helps me immensely. Contact from a stranger joined by a common theme is cathartic: both can talk honestly and freely behind the anonymity of an email address and I always reply personally to each one.

Last weekend I received one such email when I was at a point of despair. Saturday afternoon, the girls coming round for dinner, wine and fizz chilling for them. I looked in our drinks cupboard and all of a sudden felt sad and mournful for a time now past and an element of the forthcoming evening in which I would have no part. This was brought on by a general feeling of being over-whelmed. We have some serious family issues going on right now: my parents are upset and leaning on me for support (without once asking me how I am), the kids are just being kids, and to top it all I am coming down with a cold.

The email came at just the right time. When it seemed as if no one was listening to me or caring for me (ok I was feeling sorry for myself), I battered out my reply on the keyboard. I wrote about all the slights and injustice I felt, the frustration I had that I wanted to drink yet would not allow myself to do so and the sadness from knowing that drinking wouldn't help the way I felt anyway. 

Alcohol would, however, blot it out for a few hours and take my mind somewhere less fraught. 

What I needed was another way to blot it out. E-mailing and blogging are two good ways, listening to the chat of my friends when they arrived (as opposed to talking) and, as I'd done the night before, watching a movie and falling asleep during it, exhausted from tears and emotional drama.

Sobriety and recovery is a two way street. Each of us have something that is valuable to us but which also helps another. I want to send a big Thank You to all my contacts and readers who keep sobriety fresh in my mind and re-confirm my belief that life really is much better this way despite all the stark ups and downs.

On a happier note, tonight I am meeting a friend from the blogosphere, in London, in real life and I am so excited about meeting and spending time with someone who understands it all.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Party Season

Party season is coming, sober blog traffic dwindles as intentions are put aside until January.
I continue to be amazed that parties seem so unimportant to me now. All those years before, I went to the ends of the earth to get a babysitter, taxis, the next day off, a new dress and it all seemed of the utmost importance that it was all 'just right'. 
Now I am no longer interested in going to my usual parties I can only conclude it was only ever attractive because I wanted to get drunk. Or be something different. Or try to hide who I was.

Why would I do that? 

Being sober is a continual journey of reflection and self discovery. It never fails to surprise me. Yet there is no other explanation for no longer wanting to go to events I previously saw as heavy drinking opportunities.

This year I forgot to request the work party night off and when I checked, I'm not down to work but I am, however, working the Saturday following the Friday night. Instead, on that Friday I'm going to my spanish class's 'xmas' tapas quiz night! I'm not sure what it will involve but we are a mixed bunch and have known each other for over a year. I have offered to drive and I will enjoy the chat and socialising and getting out of the house.I'm looking forward to getting to know the others and the teachers better and quite frankly, that's enough but if it does turn out to be awful, I can get into my little car and leave early.

I don't think it's purely an age thing either as younger sober bloggers report the same change in interests. Whatever the reasons I'm looking forward to my Christmas preparations not being impeded by alcohol or hangovers, not blighted by queueing for taxis in the cold and rain or by the continual effort of buying and chilling and having 'enough' over the festive period.

One of the worst aspects of Christmas drinking for me was 2012 when I was unable to have a night off. I watched my OH 'having a break' or 'giving it a rest' but I was on conveyor belt and could not, would not, did not want to step off for any time at all when I could be drinking again. Every day that presented   a drinking opportunity I took it, without exception and it was a relief when finally, on 31st December, I was back at work and had sobriety enforced. I had neither the inclination or ability to do this of my own volition.

I only need to glance back to this period to confirm that alcohol is nothing to celebrate, is not a treat, and most certainly does not enhance my life.

Friday, 14 November 2014

99p Bargain Today: Sweet and Sober

Sweet and Sober only 99p today on Amazon. 

Find out how, after ditching the wine, I turned my attention to the sugar substitutes and other dieting demons which plague my life.

Monday, 10 November 2014

What would you like to drink?

After reading Lucy Rock's article in The Observer magazine yesterday, I took a moment to reflect on how I started down this path. I wanted to remember how hard it was in the very beginning and truly appreciate how far away from that point I am at present. This is the introduction to Sober is the New Black (SITNB)

‘What would you like to drink?’

The question hangs innocently in the air. What would I like to drink? Around me I can see cocktails being mixed at the bar, I can hear the glug glug of wine being poured at the next table and I watch someone take that first refreshing sip of beer.
I want wine. I want lots of wine. I want it quickly and I want it now while my stomach is empty and it will rapidly reach my bloodstream, quickly course to my brain and fulfill the ever-present need.
Yes, I want wine. I want wine very much, yet at the same time, I don’t. Should I or shouldn’t I? I want what I cannot have, yet here I am, all grown up, surely I can do as I please?  I am torn between the options, exhausted by the mental gymnastics going on inside my head. This small decision of huge magnitude is the first crossroads at the beginning of my journey into the unknown. From today I am adopting an alcohol-free life. I am unsure if I can succeed, but know that failure is not an option.

How can it be so hard not to do something? Just don’t do it. It should not be difficult. But it is. So, so difficult. Can I make the short term sacrifice of what I want right now, for what I want most of all? Can I bear the immediate hardship in the hope of a longer term gain? It should be a simple decision but making the correct choice is so hard. 

 It is 6pm and I am sitting on a beautiful terrace watching the sun set. I am on holiday. I arrived this afternoon at a luxurious all inclusive hotel in the sun. It was an early start and now I am tired and need to sleep but I am also hungry and must eat first. The restaurant opens at 7pm. There was an hour to wait when the waiter asked that simple question. 
Today was to be my new start. My 48 hour hangover from the last boozy episode had receded and I felt better. I’d learnt from my mistakes and my many failed attempts at moderation. My hangover mindset had changed from never wanting to drink again to realising that I could not, must not drink again. I had come to the conclusion that becoming completely alcohol-free was the only option for me in the long term. But. I could just have one tonight. In fact, I could just drink tonight then start stopping again tomorrow. Or start stopping after the holiday. What difference would an extra two weeks make? Or would it be  easier to stop once back to the routine of work and the hum drum of daily life? Probably not. 
In the days prior to this holiday I had felt anxious about the lack of control I would have over my drinking in a resort with plentiful, all inclusive bars: all normal restraints absent, no driving, no work, no pub closing time. I was acutely worried that the bar service would be slow, the drinks would be small and inadequate and I’d feel embarrassed to keep asking for another. I didn’t want a hangover in the baking heat the following day yet I wanted an alcoholic drink now. The two were mutually exclusive and I felt panicked by my lack of conviction. 

This time was supposed to be different and failure was not an option. This time was supposed to be It, yet here I was hesitating at the first hurdle. Twice previously I had ended my attempts at abstinence when the first hurdle presented itself. A social function, a night out, a birthday, a Friday, whatever. These events were part of life yet seemed like impassable barriers, completely blocking the path and bringing each journey to an end. I know that to succeed I must negotiate a way around these obstacles. I could not afford to fail at the first one. Where would I end up? How much worse would life get? What would it eventually take to make me stop, if not this time?

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Then and Now: The Taxi

Last night was one of the dreaded Hallowe'en school disco. In my locality these evenings involve 3 discos, each lasting one hour, held consecutively between the hours of 6pm and 9.30pm. Imagine the logistic difficulties of having children of different ages attending different discos (while trying to relax and sink a bottle of wine on a Friday night.)


Dread the prospect of the evening. Text around neighbours to arrange lift sharing. Aim to do only the early 'to' runs to bring my responsibility to an end as early as possible.
Help get costumes ready through gritted teeth: why is it always at the last minute? Why is it always a hassle? Why is it never fun?
Feel guilty so am over generous with the spending money I dole out so they can rot their teeth with sweets and juice. Frankly, I don't really care.
Round up the other kids and bark at them all the get into the car and to Stop. Yelling. when they are sat next to each other.
Huff and puff through the parking scrum, the rain, the crowds. Worry transiently about signing the emergency contact form to be available in case of accident or injury (as it would be best to be sober I admit), before dismissing it as only a formality.
Note the other mums who are helping out at the disco. Are they are missing wine too?
Say goodbye. Become annoyed by one boy who no longer wants to go in, he is scared by some of the costumes. Phone his mum before detouring to drive him home again, taking great restraint to remain civil to both him and his mother.
Back home, rant about the trauma of it all and get the wine opened at last. Later than usual, later than planned. Drink the first glass quickly during rant.
But all too soon it is spoiled. The first lot come home, hyper and high on sugar, looking for attention and chat and in no way keen to have a quiet bath and go to bed. Despite knowing this, I try and fail to  shoo them upstairs and away from me, becoming more irritated as the time passes.


Last night I was aware I was 'behind' on football runs so offered to do more than my share of the disco runs. This offer was well received by neighbours.
Filled in permission slips confidently with my own mobile number rather than my OH's. Spent a hilarious 20 minutes in the bathroom with my make up to produce one pirate and one bunny.
Get organised and leave in plenty time to get parked easily and join the queue. Do the social thing and exchange pleasantries across the gym hall with other mums (many of whom are helping. I'm not, no change there) and agree must catch up one afternoon.
Get home and have 40 min pit stop before I have to go back to school to pick up some and drop off others. Have cup of tea, biscuit and chat with OH.
An hour later have another 40 min pit stop and reflect on how irritating this would be had I been wanting and waiting to settle down with wine. Have cup of tea and slice of toast.
Collect the 10 and 11 year old girls and amuse myself by listening to their chat in the back of the car (why Goths should never have a suntan and how 'annoying' it is when long dangly earrings bump into your neck!).
At home, spend 30 minutes gently  removing the bunny's pink bunny nose. (Note to self, do not use lipfinity for this again.) It takes patience, cotton wool and a combination of cleanser, eye make up remover, baby shampoo and soap to get it off, but we get there eventually without falling out about it.

That itself is a true 'first'!

Feel glad they enjoyed their disco. Pleased to have been more involved with them. Convinced remaining responsible in case of accident or injury was the right thing to do.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Update on my Sober Meeting

Last month I wrote about feeling I had moved onwards and upwards to a new 'experienced' level of sobriety when I was asked to meet with someone struggling with their drinking. It was not to 'help' them but rather to allow them to speak openly to another who would listen and identify without judgement.

I was nervous about this. It was truly a new 'First'.  I reflected back to the time when I required someone to fulfil this role for me; when I needed to talk, out loud to a real person, instead of writing and reading, surfing and blogging. I needed someone who would address the elephant in the room  head on.  I did not want to be fobbed off or fed excuses: 'You're no different to everyone else', 'Everyone gets drunk now and then', 'Stop worrying so much', 'You're not that bad'.

But I was and I almost needed someone to confirm that my bottle of wine per night was not normal and my concerns were rational and valid.

So I went along to meet this friend of a friend, reassuring myself that she would be more nervous than me while trying to articulate in my mind what, exactly, I was so worried about.

I was anxious on many levels. I was worried she would turn out to be my next door neighbour or someone I recognised (or worse, that she recognised me!). I was worried about what to say, how to start the conversation, which is weird as one thing I never am is stuck for words. I wondered how I would recognise her. Should I stake out the place early to spot her arriving? Should I arrive early and wait to be recognised and found by her? How would she recognise me? How would I recognise her? We had not got as far as carrying a rose with rolled up newspaper under an arm.

But I knew. I could spot the signs. My eyes were attracted to a woman in the queue, about my age. She looked nervous and agitated, slightly shifty. In a coffee shop queue? As she approached the seating area she caught my eye and I nodded. She looked shy and sheepish, as if I was about to berate her. She looked slightly sweaty, not in a post-exercise, red faced healthy kind of way but rather as if she was coming down with 'flu. (Though to be fair, this may indeed have been the case.) I wondered if she was hungover. I wondered if she felt lucky to have had wine the night before knowing that I had not. I wondered if she felt sorry for me, being 'unable' to drink, as I felt previously towards the sober population. (How could non drinker Andy Murray celebrate his first Grand Slam win properly without a drink? Such a shame. Surely that would take the shine off his victory? I honestly believed this.)

After a few preliminary opening remarks, I brought up the topic of alcohol in the way someone had once done for me. When I didn't know where to begin I was relieved when a stranger said 'Let me tell you my story' so I did the same and from that point on our conversation flowed. It sounds a little condescending, but truthfully I felt so happy I recognised everything she said and I had to stop myself from repeating 'I used to be like that', 'I used to do that', and to let her talk. It was good to be reminded of just how despairing those days were, and in her it showed. Her demeanour was one of despair. Her posture, her tone of voice and her turn of phrase were those of someone who felt lost in a maze, helpless and bewildered, unsure what strategy to try next, wondering if she would ever escape.

I had been there many times. My strategies had not worked and I was more than worried, I was a little scared I could not escape. During my last hangover I was scared that if it was not enough to stop me drinking, what ever would make it happen?

Failure was not an option. 

I did not allow myself the luxury of thinking through a variety of outcomes and eventualities. I had to succeed. I did succeed. And I continue to succeed. I succeed at not having any wine, today. Simple.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Holiday Time

Tomorrow is my last day of holidays. I've only had one real wistful pang for wine this time. It didn't last long and it was easy to distract myself until it passed. 

I have made things easy for myself though. I've avoided the bars and caf├ęs where drinks are served at sundown and the food service has not yet started. 

My OH has had a few beers. That is, one beer on a few nights. Watching him have one beer with his meal then make a cup of tea reminds me how I could not drink like that. I know if I ever give it an inch it will take a mile and more. 

So, one more day equals two more ice creams and two more chocolate treats before back on the dieting bandwagon on Monday. 

Hope you are all happy and sober this weekend too. 
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