It’s school but not as we know it.

I want to share this post from Gary. It made me smile today and I hope it does the same for you 😊.

Most definitely Autumn. Most definitely the last week before the half term school week. It’s an odd time. Our son is trying to do classroom schooling…

It’s school but not as we know it.

Boredom and bikes

I haven’t written recently mainly because I haven’t had too much to write about. No naval gazing or soul searching to speak of and, much like the rest of the world, opportunities to head out and find excitement and interest are few and far between. Work occupies most of my weekdays and my weekends consist of house cleaning, reading, watching tv and not much else. I’m not complaining but it is a strange kind of existence.

I have been thinking that I need a new focus. Something outside of work and something that takes me outside and away from my bed, sofa and iPad. I’d love to have a dog but I need to be realistic about that. Though I am working from home quite a lot right now, that won’t always be the case and the rest of the family are out everyday. It seems that the world and his wife are all getting dogs. Every second conversation I have with someone they tell me they are about to have a new puppy. It is definitely on my bucket list but not for a good few years yet. I have to shelve that one for now.

So, it was back to the drawing board and I hatched a new plan. Last week I bought a new bike. It arrives in a couple of weeks (yes it is the bike in the photo) and it cost me more than I ever dreamt I’d spend on a bike. I’m not big into cycling but I want a hobby that I am able to do on my own as well as with my family. My Dad also adores cycling and I’m hoping it is an interest we can share and participate in together, even with the strictest of restrictions in place. I’m excited for it to arrive and hoping it lifts me out of my ‘meh’ mood. I used to run a few times a week but that has fizzled out. I still practice yoga every day and I am loving it but I need something more. I can feel boredom creeping in and for me boredom is very dangerous. It brings with it risks to my mental health, it triggers unhelpful behaviours and negative thoughts and is generally a state of being that I need to prevent and avoid.

I have also picked up my cross stitch again. I have such a complicated piece going on that mistakes are all too easy to make. Unpicking is not fun but when I hit my flow I find it really quite relaxing. It keeps me from reaching for the wine so that’s got to be positive. I started the current project last Christmas, intending it for a baby’s christening present in February. It’ll be about ready for her 18th birthday by the time I’m finished. It’s the thought that counts I guess.

Slowly but surely …

Does anyone else struggle with boredom? It isn’t that I find it tricky to be in my own company. Quite the opposite. I do worry however that I could become too introverted and lock myself away within a virtual world. I am aware that whilst boredom is not good for me, I am becoming less and less motivated to engage in physical ‘in person’ social contact. I noticed that was happening before the pandemic hit us. Removing alcohol removed my desire to mix and socialise. Or maybe it just removed my desire to mix and socialise with others who are drinking. I don’t really know. Something has altered within though and I need to be careful it doesn’t lead to unhealthy levels of solitude and eventually loneliness and isolation. I’m am always grateful I have this blog and my word press friends. This community helps me connect and engage which is so important, especially in the current climate. And who knows, in a few weeks you might see me whizzing around on my bike. Laura Trott … eat your heart out. 😊

Claire x

Sixteen

It’s my son’s 16th Birthday today. 16 years ago I was a completely different person. My little bundle of joy, and need, and wind, and poo, was about to arrive and change my life forever.

16 years. I was 32. I’d been married just over a year. Been in our house for two. The house was much smaller than it is now. I, on the other hand, was HUGE! A tiny 7lb baby and I’d managed to somehow gain almost 4 stone. I’m surprised he didn’t come out looking like a chunky KitKat!

16 years. Maternity leave stretching ahead of me. Sat contemplating what life would be like (it was all very organised as I had a Caesarean section due to him being breech. He has always liked to buck the trend). I had taken the planning for his arrival to ridiculous levels. Mrs Extreme strikes again! Pages and pages of handwritten feeding charts, buoyed on by the immense amount literature I had read. Get into a routine immediately. Don’t let people pass him around. Feed at these times only. Leave him to cry. Blah blah blah. I was going to be the ‘perfect’ mum and do it 150% right. Ha! 4 months later, post natal depression in full swing, it was not quite as I anticipated.

16 years. A baby that would not stop crying in the day. A life at home I struggled to get used to. Missing work, missing my social life. Feeling like I hadn’t bonded with my baby. He was all I’d ever wanted in life and I couldn’t enjoy it. We made it through those dark days. I refer to a particularly bad period as ‘Bleak January’. We survived together. He was an adorably cute toddler. Blonde curls and such fun and energy. Learning to walk. Learning to swim. Learning to be a person in his own right.

16 years. 15 of them spent drinking. Increasing amounts as the years went on. It’s 5pm, is it too early to start? It’s a Wednesday evening, I’ll open a bottle … end of my working week now. Out for lunch dates with mums. Glass or two of Prosecco to wash it down. May as well carry on through the evening. So many new friends and a social life that was booming. Dinner parties at home that became drunken evenings of dancing and singing (screaming loudly). It was fun though. The hangovers weren’t. 5am starts, lying on the sofa with him next to me, watching CBeebies. The colours, the enthusiasm of the presenters, the noise! No more hangovers now thankfully. Plus a son that is proud of my sobriety and happily tells all his friends that his mum doesn’t drink.

16 years. Nursery. Primary school. Secondary school. New friends. New hobbies. New sports. Xbox. Swearing. I have never heard such bad language used within one sentence when that machine is on. Suddenly he is 5ft 10 with size 9 feet and so very independent. Planning driving next year. Planning a law degree. Planning his own life.

16 years. Two children. Two extensions. Three guineapigs. Countless hangovers. 324 days of sobriety. One period of post natal depression. One diagnosis of anxiety and depression. 2 promotions. One pandemic. One caravan. Two amazing trips to the US. 16 of my own birthdays. Too many nativity performances and school assemblies. One life.

16 years. 16 glorious, tough, exhausting, amazing, rewarding, challenging, phenomenal years. I’m grateful for them all. Happy Birthday lovely boy. Thank you. 😊

Claire x

I had a dream …

A few days a ago I had a really vivid dream. One of those totally ‘in focus’, acutely clear dreams where you feel you are completely in the experience. Many of my sober gang will know what I am about to say now. Yep, it was dream where I was drinking. It was so realistic. I felt the anticipation of the first sip, the automatic ‘unwind’ as the wine settled into my body, the buzzing effects as the alcohol started to do its stuff. In the dream I was living the experience but at the same time I was also watching it unfold as an observer. Almost like a documentary. I was socialising with a variety of different people. I was on form. Chatty (outspoken), sharply funny (mean and gossipy) and full of wit and wisdom (boring and opinionated).

I watched myself become embroiled in drama and physically felt the lack of control as my behaviour and reactions began to cause situations to escalate. Different people in my life made guest appearances and I found I was in circumstances that developed in ways I was not happy with. Reliving situations that have happened to me during my drinking days.

The most tangible aspect of the dream was the experience of waking the next morning. I don’t mean ‘actually’ waking, but dreaming I had woken up. I felt that crushing sense of shame as I remembered what I had done and said. The itchy skin feeling I used to experience when it dawned on me that I couldn’t undo what had been done. Feeling sick with wine swilling around my body and feeling sick with remorse and guilt swilling around my brain and heart. Horrendous.

This used to be my life. Not always but often. I have to say the overwhelming and intense emotions and feelings I used to experience were, for the most part, completely over the top. I generally didn’t deserve to direct such anger at myself. I had rarely behaved ‘that’ badly. It didn’t matter though. It was a pattern and a hard habit to break. I have come to realise I really had no self respect or self compassion and I could not, and would not, give myself a break.

The dream was so real. It stayed with me all day. I kept thinking about it. Revisiting those old feelings. It absolutely reaffirmed why I gave up my once beloved wine and why I remain sober. Nowadays, even when I have struggled with depression or anxiety, I still like myself. I can honestly say, in the latter years of drinking, I did not like me. I could see that I had skills and abilities but I did not like my very core. If your opinion of yourself is that low, you are vulnerable. It taints your view of what other people do and say and colours the things that happen around you. It adds a negative lens to life. Removing alcohol hit the pause button. It gave me the space and ability to work out that change is possible and that sober I could be pretty awesome! The negative lens does not switch to a positive lens, rather it becomes a ‘realistic’ lens. I still reflect on situations, my behaviour and reactions but I have the ability to recognise when comments, circumstances and others’ behaviours are absolutely nothing to do with me. What is apparent is that in sober life, it is rarely to do with me.

Making these changes has taken work. Calm, compassion and gratitude take practice. Integrating them into daily life is a challenge some days but was an essential part of me starting to like me. I haven’t always been aware that change is happening but I can see now that it has. I have had to show up day after day and live with feelings and emotions, thoughts and situations that, quite frankly, scare the shit out of me. I’ve had to take responsibility for past behaviour, accept it and move on. But oh! the freedom when you are able to do that. That’s what sobriety brings. Freedom. No crutch required. No prop needed. I have all the resources inside of myself. Yep. Freedom.

Claire x

Sunny thoughts

Today is fairly cold but the sky is clear blue and I have been able to sit out in the sun. It’s been another quiet day with yoga, a family walk and then reading my Brené Brown, ‘The gifts of imperfection’, book in the garden. I have to admit I’m really enjoying it and learning loads. I keep re-reading chapters, highlighting sections and making notes on certain aspects of it. Much of what she says makes sense to me but there is a lot of info in there so I am taking my time.

I have almost completed the online CBT course I was registered for when I self referred to the local mental health service. I’m not particularly impressed and I knew much of what it has told me anyway. I’m currently waiting for 6 sessions of more specific one to one counselling, focusing on my relationships. Most specifically, focusing on my relationship with my husband. I have absolutely no idea what will happen there and I am slightly daunted by the prospect but I’m willing to try anything. I suspect he and I should really be attending the sessions together but that would mean an acceptance that I want to resolve things. In reality I think I would like to find a way that we can continue to live as a family for the next couple of years, without destroying each other and then decide what is best for us in the longer term. Maybe that’s terribly naive of me but at the moment I am not ready to face up to the devastation and trauma of splitting up. I guess the counselling might help me work some of this stuff out. This is all part of growing and changing I guess.

A year ago I was planning my trip to Vietnam. I went out there for just over 10 days with colleagues to work for a charity to deliver cleft care. God I was nervous but really excited. I’d never done anything like that before. I’d never been away from the boys for longer than a few days. It was an amazing experience and I learnt so much. Sadly we weren’t able to return this year due to Covid. I do hope all our colleagues and the families are doing ok. I wish I could have returned as my sober self. I worked really hard out there but I also drank a lot. Looking back, I know I was on edge and living on my nerves (if you know what I mean). I can only recognise that now because I have experienced calm and peace this last year. I did not have calm and peace back then. I returned totally knackered because I had burnt the candle at both ends. I don’t feel I gave my all to those families and I wanted to go again, to have one more shot and be the best I could be. Maybe one day …

It was after my return from Vietnam that I began to read about sobriety and started looking into alcohol and the effects of long term alcohol addiction. I’m approaching a year sober in November and I honestly can’t believe it. Claire of September 2019 would absolutely never have believed it. Just goes to show, we never know what is around the corner. The whole world has turned upside down and inside out since I headed off for that trip of a lifetime on October 3rd last year. My little world has also done the same. But I’m still here. I’m surviving, I’m sober and I’m sitting in the sun.

Claire x

Broken!

I haven’t posted for over a week. I had a few ideas and was planning to get down to business at the weekend but my eldest had a bike accident. He and I ended up spending 5 hours in A&E on Saturday following an ambulance ride and some tricky moments trying to help him walk out of the park to reach said ambulance. We were looked after really well though and after 2 xrays, manipulation and reset of bones, gas and air, a lot of giggling and random chat from B and one large plaster we were allowed home. Fractured wrist, right arm (yep he is right handed) and no sport for at least 3 months.

He is in his GCSE year, he has also taken PE GCSE so this is not great news. He is in the middle of completing his silver Duke of Edinburgh award (with regular biking as one of the challenges) and it is his 16th birthday in 2 weeks time. The icing on the cake is that we have bought him a mountain bike and football boots for his birthday. You couldn’t write it!

I am however supremely grateful and relieved that he is ok. He was coming down a hill in our local park when a little girl (around 3 years old) ran out in front of him. He slammed on his brakes and flew over the handlebars. He could have been much more seriously injured. The little girl too. So, we will manage. He is impressing me with his resilience and his need to be independent throughout. I know he is massively disappointed that he isn’t able to play football for his team, go for his squash games or get out on his bike. He can’t even play his xbox! He hasn’t moaned or complained, though I’m sure that will happen. I am extremely proud of his maturity and behaviour in dealing with it all. The little nuggets of information he shared whilst inhaling copious quantities of gas are to be kept for a special occasion I think!

When his dad called me on Saturday afternoon to tell me Ben had come off his bike, for a split second my heart and the world stopped. I imagined the absolute worst and it shook me to my core. I felt intense relief when I found them and could see he was battered, bruised, pale and broken but alive and breathing. He and his brother are my world.

So, I am doing ok. I will admit, there were a couple of times I thought about having a glass of wine and how much I ‘could do with one’. Once home, I poured an AF wine, took two sips and then switched to a cup of tea and mounds of chocolate. It did a better job to be honest. I don’t need to numb the emotions triggered by these type of events anymore. I can sit with them, deal with them and process them. In fact, the events of last weekend have given me more to add to my gratitude list, which is becoming longer day by day.

Claire x

Exceptional

Today has been an exceptional day. Not exceptional in that anything particular has happened. I haven’t won the lottery or landed my dream job (not even sure what that would be tbh). I’ve not done anything particularly exciting or achieved a huge gold star of accomplishment. It was a Monday, it was a non working day and it was a day I spent (mostly) alone. So why exceptional?

Our kitchen floor was being taken up, re-surfaced and prepared for new flooring later in the week. I couldn’t really make any plans so I didn’t. Once the boys went off to school, I settled down to do a 40 minute yoga session. It was tough and my legs ached but it felt really good. I pottered around a little, catching up with blogs and the news. I had an errand to run and because I’d not been able to grab a coffee this morning, I decided to buy a takeout one and head to the park. Weatherwise it was a beautiful day. Sunny and warm. I found a bench and sat with my cuppa and some nuts (don’t ask), watching birds fly about and ducks paddle on the lake. It was an extremely pleasant half an hour.

I managed to clean bathrooms and bedrooms in the afternoon but we still couldn’t go into the kitchen and therefore the garden. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I decided once the boys were in and doing homework to go for a long walk alone. I took my earphones and listened to a Brené Brown podcast. It was fascinating. I discovered that in times of anxiety I ‘do’ to avoid feeling and that ‘calm’ needs to be practised. It doesn’t always come naturally but it can be developed. I learnt some great strategies for practicing calm. It was a great feeling to walk, listen and learn.

Since we couldn’t cook due to not having a functioning oven I ordered pizza for the boys and my husband. I rustled something else up for me … still trying to reduce those carbs! We watched a little of the Tour De France. I started to think about work which triggered some anxiety. The outstanding job situation remains unresolved and I have been avoiding addressing it. Instead of allowing the thoughts and feelings to spiral, I decided to try a short yoga session. More of a relaxing one which ended with some really structured deep breathing at the end, whilst lying down with my head on a pillow and my legs wrapped in a blanket. Oh boy, it was bliss. I felt so relaxed on that mat I could’ve stayed there for hours. I didn’t want to get back up. I was so lost in the moment.

So right now it’s just past 9.30pm and I’m in my pyjamas and in bed. I’ve had limited social contact today. The day has instead been one of self learning, self care and (dare I say it) self love. That’s what made it exceptional. I have never before spent a day in this way and it was wonderful.

Claire x

The most social contact I had today!

Teenage Troubles

I want to be a good mum. Actually, I want to be a great mum, one of the best and I want my my boys to really connect with me. I didn’t, however, anticipate what I was in for with teenage years. I can’t stop looking back at photos of their cute little faces and curly blonde hair. Scrumptious, sweet, adorable cherubs and they adored me.

Not so much adoring going on now. Lots of doors closing in my face and sulky, sullen exchanges of words. Other people always comment on what a lovely and polite boy my eldest is, which is great to hear and I’m so proud of him for that. Sadly, I don’t see much of that side of him at home. He generally can be seen rolling his eyes, completely irritated by my presence. When did I become so uncool?

What I didn’t appreciate when I was a teenager was how much my mum and dad had to bite their tongues to stop themselves from lowering to my base level. The temptation to stamp my feet, say something really spitefully sarcastic and add a swear word for effect is huge. It’s a level of self control I never knew I had and I don’t always manage to have it either. My 13 year old has not reached quite the same level of ‘teenage’ communication yet but it will come I am sure. My eldest, B, is 16 in a few weeks. I was in his way in the kitchen today. He had earphones in and he just snarled. Literally snarled at me. I’m not kidding. If looks could kill I’d be a gonner. Then off he stomped to his bedroom, Xbox on and the door firmly shut. The strange thing is that at other times he is clearly still a child. My baby. He will forget himself occasionally and “mummy” will slip out instead of “mum” or “oy!”. He’s generally not keen on any touchy feely stuff but if I am sad then he has no problem with giving me a hug. It’s the moments where it feels as though he really doesn’t like me that are the hardest. I guess that’s what we sign up for when we become parents. Doesn’t make it any easier when your time comes though.

My role seems different now. It’s to parent from a distance maybe. To gently guide but not dictate or control. To allow him space to find his own way and begin to develop his adult personality. To let him separate from me but continue to provide security and reassurance. He needs an environment where he can take some risks knowing that there is a safety net of his family to catch him if he needs it. Goodness it’s complex when you write it down. I know I am never going to get it right all the time but I’ll do my best and my best means doing it sober. B still remembers the rubbish I used to spout when I’d been drinking. He’s repeated it back to me on a couple of occasions. I’m so relieved that doesn’t happen any longer.

I’m not a perfect parent but I doubt anyone is. I lose my temper, try to control too much and sometimes withdraw. I love them both with all my heart and watching them grow into young adults is a bitter sweet experience. So proud of them and happy they are independent and confident, but at the same time wanting them to stay little and close to me. Yep, these teenage years are tricky to navigate but I am facing them head on. I am not wallowing in a fog of booze and drowning my sorrows. Instead, I am clear and awake. I am experiencing the good times and finding the positives, of which, my friends, there are many.

Claire x

ps. The title photo is B’s self portrait for a lockdown task set by his uncle. Pretty cool eh?

Loss

I wrote this post in response to a request for submissions on someone else’s blog. The idea was to write about what grief means for us as individuals. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t posted but as it was already written, I thought I’d publish it on my own blog anyway.

I haven’t really had to cope with grief over the loss of a loved one. I mean, I have lost my grandparents which was very sad and I have attended funerals and observed others’ grief. Raw and real. I haven’t been though it myself though and I am thankful for that. I know my time will come. 
Loss comes to us in many ways though. I have experienced it a few times and the grief process is not an easy one to manage. What can be particularly difficult is when you have chosen the situation that leads to the loss. Then it becomes your own doing and trickier to grieve. What can further complicate matters is when guilt and shame are added into the mix. I look back and it’s no wonder I struggle with my mental health some days. One day I’ll write about it. When I’m brave and ready. 
Today, though, I am contemplating loss of what once was and the loss of potential of what might have been. This can include many things really. Youth and growing older, young love, old love, children growing up and away, friendships ending, marriage changing, family, security, life with alcohol. Many things have come and gone and altered. I look back and there aren’t many people in my life now who were there 15 years ago and likely it will be a similar story in 15 years time. I am not a person that lets go very easily. I absolutely hate saying goodbye. You can imagine how difficult it was to get me to leave a party after I’d been drinking. Another tick for sobriety. Endings make me incredibly sad and I often try to avoid them. It’s important to acknowledge them though and to start the grief process. That’s the only way you can come out the other side. Even when it has really hurt to say goodbye and the pain has been almost unbearable, eventually I am able to reflect back and feel positive about most of the things I have lost, even if the losing was horrible. 
I do wonder sometimes whether is is better not to open ourselves up to further loss. Why continue, when you reach the tender age of 48 and older, to form new friendships and relationships that by the very law of nature will lead to loss? People leave. It’s a fact. Situations change. Another fact. I think I will always continue to look for that connection and friendship with others though, despite feeling the grief of my own personal circumstances right now. If I didn’t reach out to others then I would not have found the support I have received via this blogging community. New friendships are always possible and endings can lead to fresh starts and adventure. So I won’t fear the future because it might bring loss and grief. That would be a life half lived. I’ll be sure to remind myself of this as and when the sun sets on another goodbye.
Claire x

Therapy and mirrors

I had a telephone consultation with my GP (doctor) this morning. He is happy with regards to me starting my antidepressants again and I already referred myself for the NHS counselling service. I have been put on a waiting list for 6 sessions and in addition I am currently following an on line CBT programme. I’m grateful to have access to anything that might help and willing to give things a go. I’m not loving the online course I have to say. There’s a lot of information I already know. My problem seems to be with using the strategies. It’s all very logical and sensible but bloody impossible when you feel like crap and logic and sense have done a runner.

Overall, I haven’t had a lot of success with counselling. I had 6 sessions CBT face to face when I was initially diagnosed as depressed and anxious. This was organised through work. I’d go as far to say, it was a load of rubbish and a waste of time. I hadn’t taken any medication at that point in proceedings and I was in a bit of a state. The lady was lovely but I just said what she wanted to hear. When she suggested I looked at myself in the mirror every morning and say the words ‘I love you’, I just knew we were on a completely different wavelength. After the final session I walked out feeling extremely grateful. Grateful that I didn’t have to go back again!

My next dabble into the wonderful world of therapy was a locally run charity. My cousin had recommended it. There was a long waiting list but after 4 months I had my first session. Unfortunately, within 3 weeks of starting, my mental health hit an all time low and I had stopped eating. I saw the GP again and there was no choice really. Time to medicate. I continued with the counselling and we talked about a whole range of things. It was more helpful than before and certainly, with the antidepressants kicking in, I did feel more positive. That said, though it’s nice to have someone to talk to and not judge, I honestly don’t think it changed anything for me. It was interesting and I learnt a few new things but in terms of it improving how I was feeling or dealing with life stuff, it didn’t. Again, the counsellor, Sharon, felt I had done really well in the sessions and called them to a close. I am really good at talking the ‘counselling and therapy talk’ by the way. I don’t know why I do it because it doesn’t do me a single favour. I still do it though.

This is most definitely a cycle. I stopped the meds not long after this period of counselling because I felt well again. Yup, you guessed it, within 4 months I had re-referred myself back to the same charity and had started sessions again, with a new counsellor, this time a man. A few weeks in, I was back on antidepressants and so it goes on. I think I possibly took more from the counselling that time. He gave me lots to read and research and I learned so much about personal development. By this stage I felt I deserved a degree. I still however could not apply it to myself. Or maybe I just didn’t try. Again, the sessions came to a natural end. I was one of the hardest working clients he’d had. Same old story. Top of the therapy class. Gold star. Still no real progress for me though.

Not long after these sessions finished I gave up drinking alcohol. Interestingly my reliance and addiction to booze had never come up in any of my counselling or therapy sessions. I’d touched on it and I’d always been open and honest about how much I’d been drinking. On reflection I think they dropped the ball with that. Since being sober I have felt so much better. Sure there are times when it’s been horrible to have to experience the emotions without having wine as my crutch but I am more honest with myself and others. I’m not giving up on counselling or therapy, I just not sure what it can give me anymore. Whilst sober and taking antidepressants I can use the information and the strategies and yes, they work. Take away the meds and it’s like I’ve never heard of triggers, behaviours, reframing etc. Maybe I’m not cut out for counselling. Maybe I just haven’t found the right ‘fit’. Maybe it will finally be successful one day. I am absolutely sure of two things though. One, taking the medication only ever really worked when I was sober. Two, I am never going to stand in front of a mirror and say ‘I love you’. Just saying.

Claire x

Getting myself sober; the ups and downs