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Off Piste

I organised a party for my husband’s 50th birthday and my son’s 18th. We had it yesterday. It was lovely. Loads of family and friends getting together and catching up for the afternoon. A group of us carried on in a local pub with more friends joining later.

I have to be honest. I did drink a couple of glasses of wine. There are no excuses and I’m not beating myself up today. I’m also not about to throw away all the planning and prep that’s been happening this past few days.

I’m continuing with my plan to not drink. I’m remaining on that path even though I went off piste a little. Today I will not drink 😊

Love Claire

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Time to get the tools back out.

Well, I made it to day 2 so there’s my first success on this journey. I have been thinking about some of the tools I used last time I did this, digging out the tool box and replenishing it.

The Blogging Community

This was by far the most useful and valuable tool I had at my disposal. Both posting on my own blog and reading other’s posts was immensely supportive. The interaction between myself and other bloggers who were either sober, trying to achieve sobriety or simply struggling with some of the mental health issues I have experienced was the thing that stopped me drinking and kept me off it. I think it’s no coincidence for me that my decline into drinking again coincided with my withdrawal from word press and the blogging community.

Acts of self care

I have really learnt a lot about self care over recent years. What it means, why it’s important and how it is very personal to each individual. Once I started drinking again my commitment to self care waned. My daily yoga routine is gone. I spend less time planning lovely healthy meals turning to snacks instead. I start to reach for my phone rather than my book or my cross stitch. No more happy evenings with a jigsaw puzzle or taking time to meditate. I am tired and groggy a lot of the time, even when I don’t drink the night before. In that frame of mind, self care goes out of the window. It is vital to ensure you create space for yourself and develop positive habits that structure your day and calm your mind. The bath, with a few candles and soothing music. That was a huge treat for me. Cost of living means baths are a luxury but if I’m not buying alcohol, I can use the money for my bath instead.

Self Compassion

Ooh this is such a lovely idea but so very difficult to cultivate a practice of self compassion. The book by Kristen Neff, titled ‘Self Compassion’ literally changed my life. It had such a positive impact on my mental health and reduced the rumination and anxiety that led to craving alcohol. We are human, we make mistakes and we have to hold those mistakes in a space of kindness for ourselves. Drinking inhibits my ability to be compassionate with myself and when I’m hard on myself I become depressed and want to drink. So the cycle continues.

KRISTEN NEFF
Planning ahead

I found being prepared was essential in achieving sobriety and remaining sober. Having the words ready when I was challenged as to why I’d stopped drinking (and boy was I challenged, a lot!), knowing what I’d drink when I got to a place or an event, taking my own drinks if possible, and planning a ‘get away’ excuse in case I started to struggle. I eventually didn’t need to do this planning as much because I didn’t really have cravings. Reflecting now however, a few months before I fell off the wagon, I did start to think about trying alcohol again in certain situations, and allowed myself to imagine it. So inevitably my resilience began to waver and I was less prepared and focussed. I had an evening out and before I knew it I was just trying ‘one’ . I don’t need to tell anyone here where ‘one’ leads do I?

Sober literature

I relied heavily on reading as much as I could about sobriety, about alcohol and alcohol addiction and about anxiety, depression and addiction. I learnt so much but I believe the real value is in creating a regular habit of dipping into this information, either in books, articles, podcasts, blogs etc. It reaffirms why you are sober and why you choose not to drink. It strengthens resolve and once I stopped accessing this information on a regular basis my resolve weakened quickly. Lots of literature and information to hand is an absolute must for me.

What now?

My tool box needs updating and replenishing. There will be new things to add and old things to rekindle. That’s fine. To start with I know I need to put the following in place:

  • Blog daily and re engage with the blogging community
  • Incorporate acts of self care on a daily basis
  • Practice self compassion regularly
  • Get prepared and plan ahead
  • Rediscover sober literature .. old and new

Hopefully the rest will follow …

Love Claire

Sobriety Update

Taken on my birthday weekend visit to the Peak District

I guess one of my first ‘dipping my toe back in the water’ posts should be an update on my sobriety Alcohol consumption is the very reason I found myself here in November 2019, desperately searching for answers, support and reassurance. As I built up my sober tribe and my community of support, I dumped the booze and began a journey of self discovery.

That all sounds very touchy-feely and ‘woo woo’ I know, but I have learnt so much about anxiety, depression, the benefits of self-compassion, trauma in childhood, patterns formed from the trauma, numbing, leaning into vulnerability …. the list is endless. I am slowly unpicking it all and getting stronger daily. I have to be totally honest, I am not 100% sober anymore. I recently decided to have one glass of wine. It was a decision I took a long time to make and I have some very large and strict caveats to trying this out. I know it is unlikely I can moderate. When I use the term ‘moderate’ I am talking about a glass of wine every couple of months if that. The moment I begin to ‘think’ about it, or enter into a conversation with my wine witch … I am going tea total.

When I gave up drinking I didn’t have a plan. I said ‘not today’ but I could never say ‘never again’. I reached 26 mths sober but I’d stopped counting time tbh. I have had two glasses of wine in the past 3 mths and it’s been fine. I haven’t wanted more and I certainly haven’t thought about it again. I am fully prepared to completely stop again but like many others my curiosity got the better of me. I don’t advise it to anyone else as I know the return to alcohol addiction is an extremely high probability. I have enormous support around me who check in with me daily and I am working with my therapist through this. I am also fully aware that I may just be kidding myself and any form of moderation is impossible for me.

So, there we have it. Cards on the table. I will keep being honest and open in my posts and continue to support anyone if I can.

By the way, I am in touch with Jim if anyone remembers him? He’s still very much sober and doing really well!

Claire x

Half a Century

Gosh, after all this time I’m not sure where to start. I won’t try and fit it all into one post. I’ll take my time. Slowly does it and all that.

It’s funny really. I feel quite nervous writing a post again. What’s that all about? Maybe I’ve forgotten how you do it, the sorts of things to talk about. What if all my blogging buddies have disappeared? 🥹 Maybe I’ve let people down by being absent!

First off, I have really missed everyone. My blogging tribe, sober or not, have been so important to me over the past few years. My life line on more than one occasion. I want to spend some time catching up with everyone, reading their blogs and picking up with my community once more. Therein lies the rub! ‘Time’. I seem to have had very little of it recently and I have been racing through life at high speed. So much going on and days turning into weeks, months and then bam 💥 a year has passed!

This past year has been tough. I know anyone who has followed my blog will be aware of my ongoing challenges at work and the inequality and discrimination issues I had been facing. I also reduced my antidepressants last summer and stopped taking them altogether in August. Sadly, around late November last year, I entered into another period of severe depression caused by work stress. I was signed off sick from work and took almost 3 months off. I restarted SSRIs … double the dose … and began (very expensive) therapy with a fabulous psychologist. I remained totally alcohol free and hit my 2 year sober anniversary on November 16th.

I have worked so hard to get back to good health. I have read so much literature on all kinds of things to help support my therapy and progress. I’ll share some of it over the coming months. It’s been quite a journey. I’m back in work. I’m managing much better nowadays and I think I have a far better understanding of my triggers, my behaviours and my responses than I ever had. I remain on high alert, making self care a priority and ensuring I practice self compassion. I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with this WP community once more.

Oh … and I turned 50 on May 3rd! 👵🏻 (hence the title)

Love Claire x

HELLOOOOOOO

This is going to be the shortest post ever from me. I wanted to say ‘hello’ and let you all know I’m doing ok. I’m going to catch up on everyone’s blogs and posts over the next few weeks and then I’ll write a few of my own.

As my lovely friend @jaquelyn3534 would say … “I’ve missed y’all”

Love Claire ❤️

Rollercoaster

https://unsplash.com/@supergios

Hello fellow bloggers … soberitsas, drinkers and all those in between. Today has been a pretty fabulous day. Don’t get me wrong, I am currently lying in a bubble bath feeling like my whole body has given up on me. I can’t move, can barely speak and I feel so darn tired I could fall asleep and drown! “What has led Claire to this decrepit but jubilant state?” I hear you all cry. One word … Rollercoasters.

Well, actually 5 words in truth. ‘Rollercoasters with my two boys’. Yep, I took them to a theme park. Alton Towers is a pretty famous park here in the UK and it has some BIG rides. The kind that every thrill seeker loves. Perfect for two teenage adrenaline junkies. So the three of us woke early, packed up our lunch and suncream (today was going to be a hot one!) and off we went. We arrived early, well before any of the rides kicked off, parked up and headed for the first ride of the day. Wicker Man. Fast, furious with so many ups and downs, you can’t catch your breath. No, the similarities to my life a few years back did not go unobserved 😊

I know some people just don’t like high thrill, scary rollercoaster rides. I can fully understand that. My two boys, however, totally LOVE them. The faster, higher, more upside down turns, the better. They used to be slightly nervous before going on but now they have not a single anxious moment. Pure excitement flows from every pore. It’s wonderful to watch and experience with them. And yes, of course I go on them all too. What kind of adrenaline junkie, thrill seeking, addictive person would I be if I didn’t?

It was truly great. We rode them all and a few of them more than once. There was a moment around lunch where I gazed wistfully at others taking a break, sitting on the grass or picnic benches, enjoying their food in a very civilised manner. Not us! Not a chance! You snooze, you lose, with my two. Onwards and upwards. Go forth into the battle!! Sitting down was for rides only (apart from the one where we were suspended face down for the entire journey around the rails!). Queues are there for consuming lunch. No time to waste. We went upside down, backwards, 0 to 60 from the get go, higher than you can imagine, vertical drops. We even flew! You name it, we did it.

I am absolutely exhausted. I have no voice left from so much screaming. We have walked 20,000 steps and more. My right leg is currently unable to move. But boy do I feel happy.

I was present for the entire day. Not once did I long to go and sit somewhere to have a glass of wine or a cold beer. I did everything the boys did. We laughed and joked when waiting. We looked out for each other on the rides. I didn’t think about getting home early to open a bottle and ‘relax’. When some rides temporarily closed for no known reason, I didn’t freak and feel stressed that the day wasn’t running to schedule. They dictated the schedule. They led, I followed. It was freakin’ awesome.

This is what sobriety is for. This is what it’s about. It isn’t the physical act of not drinking alcohol. It’s the life experiences you can relish and savour once you no longer focus your entire existence around drinking (or trying not to drink). I spent so much of my life, and my children’s lives, pent up, stressed and worried. I wanted everything to ‘work’ and be ‘just right’. I often drank to help me relax about the plan or the schedule. That was a neat trick, until it wasn’t. It made life worse in all truth. I was less present. Less of a ‘mum’. Far less fun. Now I have finally learnt I already have the ability to ‘let go’ without needing a crutch. I had the tools inside me all the time. Yes, it’s a rollercoaster and yes, it’s bloody scary. But I’m here, I’m awake and it’s completely exhilarating!

Claire x

Control Freak

Learning to ‘go with the flow’

I am a control freak. Well I always believed I was anyway. Right up until 4 years ago when I had what I can only describe as a breakdown which subsequently led to my giving up alcohol.

My ‘breakdown’ – which was really just a build up of years of stress, over-worry, being busy busy busy, doing far too much, huge anxiety and poor coping mechanisms – meant that I had to let go of control. My brain and body formed a pow wow and said “this can’t go on, she cannot live this way a moment longer!” and bam 💥 they went into their own little lockdown. I still managed to continue to work (loosely) and also to drink (obviously) but I did very little else. I sometimes partied with friends and then consequently stayed in bed all the next day. I sometimes drank at home and then when I wasn’t drinking, I was lying in bed. I dragged myself into work and when I came home, yep, you got it, bed. Sometimes I’d sleep, often I would just lie there, staring into space, living inside my own head.

I turned from someone who had their finger on the pulse of every aspect of life to a person who really couldn’t care less. Where I once was the most organised, ‘in control’ mum, friend, daughter, sister and wife …. I became a shell. I totally disengaged from my life and my loved ones. I lost any grip I had on my children’s lives: what they needed; what they ate; what work they had; how they were feeling. I relinquished all control of household and family jobs and planning. I had gone from, not the proverbial ‘sublime’ to the ‘ridiculous’, but rather from ‘the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous’!

Eventually, and thankfully, I got well again. Slowly my mental health improved and I began to engage in life, take an interest and take back some control. I started a course of antidepressants and my life, though far from perfect, was better.

Then, around 2 years later, I got sober. Through sobriety and being able to reflect on my experiences from the breakdown, I learnt that it was OK to not always be in control. That sometimes plans didn’t always happen as they should and letting the unknown unfold could bring joy and happiness too. I realised I had so often ruined days out or family events by allowing the crushing disappointment I felt when my expectations hadn’t been met to cloud everything else. And for everyone else I might add! I began to understand that one of the reasons I drank was to help me feel less weighed down by my expectations and my need to control circumstances. Once I drank, I cared much less about the plan and if things weren’t going according to it. I could let it all go. It was a crutch for dealing with the anxiety and stress that comes with needing that level of control and perfection. Just like it was a crutch for dealing with so many other tricky feelings and emotions.

I still have a need to control and organise. I am,however, now able to take a step back and I can appreciate the calm sensation of letting go of the reins. I always thought I was naturally a ‘stressed’ person, a born ‘organisation freak’. That was my personality, it was who I was and it was set in stone. If the last four years have taught me anything it’s that that absolutely nothing in life is set in stone. We don’t have to continue to be a certain something or someone if it makes us feel unhappy or miserable. We can learn to function another way and ‘going with the flow’, finding positives in the unexpected and embracing a feeling of calm is who I want to be and what I want to do.

Looking back, my advice now would be to listen and pay attention to the things your body and brain are trying to telling you. There are no bonus points for being so busy you are about to break. Feeling frazzled all the time is no fun at all. Worrying excessively and trying to control for every eventuality does not mean the worst won’t happen. An outing can be just as fun if it doesn’t quite follow your agenda. It is absolutely fine to let your children eat nuggets and chips for yet another night because you are exhausted. Take that bath, give them beans on toast for tea and if their school clothes are creased … so what! If the birthday cake is shop bought and not home made … good for you! Let go of perfect, ‘good enough’ is great. I know it’s easy to say and not so easy to action, but I tell you this: the impact on your life by continuing to live this way can be devastating. Don’t take the risk. Don’t make the same mistakes as I did. Let it go!

Claire x

Piece by piece

I have been away on my holibobs. We went up to stay in a converted barn in the North East of England, just south of Durham and north of Yorkshire. We went with both sets of the boy’s Grandparents. Some may say that was lovely, others would call it brave. A few may consider it sheer lunacy. My parents and my in-laws actually get on very well and I find being away less stressful when we are with both sets rather than one. I suppose I find some free time and space for me if I’m not under the microscope. That said, it is quite an undertaking!

The cottage/barn was advertised as being on a ‘working’ farm. In reality, it was on a bit of a building site where a new housing estate was being developed. The ‘farmers’ had clearly sold all the farm land to a housing development company and all that was left was the farmhouse and our ‘shed’. The accommodation itself was lovely. Spacious and comfortable with a hot tub in the garden. The ‘village’ that was within walking distance did not really resemble a village and was pretty much deserted the whole time. All very strange. All a little random. Still, we ventured out each day and saw some beautiful scenery. The coast, long sandy beaches, waterfalls, gorgeous moors and countryside and stunning villages. Loads to do and see. Plenty to keep the over 70s and under 18s happy. Very poor WiFi which was a big negative for many but we survived.

On the first day we arrived, we unpacked and I watched my husband and his Dad grab their first beer, clink glasses and say ‘cheers’. Then my Dad joined in with his beer and the two Grandmas enjoyed a large goblet style glass of wine each. One white, the other red. There was lots of “… and relax” and ‘the holiday starts here …” type comments. I suddenly started to panic. I didn’t think I was going to be ok with this. There was a real sense of ‘group drink’ and I really bloody missed alcohol. I couldn’t ask them to stop but how was I going to cope? I began to get upset and dread the week ahead. Then, out of the blue, I considered drinking. Just for the week. For social purposes. My little addict voice told me all sorts of convincing reasons as to why this was a great idea. I wanted to relax and chill out. I didn’t want to be the dull grey person who would, in all reality, rather sit on her own, eating chocolate and drinking tea, whilst doing a jigsaw. Why not just do what the others do and enjoy it? It’s a bloody holiday for goodness sake!

Then my Dad began to irritate me a bit. Well, quite a lot actually. I always feel disloyal when I blog about my parents. I’ve said before that I love them and I know they really, really love me. They are just quite difficult at times. In different ways. My Dad is the most tricky though. He is a know it all. He has a comment on every subject and strong opinions to go with that. He’s fundamentally a misogynist as well as having other opinions that tip into the offensive and prejudiced categories. He has diluted this over the years but it’s always there. He monopolises conversations, rarely listens to others and is constantly in ‘impress’ mode. It is immensely annoying. Well, I find it annoying. I get snappy and a bit mean, which I know upsets him. We have had some huge fights and arguments over the years and they all had one thing in common. Booze. Lots of it. He would get louder and more obnoxious and I would get nastier and very intolerant. It wasn’t a pretty sight or experience.

So this holiday, on the first night, instead of pushing the ‘all systems go go go … let’s drink!’ button, I took my foot right off the pedal. I had a bath. I read some of my book ‘the happiness project’ by Gretchen Rubin (which I highly recommend) and made the decision that drinking would only make what was already going to be challenging, much much harder to bear. I poured a cup of tea. I went to watch tv with my eldest son and by this point the grandmas had stopped drinking alcohol. They joined me with cups of tea. The evening passed uneventfully and no argument occurred. No regrets and recriminations in the morning.

It remained the same for the entire week. I took my time out when I needed it. Not always easy when the mum and mum in law want to follow you around and sit with you and talk to you. ALL THE TIME! I completed a jigsaw and in the end all adults were clambering to get pieces in. I adored being with my boys and eventually I became less snappy and I relaxed. I did it without the help of alcohol. I found other ways to get my kicks. They might sound boring to some but they are how I find happiness and peace nowadays. No longer in a wine bottle. It’s in the nuggets of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Who knew? 🤷‍♀️

Claire x

Getting myself sober; the ups and downs