My name is Claire. I am a mum, a wife and I work for the NHS. For as long as I can remember I have drank alcohol and my relationship with it has become increasingly complex over recent years.
I’m 47 and I want to be physically and mentally healthy. I want to be present in my life and enjoy the journey, not drown it out with wine and hangovers. I have had anxiety and depression and I am still working hard to keep them at bay. I am hoping that not having alcohol will help me beat them.
I have decided to detail how things progress via this blog. I know nothing about blogging but I think support from others is essential. Maybe one day I can help someone with my story.
I started my sober journey on 17th November 2019; long may it continue.
This is a really quick post to let all you lovely people know that I’m ok. Yesterday was an awful day but I survived and I’m a teeny bit calmer this morning.
Thank you for all your amazing comments, support and love yesterday. I can’t tell you how much your kindness helped and how much it meant to have you all here. I was going to delete the post because I felt slightly embarrassed and self pitying but I’ve decided to leave it there. I think it’s important to read the comments when I feel that way again and to remind myself that, no matter how scary it was at the time, I got through it. It may help someone who stumbles across it and connects with the emotions and distress. So it will stay.
Thanks to you all once again. You really are the most amazing group of people. Your love and care for me yesterday was palpable.
I decided I would write this now .. in the middle of what I would describe as an ‘episode’ for me. I’ve been having a few of them over the past couple of days. We tend to always write after the event. Well, this is me. Claire. In the middle of it.
I feel sick. Really nauseous. My head is sore and I have buzzing in my ears. There is a tightness in my chest, it’s restricting my breathing. I can’t stay still. There is no single focus. My brain won’t rest. I’ve tried to work, I’ve tried yoga, I’ve tried lying on my bed and deep breathing. Nothing works. I want to get out of my own body because it’s scary and overwhelming. My skin is itchy, I’m uncomfortable in it. I can’t see a way out and I’m totally alone. I know I have failed. I have misplaced calm and peace. I wanted so much to be well and it appears I’m not.
I want to record this to remind myself how it feels. If I don’t do something about this now the next step is depression because I know my body and mind can only cope with these emotions and physical symptoms for so long. Then it’s total shut down. I’m so so tired of trying.
You can never take your sobriety for granted. Never take your eye off the ball. Don’t assume you are safely through to the other side. That is what I’ve learnt today.
This past week has been full of anxiety triggers for me. Work pressures and stress, the sad loss of a very old family friend, not having been able to see my closest friend for 4 months now (and still likely to be longer) and the outlook and reporting on the news just so bloody bleak. In addition, I am fully med free having spent 4 weeks weaning off my antidepressants. I have had virtually no sleep since Friday, struggling to go off until 2 or 3am and then awake again at 5am. Then, today, for the first time in ages, the unthinkable happened. I wanted a drink.
It wasn’t a romantic, sit by a lake, enjoying a picnic, sipping a glass of Prosecco type of longing. Oh no! It was a full on, fuck this, I want to go and buy two bottles of wine (white or red – I’m not fussy) and drink the whole lot type of craving. Nor was it a, “I’m a bit curious as to whether I can moderate and be able to live with alcohol once again” moment. Nope. It was a, “moderation is for idiots, I’m going to get totally pissed and I don’t care” attitude.
Don’t panic. I haven’t. I went out and bought plants and shrubs for the garden. I bought paint for the utility walls and white spirit to mop up the paint I will undoubtably spill on the floor. I did not treat myself to a Chablis or a Shiraz. I’m not currently lying on my bed half comatose having fallen spectacularly off the wagon. It is however a sign I’m struggling again. What I can’t work out is what is acceptable and ‘normal’? Is it ok to feel anxious because problems, challenges and change are all happening at once? Is it ok that the anxiety is kickstarting my over thinking and subsequently affecting my ability to accurately read and interpret a situation? Is it ok that sleep has suddenly evaded me after achieving a consistent 8hrs every night for months and months? I suppose the question I really want the answer to is this. Is this the return of generalised anxiety disorder and is it directly linked to my coming off the SSRIs? I honestly can’t face it all again.
How long do you wait to find out? What if I’m basically just a stress head and I need to accept it as part of me, rather than blaming it on a mental health illness? Everyone gets stressed. I’m just not sure when my ‘stressed’ tips over into becoming unwell. Mental health is so complex. The interplay between lack of sleep, stress triggers, meds, personality and, let’s not forget, the lovely peri-menopause, makes it hard to tease out the cause and therefore the best way to manage it. I used a word early on in my sobriety. Tangled. It’s such a descriptive word and is exactly how I feel once more. Tangled.
I didn’t drink. I won’t drink. I know it is not the answer. Quite what is, I really have no idea.
Last night I had very little sleep. I received a work email at around 11.30pm and stupidly I looked at it. I won’t go into details but I’m currently in one of those situations where I’ve taken on an additional role, not been paid for it but I wanted to do it to support my team. My grade for my regular post is significantly lower than anyone else doing the same job across the UK anyway and my employers have never been too fussed by that. Anyway, the long and short is the email made me feel incredibly devalued and demotivated. I have made a decision that I won’t continue with the additional role because the offer of any pay increase is minimal in real terms and the trust (I work for the NHS) won’t address any of the issues I have raised. They want me to continue working like a crazy woman but only do the bare minimum to support me. I would be a total mug to carry on.
Many reading this will wonder what the issue is. If the package isn’t right, don’t do it. The problem is more complex than that. When I’m challenged at work and have responsibility for making changes and decisions, although stressful, it motivates me. It actually keeps boredom and depression at bay. I want to make changes and influence our service for the families, children and adults we treat. I get a real buzz from that. It’s only possible to be influential if you are in certain positions and are mixing in certain circles. However, if I continue to invest the same level of time and energy with absolutely no recognition or support, I’ll likely end up struggling with my mental health anyway, just from the stress and resentment alone.
What to do? I don’t have the answer. Maybe it’s time for a change anyway. I’m limited with where I can go with my specialist clinical skill set and location constraints. I’ve considered volunteering for the Samaritans and have applied. I was going to put this on hold due to work pressures and time commitments but maybe that’s the way forward now. I’ve considered further education and completing a masters or even a PhD … finally using research to validate a patient outcome measure I developed years ago. Last night I was so wound up and frustrated at reading the email. This morning I cried big tears as I wrote to the individual whose role I have been covering, informing them I would not be continuing. Now, though I feel sad about the situation, I am already looking ahead and making new plans. I recognise this is so different to where I was a year ago. I’m not hungover, jaded and feeling sorry for myself. I’m calm and I will manage. I am hurting though. Life always seems to throw up little challenges and tests along the way. Decisions to be made. Keeps us on our toes I guess. Dealing with them sober is the only way I can cope. Thank God I am sober.
I’ve had one of my little blogging blocks again recently. I’ve started a post a few times this last week but they haven’t amounted to anything. When that happens I just have to go back to my tried and tested method of writing any old waffle that comes to mind. A lovely blogging friend also suggested starting with a photo and seeing where that leads. My photo is of a rose in my parents’ garden. They bought the rose bush as a gift to each other on their 52nd wedding anniversary last year. It has the same name as my first name. Claire is actually my middle name. Pretty isn’t it?
I took the photo on Sunday. We were visiting on Father’s day. A lockdown garden visit. My parents were really excited to see their grandsons. Unfortunately my husband and I rather ruined the atmosphere by arriving in the middle of a very heated discussion. Some more sensitive folk would have classed it as a full blown row. The content doesn’t matter here. The issue is that this past week (and for a little while now) there has been a regular flow of similar spats and disagreements. It’s become wearing. I can’t really work out why it’s occurring more, if indeed it is. Maybe I’m simply more aware of it. It’s very bloody irritating though. It feels as though I need to ask permission to do things I want to do. As though I have to check out if it’s ok to just be me. I know, I know. Here I go, being all over dramatic again. I am starting to figure some stuff out though and once you see, you can’t unsee.
I’ve spent much of my life trying to ‘people please’. Wanting everyone to like me. I’ve agreed to do things I didn’t want to do. I’ve allowed decisions to be made I didn’t feel comfortable with. I’ve even altered my own opinions and beliefs to match those of others around me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve stood my ground in many a dispute and argument. Stated my case and my opinion loudly and at times aggressively. All when I have been as drunk as a skunk. It’s almost like I didn’t set any boundaries within relationships or make my needs known. Eventually that led to bitterness, resentment and anxiety. Mix up that little concoction with a bucket load of booze and what do you get? Fireworks. A mouthy, opinionated (and occasionally obnoxious) Claire. What do you get the next day? A sad, guilty, remorseful and humiliated Claire. A Claire who then apologises profusely for speaking her mind and expressing her feelings. Upset and devastated that people might not like her. Trying desperately to make amends, Back to square one. A little less self esteem, a little more eager to please and so it goes on.
Sobriety has taught me a lot of things. One of the most important being that I have a right to my own opinion and I have my own needs. Not everyone needs to like me and it is ok to say ‘no’ or not agree with others. The knock on effect has been that I am now clear about my boundaries. What and where they are. I express myself more effectively and I walk away from situations and relationships that are unhelpful and potentially damaging. I no longer seethe with resentment or bitterness because I am being used or treated unfairly. I will either attempt to address the issue or simply disengage and try to let it go, knowing I am worth more. No alcohol means no uncontrollable release of frustrations that have built up slowly over time. No regrets and guilt at losing control when pissed equals much improved self esteem and self belief. All this is incredibly positive. It does, however, have a significant impact on some of my closest and most long term relationships. Relationships where, for a long time, I have played the part of ‘pleasing’ and ‘giving in’ to maintain the status quo and be liked (and hopefully not abandoned). Relationships cultivated and built on the ‘agree – fall in line – challenge when drunk – apologise continually – make amends’ cycle. As I have developed and changed, those friendships and relationships (including the one with my husband) are being seriously tested and forced to change too. Some are possibly not going to survive this transition. That’s a scary thought but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. I will approach it as I approached sobriety, one small step at a time.
This quote is from my home page. I believe I have started to grow back after a pretty harsh winter. Like the rose with the same name, I may have even started blossom.
Completely exhausted. That’s how I feel today. From the moment I woke up to this moment right now. 7.40pm UK time. There is no reason why it should be the case. I slept ok. I haven’t had to work much. I’ve actually spent most of the day doing very little. But still I feel worn out.
I’d go one step further and even say I feel jaded with life today. On the whole I think I’ve stayed pretty positive through lockdown. I’ve harnessed my introverted self and for the most part, I have found the time, without social pressure and commitment, enjoyable. Work has been extraordinarily busy but that has meant my downtime has been more precious. I’ve interacted with people who make me happy And I’ve chosen not to engage in situations that do the opposite. I realise I am luckier than most right now and I have been grateful everyday for the things I have.
Today I’m struggling to find the energy it takes to be positive. Today I am left wondering what if this is all my life will be. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with my life. I just don’t know if I can do this day in and day out for the next 6 or 12 months. Maybe even longer. Our trip out to the US to visit my cousin and family in North Carolina is off. Today we finally made the decision to cancel. I am gutted. My cousins wife is like the sister I never had. We are exceptionally close and the thought of seeing her each summer (either here or there) keeps me going on low days. I knew deep down when the lockdown and pandemic kicked off it was unlikely we’d be going in August. I just lived in denial and hoped it wouldn’t be the case. Sadly it is not going to happen. I see the summer stretching in front of me and find myself wondering how we will fill it.
The boys have now been at home constantly for almost 3 months. Ben is 15. It’s unnatural for him to not have any periods of separation from his parents. It’s a weird way for him to experience these teenage years. We all need a break from each other. None of us can find any space. I know I need some space. A half hour walk is lovely but you take for granted those few times when you are truly alone for a morning, an evening or a day. I know I did anyway. It probably doesn’t help that I often feel alone within my relationship with my husband. I can’t find the connection we once had. I think we have functioned really well through this period but there is still something missing. As time goes on, I become less and less confident it will be found.
I hope tomorrow I feel differently. Today has been tough. Today I can’t see a way though. I know there is one. A path will become clear and life will move forward. It always does. But today is just one of ‘those’ days.
14 days of a lowered dose of my SSRI meds and it’s time to check in. Doing ok I think. Some low moments last weekend and physically felt rough with tiredness, nausea and headaches. Strange really because it doesn’t feel like I have been putting anything much into my body, but it’s clear that’s not the case.
I’m still suffering with the nausea every now and then but all the other stuff seems to have gone. My skin on my face is incredibly dry. Not sure if that is related. Hormones have a mind of their own and do strange things to the body, so it could be. I’m still not off them entirely so now it’s alternating half a pill each day for a couple of weeks and then nothing. Med free. It feels like I’m jumping out of a plane and praying my parachute is going to open. I’m pretty sure it will but you never know.
On a completely different note, I’m sitting in my garden and admiring our new fencing. Still have to finish off the borders and plant new shrubs and trees. It will be lovely in the end. There is a minor issue though. The view from our patio is slightly hampered by the interesting choice of buildings and creations popping up in next door’s garden. Last year they removed all their grass and had a few shrubs. Fine, each to their own. Different strokes and all that. Then they erected a large type garage build. Not tucked to the side, or at the back. Oh no, two thirds of the way down. Believe me, it isn’t a pretty building. Stone clad walling. The lot. Next up, another shed type thing. Green corrugated sides and squeezed in behind the pebble dash delight. Now, the cherry on the cake. They have a constructed a seating area. Again, right in the middle of the garden. It would be quite pretty. A little gazebo type build with fairy lights that twinkle sweetly at night. The effect however has been slightly ruined by the long, sharp and very scary looking metal spikes on the top. All of a sudden it’s an instrument of torture. With the somber ‘garage’ directly behind it, I can’t help feeling we have entered either silence of the lambs or game of thrones territory. We have a great relationship with said neighbours and I don’t want to disrupt that. Luckily, I now I’m sober and have found my inner peace, I can laugh it off and accept that there is ‘now’t so strange as folk’.
On the other hand, if I do suddenly disappear, either my parachute didn’t open, or it might be worth someone checking the next door neighbour’s outbuildings. Thanks heaps. 😊
ps. The photo at the top is a beautiful spot South of England .. the coastline of the New Forrest. A favourite place of mine. 😊❤️
I started this blog at the suggestion of the lovely Jim, Life Beyond Booze, who was really my first connection with the sober Word Press tribe. Although Jim’s posts are now as as scarce as a hen’s tooth, he was a great support to me and many others and he occasionally pops up to treat us to one of his hilarious and clever posts. The folks I met through connecting with Jim have pretty much remained a firm group and I now consider many of them friends. My sobriety blog developed into a managing anxiety and depression blog and, unsurprisingly I suppose, others on the ‘sober train’ had similar experiences and mental health challenges. It has been an interesting and eventful journey up until this point. A journey I had no idea I was taking but one I absolutely needed to invest in.
Why am I talking about all this today? Well, firstly, I have reached my 200th day sober. 100 days is supposed to be a phenomenal milestone and now I’ve doubled it! Secondly, 4 days ago I began the very slow process of stopping my antidepressant medication. Almost one year ago I started taking SSRIs for the second time in my life. I’d initially taken them for 6 months, stopped for 6 months and then my mental health regressed so much I was back taking them again in June 2019. Anyone who has followed my blog will know how totally devastated I felt when I started taking antidepressants. It was truly soul destroying and I had tried so hard to manage and cope with my depression with counselling, support, exercise etc. But it had become a desperate situation. For the sake of my family, I finally admitted what I viewed as defeat and I ‘gave in’. Both times I took that first pill I sobbed and was inconsolable. I had two different types of medication because the initial ones triggered some rough side effects that unfortunately didn’t reduce with time. I swapped to a different type for the second time round and apart from the initial 5 days of the worst anxiety I have EVER experienced, I have had no other issues with them.
On both occasions they helped. I wouldn’t say they ‘cured’ me or made life miraculously wonderful, but they gave me a way out of the grey, colourless existence I had been living. They put me on an even keel and hit the ‘pause’ button of the terrible downward cycle that is anxiety and depression. They gave me back a little bit of control over managing my own illness. I still felt pretty crap much of the time and I definitely did not achieve my one focus; to discover Claire again. I continue with counselling which ended around last September. Looking back now, I would say I was ‘better’ but still not well. I started reading more about anxiety and depression, looking further into alcohol addiction and soaking up any literature I could find. Then on the 16th November 2019 I gave it up. To this day I don’t know how I have succeeded. I was a ‘drinker’. I loved my wine. People who knew me knew I loved my wine but oddly had no idea how much I really drank. I also realised I had significantly increased my reliance on alcohol as a crutch for my mental health issues over the years. In addition, I drank rather than ate … my body seriously lacked any nutrients. I was underweight and my hair was just as thin and disappearing just as fast as I was.
Fast forward to today. 200 days later. Taking the antidepressants allowed me to examine my behaviours and realise I needed to make that huge step into the unknown. Taking alcohol out of the equation gave me my life back. It was clear that 2 weeks into sobriety, living an alcohol free life was the answer I’d been searching for. The grey quickly changed to a rainbow and the excitement and interest in life, gone for so long, had reappeared. The past 6 months haven’t been easy. As many of you will know, my mood regularly fluctuates and anxiety and depression still lurk at my door. I am starting to recognise the signs and pre-empt the downward spiral by using new tools. I am 2 stone heavier and my hair is thick and has grown back. Claire returned!
This past few weeks I have been deliberating a lot. I am ready to remove the last crutch and stop my medication. I have read around the subject and want to be sensible about it. (Thanks to Ashley, Mental Health @Home, for the suggested reading material). Some people have suggested I remain on the antidepressants as they aren’t impacting on me with any side effects. I understand their view and I appreciate stability is not something to be sniffed at. The crux though is this … I want to come off them. I want to know if I can do this without antidepressants. If I can’t, then I will have no option and they will be part of my life for a much longer time, maybe a permanent fixture. It’s time to find out.
So, here I am, 200 days sober and 4 days into taking a reduced dose of my SSRI medication. I will keep posting. Checking in is so important right now. I am scared and nervous. It feels like I’m taking one last final big step. It’ll be ok though. Whatever happens I know it will be ok.
Every week we have a family ‘zoom’ task master challenge. My brother set it up at the start of lockdown. His partner and her family join us, my parents and my cousin and family from over in North Carolina. In the week we are sent two tasks to complete by 5pm Saturday. We tune in and all vote on the best.
The tasks have been completely different and I must admit the boys and I face them with slight panic and trepidation. Creativity is not our strong point. It’s been fun though and the boys have pretty much taken control of it over the weeks, producing home made videos, self portraits made of garden materials and pictures out of bread. One of today’s tasks was a poem. The instruction was as follows:
Write a poem entitled LOCKDOWN with each line starting with the letter of that title.
The boys did not want to do this one. They refused to even try. I think poetry is so tough but I gave it a go. I decided to just write it and after 15 mins produced a submission. I decided to share it with you here. If anyone else wants to join in the fun then please do create your own version. Post it on your blog or in the comments on mine. Good luck 😉
Goodness it’s been a little while since I caught up with my blog. I find it easier to write about things that have been happening in my life rather than selecting a ‘topic’ so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I think I won’t have any particular order to my ramblings today. I’ll just write as things pop into my head.
On Monday evening this week I was taken aback by seeing photos of many English residents heading out in droves to the seaside and country locations. Pictures or large groups of people sat together and close to other groups. My husband said it was rammed in our local park where he had ridden with the boys. Gangs of lads and girls, groups of adults clearly from mixed families. I honestly thought I had missed a vital government announcement thar lockdown was cancelled. Turns out this virus is so fragile it’s fading out all by itself. Maybe there was a nugget of info I’d glossed over whilst trying to wade through the reports of disgusting and incongruous behaviour of Mr Cummings. But no! I hadn’t missed anything new. We were still in lockdown with strict guidelines that we should only meet one other person, in a public outside area and remain 2 metres away. What is wrong with people? Stop being so bloody self centred!
I’m struggling with a friend of mine who considers herself to have a more ‘relaxed’ attitude than some, proudly announcing that she’s non-conformist but not judging anyone else. I think it totally passed her by that referring to her approach as relaxed immediately places a judgement on the behaviour of others as uptight and OTT. But then she was never one to have much self awareness or consideration for others. Probably why she’s able to feel so relaxed when she risks the health and well-being of others to meet her own immediate needs. Before sobriety I would’ve responded to messages from her with little thought for the consequences of speaking my mind. Now I make a considered decision whether it’s worth putting across my point of view. I decided in this case not. I did make it clear that I take different actions, whilst acknowledging that it’s her own choice. Not drinking has allowed me to let these things go and not create further tension when it’s unhelpful and not needed.
I took a few days annual leave over our bank holiday weekend. Loads of decluttering, moving my youngest son into a larger room and all his consoles upstairs into a ‘gaming’ room. This leaves the back room downstairs for me and the guinea pigs. It’s bright and sunny. I have my office space in the corner, I can lie my yoga mat out easily and I have my boy’s keyboard in there ready to learn piano on my new app. Biscuit, Toffee and I are all set in our new space. It felt good to declutter. We carried on with the garage too. On Monday I took the day to relax. No housework. No food shopping. Yoga, a walk and the new task I had to accomplish… leg waxing. Don’t worry, I am used to having my legs waxed. I’m not totally nuts. I have never attempted it myself though. I must admit, after a few false starts, where I’d clearly not followed the direction of hair growth (tricky to work that one out) and when one piece of waxing strip managed to get stuck to my coffee mug, the table and my finger, I did ok. Fairly smooth and shiny. Unfortunately I’d carried out this activity outside on a sunny day and by the evening I was smooth, shiny, bright red and sore.
I have discovered some lovely walking routes close by our house. All these years and I never knew they were there. My mum and I finally met up for a walk for the first time since March. It was a glorious day and we managed around 5 miles. My mum is 76 – pretty bloody amazing too. My running has slipped. I can’t find my running mojo. As I said to one of my lovely bloggers the other day, I keep looking for it in the biscuit tin and chocolate drawer of the fridge but it’s never there, or if it is, I’m far too distracted by the bar of wholenut or the chocolate covered almonds to notice it. I’ve stuck with yoga every day. Only 20 to 40 minutes. I’m not losing any weight but I find it very soothing and relaxing. I must be the only person who gave up alcohol and gained weight!
Today, when I left for work I received a huge bouquet of flowers. It was a thank you from a lady who lives in the street next to ours. I didn’t know her before the lockdown but she contacted me via my leaflets offering support. I’ve been doing her food shop for her as her son became ill and then went rapidly downhill with COVID-19. Happily, after a stint in hospital on a ventilator, he recovered and is now much better. I was totally taken aback by the flowers and sent the lady a text to thank her. She said I’d been the light in an extremely dark time. I honestly don’t think anyone has ever said anything nicer to me.
I will stop now. I have some other things I planned to touch on but I’ll leave those for another day. Right now I’d like to go play some scrabble with a good friend. Sending you all love and hugs 🤗