I am having a rather wonderful Monday. I know, I know. You may want to reread that first sentence. It’s not often I start with a positive and recently I’ve felt more negative than usual. But not today my WP friends, not today!
I don’t normally work on Mondays but I was supposed to go into the hospital early this morning to support a family whilst their baby is in surgery. Long story but I found out yesterday that my services were no longer required and I could stay at home. After a week off on leave I had been feeling anxious about going in. Work has been really stressful and I was starting to dread this morning. However, I now feel like I have had a ‘steal’ of a day. My first thought was … ‘I can catch up with outstanding emails before tomorrow’. My second was … ‘WTF is wrong with you Claire? Will you never learn?’.
It is now approaching 11am and my boys are home schooling upstairs in their rooms. We bought a new desk for my 13 year old and set him up with his own work space. I’m hoping he’s going to knuckle down a little more but I can’t do it all for him. Ultimately, the motivation has to come from him. I have eaten a lovely breakfast, had one too many cups of coffee/tea and done my yoga practice. The weather was miserable earlier but it’s already brightening up so I’m planning a walk with a podcast to keep me company. So far, so good.
I know I have to start work again tomorrow and I know it’s going to increase my stress levels. I have to find a way to deal with it. A way that doesn’t involve returning to guzzling wine. I’ll be honest, because we should be honest with ourselves right? I have been considering drinking again. On a fair few occasions and really quite seriously. I’ve been bored, stressed, lonely and frustrated …. all triggering the old habits and behaviours. The only thing that stopped me heading out to buy a bottle of Shiraz was fear. It scares me, the thought of starting and not being able to stop. I’m a believer that it can be doubly hard to give up something a second time around. For me anyway. I can do a specific diet to the letter the first time, but once I stop it I can never do it again. I would be the same with alcohol. I’m not convinced I’d ever be able to give it up a second time around.
And that, my friends, is the crux of this sobriety thing for me. At the same time as considering having a glass of wine, I am wondering if I’d ever be able to give it up again if I did. There is the warning message flashing big and red above my head. Don’t start again if you know you’ll want to stop at some point. Why bother putting yourself through it? So I didn’t. Today I am completely relieved that I remain sober and I will find other methods to manage the stress.
Wendy from http://untipsyteacher.com recently wrote a post entitled ‘How I get out of a low mood’. I have some of the same strategies and tools and it’s so important to make use of them. Today I am using them all. I’ll finish my coffee and this post, check on my boys and then get out there for some lovely fresh air. My only decision is which podcast to choose as my companion. Not a bad decision to have.
What a crazy, crazy time this has been and looks set to continue. I haven’t posted for a while I know. I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth, white knuckle riding life (or so it feels at the moment). It’s a roller coaster that’s for sure.
I finally broke up from work for a week last Friday. I really needed to finish and stick that ‘out of office’ on. The stress was gradually building day by day. More and more to do; colleagues off sick with stress, Covid or isolating; people making big mistakes under just too much pressure. I could feel myself losing control so my leave came at the perfect time. I have to say, so many people seem really low and down at the moment. It’s no wonder with everything that’s happened and continues to happen. Now people’s Christmas plans have been upended at the last minute and the UK has a new strain of the virus that is spreading faster and is fairly unknown. Another huge test of people’s resilience and strength.
For me, my plans remain the same. We had decided to stay home just the four of us. We will meet my parents for a walk as long as it isn’t raining and not see my brother or my in laws until this shit show is over. I know vaccinations are happening but will take time and my gut tells me this will get worse before it gets better. So, I’m hiding out. Protecting myself, my family and other people. I did venture out on Saturday. Just to the local shopping centre and I hated the experience so much, I turned around and came home. Too busy, people not really paying attention to any guidelines and I felt unsafe. I’m not prepared to take unnecessary risks. I have to work in the hospital. My husband teaches in one school and my children attend a different school. We have to do those things. No point adding additional risks into the equation.
I haven’t been doing my yoga regularly or getting out for walks, runs or cycling. I can tell I’m going slightly stir crazy so I do need to begin my routines again. It’s so easy to fall out of step. I know how much better I feel when I keep up my own self care. I am so grateful right now though. Grateful that we have a warm, cosy house. Food in the cupboards and the fridge. Thankful that we can keep in touch with family and friends via messages and video calls. It’s the small stuff that makes me happy now. Interestingly, I have just noticed on by sobriety app that I hit 400 days without alcohol today. That’s quite something. It doesn’t feel like that much of an achievement anymore. It’s part of my life and I never want to go back. But not that long ago I wasn’t able to get through 4 days without booze so it is something to be proud of. I won’t take it for granted. I know I would not have coped with any of the challenges this past year has thrown up if I’d been drinking (and likely actually throwing up!). I would have been a mess. Now I feel like chaos happens around me, mostly out of my control. I can watch it, experience it and remain calm. Knowing and believing, this too shall pass.
I am now past my one year sobriety milestone and life is ticking on. This past few weeks has been a little like wading through mud. Various challenges keep cropping up and with the back drop of Covid and lockdown it’s an uphill struggle some days.
My situation at work is dragging on and on and on. We cannot seem to reach an agreement on the pay for the additional role I have taken on. Usually it would be a consultant/medic who has the role and I have seriously upset the apple cart being a mere allied health professional (AHP). They have tried to offer me less than half of what would be offered to a consultant doing the same job with the same responsibilities because, and this is a direct quote, as a ‘non-medic’ I come with a ‘different skill set’. Damn right I do! Arguably a more holistic set of skills with significant expertise in the area of communication. I am a speech and language therapist, communication is my ‘thing’. Anyway, I have not accepted this offer and after a lot of back and forth we are now going to put the job description through a formal banding process. Which I have to say, has its own issues. It’s just all bureaucratic nonsense really and they have stalled and delayed. I am the first non-medic to take on a leadership role for a surgical team. They don’t want to open a whole can of worms where other allied health professionals start to demand equal pay. It’s all a little corrupt and dishonest and quite frankly I’m at the point of walking away. My colleagues, the patients and their families are the thing that keep me going but boy, it’s bloody exhausting.
On the home front, we have been having some serious teenage struggles with my 16 year old. The Xbox, particularly when playing FIFA, triggers such rage and anger it’s scary. It has scared him too. The other week he punched a hole in a door and made his knuckles bleed. With his right hand I might add. The one that has only just come out of plaster after breaking his wrist. Numpty. He also swore at his Dad and I. Think of the worst, crudest swear word you can direct at someone …. he used it. He has now, along with a hole in the door, broken two TVs, 4 Xbox controllers, 1 TV controller and damaged his bedroom walls on three occasions. I would like to say I remained calm and reasonable during the last exchange but I didn’t. I screamed and shouted back at him, which was not helpful I know. In my defence, I am completely sick of him trashing my house because of a stupid video game. He does pay to replace the things but that’s meaningless to him. It comes out of an account where he stashes birthday and Christmas money and it has no value. He is generally a kind, loving young man and after we all calmed down talked it all through. He had a week off the console. We haven’t replaced the TV. He has to play downstairs now, which means sharing the time available with me as it’s the room in which I work. He has, so far, remained calm and he is reducing the time spent playing FIFA. Let’s hope we have turned a corner.
What next? Christmas arrangements with the recent UK rules. Trying to please everyone. People feeling offended. My brother stressing about how to manage it all and Mum in tears. My Mum is also having surgery to remove skin cancer tomorrow and is understandably very anxious about life in general. I did have to listen to her moan and groan about me the other day. She hadn’t realised I’d picked up the phone and she was listing all my faults to my Dad. That also ended in tears (not mine!). In the end, it has been decided my husband, the boys and I will not see anyone within the five day Christmas window the government have allowed. It was becoming far too complicated with the ‘bubble of three families’ and frankly I just don’t see the point on risking my parents’ health or my eldest missing his mock GCSE exams in January for one or two days. So we are set for an extremely quiet Christmas, just the four of us. We can got for walks with family and my in-laws live 2 hrs drive away so it would be tricky to see them anyway. I am noticing how fed up and low people are now feeling. Lots of them struggling with this restrictive way of life. I had conversations with many people last week, upset and tearful about the new Tier system and arrangements for the Christmas period. The area I live in will move into Tier 3 restrictions once ‘lockdown’ ends on Wednesday. There will be little change to what we are currently allowed to do. It is ground hog day for sure. Vaccines are around the corner and as a patient facing member of the health service it would appear I will be the first to be offered one. I will have it but I’m not going to lie, I am nervous about it. I am also anxious about my children having it if they are offered. The unknown long term impact concerns me. That said, the long term impact of contracting Covid is very real and there is also a lot still unknown. It’s the right thing to do, to protect myself, my family and stop the spread of the virus. It’s just hard to shake off the anxiety.
So, lots of things happening and challenges to deal with. On a positive note, I am loving my bike. I’m slowly building confidence and though turning left is tricky as I can’t signal without veering into the curb, I am now able to pick up some speed without permanently squeezing the brakes! I’m practicing yoga daily and I totally love it. I don’t know what it is I love about it but I just do. I also went for a run last Monday which is the first in months. It felt great. I’m reading more and I have started a jigsaw. My cross stitch is coming on. It might be finished in time to give to the little girl at Christmas. It was supposed to be for her Christening gift last February. Ah well, better late than never.
Although some days I feel overwhelmed with life’s challenges, overall my mental health has been stable. I haven’t descended into periods of not being able to face the world or had days when I just can’t let go of what is bothering me. There have been disappointments, frustrations and tempers flaring but I can still breathe and continue on. I have been bored on occasions but interestingly boredom doesn’t fill me with anxiety anymore. I haven’t at any point been tempted to drink. I rarely have AF drinks either. A cup of tea provides me with the ‘and relax’ feeling I used to seek from booze. I have many dreams and hopes for 2021 and the future. All in all, I think I’m doing ok.
Now I have been sober for a year, I am starting to feel a little like I did when I gave up smoking in my early 30s. Giving up smoking was difficult but I did it initially by ‘cutting down’ when I met my husband at 27. He has never smoked and so I didn’t smoke when I was with him. He came to live with me around a year later which meant I smoked even less, tending to only have a cigarette when I went out with friends and when I was drinking (which I’m sure you can guess, was a fair amount of the time!). When I found out I was pregnant at 31, I gave up entirely and never touched a cigarette again.
If asked if I was a smoker I said ‘yes’ for a few years after I gave up. I always felt like a smoker and at that stage I still had cravings for them, particularly when out socialising and drinking. I therefore considered myself a ‘smoker’ but just choosing to not smoke. At some point this changed. I can’t tell you when or why, but I realised I didn’t want to smoke, never had a craving and the thought of putting a cigarette in my mouth made me feel physically ill. That’s when I became a ‘non-smoker’.
How does this apply to alcohol? Right now I feel like I am still a ‘drinker’ but I just choose not to drink. The cravings are less but I still like the idea of having a drink at times. I don’t ‘need’ it or rely on it like I used to. Similarly, I stopped ‘needing’ cigarettes after I gave them up but I still felt like I was a smoker for a while. I wonder if, in time, I will come to view myself as a non-drinker in the same way. Whether the thought of drinking alcohol will turn my stomach the same way considering smoking does now. Having a cigarette no longer crosses my mind, yet I thought about it all the time in my 20s. I could never have imagined not smoking but now I can’t imagine what it’s like to smoke. Does that happen with sobriety and giving up booze? Will I forget drinking in the same way? I hope I do. I’d like it to have absolutely no place in my life or my thoughts. I suspect it won’t be quite the same experience though. There is more social acceptance, and even encouragement, regarding drinking. It’s hard to get away from it sometimes. Adverts, films, greeting cards, comments on social media, tv …. alcohol surrounds us. Maybe this means it’s harder to move on from being a ‘drinker’ than it is from being a ‘smoker’.
On the 17th November 2019 I woke up, realised I had a serious problem and made a massive decision to change my life. After promising myself I would not drink that weekend and subsequently downing a bottle of red wine the evening before, it was painfully apparent I was unable to moderate my alcohol intake. I found the app that counts the days, hours, minutes without a drink and I started it. Day One of sobriety.
I have no words to describe this past year for me. I was a total mess. I wasn’t living, I was surviving. Just. I wasn’t aware of how I felt, I had no control over my life and I was the unhappiest I had ever been in my life.
When people tell you giving up alcohol is the greatest gift you can give yourself it’s hard to believe it. I just didn’t understand how or why that would be. For me it hasn’t only been the greatest gift I have given myself, it’s the greatest gift I could have given my family and friends. My mum told me the other day, she and my Dad feel I have returned to them. They thought they had lost me. God that makes me cry just thinking about it.
I am not going to lie. It’s been the hardest thing I have ever done. Not because I miss it particularly or because I wish I was able to drink again. It’s been hard because it has forced me to shine a light on myself. I have had to examine why I hid behind wine. I have had to uncover the ‘real’ Claire and discover things about myself and my life that I never knew existed. This has not been easy. It’s still a process and is far from over. There have been days, and sometimes weeks, when I have felt anger and fear, loneliness, anxiety and depression. I have wondered why I am restricting myself and wished I could just lose myself in a bottle. But, and this is a big but, there have been many many days where I have caught myself feeling true joy. For no reason. Just deep down inside. There is a peace and calm on some days that I can’t ever remember feeling. Those days of joy, calm and peace keep me going. I want more of those please.
I started my blog just a few days after my Day One. I have met many amazing people in this blogging world. People I now consider friends and people I care for deeply. So, newbies to this world, if you are reading this and wondering if you should start a blog or write a comment. My advice, for what it’s worth, don’t think, just do it. Engage with this community. It has brought me so much unexpected happiness this past year. Without a shadow of a doubt, I would not have reached this phenomenal milestone without the love, support and advice of my sober tribe. I have formed friendships I hope stay with me for many years to come.
Approaching the year mark has thrown up all sorts of questions and some worries. I honestly never thought this far ahead. I didn’t think this day would come. I focused one day at a time and never said ‘forever’. I have decided this is how I intend to continue. I am a work in progress and I don’t know where I will end up. I will take this one day at a time. I will carry on peeling back the layers. It’s exciting to discover that I am liking what I uncover!
Signing off at 365 days; 52 weeks; one year.
Off to treat myself to fish and chips and chocolate to celebrate 😊
Too much to say. I can’t get it down in any sense or order. Overwhelmed, worried, anxious and just struggling.
I want a drink more than ever tonight. I know you’ll all want to send me messages of positivity etc, you really don’t have to. I’m just so bloody fed up and I want to do something I used to really enjoy and found comforting. I also know this is not what many of you new into your sobriety need or want to hear from someone nearly a year down the line but I can’t lie.
This is so (F BOMB alert 💣) fucking hard sometimes. Not all the time, not even most of the time … just right now. I don’t have any thing else to say. I can’t be bothered to even go through possible reasons for it. It’s not fair!!!!! Why can’t I simply have a drink and enjoy it without so much other baggage attached to it? That’s pathetic and selfish I know. But this week I’m fighting demons again.
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.
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.
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.
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.