Approaching the end of day 6 and I’m feeling really solid at the moment. I’m tired and eating far more than I have in ages but I’m telling myself this is all part of the process. I’ve noticed my skin very slowly starting to feel softer to touch and not look so pale and wan. I know restarting my sober life was totally the right decision for me and I’m grateful I had this blog and my friends here to reach out to.
I haven’t managed to maintain my daily yoga and exercise but that’s also ok. I can only do so much in the early days of being newly sober. On Wednesday evening I cancelled a yoga class simply because I had a bad day. I felt really low and burst into tears when I walked in the door after work. I was exceptionally tired due to broken sleep every night for almost a week. This was initially due to too much alcohol in my system, and latterly due to abstaining from alcohol. Bloody alcohol!! I decided to take a bath, read and watch some good tv. I calmed down and I slept well and hey bingo, the next morning I felt just fine. I know a week ago that would have been a bottle of wine (or more) drank, possibly things said or done I shouldn’t have said or done, and a terrible sleep … again! Look at me, making better choices already. I am grateful for that.
I haven’t reached the fluffy pink cloud stage. I may never achieve it. But to be honest, this stage is fine. I already feel my mind is calmer and I am looking forward to a weekend of gym classes, yoga, coffee with friends and getting shit done.
I am under no illusion that there are going to be really challenging days and occasions. Right now, this is exactly where I want to be. Friday evening, chilling on my sofa, with a cup of tea and a blanket to keep me cosy. I’m truly very grateful for that.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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)
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”
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!
Yesterday we started packing up our caravan for a trip away. The plan was to head off tomorrow to the Cotswolds for 5 days and finally get away from the house. My husband had picked up the van during the week, cleaned it and paid for it’s storage. I didn’t achieve very much in the packing department as I was having one of ‘those’ days. Lacked motivation, felt exhausted and generally a bit grumpy. Last night we sat down after dinner and I checked emails and texts about the arrival time and general holiday details. I discovered I had missed a rather essential piece of information. England is opening up a little more from the 12th April. Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants with outdoor facilities, gyms, hairdressers … this is all good news. Not, however, toilet and shower facilities on caravan and camping sites! Well, not strictly true: some sites will open toilets and cleaning facilities but no showers. Our site was a no facilities open at all kind of site. Oops. I missed the fine print there. Although, it wasn’t really fine print. It was quite clearly expressed on every piece of communication I had received in the past two weeks. Epic fail on my behalf. We can’t function without an on site toilet and shower facilities. Our caravan is not a fancy, sizeable outfit with mod cons such as a working shower or a toilet space you can actually fit into.
I felt a bit gutted. I broke the news to the family. I noticed a small smirk on each of the boys’ faces as they desperately tried to look disappointed that they didn’t have to go and live in a tin can with no WiFi for 4 nights. Even my husband failed to hide the relief at the thought of not freezing his backside off and having to wear a hat at night to keep his head warm (we don’t have heating in our caravan). The joy as he realised he could watch his football team play on Monday night … well, that was blatantly clear to see! Had it only been me looking forward to this trip? Was I the only one who felt disappointed about not going? Or are my family just far better as seeing the positives in whatever the plans are, no matter if they change? (I don’t actually believe that’s true …. my son’s reaction when he couldn’t go to football training last Sunday was something to behold).
I decided to apply some gratitude and reframing practice to the situation. I listed the positives about not going away and having some time (off work) at home. This is my list:
Warmth (the weather this week looks pretty chilly in the evenings and at night)
Not having to psych myself up for a day of packing, shopping, transferring guinea pigs to my parents, cleaning ….
A free day to do whatever I want today
Time this week to work on my application for re-banding my job. I have continually put this off but it’s so important I get it done.
Day trips to more local areas with the ability to come home, shower and get warm and cosy
We can still cycle and walk and explore each day. We just do it from home as our base. More facilities are open from tomorrow so we have more choice than we have had for 4 months
I can take baths
I can still practice my yoga (I’m not confident enough to practice outside the caravan in full view of fellow campers)
Being able to sit watching TV in the evenings without wearing a coat or 20 layers of clothing
Our beds are ready for us to get into at night and don’t need to be packed away in the morning
Writing the list almost put me off ever going away in the caravan again 🤣.
I do love going away in our van. It’s hard work to get everything ready and set up and we don’t have the luxuries we have at home but it’s a refreshing way to live. We don’t rely on technology and spend more time together as a family. There will be other caravan trips though and it just takes a little effort to ensure we still spend some quality time together whilst having a staycation. I’m quite excited to make some plans for the week ahead.
One last thing I am very grateful for. Thank goodness I realised about the toilet and shower situation before we spent all today packing up, all tomorrow morning hooking up and driving 2 hours to the location. I’m not sure any of us would have found many positives had that happened, no matter how hard we tried.
I have had some trouble sleeping this week. It’s made me tired each day and a little bit grumpy. I adore sleeping and I hate feeling tired and lethargic. Today is good though because, although it’s cloudy and a little chilly, it’s Good Friday and I slept well, albeit having very weird dreams. That’s for another post!
I often listen to bedtime and sleep meditations when I’m in bed. Hypnotic ones from a variety of apps I have accumulated. The one I was listening to last night included a visualisation technique which I found helpful. I had to observe and notice the thoughts swirling around my brain, of which there were many, and visualise a box, chest or some type of container. It could be any size I wanted; mine was fairly large. I then had to visualise all my thoughts going into the box, one by one. Once they were all in there, I put the lid on the box and put it away somewhere for the night. It had to be out of the room I was sleeping in, just outside the bedroom door or miles away if that was preferable. I stuck mine at the bottom of our garden. I didn’t want it in the house at all. The meditation guide instructed me to visualise coming back to bed, leaving the box containing the thoughts and worries until the morning, where it could be reopened and dealt with. I did feel lighter and more at peace.
She then asked me to visualise something positive that happened during the day. To focus on one thing that had made me feel good, at peace or happy and to embrace that feeling. I thought back over my day. I’ve been working in the hospital all week with a very heavy clinical schedule. It’s been refreshing to work with patients again. I thought back to one of the little boys I had seen earlier in the morning. A little 5 year old with a repaired cleft lip and palate. He had been very wary initially but I kept grinning at him (under my mask!), asking him about what he liked and enjoyed and generally joking around with him. He began to relax and at one point he looked up at me and gave me the most enormous smile. It was absolutely adorable. I felt so happy because he was smiling and enjoying the session. Thinking back to that moment and visualising his big smile and how it had made me feel was lovely. I lay in bed, anxious thoughts tucked away in my box in the garden, with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
I was asleep before the 20 minute meditation had ended. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and positive and ready to take on the day. I have unpacked my thoughts from the box and some of them didn’t need dealing with. They were simply me overthinking and getting stuck in a negative thought pattern. Others can be sorted. None of them involve challenges that are insurmountable. There are now blue skies peeking out behind the clouds and if I can make an anxious little boy smile with happiness, I can do anything.
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.
Sometimes we just don’t realise how stressed we are. I certainly don’t. Suddenly I find myself gasping for breath, drowning, going under and it’s all a bit too late to save myself. I can sense something is off kilter, I know things are mounting up and I can feel the pressure build but I don’t see the wall until I am about to crash into it. And about a week ago … I smashed into it pretty badly.
However, here I am, just a few days later and it’s like a weight has been lifted. A little battered and bruised but the air is flowing back into my lungs and there are no serious injuries. A few years ago I just couldn’t recover like this. It spiralled into chronic depression. Complete wipe out and long term after effects, including excess drinking. So what was different this time around?
In all honesty I don’t know, other than the major difference of not pouring a poisonous depressant into my body. I guess that has a huge impact. Don’t get me wrong, on Saturday, in the eye of the storm, I thought … here we go again. Disengagement, switch off, dysfunction and months of recovery. I did nothing all day. I did however take the proactive move of turning my phone off. I allowed myself a day of sleep. I set myself a target of getting up to make a cup of tea and eating something. I succeeded. Sunday, I managed to get out of bed and took a walk with my mum. I still didn’t do any yoga, any house jobs, anything much really, but I fed my family, I read and I did part of a jigsaw puzzle. On Monday, I remained under water and I kept sinking. Each time I started to float up, thoughts dragged me down again. When I am very stressed and about to crash into the wall I ruminate. I dwell on situations and circumstances I can’t change and worry about what lies ahead. I attach a story to these thoughts. This stops me hitting those brakes to avoid the wall. It prevents me reaching for my life float before I drown.
On Monday evening I chose to not drown. I chose to avoid the wall. I’d crashed just days before, I couldn’t do it again. I didn’t think I’d survive this time. I had to give myself a break and some time. More time. I did my yoga session (thanks to the encouragement of my lovely yoga buddies), I made some decisions about how best to reduce the spiralling thoughts and how to stop the endless stories dragging me into places of darkness. It’s not easy for me and there is no magic wand. I have realised that too much stress is a huge trigger for my depression. Work, relationships breaking down, parenting, a pandemic, lockdown …. it was too much. If I don’t learn to reduce the pressure I am going to forever be driving into walls or being sucked under the water. Only I can do this. I have the power to say enough is enough. I am not a passenger in my life. I have choices and I need to make better ones.
15 months ago I made a choice to remove alcohol from my life. It was the of the best decisions I have made. Now, I need to continue to make more good decisions. To say ‘no’ when it’s needed and to reduce stress where it is preventable. I am not out of the woods, not by a long shot. I am however driving more slowly, looking out for trees in my way and using my brakes to avoid any walls. And if I do crash, I can survive it. Here’s to floating and not drowning.