It’s been a fair while since I last wrote. This evening as I got ready for bed, the itch appeared and I realised that it was time to get my thoughts down. Update my (few) readers as to where I am on this, somewhat mental, journey I am on.
Tomorrow marks 9 months without a drink. The times I struggle is when I want to settle down and watch something in the evening. Especially after a shift at work. Or at the weekend, just to have something demarcate from the usual working weekday. I have set myself the challenge of not drinking until I have done a year. I shall explain my thought process..
I haven’t been to a meeting with the support group that I was part of for over a month. I have struggled for over 20 years to understand the ethos behind the workings of the program and as I am not able to talk in any detail because of it’s acclaimed anonymity, suffice to say there are a few, rather major principles that I can’t get past.
Whilst I was in the treatment centre, living and breathing recovery and the 12 step program – it felt like I was agreeing to things that I didn’t have the power to argue against. And this is exactly what is expected – admitting that you are powerless. Which is fairly easy when you have just devastated your life and loved ones by taking an overdose. I will never, ever forget the amazing support from the treatment centres I went to. It is through their care, understanding and expertise that I am able to sit here and type this, feeling more centred than I have ever done in my life. But.. and it’s probably a rather large ‘but’, the ever-gnawing feeling that I wouldn’t stay with the program became more and more acid-inducing and eventually I had to be honest that I couldn’t (and possibly more importantly, wouldn’t) pretend to myself or others any longer that I was willing to think/behave in a certain way that didn’t resonate with my views.
I have had nothing but love from peers and friends who are also in recovery, although I do wonder if there are wagers being put on how long it is before I am back knocking on the proverbial door, begging for mercy and help. Maybe, I will but for the time being I am sticking to what feels right for me.
I don’t believe that addiction/alcholism is a disease. The definition of disease does not fit as it does other diseases; cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons for example. Interestingly research has shown that alcoholism was named a disease by an American organisation, thereby helping the validation of insurance claims for treatment centres. Which, by the way, are an enormous money spinner in the USA. I would (and could) link the research to this post but if you just type in ‘is alcohol really a disease’ into Google, then you will get the same results as I did. If I still had access to my university research databases then I could probably come up with all sorts of data… but I don’t. And quite frankly, as I am trying to simply my life at the moment that is probably quite a good thing! Equally the figures for relapsers are high. Addiciton/alcoholism has a poor prognosis and that is even with treatment centres and the program.
My idea is that I will protect my mental health. If I am feeling centred and at peace, once Xmas comes, I will probably have a few glasses of wine. I also know that I hate hangovers and anxiety with a passion and if I drink too much then I will have both of those. And if I am honest, it is those two factors that keep me away from drinking. More than the horror stories; more than the looking back at past experiences where I have been an arse.
My life now revolves around the children, work and my mental health. I have so much more insight and knowledge now after months of therapy regarding the factors that have contributed to my (poor) coping mechanisms. My ‘addiction’ is craving love. Especially from those who are emotionally unavailable. Now I know that, I am concentrating solely on the most unavailable person I have tried to get that love from.
At which point did the majority of the world forget that it is both the moon and sun that harness the tide, nurture our crops.. or hell, let’s really throw it out there… keep us alive? How far removed have we become that we no longer hold either of these big, fuck off balls of energy with the revere they deserve?
It’s not like this is a new concept to me. The corona virus lockdown hasn’t suddenly given me some sort of existential breakdown (that was alcohol), but it has given me the time to really ponder what the fuck us humans are all about.
Last night I did my first ever New Moon ritual of writing my intentions for this month and then burning them whilst I had a detox bath. It was cathartic and wet.
It didn’t quite give me the unbroken, restful nights sleep I had been hoping for and when I woke up before 5 this morning I decided to walk to the beach so I could see the sunrise. It must be one of the first times I have done this when it hasn’t been post-clubbing and I can assure you, sober sunrise watching is a lot less messy. And to be honest I’m pretty mental anyway so I still have the capacity to wonder why we don’t have obese birds flying and if we did, would they fly much slower and actually, don’t birds fly quite fast considering? Then I start imagining having a race with a bird and then laughing at how they slow down and land but reminding myself that I can’t actually fly (despite my dreams telling me otherwise) so I should just shut up with my judgementalness. This reminds me of the time I did try and fly. My eldest was only a baby and I had had a very vivid dream that I could fly and if I only flapped my arms down hard enough it would work when I was awake. Needless to say, it didn’t.
It’s time for me to head back home now. ‘Other’ people have started to appear. Yuck.
“Let’s have a girlie night Mum. I can wax your face”.
Sorry what? Wax my face? I look at the ridiculously gorgeous non-hairy-faced 16 year old who stands before me all pretty and young, and glare. Wax my face? What do you mean? Wax my face?
Is this what lockdown has resorted us to? I’ll admit if a fine fuzzy look is the worst of my problems then perhaps I am not doing too badly, but still. I harrumphed, threatened imminent death and stomped off incredulously.
To be honest, lockdown for us in a house with a garden in a town with a beach and the Sussex Downs a short drive away is luxury in comparison to those without. Lockdown in early recovery? Not so sweet. I attend Zoom meetings to connect with other recovery fellows and I speak to friends daily but the reality of not being able to physically connect or have cups of tea in their houses is difficult when having an illness that thrives on isolation.
However one’s addiction manifests itself, it really is only symptomatic of a void that has lost its plug. You know the paddling pools with the plug in the bottom? The ones we buy year after year, that only last for a month before a cat punctures it or it gets left on its side until you can’t see past the slugs that have taken residence within it? One of them. It’s like trying to refill a slug-ridden, plug-less void with *insert addiction of choice* and constantly wondering why the gnawing never stops.
I remember sitting in a flat I shared with my EO (Eldest One) who was about 1 or 2 at the time time and wondering why it was I could never feel sated. I always felt like something was missing and here I am 16 years later slowly piecing the puzzle together and a warm glow is starting to build.
These last three weeks since leaving the treatment centre have been a rollercoaster. However, the good news is that this rollercoaster would have been out of place in somewhere like Thorpe Park and more suited to a toddler’s version at Lego World or whatever it’s called. The ups and downs have been more muted and less vomit inducing which for someone who can’t even watch someone else playing racing games without wanting to hurl, is a good thing. (Of note, I have never ever, and never ever will, go on a rollercoaster).
To help with mentally riding my toddler’s rollercoaster, I have been asked by my – let’s call her my ‘human’ guide – to pray and talk to my higher power. Now I have an issue with organised religion personally but completely get that it is a wonderful thing for lots of other people. For me, I believe in the power of energy, Earth, Mother Nature and Spirit. I have my own guides in the ether whom I talk to but I don’t have a particular God. So this makes praying a bit cumbersome. It takes quite a while to go through “Dear higher power, Mother Nature, mother goddess, spirit guides, animal guides, ancestors etc” each time I want to communicate so I decided that I needed a name. I immediately though of Alanis Morrisette who plays god in Dogma and I decided to name my multitude of higher powers the one name, ‘Alanis’. I was very excited about this and proceeded to tell all those who were remotely interested that I was talking to my goddess ‘Alanis’. Even my counsellor took it on board and managed not to laugh during our sessions when referring to Alanis (he did smirk but looked very chuffed at his lack of laughter). The problem I had was that every time I did my morning and evening chats with Alanis, it felt like I was addressing the Alanis Morrisette. And then it all felt wrong. I mean she may well have heard me telepathically, who knows how spiritual she is? She might have been buttering her toast in Canada or wherever she is from and suddenly out of the blue heard me waffling on about how I need to remain sober and could she possibly sort out the leaking overflow pipe…
In case you wondered, no, she didn’t answer.
So with that I have gone back to naming each of my zillion higher powers and just mix up the order so that none of them get jealous of who gets named first.
There are benefits to talking with an entity that you believe hold a larger power than yourself. I will write this more eloquently in another post, for now I am far too glib to describe with any justice. And I need a pee.
It’s her turn to be nurtured. Her time to be reassured. Her chance to have her needs met.
One thing about intensive therapy is that stones tend to be uncovered. The lichen moss stripped back to reveal an intense, constantly shifting dark hard mass of unresolved pain; insecurity and agonising self doubt. The stones can’t be shifted but they can be worked upon. They can be softened, they can be polished so that angry, distorted screams aren’t reflected back and instead a quiet acceptance can be acknowledged. I cannot turn back time. The wounds which were inflicted, etched into my brain can only be changed in time. By me.
Trying to learn to love oneself more than another seems impossible. I can manage it part of the day, in increments. Then the self hate comes flooding back and I search, desperately, for validation and love from another. Yet these links I yearn for are so tenuous that they disappear before I can get a hold on them. These links are made with others who are also damaged. Also broken. They aren’t strong enough to hold my greedy little hands that clutch and grab for a lifeline. Instead I must turn these hands towards my own self and instead of grasping, they must stroke. They must be gentle.
The well of love I have within me seems never-ending yet at the same time empty. Slowly, slowly I am trying to tease out self worth and appreciation. Collecting it and giving it in small sips to Little Chloë. She needs it. I am taking her out to the beach so that we can sit and listen to the waves tumble into the shore. We garden so that she can feel the soil in her fingers and sense the life that is ready to grow. She sits with me as I paint and draw and make rudimentary clay sculptures in the shape of the Mother Goddess. I look at her photos and I tell her that I love her. That she was enough. That she is enough. That the 43 year old woman who looks back from the mirror can finally grow up and stop tearing chunks out of her being.
Tears roll down as I type. This growing pain hurts. It rips my insides apart, I feel the desperation as I wish for arms to comfort me. There are no arms, not only would the ease be short-lived, it would be vacuous. I must use my own arms and my own heart to learn to soothe.
It’s 00:12 and I am officially 60 days sober. Probably the longest time without having ingested an alcoholic drink since I started drinking at the age of 13. That’s 30 years of cultivating an addiction to a substance that both cocooned me in its nectar yet created the opportunities for blackouts, sexual assaults, lying, cheating and putting myself in stupidly dangerous situations.
These 60 days represent a pivotal turning point in my life. I feel a bit like the battered daffodils across the way from my window – still just about standing despite the efforts of Ciara and Dennis. We sit in therapy and what can start out as a jovial session with one of us believing that we have achieved something or regaling a past deed, can often end in anger, shame and (in my case) tears. The counsellors picking apart our words and with an invisible highlighter reveal the manipulation and denial in our stories.
I don’t know who I am. I am not sure what my opinions are on anything anymore. The never-ending layers of an onion being stripped away day by day and the constant weariness at the intensity of the sessions leaves us exhausted. With it however, there comes a lightness and a distinct lack of pretence. I can admit to it all as it arises.
This evening, after I had a bath with my battery lit candles and finished some written work, I attempted to play darts. Bolstered by not being the only female in the house, the new girl (who happens to be particularly good at the game), tried to improve my technique which resulted in my finally getting the sodding dart in the right place, despite at least 2 minutes of not having a clue about what she was talking about.
I am tired and hoping that I can finally manage to sleep through the night and not wake up with a mind like a washing machine as I do usually.
Excuse the poorly written post, my batteries are on empty…
Sitting in my room on my bed in between lunch and a workshop. Reflecting on a) how much I cry and b) how I might be able to pull a sudden sickie and be excused from another excruciating hour of ‘let’s pull the addicts apart and bare their souls until they howl for mercy’.
Yes I am feeling a little dramatic and if I were a cat (which alas I am not.. I have never seen an alcoholic cat before so can safely assume I wouldn’t need to be in a rehab if I were one..), I would be painstakingly licking my fur so that every strand of hair was laying in the correct direction and then would sprawl out and knead my claws into the soft blanket under which I am currently hiding. Right now, being a cat would be the ultimate solution for my weary brain that has had enough of the constant barrage of therapy.
The thing is that I am fully aware that out of this pain comes growth. It’s just it hurts so fucking much. I struggle to sleep when I go to bed and then can’t wake up in the morning. My first thoughts as I stir are muted and fuzzy but within seconds negativity bombards the mind, like shots being fired from a gun. The idea is that I pray first thing and meditate. Unfortunately the fatigue is crippling first thing and I struggle to get down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea let alone pray to my higher power. Ideally I would pray to my higher power whilst simultaneously receiving a cup of tea but I feel that asking for tea and serenity might be pushing it.
Relationships throughout my life are fast becoming an obvious issue and I witness from my mind’s sidelines how I play out my role in relationships now. In fact I almost feel like I have just been thrown back to being a young child and I am having to relearn how to be a friend, a daughter, a sister as well as a mother. And god knows what hell being in a relationship now would manifest. Almost 6 weeks in and I have realised that not one of my past relationships have been healthy. Blood red ‘Codependence’ is stamped condemningly on each one, as I file them into the ‘LOVE – archived’ cabinet drawer.
With shocking clarity as I sat on a bus coming back from the Portobello market, I realised that each time I envisioned being with a partner, I was looking for someone who had the same values with a shared sense of humour, who liked the same things, adored animals, listened to the same music.. In fact, I was looking for me. I don’t actually need anyone else to fulfil me or make me whole.. I have already found that person. It is me. I have everything I need and now I just need to love her. The tears that threaten to drown me also come from the stark realisation that there is no person alive who can save the little girl who resides within, that critical time has passed. The loneliness and fear that stemmed from instances of neglect needed to be addressed between the ages of 0 – 16. They simply cannot be fixed now by anything external. That boat has most definitely sailed. Love, material objects, new hair styles or multiple piercings and tattoos.. it is time to accept that they are nice-to-haves. The only way that this vessel can be repaired is via a self-care manual that incorporates the instructions to fixing one’s container so that it is supportive, can bear rough seas and doesn’t leak. And to do this I assume I need to do a bit of work on self-love, self-care and self-esteem.
Through drawing and painting, meditating, writing and (my latest addiction) collecting house plants, I endeavour to create a safe space whilst I am here. My essential oil diffuser puffs out therapeutic steam whilst changing colour and the salt lamp exudes a warm glow. Fuck knows what the cluster of healing crystals are actually doing by my bedside but I do seem to think that shoving a different one down my bra each day may help with something. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
It has been quite some time since I last posted. About a year. In some ways life has changed dramatically, in essence, however, it has remained the same. Fault lines that run through my soul, emitting warning tones that increase with frequency and intensity. Now at least I am in a position to address them despite the change in circumstances.
I look out of the window and see council flats. I’m sitting in the TV room in a treatment centre in South East England. The place is both alien and familiar.
Almost 7 weeks ago I took an overdose and thereby, inadvertently threw myself off of the train that I had unwittingly boarded years ago. The train that was speeding through events and problems on a loop, going back over and over again on itself with me at the helm, unable to apply the breaks or take a different route. The only way that seemed possible to disembark was to derail the train. And that is what I did.
And the landing was hard. I woke up on the hospital trolley and felt immediate humiliation and shame at my failed attempt. The guilt at the pain I had caused rose like the water in an empty sinking vessel and indeed, that is how I felt. Empty. Devoid of anything substantial other than the knowledge that I had fucked even this up.
Within a couple of days I was in a private local rehab centre trying to come to terms with the damage I had caused to those close to me; to my position as a newly qualified nurse; to my life as I knew it. The admission that I was a functioning alcoholic who had wrapped herself in denial rather than admit defeat and hold her hands up to the unmanageability of her life. It stung. A million wasps stings attacking mind and heart; my core was squirming and withering whilst I tried to think my way out of the shit storm I had created.
Now, a month and a half later, the pain is still there. As my various masks get stripped off via the counsellors, like a steady swell, the tears rise up and then fall away. There are small steps forward followed almost immediately by a trip and stumble backwards. My love for another alcoholic and addict still burning despite the the hoses of water trained on it from so many different sources; family, friends, therapists, peers and myself. Knowing that my self worth must overcome the agony of rejection and loss which follows the declarations of love, the lying and manipulation. Knowing that despite the rosy future I had imagined, the reality as it stands was likely to be more thorns than petals.
The laughter in here though, is infectious. The residents move in and out depending on their treatment time and whether or not they relapse. We currently are ten men and two women. The amounts of times I have squealed and had to immediately cross my legs whilst hopping about in fits of laughter are unquantifiable. The different personalities in the house emerge as time allows and there is a general feel of camaraderie. Although this can be upset by the arrival of someone new or the departure of a well-liked housemate… or the failing of a house member at their ‘therapeutic duty’ *… Actually, poorly thought out meals (i.e. anything meatless it appears) are a proper recipe for disaster and spark a flurry of outings to the local fried chicken shop.
All in all though, I feel that I am in a good place despite the unease at knowing what I have to face combined with the aching and longing to be with my children. Another 7 weeks to go and I am in no doubt that I need to grasp the ethos of recovery with both hands and absorb everything if I am to have a fighting chance at both sobriety and being the best mother I can be.
*Therapeutic duty – basically a cleaning or shopping chore.
It comes to something when you hear the glee in your mother’s voice upon telling her how many meetings you have made in the past 5 days (7).. ‘that’s fantastic!”. “Yes”, I reply drily, “isn’t it just?”. I did also mention that because there are a majority of people who drink more than I ever did, that maybe I didn’t need to stop quite now.. and could continue until I got to where they did and and then stop. I quickly laughed to iterate how it was all such a funny joke.. meanwhile mentally clarifying to myself that this could be an option… couldn’t it?
Oooh it’s funny how your mind can turn things around to make them fit. A bit like a piece of puzzle that isn’t really meant to go where you are putting it, so you just rip off the protruding peggy bit off so that it slides in nicely. Rearranging the narrative.
My mind, desperate for some sort of pleasure, has decided that I need to buy things. Constantly. Ayurvedic tea seems to be the recent addiction – which of course needed new glass mugs and a loose leaf teapot. Before that I decided I needed to purchase literally anything that Facebook showed me. So I now have a new duvet cover, my own purpose made home hair colouring kit from the US, a gel nail kit with UV lamp and I have paid a tenner to find out which food I need to eat to help with my Vata Dosha (basically, amongst a plethora of other things, it is supposed to help you sleep better, restore better mental health and stop farting like a trojan.). I could’ve got this information for free. From Google. However, I only discovered that after I had paid. I also nearly booked for a massage and spray tan before common sense prevailed and I realised that food for the family might be more beneficial.
The mental fogginess is still there. I can’t seem to think about anything meaningful at all. It’s as though the brain has shut down that area for refurbishment – “Closed until further notice” – my relationships with my family or friends etc? I can’t think about them. What I want to do regarding applying for a job? No, not today thanks. I am only able to place one foot in front of the other and think about the day in hand. Thankfully, it is suggested that when giving up an addiction, you only take one day at a time, which is lucky really, because that’s literally all I can manage. The moment I try and plan something concrete for the future, the amount of mental effort it takes to sustain the process is enormous and I mentally and physically crash afterwards. I want to sleep sooo much. The exhaustion is overwhelming at times.
Maybe that’s why currently, instant gratification is key. I have a sneaky feeling that I need to move away from this type of thinking.. that I need to sit with the discomfort and accept the loneliness and difficulty of feeling like I am missing something but for now small steps.. and maybe that elephant duvet cover that I keep seeing an advert for………
I can certainly recognise that I am at the beginning of a long, long road and as I tentatively am putting down my feet, feeling my way, I am just thankful that my wake up call didn’t involve other services, that I am still on my path (albeit a tad rockily) and I do have the option of making the right choices now.
I felt it wash over me, a sense of peace. Contentment. Reminiscent of a time long ago as a child on a mediterranean holiday, lying in the shores on warm, wet sand, as the waves gently passed over my small, brown body.
The coils have been so tightly sprung for so long that I couldn’t quite work out what was wrong. The house was still in need of a good sort out, no miraculous dumping of millions had occurred in my bank account and I hadn’t lost 2 stone. So why on earth did I feel.. ok?
Surrendering isn’t something I do very easily, well not without mind altering substances and as they are officially off the menu, I am having to find alternative measures; meditation and yoga are my mind altering practices.
Meditation has been delicious.. there is something about the letting go; the shoulders gently relax; the tension melts and you surrender.
I suddenly ‘get’ recovery and the serenity it can bring; letting go and accepting; the tribe I have become part of and within which support freely flows.
The anxiety is lifting and my eyes are starting to smile once more.