Back in Character

Getting smashed on at least three or four nights a week meant that many of the circumstances I found myself in during my drinking days arose out of actions which may as well have been carried out by a completely different person. Looking back on it all, it seems as though I was possessed by someone hell bent on wrecking all chances of my future happiness.happiness

Certain relationships are top of this list of stupid situations that I fell into which would never have come about had I been sober. Meeting someone whilst under the influence, when your senses and intuition have been obliterated by alcohol, is never likely to mark the sparkling birth of a beautiful romance. Far more likely that the two of you are wholly unsuited to each other, but when morning comes around the process of extrapolating oneself from such a union is either too embarrassing or shameful to admit to, and so with steely grit you choose to plough onwards and upwards utilising yet more booze, of course, as a way of coping with being involved with the wrong person.

Considering the chaotic life I led as a heavy drinker I can hardly believe that I was the same person as the one I am today. I simply could not see life as it really was, my vision of everything being skewed by a fog of booze and the associated hangovers. The stupid things I said, the arguments I initiated, the embarrassing shenanigans in which I was involved in some effort to play the group clown – absolutely none of them would have occurred today when I am me, in full control of the way I act.

More than anything this total lack of control, which defined my existence during the twenty odd years in which I drank excessively, surprises me. I am by nature a fairly orderly person; I love my house to be clean and tidy, I’m obsessive about work and set myself high standards in almost everything I do, I can be pretty regimented when it comes to exercise – whether these characteristics unwittingly led me to drinking heavily in the first place in an effort to free myself from the inherent rigidity of my character is something which has crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

Whatever the connection, I do know that as a non-drinker I feel happy and contented being in control of my world, insofar as anyone can be. The fact that I constantly used to put myself through the personal trauma of waking up with that awful sinking feeling, as the recollection of the previous night’s events came back to haunt me and did so repeatedly thereafter during the following days, weeks and even months, is enough on its own to account for the serious anxiety and depression I suffered back then. I basically woke up a completely different person to the one I had been the night before – almost every day. That’s enough to tip anyone over the edge.

Last night we took the baby to hospital because of a sudden rise in her temperature and ended up staying overnight, me and her snuggled up on a camp bed in a ward filled with crying children and sleepless parents. The fact that I was able to drive her to hospital, comfort her and protect her in such a strange environment and all the while with the full knowledge that I couldn’t have done any more for her, leaves me feeling ok tonight – we are all a bit tired and frazzled but she has fully recovered and is catching up on her sleep in her own bed, and there is no fallout to deal with. It happened, we sorted it, everything is back to normal.

I dread to think how that situation may have panned out in the old days.

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Conquering a Mountain

Three years ago I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of running up a mountain that rises more than 2000 feet above sea level. Then again neither would I have considered it possible that I might one day not only stop drinking alcohol but also feel great about making such a decision.

This morning at 6 am I was eating a bowl of muesli by way of sustenance to get me up the mountain outside our holiday cottage. By 7 am, we were jogging through a field of cows with the sun casting a beautiful rose-tinted early morning glow all across the valley and rugged peaks laid out before us.

As we jogged upwards through the bracken and occasional sheep, the white houses in the valley bottom growing smaller with every step, I thought about how running up a mountain is similar in many ways to the process of becoming alcohol-free.

There’s the hard slog at the foot of the ascent when your legs are growing accustomed to the challenge and the summit is nowhere to be seen – just arduous sidestepping through muddy fields, trying to avoid cow pats and rocks whilst feeling somewhat apprehensive about what lies ahead.

As you get into your stride, the terrain gradually transforms from farmers’ fields to rugged mountainside with bracken and boulders all around, and the steep incline becomes more real – you suddenly comprehend the task before you, acknowledging that this climb is going to take every last ounce of strength you can muster. It’s tough going; head down, eyes trained to the ground, focus, focus, focus.

Occasionally you stop and turn around to catch a glimpse of how far you’ve come and even though the view isn’t yet at its optimum you know what’s coming – the hint of what awaits you at the summit is enough to keep bolstering your efforts and drive your feet further forwards. So on you go, beginning to feel the sensation of achievement.

At the top you get your reward; lying all around is the most fantastic spectacle, you can see for miles. You’ve never known such clarity, the skies are bright blue, the sea is just visible in the far distance and the world has regained some perspective – the little things you worried about are no longer an issue and the stuff that really matters is suddenly obvious.

Lucy Harter Fell

At the top of a mountain, life makes sense.

Lattes, migraines and alcohol

Yesterday my drink was spiked. OK, so it’s not as dramatic as it sounds; I visited a cafe in the afternoon with the other half and baby, and owing to the tortuous migraines I have been suffering over the last few weeks (something I self-diagnosed as too many strong coffees) which led to me subsequently waving goodbye forever to caffeinated coffee a few days ago, I ordered a decaf.

I was served a caffeinated latte.

latte-grande

I only knew this to be the case when a couple of hours after drinking the evil stuff, my head developed a familiar throbbing which I have now come to recognise as being a particularly evil side effect of consuming coffee. My eyes narrowed in a desperate bid to block out the suddenly agonising sunlight, my stomach churned and I prepared myself for the miserable few hours ahead before the agony passed.

In the same way that I’m aware of this reaction I have to drinking coffee, I also regard myself as being allergic to alcohol. I have always had, since I began my drinking career all those years ago, an inability to know when I have had ‘enough’ and a desire, once the boozing has begun, to carry on imbibing until I pass out. This was not something that developed over time in any kind of progressive fashion, this was the way I drank right from the off when I was thirteen years old.

I have been a little quicker on the uptake with regards to coffee in terms of recognising the fact that I am not suited to that particular beverage (it’s actually a very positive allergy to have, as I spend way too much money in cafes and eat more cakes than I should as a guaranteed ‘something on the side’ to accompany my lattes – without coffee, my waistline and outgoings should both shrink quite nicely), it taking a matter of months from the first migraine to my recent self-imposed embargo on caffeinated coffee. With booze it took a little while longer – around twenty two years.

There are two set-in-stone facts with regards to me, and drinking coffee and alcohol; the first will give me blinding headaches and the second will make me very ill, act like an idiot and piss a lot of people off, including myself. It may be simplifying things a bit but considering myself to be allergic serves to remind me that when it comes to these two beverages, I am far better off steering well clear of the pair of them.

Now where’s the chamomile tea?

Be A Part of Something Big

In recent years there has been a notable rise of the Soberista, and I’m not just talking about Soberistas.com. Numerous celebrities have opened up about their decision to become non-drinkers and various media worldwide have picked up on the early indications of a wider sea change in people’s attitudes towards alcohol and whether or not they wish to consume it in the same destructive way, something that has become the norm in many parts of the world.

We are used to reading about celebrities who pop into an exclusive rehab for a few weeks after one too many shots of them being completely out of it have appeared in the tabloids, their car crash lifestyle spilled out for all to see and the subsequent visit to some remote clinic or other becoming common knowledge. But in the last few years there have also been stories in the press about people such as Zoe Ball, Norman Cook and Daniel Radcliffe who have chosen the teetotal lifestyle but who arrived at that decision with much less of a public display of alcoholic debauchery.

The younger generations (in the UK at least) are drinking less, and the idea of being seen to be openly drunk has lost its appeal for many. Are we beginning to see a shift in attitudes towards alcohol abuse, in a similar way to that which has occurred with regards to smoking?

I believe that for this shift to gather real momentum people need to concentrate on all the benefits of being alcohol-free; this lifestyle choice should never be perceived as ‘giving up alcohol,’ for in using that phrase we imply the denial to ourselves of something pleasant and the focus is fully on what we have lost rather than what we have to gain.

glass of water

There is only one way to successfully conquer your booze demons, and that is to gear your thinking towards the huge amount of benefits to be reaped by living an AF life, and to not give a further second’s thought to the notion that alcohol adds anything to your life. If more people take the bold decision to turn their backs on booze thus becoming ambassadors of AF living, then the commonly held perception of binge drinking being entirely normal and teetotalism being regarded as something only undertaken by oddballs or religious zealots will be increasingly challenged.

If society did not celebrate and normalise alcohol in the way it does currently, I wholeheartedly believe that I personally would have questioned by wine-guzzling habit many years previously to when I actually got round to thinking that perhaps all was not well in my body or mind as a direct result of all the alcohol I was imbibing on a regular basis.

Being proud of your AF status is an effective way to contribute to a change which I think has already begun (here’s hoping; now raise your glass of elderflower cordial in a collective toast to being a Soberista!).

In Her Shoes

It has been an enormous relief to discover how I truly want to live my life. When I drank regularly and heavily I experienced such a strong sense of being unanchored, as if my true personality had become adrift and was floating fruitlessly, aimlessly, amidst a life that wasn’t really mine.

I always imagined that I was a party girl and when out with friends socialising I filled the shoes of the token loudmouth, the hedonist, the one throwing pints or large glasses of Pinot Grigio back whilst smoking heavily and chatting confidently to strangers. I pursued the rock n roll lifestyle and took pride in my wayward streak.

And yet always in the back of my mind was an idea that I hadn’t found ‘it’ yet, I still hadn’t worked life out.

Now that I look back I can see that much of the depression that was once so inherent, together with my longstanding inability to like myself, came about because I was living like a chameleon with no sense of the person who I actually was. Even worse, I didn’t even realise that I was lacking this essential quality, now so glaringly obvious with a sober perspective.

When I look back on it all, it sometimes feels as though I have walked the paths of two people during my lifetime – one who was a cuckoo, albeit a thoroughly unknowing one, and the other the true me who only bobbed up to the surface following my decision to live alcohol-free. Maybe it is similar for those who have shed stones of body weight following years of being morbidly obese; the stretch marks and the memories of being perpetually under pressure to act the part of the ‘bubbly’ one the only things remaining of a discarded life once the fatness has disappeared.

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I’m not shy but I am fairly quiet, especially in front of those who I don’t know very well. I much prefer the company of my family and small group of close friends to being out and about with people who are unfamiliar to me. I hate smoking and I love keeping fit. I enjoy cooking healthy food. I am something of a workaholic, and I’m definitely a perfectionist. I rarely feel stressed. I love listening to loud music especially when running or driving, I can’t get enough of reading or writing, and I enjoy being outdoors in the countryside or in a park. I don’t mind my appearance but I’m not precious about it at all. My happiest moments are those spent with my children and my partner.

None of the above sounds like the old me, although whilst I would never want to be that person I once was again, I am not full of bitterness or animosity towards the memory of her; I simply have an understanding that who I was as a drinker only ever existed because of alcohol. If I had never drunk as I used to, the imaginary woman I used to see in the mirror would never have lived.

Most importantly, I’m convinced I wouldn’t feel the gratitude for life that I feel every single day, had I never walked in somebody else’s shoes. It was a long time coming but I got here in the end.

Sick as a Dog

Last night I woke up at 2am with crippling stomach cramps and proceeded to spend the following two and a half hours ensconced in the en-suite bathroom, grateful for the small mercy that my other half was sleeping elsewhere (when he goes out knowing he will be drinking and coming in after I’ll have fallen asleep, he very compliantly settles for alternative sleeping quarters). After collapsing back in bed about 4am, covered in sweat but freezing cold and toying with the idea that I must have picked up malaria somehow, I drifted into unconsciousness for an hour before being woken by the baby at 5am.

sick

Other Half very kindly took over baby duties which enabled me to stagger back to the boudoir, groaning quietly and clutching my stomach. I haven’t been able to go back to sleep, hence my writing this now, but I have been lying in bed for a while contemplating the sad truth that I used to make myself feel this way wittingly each and every weekend, and quite often mid-week too.

Whilst a bug of this nature is never pleasant, I am at least comforted by the knowledge that my sickness is purely a horrible piece of bad luck, rather than a dire physical state that I have inflicted on myself in exchange for a few hours of drinking, subsequently acting like an idiot and waking up only to remember the odd flash of the evening’s events anyway, thus rendering the by-product of being hungover as a total waste of my life.

Yes I look horrific, yes I feel as though I have been hit by a combine harvester, and yes I am suffering from a modicum of self-pity, but at least all I have to contend with today is the illness – the old associated guilt, shame and battering of my self-esteem are, happily, nowhere to be seen.

I have so much to do today and as any parent knows all too well, you simply don’t get to be poorly when there’s a baby to be cared for! So I’ll be kind to myself, nibble on a bit of dry toast (is that an old wives’ tale or does it work?) and try and keep a little water down, and then I’ll get on with my life, albeit in something of a restricted manner.

Once again I am reminded of why life is best embraced minus a drip-feed of alcohol.