I don’t often feel the same emotions that I used to experience on a regular basis, the ones that would propel me with gusto towards the wine aisle of my local supermarket where I would load up on bottles and return home, ready to sink myself into oblivion. By and large I am happy, settled and content. But then, occasionally, thrown into the jumble of life – the childcare, work, relationships, household chores – is a wild card; that out-of-the-blue disruption to normality that causes everything to wobble, and places immense strain on the mental ‘togetherness’ that is often so easy to take for granted.
Last week my toddler fell ill and I found myself hurtling to the local children’s hospital in the middle of the night in an ambulance, siren screaming and lights flashing, my heart racing and horrific, terrifying thoughts churning through my mind like a horror film on a loop. She has since recovered fully, thank God, but I have been left with a morbid fear that she will fall ill again – a fear that has, naturally, impacted on sleep and stress levels.
Today I went for a walk, unusually without my little girl. The sky was grey and the air cold, a threat of snow lingering. I had my iPod on, music loud and providing me with a much-needed escape from recent mental stress. And suddenly I happened upon the exact cognitive processes that, once upon a time, would have led me to buying alcohol, lots of alcohol. I’d forgotten that place existed, so long it has been since I found myself there. Sleep deprivation and worry brought it right back.
In a way, it was comforting, like visiting an old friend who I hadn’t seen for ages. That familiarity and easy association we have with people we’ve known since childhood, even when years pass without talking to them. It was verging on the brink of madness, loneliness, a sense that the rest of the world is getting on with their business and has no idea what misery has been funnelled through your own private existence; a resilience, fiercely independent, a fuck you glare, a teetering on the edge of losing it. A need to escape. It was very real, and I remembered all too well how easy it is at that moment to just go and get wrecked.
I am not that different, not in the way my mind works when under stress, but I have changed dramatically in my levels of self-awareness and inner strength, the tools I can now rely on to pull myself back into a better place. I didn’t try to escape the feeling. I walked with it. I felt it. I even indulged in it a little.
And then I came back home and got my laptop out and wrote this. Like they always did, these feelings will pass. But, because I don’t drink, there will be no hangover to deal with when they do. And I will be a little bit tougher than I was before.