Vulnerable

Sometimes, I feel really vulnerable. Like the world is too much for my emotions to cope with. I often wonder how some people can be so blasé, going about their business mindlessly as we all occupy this sphere spinning relentlessly through a vast expanse of time and space. This was one of the motivators for my alcohol consumption – the desire to quash it all, silence myself, level my feelings off and just stop the urrgghhh that so often blundered around my head.

Then there was the love of euphoria and letting go that made me turn to the bottle. I loved parties, dancing, showing off a bit I suppose. And these are activities that I have found not so easy to engage in as a non-drinker. Which in many ways is a good thing – I am no longer the ‘twat’ that my ex boyfriend decreed me after I’d had too much to drink (“When you drink, it’s as though you’ve swallowed a twat pill”).

I’ve noticed over the sober years that this business of not drinking is a matter of balance, of weighing up the overall good of sobriety versus the occasional letting rip that being pissed affords us. And the thing is, you can’t have both – or at least, I can’t. I can’t have the good without the very bad. There is no middle ground, just chaos and self-destruction.

I occasionally read about people who begin to dabble with having ‘the odd glass’ after years of being sober (Phil Collins being the latest to reveal his abstinence has gradually morphed into ‘controlled’ drinking), and I know that I will never be one of these people – but nor do I want to be.

For me to love being alcohol-free, it is essential that I love not drinking. That I engage with that notion as fully and with as much fervour as I once did alcohol. That I thank my lucky stars every day I scared myself witless one morning after drinking too much and I made a promise to myself that I’d never touch the stuff again; that I get to remember the rest of my life. That I get to make wise decisions and know who I am without the on going fog of too much alcohol confusing my thinking. That, no matter what, I’ll never walk backwards and attempt to revisit the boozing chapter of my life, because for me, this sober reality is the only one that makes sense now.

Last week I got in touch with a woman who lost her best friend to alcohol earlier this year. I studied years-old photos of the two of them in which they are slim, smiling, vibrant, and then I looked at the recent one of the woman’s friend where she is all bloated and puffy, taken just before she died as a direct result of her alcohol consumption.

My past is littered with stories of people who died from their addictions, who lost the most important people in their lives because they couldn’t stop drinking, of broken friendships and damaged souls and sad memories. It’s littered with my own regrets about the things I did because of alcohol, and because of the person I was when I drank.

Sometimes, I do wonder what it would be like to inhabit a drinking world again, one where alcohol is as innocuous as a light, spring breeze. But I know I crossed a line years ago, which means that for me, alcohol will always be my enemy. And I accept that fact with good grace and gratitude because, when all is said and done, it’s not worth it.

I get my kicks elsewhere these days, like this morning when I ran seven miles through the countryside with my dog who is ten years old but still throws herself into our runs with admirable zest. I get a buzz from knowing that I could be dead and for all intents and purposes I probably should be, given the way I used to spend my time, but I am not. I’m fit and healthy and I still feel young. I feel alive when I listen to my favourite music, and when I’m laughing with my close family and friends. I get a rush from the beauty of the world and thinking of all the people I’ve ever known and the amazing things we’ve experienced together, how miraculous it is that any of us get to lead this life with all the opportunities that are presented to each and every one of us. And I’m excited for the present and the future, for what incredible moments are waiting around the corner, none of us can ever know.

geese-flying-freedom

Sometimes I do feel vulnerable and emotionally raw, and I wish so much that I could temporarily escape my head. But what I have – what we all have – is a life, and the years pass by in such a blur that they’re gone before we’ve even registered what happened. Those stupid little things we stress over: our child’s tantrum in the supermarket or feeling down because we can’t afford something we really want, or losing the car keys or just wanting to stay in bed all day because it’s raining and cold outside, and everything seems rubbish and twisted against us; these things are nothing, they matter not one jot.

Connecting with other human beings and loving them, and being loved by them, and loving and valuing yourself for your uniqueness, and witnessing a glorious sunset and hearing the wind roaring in your ears at the top of a mountain; looking into your child’s eyes and knowing that you’re doing your best and they’re doing OK, listening to someone who needs you, knowing that you’re making a difference. Lying on your back daydreaming and listening to your favourite music very loud. Waking up and not needing to patch together last night’s mistakes beneath the weighty dread of a hangover.

I truly believe that you cannot exist as you deserve to, fully and with real love in your heart, when you are drinking too much, too often. I think when you’re addicted to a substance it occupies too much of your soul, it blocks all the important emotions. It prevents you from seeing and connecting.

You need to love yourself before you can live a full life, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who loves themselves when in the throes of alcohol dependency.

It isn’t always easy, being completely free from mind-altering devices, whatever form they may take. There are days when your inner voice is screaming for a brief respite. But there are other coping strategies, there are other means of achieving that escape – and when you quit drinking, you enable yourself to discover them.

‘Abstinence Is Bad For You’ -Thoughts On Irresponsible Health Claims

When I woke up this morning I saw that someone had posted an article on the Soberistas Facebook page which was all about a body of medical ‘evidence’ pointing towards abstinence being bad for a person’s health. Hmm, helpful I thought. And promptly deleted it. I’m all for free speech and it’s nice that someone had thought of Soberistas and wanted to contribute a little something to our Facebook page, but these types of articles are just not helpful to those of us who cannot moderate.

As a drinker, if you had shown me literature of this nature I would have seen it as a green light to continue necking wine as though it was water and I had been lying stranded in a desert for days on end. I must not stop drinking – there it is in black and white! I am far healthier if I down booze than not, no matter what sort of scrapes I find myself in as a result, and no matter how much damage I wield upon my poor, alcohol-soaked body!

It is possible to produce findings that support any theory if one restricts their study to a small enough group (for instance, the ninety-year-old man who has smoked fifty fags a day since he was twelve). But there is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that alcohol consumption which exceeds government guidelines (14 units for a woman and 21 units for a man) is highly detrimental to a person’s health, and is a causal factor in over 200 different conditions and diseases (see WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014).

Well then, let’s just restrict our drinking to recommended limits and maintain a strict ‘three days off the booze’ policy each week, one could argue.

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OK, let’s get real for a moment. Firstly, how many people do you know who drink alcohol and who consistently stick to government guidelines? I can think of a couple. Secondly, there are many, many individuals who have no off switch. Despite the best of intentions, these people (me included) do not have the capability to stop at one or two glasses but, once started, go on to drink way more than ‘safe’ amounts and subsequently end up in any number of dangerous situations. Alcohol for me (and others in the same boat) is poison – plain and simple. It is a devilish substance that perpetually leads us to a place of shame, embarrassment, debilitating hangovers, irresponsible parenting, thoughtlessness, selfishness, carelessness, and low self-esteem. It is a drug which, when consumed in excess, sometimes results in unintended sexual encounters, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, altered personalities, domestic violence and occasionally, suicide. Alcohol, for those of us who cannot control the amount we consume once we start drinking, is the stuff of nightmares – for us, and all of the people in our lives.

For anyone with an off switch nicely intact, these consequences to boozing are more than likely challenging to comprehend. Some of these people may find it amusing to post articles about abstinence being bad for one’s health on the Soberistas Facebook page (and other online, open forums which have been established for the use of people who struggle with alcohol dependencies and not for those who have no problem in moderating). Should such contributors ever find themselves crossing the invisible line into alcohol addiction or should they become closely entangled with someone else who has a problematic relationship with booze, they probably would not find things quite so amusing or trivial. Until then, I am happy to delete their postings should I consider them unhelpful to those of us who are bravely managing a dependency upon alcohol – that substance which is so prevalent, so unregulated, and so bloody damaging to so many people.

Transformation

Earlier this morning, I received a follow-up phone call from someone who works at the alcohol advisory service I visited just after I quit drinking in April 2011. Hearing her voice ask me how I was evoked multiple emotions: a real mixture of sadness, delight and quite a bit of pride.

When I look back on the person I was in the late spring of 2011 I hardly recognise her as me. I recall the only occasion when I visited the alcohol advisory place, shuffling into the driveway with my head hung low, terrified that someone might recognise me. I remember the consultation with the support officer who met me with a friendly smile, sat me down on a chair opposite hers in a dark and dusty room and asked me to grade my feelings on a scale of one to ten for a variety of statements: I like myself. I have strong relationships with my family. I am happy. I sometimes think about suicide. (The suicide one was high, the self-esteem ones terribly low).

The walls were decorated with scruffy posters stuck on with Blu-tack and displaying phone numbers and other details of a variety of help centres for drug and alcohol problems. When she asked me what had led me to contacting them I burst into tears and couldn’t speak for several minutes.

alcoholic

I never went back after that, despite agreeing to go along to one of the SMART recovery meetings offered at the centre on a regular basis. Whether my decision was based on stubbornness, a bit of denial or merely because I found it too upsetting being there, I couldn’t say – probably a mixture of all three. But I forged on with my decision to not drink alcohol regardless, and here I am now, a completely different person.

I told the person who called me today about the fact that I have set up Soberistas.com, and when she proceeded to quiz me on the scores I would award myself now for various aspects of my life and the state of my emotions, I gave her straight 10’s. It was a great feeling, like I had graduated from university with flying colours.

However, inside I am all too aware of how very differently things might have panned out for me, if it were not for a number of factors. So, to what do I owe my transformation from the alcohol-dependent person I was back in 2011, to the happy and full-of-life person I am today?

I’m very lucky to have a wonderful family and friends who have stuck by me despite everything. Knowing that such a safety net exists has always cushioned me in my darker moments, and perhaps without it, I may have crumbled and given into cravings. I am by nature an incredibly determined and obstinate person – I set out to beat alcohol and it would have taken a lot to sway me from this course once I had set the wheels in motion to fight it. The books I read offered me a completely new perspective on alcohol addiction, and they helped me to regain a sense of power in my situation.

Through visiting a cognitive behavioural therapist I learnt that I am not like a leaf blown around in the wind, ending up wherever fate may choose, but a woman with the intelligence, strength and ability to direct her own path in life.

But most of all, the thing that has helped me to reach where I am today, is Soberistas. Discovering that I’m not the only person (by a long chalk!) who has difficulty in moderating her alcohol consumption, and that some of the awful situations I regularly found myself in when I drank alcohol have happened to lots of other people too, and that the world holds an incredible number of people who are kind and tolerant and full of understanding, has made the last year an amazing journey for me. I really love the Soberistas community and I just wanted to share with you all that today’s phone call brought home for me;

When you quit drinking alcohol, you will change. Let go of the fear that you’ll struggle to be YOU once you have lost your prop – you won’t be the person you were as a drinker anymore, it’s true, but that’s a GOOD THING! Without alcohol messing up your emotions and relationships and perspective on life, you’ll be free to be the person you REALLY are, underneath all of the booze-induced rubbish. Imagine you are clearing a bramble bush to make way for beautiful flowers to push their way up, and allow the true YOU to emerge.

Good things happen to good people, just as soon as you give them a chance to.