A Valentines Story

What causes the most pain?

A)     Cartwheeling down the stairs before crashing into a brick wall at the bottom, your metatarsal shattering in protest, or

B)      Waking up on Valentine’s Day with your leg in plaster cast (following aforementioned fall down the stairs) to discover your husband of four years on his knees at the foot of the bed, packing his case – and not for a holiday.

Valentines-Day

In my twenties, my ex-husband was the love of my life; I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. We had an identical outlook on life, shared interests, goals and friends, and dreamed of the same future. It was an easy relationship and one I didn’t think required too much of an investment from me – rather I assumed things would just tick along quite naturally without interference. I was wrong.

If we had started off as similar in 1998, by 2003 my ex-husband and I could not have veered off in two more wildly differing paths if we had tried. As certain a split as that splintered bone in my foot, our marriage ended acrimoniously and the love of my life fell into someone else’s arms.

Following the end of my marriage, the object of my affections for many years was my best friend who I desperately wanted to be in love with, but wasn’t. We laid awake together waiting for the sun to rise while talking complete rubbish, he witnessed me skydive from 10,000 feet and came with me when I got my tattoo. He accompanied me to my degree ceremony and partied hard alongside me when my divorce was finalised. He came to the zoo with my daughter and I, and we skied together in Belle Plagne and Val Thorens in the Alps. He told me to drink less and write more, he introduced me to some of my favourite music, and we laughed a lot until the tears streamed down our faces. And yet, I was not in love with him.

We eventually parted company when it became apparent that a platonic relationship would get in the way of other, more romantic, relationships for both of us. That was five years ago, and I still miss him terribly. I probably always will.

Aged 35 and weary of love and all the complications it can bring, I closed down my account on a dating website (which had brought nothing but disastrous dates with men less than honest about themselves on their profiles), and swore off the opposite sex for good. I came to the conclusion that relationships were best left to other people.

******

Valentine’s Day 2003 marked the end of my marriage. During the years I was married, I drank a lot (we both did) and lived for our social life, often to the detriment of our relationship. The bad things that always arose from my alcohol consumption did not appear to come about when my husband drank. One night I sat on his knee and cried for hours about the fact that I was an alcoholic. After that I decided to stop drinking but resented my husband for it, feeling I had made the decision for him rather than for me. Soon afterwards I began drinking again.

I drank a lot all through the years of my friendship with the man I loved but was not in love with. I drank in an effort to stir feelings for him that simply weren’t there, no matter how hard I tried to find them. The heavy drinking prevented me from having the clarity to see that I would never be in love with him, and the mistakes I made when drunk ultimately resulted in us parting company forever, the friendship left in tatters.

I was drunk the night I met my partner, my fiancé, in January 2011; completely out of it, flirtatious, loud and obvious. For a couple of months after our first night together I continued to drink, and on several occasions I made a fool of myself causing him to express concerns over my alcohol consumption.

And then, in April 2011, I decided to quit drinking.

I became alcohol-free with his support. I learnt to like myself with him by my side, and I came to appreciate how wonderful life is when you aren’t drowning your emotions with ethanol. I have grown up emotionally alongside him, I understand what love really means because of him, and he’s the only man who has ever known me as the real me. We’ve been through tricky patches and come out stronger on the other side. Together we’ve made a family.

With him I started my life all over again, and this is what true love means to me now;

It’s when the person you are with allows you to be exactly who you are, and supports you in your endeavours to be the best you can be. It’s when walking through the front door means coming home. It’s when you make sacrifices in silence simply because you know it will make your partner happy. True love is what you are capable of when you’re free from addiction and able to focus on life, as opposed to fulfilling a craving.

For me Valentine’s Day 2014 will be about making time for each other amidst hectic schedules, and celebrating what we have today – something I wished I had for years but never found until I met Sean.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/writing-challenge-valentine/#more-68832

Open Letter to Anyone Thinking of Giving up Booze this January

I’m 37 years old and have struggled with depression, anxiety and the odd panic attack throughout the last twenty years of my life. My nerves frequently got the better of me, and my obvious lack of confidence in work and social situations held me back and prevented me from fulfilling my potential for many years. If you had asked me to describe my personality a couple of years ago, I would have responded with a jumbled, insecure answer; unsure of who I really was, full of pretence as to the person I wanted to be, knowing that inside I didn’t particularly like myself but not fully realising how to change. All of that stopped when I quit drinking alcohol in April 2011.

The dawn of a new you?

The dawn of a new you?

If you have a sneaky suspicion that alcohol is controlling you a little more than you feel comfortable with then read on – this may be the first step you have subconsciously wanted to take for a long time.

If you binge drink and subsequently get drunk a lot you will, whoever you are, occasionally make an idiot of yourself. You will say stupid things, have unnecessary arguments, fall over, lose your phone or handbag, text someone who you really shouldn’t, make sexual advances towards a person who is, how shall I put this..? Not quite at your usual standard. You may even put your safety at risk, walking home late at night alone, slightly wobbly, looking like an easy target for an attacker, or drink so much that you are sick after you have fallen asleep. Every time that you wake up the morning after a session where one or several of the above have occurred, your self esteem will take a bit of a battering. Multiply those beatings by each weekend/night/day that you binge drink and you will appreciate that your self respect and esteem are being severely and negatively affected by alcohol.

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system. Physiologically, that anxiety and nervy disposition that you, as a regular binge drinker, have probably noticed is increasing with age, is down to booze. When I drank, I had frequent panic attacks, the last one being so severe that I thought I was dying. I had to walk out of the packed cinema in which I was trying to watch The King’s Speech, because I was fighting to breathe. It was hours later until I regained my normal composure, and days until I fully recovered from the fright and trauma that I suffered as a result of thinking that I was on my way to meeting my maker. The reason behind this anxiety attack was that I had drunk too much beer the night before.

For years I pinballed between unsuitable relationships; one boyfriend would have the physical attributes I was looking for, but not the mental compatibility. I would dump the first one and jump straight in to another union with someone who had the brains and emotional energy I was after, but who, after time, I had no physical connection with whatsoever. I couldn’t be alone. My depression and low self esteem meant that I constantly needed the reassurance of being in a relationship just to feel wanted and loved. I was incapable of loving myself. Alcohol kept me from being in a happy and balanced relationship with a person who loves me as much as I love them.

Drinking put me in a perpetual state of either a) being drunk or b) being hungover. Neither of these conditions is conducive to a productive, fulfilling life. My career, financial wellbeing and physical fitness were all below par (by a long way) when I drank. I am not a lazy person but I never achieved much during the years in which I got drunk. Since giving up drinking, my achievements just keep on growing each week – in turn this boosts my self esteem and belief in what I am capable of. And so I keep on achieving and aiming higher.

Without drink in my life, my self esteem has been restored; my anxiety and narcissistic tendencies have vanished, and guess what? I like myself! And the natural conclusion to that, of course, is that other people like me more too. I have finally found a man who I think is perfect (for me, at least), and we have a wonderful family life which I value above anything else. I am running regularly and have a 10k race (my second in three months) coming up at the end of February. My relationship with my eldest daughter (at that tricky teenage stage) is great, and we are very close. I have bags of energy, and squeeze masses in to each and every day. I never stay in bed, idling away those precious hours that I could be spending on accomplishing something worthwhile. My skin and general appearance have improved, my eyes are bright and I don’t have to fight to keep a beer belly at bay. I am happy. The happiest I have ever been in my life, and this is down to one simple factor – I gave up booze.

Cinderella in a Restaurant

Should children be tolerated, welcomed or banned from public places? So asks the Daily Post’s ‘Weekly Writing Challenge.’ Read on for my thoughts on the matter…

There is a little plaza in the village of Fornalutx, Mallorca, where an ancient fountain bubbles away, a backdrop to the sound of the local children’s high Spanish voices squealing and laughing as they play around the old tree in the centre of the square. Their parents sit outside the tapas bars, sipping a beer or café con leche in the shadows cast by the dipping sun, talking about grown up stuff and occasionally looking over to ensure everyone is safe and behaving themselves. The atmosphere is convivial and full of humanity, a hub of community life ticking along as it has done for centuries.

On holiday in Mallorca earlier this year

In Sheffield where I live, things are a little different. For the entirety of my eldest daughter’s life, I have eaten in restaurants with her on a frequent basis. Sharing a meal out is a great opportunity for families to spend quality time talking to each other and to escape the ubiquitous mobile phones, TV’s and laptops that encroach on almost every other aspect of our lives. Because I have taken her out to dinner from just a few months old, she has always displayed good table manners and knows exactly how to behave amongst adults in a busy restaurant. When she was smaller, she would dress up in a Cinderella or Snow White costume when I took her out; now she puts make up on, wears a dress and high heels (mine, usually) and looks stunning. I am always extremely proud to walk in to any restaurant with her, knowing that her behaviour will be nothing less than perfect.

Now that I have a six-month old baby, she joins us when we eat out at restaurants. Down the road from where we live, there are a few places to eat of Mediterranean origin, and we usually choose those over more English, traditional venues, owing to the fact that we are a family with a baby. Mediterranean cultures celebrate children, and include youngsters in the conversations and social interactions that take place in restaurants and other public places. One particular aspect that I love about those cultures and the way they embrace little ones, is how the men fuss over babies and young children in such a relaxed and comfortable way – a social norm that is rarely seen in English culture. Mediterranean men seem so at ease with their masculinity and place in society, that they have no qualms about cuddling babies in public, kissing their children openly and generally demonstrating their paternal love for their families whenever they see fit. I love that!

I have never witnessed a badly behaved, bored child who is desperately trying to seek their parents’ attention, when on holiday in Mallorca, Spain or Italy. The children there are a part of whatever is going on; they are valued participants in  social gatherings of any kind, and join in the conversations with adults as equals. Or they are just allowed to let off steam, chasing each other round a big tree in a plaza, or splashing water scooped up from a fountain, until they are tired and happy to join the grown ups and their more sedate chatter. Children who feel wanted and loved do not (generally) behave badly, and children who know that they are accepted and welcomed by society as a whole when they visit public places, usually meet the expectations they understand have been placed on them, and act accordingly.

Eating out should always be about friends and family coming together to share conversation and laughter, and to cement relationships. Children are as much a part of the social equation as adults and should be treated as such by everybody. When children are listened to and respected as human beings, they are a source of endless fun and interesting banter, often more so than many of the adults to be found in restaurants!

You only get one go at this life

I love mornings!

It’s still dark outside. I have been up for nearly two hours, stirring to the sounds of the baby kicking against the wooden slats of her bed and gurgling to herself. I love lifting her out of her cot first thing in the morning, seeing the flicker of recognition on her little pink face as she makes out my features in the green, half-light of her bedroom, gently illuminated by the coloured nightlight on the set of drawers in the corner.

She sat in her bouncy chair in the kitchen whilst I made her milk, smiling at me every time I looked her way and wriggling her tiny feet excitedly at the prospect of receiving her warmed bottle. Now she is back in her cot asleep, whilst Betty the dog is lying on her beanbag snuggled up close to the radiator, content because she has some company once again. I feel fully awake, the clock showing half past seven, the curtains still shut against the pitch black of outside. And I don’t feel tired at all.

Since I gave up drinking, I never struggle to wake up in a morning (a good job as 6 am is now considered a lie in for the baby!). In the last two years, I have been ill once with a bad cold but generally I feel fitter than I have ever felt in my life, with more energy than I know what to do with. I never crave a huge portion of carbs for breakfast either, which I regularly did when I drank alcohol; I remember quite frequently cooking up a greasy fry-up before work in order to soak up the hangover that I was pretending I didn’t have. That in itself is bizarre now, when a bowl of cereal, some juice and maybe a banana form the basis of my morning meal each day. The idea of gorging on a plate of greasy food laden with saturated fat turns my stomach! At work I would down endless cups of coffee, cans of Red Bull or Coke, just to try and stay alert, never considering that all those artificial means to prop myself awake would be totally unnecessary if only I stopped poisoning my body with alcohol each night.

I fell in to such a blatant trap in my younger years, but could never recognise it until I became teetotal; drinking to feel more confident, to have fun, to ward off the loneliness, to cope with stress, only to suffer the associated anxieties, depression, tiredness, mood swings, lack of confidence and depleted energy levels. And then to rejuvenate my weary body and mind, what did I do? Pour more of the poison down my neck, feeling better for it initially (but only initially) because I was satisfying my cravings for a drug that I was addicted to.

The answer is so easy; remove the drug, remove the need for the drug. Just as in quitting smoking, where the desire for a disgusting, smelly, toxic cigarette dissipates once the habit has been kicked, the cravings for alcohol just vanish as soon as you shift your perception about drinking it. I remember saying to someone years ago that I never wanted to become an alcoholic because then I would have to stop drinking forever, which would be the most awful thing. Clearly I was already addicted to the stuff otherwise the notion of living without it wouldn’t have worried me in the slightest. Time just cemented my addiction until I reached a point where alcohol would have killed me, one way or another, if I had continued to drink as I was doing in the last couple of years prior to quitting.

I wrote a lot when I first stopped drinking, just to help me organise my thoughts regarding alcohol and how I had reached such a low point in my life. I felt very sad to begin with at the thought that I was giving up my beloved wine. I remember writing one thing though, that still sticks in my mind; that to die prematurely through drinking would, as well as being tragic to those left behind, be such a monumentally stupid reason to die. That seems even clearer to me now with almost two years of sobriety behind me; to live life in a permanent stupor, hungover or drunk, depressed, anxious and grumpy, only to die before time because alcohol has poisoned the body, is just the biggest waste of a life. I wish that everyone who is living their life through the tainted lens of binge drinking could recognise what I, and others who have managed to give up drinking, can see so clearly; life is so precious and so short, that we should be able to remember and appreciate every day of it. To lose even one day through being bedridden due to a hangover, or to lose an evening because of loss of memory, is just such a waste.

I know that if I had been drinking last night, I would have resented every minute that I spent with the baby so early this morning, cursing the fact that I had not been able to sleep the morning away. Instead, I cherished every second.

Walking Free from Prison

You may notice that my writing today is a tad on the flowery side – I’m not having an attack of artistic pretensions; this is my effort for the Weekly Writing Challenge, Easy as Pie. It’s really just one giant metaphor with a few mini ones thrown in for good measure! I hope you like it.

One day in spring, I broke out of a prison in which I was unaware I was held captive. During my imprisonment, I would occasionally feel a faint glimmer of hope that a better world existed than the one in which I inhabited and yet I remained cocooned in my dark cell, never dreaming of escape. My captor was my friend, or at least I believed him to be; when the loneliness became all too apparent, the four walls closing in on me and any possible opportunity for an alternative perspective lost to the bars on the window and the padlock on the door, he would sit by my side and warm my sad soul. Nobody visited me in prison, no one except my jailer and thus I relied upon his reactions alone to serve as a mirror to my character; if I voiced an opinion, it was he who informed me whether it was deemed acceptable or if it fell like a dead weight to the ground; if I felt the heavy burden of the world on my shoulders it was him who afforded my concerns a frame of reference.

It was all I had known, or at least all I could truly remember. Before I was taken and held in confinement, I had lived a life of liberty. Back then, I was oblivious to the untold number of detainees who endured their daily existence in darkened pens, much as I would come to do as I grew out of childhood. I knew nothing of their inability to recognise how they had come to be trapped, of their denial over the destiny that had befallen them. And so the same entrapment caught me unawares; an inconspicuous grooming process that occurred so discreetly it completely escaped my notice when I became a willing participant in my own internment.

There were times when my captor appeared to enjoy taunting me with the degree to which I needed him, of which he was all too aware. Belligerent and dispassionate, he threw me crumbs of companionship, exploiting the fact that he was all I had. I hated myself for the hunger I felt for his attention, my inner soul crying out for the comfort he dangled before me but rarely yielded, and yet I could not stop myself from wanting him. I was addicted to the destructive relationship that flowed in so many directions from one day to the next, its dark edge of unpredictability frightening and bewitching, an amalgamation of good and evil, of security and danger.

And then one day, I awoke to see a beam of sunlight fighting its way through the slits in the window, choosing my grimy cell for its temporary residence. Years had passed without me witnessing even the merest hint of light, and so I moved warily yet excitedly, positioning myself in its path. I felt the warmth of the sun’s rays on my skin as I stood mesmerised for a while in the centre of my jail, before following the artery of light to its final destination – the padlock, hanging unfastened from the door.

That was the day that marked the end of my existence as a prisoner to alcohol, the day that I became reacquainted with a way of living that now, thank God, represents normality. Initially terrified and fraught with anticipation, I stepped beyond the confines of my jail, to discover a place more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. Light bounced off shining rivers, birds sang their happy songs from high up amongst gently swaying treetops, and fields of emerald green rolled out in front of me.

The contrast between living with an alcohol dependency, and learning to live again, free of any shackles, is flagrant.

Jane Eyre aka Lucy @Soberistas


Ok, I haven’t lost the plot, or started drinking again. The following post is my effort for this week’s DP Challenge – to write in the style of your favourite author. The book that first touched me in the way that only a great book can, was Jane Eyre – here then, is an account of the night I met my wonderful fiancé, written in the style of Charlotte Bronte. Let me know what you think – I loved writing it!

I cannot begin to imagine what I was thinking when, as I was wont to do in those days, I entered the drinking establishment and requested yet another vessel of wine from the surly gentleman behind the bar. It must have been my sixth or seventh of the evening and my thoughts no longer belonged to me; it is true to say that I was beyond personal cognisance. My companion and I had frequented several inns that evening, and had arrived at the conclusion that we should indeed venture forth to our own abodes, as the night had drawn in and we were feeling fatigued and somewhat histrionic as a result of the excessive palliative liquid that we had imbibed.

Instead of departing for home, however, we made the decision to embark upon the short journey to what would become our penultimate destination; a dark but tolerably jovial inn, warm and invigorating after our short walk through the algid gloom outside. After purchasing our beverages, we sought to discover available chairs – the parlour room toward the rear of the hostel was packed full of revellers, and Reader, I must confess to staggering and lurching, owing to my drunken state. Finally, we almost fell upon a wooden bench alongside two ladies of fair countenance, and a gentleman who was swarthy and brooding.

My recollection of the conversation is a little vague, now that so many months have passed, although I can summon up the first words that that gentleman spoke to me – “Perhaps you do not recall, but we met some time ago, one evening last summer. You remarked upon my apparel – a shirt illustrated with an album cover of the musical four piece, The Smiths, of which you expressed your approval.” As melodic as pealing bells, my heart leapt as we reacquainted ourselves and despite my addled mind, I felt as though I had arrived home, that I had reached my destiny.

Our conversation was not blighted with awkward silences, nor did we encounter difficulties in happening upon subjects that we held in common. I am no professed harlot, but so drawn to this man was I – as well as being intoxicated by the potency of the alcohol – that I found myself inching toward him, my hand reaching out to fondle his near thigh. He did not profess to bother – indeed his gentlemanly persuasions led him to grasp my palm, caressing it in his as though we had been lovers for decades.

He showed himself to be a courteous and honourable man, a friend from the beginning, and the man who led me to the much longed for road to sobriety. That night represented the twinkling threshold of a wonderful chapter in my life – the unparalleled existence of living without the blur of alcohol; the birth of a redefined version of my self, originated by leaving the wine behind on that cold, January night.

 Reader, I became engaged to him.

Can I have your old Smiths T-Shirt please?

Today I broke my own rule and weighed myself five days ahead of my planned weigh-in day. I am one pound less than I was yesterday, when I also broke my once-a-week-weigh-in rule, stepping on the scales six days too soon. Before I got pregnant a year ago, I was 134 pounds; currently I am 148 pounds, so a stone to lose. To add insult to injury, I tried on my bikinis last night, in order to ascertain whether new ones should be bought prior to our holiday to Mallorca in two and a half weeks time. Yes, the answer is yes, they most definitely should.

This morning, as I dressed in the only pair of trousers I own that fit comfortably (elasticated waist, stretch denim fabric that squeezes the flesh a little, magically giving the appearance of slimmer legs) and a baggy top that doesn’t cling to the spare tyre around my middle, my beautiful and slim thirteen-year-old daughter wafted into the bedroom and asked ‘Mum, can I have that Smiths T-shirt that you never wear anymore please?’ Of course she could have it – no point clinging on to something that would barely conceal even one of my enormous, breastfeeding boobs. She takes it, returning presently, wearing the T-shirt and looking stylish and young in it. I focus my mind on planning a low-fat day; bananas, yoghurt, no bread, skip the lattes and cakes.

I last wore that T-shirt in April last year, when I was newly sober. I hadn’t been out of the house for weeks, consumed as I was by shame and self-hatred owing to the fact that on a particular night in February, I drank so much wine that I collapsed on the pavement outside my house and was taken to hospital by a passing acquaintance. That night, as they say, was my rock bottom. In mid-April, my boyfriend put on a Smiths night at his local pub and I felt as though I should show my face by way of support. I had a fringe cut in to my hair in an effort to alter myself, and I wore the Smiths T-shirt. It was tight even then, and I felt conspicuous, regretful of my new haircut as I walked in to the pub, meeting many of his friends for the first time. I was the only non-drinker in the room, clutching my mineral water, terrified and uncertain of how I should behave, now that I no longer had wine to pour down my neck.

As the night wore on, the drunken behaviours came to the fore. I retreated in to the dark corners of the room, hoping nobody would speak to me and wishing time would hurry along. When things wound to a close, I raced to the car and drove us home, replacing that T-shirt with pyjamas, the instant I reached the sanctuary of my bedroom.

Not long after that night I got pregnant, and so, for the last twelve months I have had the perfect excuse for being on the wagon. However, in a few weeks time I will no longer be breastfeeding my baby, I will shrink a little in the breast department, the weight will continue to fall off – I will be back to where I was last April, sober simply because I have chosen to be that way, rather than nature dictating my lifestyle. Will I be that person again, the one in the corner wearing the slightly too-tight Smiths T-shirt and hoping against hope that nobody talks to her, that no one asks her why she isn’t having a proper drink? I like to think not – that a year’s passing has equipped me with a few good reasons as to why I now choose to live life without alcohol propping me up, why my focus has necessarily shifted from a selfish pursuit of getting wasted, to the happiness and wellbeing of my family and friends and my self. In April last year, I was emerging from two decades of hiding behind a large glass of white wine, attempting to relocate a personality that wasn’t moulded by alcohol. Now, August 2012, I am a mother again, I am enjoying being alive, I have (almost) eradicated the shame that lingered after years of self-abuse. Today I feel like a proper human being, and it’s great.