Sometimes It’s The Little Things…

After an extraordinarily stressful couple of days, I just went for a run. I passed a bench, erected by someone in remembrance of a loved one. The wording on the bench said the person’s name, and the years of their life (just 54 years) and then, “Stop. Feel the sun”.

I stopped, I felt what it is to be alive. I stared at the inscription. I breathed. I ran.

About a mile further on in the woods, I took a break from running to wait for my dog who had paused to sniff around in the bushes. After a while, she looked up and noticed how far ahead I was, and set off at a fair old pace to catch me up. The air was cold, my breath hung in it briefly when I exhaled. I bent over, putting my hands on my knees and waiting for my dog to catch me up, her tail wagging, tongue hanging out of her mouth.

And it was the most alive I’ve felt in a long time.

Sometimes it’s the little things…

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Changing Tides

I’m standing in a dark room with sweat pouring off my face, slightly breathless, endorphins coursing around my body. In the window next to me I catch my reflection; hair falling over my eyes, dumbbells raised, a focused expression that says, “I’m fucking doing this”. I’m in a room with two other people: the trainer, and a young woman who’s taking this High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class along with me. I feel in control, strong, confident, and like I belong. I’ve been doing this class for about a year and I’ve never been fitter or in better shape. I’m running the Sheffield half-marathon in April 2017 and it doesn’t scare me at all. I know I’ll be fit enough to do it.

I am a different person to who I once was. I have changed irrevocably.

I wanted to write this to prove that it’s possible to force your life into reverse, change direction and become completely renewed. I know it’s possible, because I’ve done it.

I wanted to highlight one instance that would stand as a good comparator to the above scene, to show how different things used to be for me. But when I sat and thought about it, there wasn’t one single occasion that sprang to mind but instead a feeling, a sense of shame – and it’s this that equates to the polar opposite of how I felt in the gym this morning.

It is a slow, creeping cloak of fear that envelops me. It originates in the pit of my stomach, and it spreads up into my heart and all through my limbs. I can feel it in my eyes; it renders me incapable of looking directly at anyone. It’s as though I am walking in a quagmire and my legs are leaden, heavy with dread. I don’t want to leave the house. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want there to be another day. My head hangs heavy with shame. I feel unworthy. I think everyone hates me. I hate me. I have a secret – I turn into a monster when I drink alcohol. There’s a person hiding inside me, a bad person who does terrible things, and I can’t stop her escaping when I’m drunk. And I can’t seem to stop getting drunk. Even though I try.

Days will pass and the fear will dissipate slightly but the self-hatred never leaves me. It festers deep inside and it keeps me in my place, somewhere dark where the ceiling is low and the walls are closing in; a place for people who are undeserving, a place where people never grow.

When I was younger, I thought people who were heavily into fitness were a bit vacuous, with brains in their biceps. But nowadays, I am so convinced that being fit and healthy physically means that we are mentally well too. It’s not just the act of pumping iron or running that boosts our emotional wellbeing: it’s engaging with people who don’t get out of their heads every day, who value their bodies; it’s the knowledge that you are strong and capable of conquering challenges; it’s living, day after day, without ever getting drunk; it’s the memories of that person you became when drunk fading into the distant recesses of the mind; it’s replacing fear with hope; it’s learning to like yourself again through the process of development and personal growth; it is the removal of toxins from the body.

Now that I prioritise my mental and physical wellness, I feel alive every day. I like myself. I maintain eye contact with other people when I’m speaking with them. I never think I am undeserving or less than anyone else.

At 41, I like myself. Genuinely, six years ago, I never would have believed I’d ever have been able to utter those words and mean them. But liking yourself is something we all deserve to feel. And it isn’t out of anyone’s reach. roc1

FOUR Years of Life as a Soberista

Me at the start of a very boozy night - which ended badly as ever.

In April 2011 I awoke one morning in a hospital bed, my clothes plastered in my own cold, congealed vomit. It was an earth-shatteringly terrible moment in my life but one that led me finally to understand that the game was up – I could no longer fight the fight with my long-standing love, alcohol. I have never touched booze since that night, and I’ve come a very long way in almost all aspects of my life as a result.

Fortunate, and I never forget it. I am a lucky bugger. I woke up to the fact that alcohol was at the root of pretty much all the shit in my life. And when I was only thirty-five. I thank my lucky stars almost every day that I saw the writing on the wall and that I read it, understood it with such profound clarity that I was able to indisputably quit drinking for good. Things could have stayed as they were and I may not have ever come to recognise alcohol for what it actually is – a potentially lethal substance that draws you in repeatedly with promises that this time will be different, this time you will be able to moderate how much of the stuff you drink. I was very fortunate to see all of this. I’m very fortunate to still be here.

Over it. It took a while, and many, many books about stopping drinking (thanks Jason Vale, again), and days and weeks of soul-searching, and hundreds of miles of running, and hours and hours of meditation, and untold glorious moments of appreciation for the small stuff, and the love of friends and family, and the interaction with the fabulous people of Soberistas – but eventually, I got over it. I got over booze. I stopped fretting that my life would be dull without it. I stopped missing it when I went out. I stopped not cooking pasta because I couldn’t eat it without craving a large glass of red. I stopped staying in the house at night because I couldn’t face socialising without being off my head on drink. I got over my dependency. My life moved on.

Unrecognisable. In some respects I am unrecognisable from the person I was when I drank. In a lot of ways I am totally changed; I’m fitter, I’m calmer, I don’t live a calamitous life that throws me uncaringly from bad situation to worse situation, I look younger, my priorities are in the correct order, I am in control of my world. In other regards I am the same – stubborn, a bit silly, prone to the odd moment of impetuous behaviour just to get a thrill. But essentially the negative components of my existence have all but disappeared and I am fairly content with how things now look on the landscape of my life. Things have changed a lot, for the better.

Right. Stopping drinking was the right thing for me to do. I never needed it. I didn’t need to quieten my mind, or boost my confidence in social situations, or wipe out emotional pain that would have healed faster if only I had allowed myself to feel it as it occurred. There was no need for me to cover up my personality with that of a loudmouth party girl. I was fine as I was. I didn’t need to force myself to fit into situations that I didn’t feel comfortable in, or to blend in with people with whom I had nothing in common. I would never have been able to moderate my alcohol consumption therefore becoming a Soberista was my only choice if I was to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life, and to do my best to provide the same for my gorgeous girls. I was right to forge ahead with my belief that living completely alcohol-free was a good choice for me. It was the best decision I have ever made.

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Enjoying a Better Way

After posting last week about the Eureka moment I recently experienced regarding getting fit, toning up and losing a bit of weight, I have thrown myself into my new lifestyle with gusto. Body Pump classes, running in the sun (sadly, yesterday marked the last occasion when my ageing Jack Russell terrier will accompany me on one of my runs as she can’t keep up anymore), drinking loads more water, snacking on Medjool dates as opposed to chocolate (surprising how readily these have satisfied the old sugar cravings) and cutting right back on the lattes, have all helped me to achieve a three-pound weight loss and feel a million times more alive.

latte-grande

The overhaul of my life began about ten days ago. The initial period posed a few difficulties in terms of becoming accustomed to the various changes – most notably the reduction in caffeinated drinks and complete ban on junk food – but everything has settled down now and the cravings, headaches and general feeling of being slightly out of sorts have all but vanished.

I’ve been enjoying challenging myself physically and the aching muscles are evidence that my body is being really pushed for the first time in ages. The improvements to my physicality have positively impacted on my mental health, and consequently I feel less agitated, have slept better, and have especially relished in the complete lack of any guilt, once experienced on a regular basis whenever I had an attack of the junk food munchies and gorged on pizza, biscuits or chocolate.

I’m not sure why I persistently refrained from adopting this comprehensively healthy life for so long. I guess I felt frightened of letting go of my little crutches – lattes, Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut, Domino’s Pizzas – as if they were actually bringing me discernable benefits. Even though I knew I hated myself for indulging in these unhealthy foods, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of living without them. What would happen on a Friday night if I was watching a good film, snuggled up in my PJ’s, and there was no supersize bar of chocolate to devour in ten minutes flat? How would I bear it if I was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to consume a deep-pan pepperoni pizza with a stuffed crust, and had to settle instead for a plate of lettuce leaves and an apple?

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Well, you know what? Nothing bad has happened. Without the junk food, the world hasn’t collapsed around my ears, I haven’t sprouted a second head, and I haven’t gone stark raving bonkers either. I feel better, healthier, and more in control. I feel more motivated to exercise, and have noticed an increase in my energy levels. Other than that, life has remained unchanged.

The further I distance myself from my drinking days, the more I’m convinced that the closer we live to how nature intended – i.e. regular exercise, eating well and minus the junk/toxic substances – the happier we feel inside. My new code to live by is one that seems so blindingly clear, but is something I just couldn’t accept fully for years; avoid the stuff that brings about negative emotions, and indulge only in that which results in happiness and satisfaction. With this maxim in my mind, making the right choices has never been easier.

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Letting Go of the Fight

I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to put my body first, to prioritise it over my mind. I realised recently that I’ve never done this, not consistently. Everything I have ever desired I’ve generally succumbed to, and over the years I’ve not taken especially good care over my body.

Me graduating, amidst an ocean of booze.

Me on my graduation day in 2010 – the beginning of a massive drinking session.

The light bulb moment happened the other morning when it dawned on me that I’m not (oh God!) 38 years old, but am actually ONLY 38 years old! Wow, I’ve still got a lot of living to do and I’m not about to receive my bus pass any day soon. With this happy moment of clarity came the recognition that it is not yet too late to get fit, really fit; to push myself to see just how far I can go in the realm of physical fitness and optimum health.

In the last few days I’ve been aware of the flicking of a switch – I feel completely in control of my life; of what I eat, of achieving my goals, and of staying positive and focused. Everything seems to have fallen into place after years of trying (and failing) to really tone up, to really get fit and to reach the weight I have really wanted to be (but have nevertheless always remained just a few pounds above).

How did this happen?

First off, I read this article on MindBodyGreen – http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14554/why-trying-to-burn-calories-is-a-waste-of-your-time.html

This made so much sense to me. How many times have I been running with the mind-set that it will get rid of the calories obtained via a bar of chocolate I ate earlier? How long have I held the belief that I can eat whatever I want because I run four times a week? And how many times have I been really cross that, no matter how much I run, I never seem to be able to get rid of those last few pounds? The MBG article really got me thinking – the food I’m going to eat from now on will be fuel; tasty fuel, but fuel nonetheless.

I've always loved my running, even when I equally loved the booze, fags and sugar

I’ve always loved my running, even when I equally loved the booze, fags and sugar

Then came the grasping of a very important concept (which incidentally I managed to get my head around eventually with alcohol but which has taken a little while longer re food); junk food, chocolate, white bread and other products which serve no nutritional purpose at all and contain high amounts of sugar (very addictive), never grant us the outcome we are hoping for when we select them for a meal or snack. They are emotional foods, and we crave them because we are striving to feel a certain way. Except these foods never deliver – that feeling we lust after is a delusion. Chocolate doesn’t make us feel luxurious and satisfied; it makes us want more and more, and then we feel a bit sick and gluttonous, wishing we hadn’t eaten any of it. Alcohol (at least, for all those of us who are devoid of the infamous off-switch) is exactly the same. The sexy, carefree and exciting social occasions I was seeking when I took a sip from the first glass of the night, very rarely materialised. All I usually got was the transformation from me to a wine-crazed idiot, followed by regrettable decisions and an almighty hangover the morning after.

Another massive realisation; all those good foods we are told we should eat, we can’t really fit them in ON TOP of all the crap. It’s not alright to munch through a pizza and garlic bread for dinner simply because we attempt to mitigate the situation by eating a handful of grapes afterwards. The thick-cut white bread cheese sandwich is not made less fattening because we have an avocado mid-afternoon. That just means we are eating MORE! We need to eat the healthy stuff INSTEAD of the rubbish.

Finally, and the most important, ‘OK, I get it’, moment that I have experienced in the last few days; if we perceive our changed behaviour as being positive, then it becomes EASY to maintain. I have spent decades fighting the booze, wrestling the bad foods, attempting to moderate this and that, squeezing in a bit of the good stuff to outweigh the bad, believing that ultimately, I can gain control over these addictive substances; that somehow I will emerge as the winner even though I am STILL smoking, drinking and eating a load of junk.

Here’s how I see it now – I have let go of the fight. I’ve put down my gloves and I’m not entering into the ring with addictive substances anymore. I get it; they are not controllable.

Alongside this understanding has come blessed relief – the same sense of freedom that I gained out of choosing to completely bypass alcohol has arisen out of this new decision to favour my body over my mind in terms of exercise and food. I think I did need some guidance, and I’ve found a degree of it in a brilliant running book (Runner’s World Guide to Road Racing by Katie McDonald Neitz) which includes information on the right foods to eat, and exercises to do with weights and a stability ball. I’ve also begun attending regular classes at the gym (something I have frequently avoided because ‘I haven’t got time’).

Me now, minus the internal struggles

Me now, minus the internal struggles

I know why I used to seek comfort in things that were bad for me, and it’s taken virtually my entire adult life to work it all out, but it feels amazing to know that I have finally gained a sense of control. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, just that now I can stop fretting about how naughty I’ve been for eating a piece of cake. For me this is definitely an all or nothing game – with everything that is addictive. But it’s also about being able to perceive my new lifestyle choices as positive, as opposed to them equating to the denial of treats.

What I have realised (finally) is that eating well, exercising regularly, and not drinking or taking other drugs, is NOT about being some image-obsessed gym nut with an urge to transform herself into the body beautiful – it is about letting go of the fight. Plain and simple. Attempting to control addictive substances, whether alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or sugar is just crazy – it isn’t doable. At best we can impose a strict code of conduct which we then strive to abide by (only drink at the weekends, never more than one bottle at a time, only smoke when we go out, no cakes unless it’s a special occasion), but all this does is take up valuable and irreplaceable time, overthinking and worrying about whether we can live up to our own exacting standards (then beating ourselves up when we fail).

In letting it go, walking away, refusing to take part in this game, we are granted with our own freedom. Why fight against ourselves? Our bodies are designed to work brilliantly if only we steer away from the crap that messes us up. After 38 years on this earth, I do now get it. Everything that makes us feel bad, regretful, unhappy and guilty should be avoided completely. And the stuff that makes us feel the opposite, we should partake in – in abundance.

All or nothing

I am a Libran, although have never held much faith in astrology as I am one of the least balanced people I know. I do not do moderation; everything is full throttle, all or nothing, Spartan or full blown luxury, pouring with rain or dry as a desert.

In some respects, that has helped me stay sober, but it also helped lead me to the place where I ended up, prior to quitting drinking; at least a bottle of wine a night, and virtually every social occasion ending up with me drunk and passing out. I remember going skiing with a friend a few years ago, and getting up at 7 am each day to spend eight hours on the slopes, before getting stuck into the après ski at 7 pm and boozing until 2 or 3 am. We maintained that pace of life for the entire week; healthy, fit and active in the daylight hours, completely out of it and chain smoking for most of the night. That was a microcosm of how I used to live.bright_sunrise_breakwater_beach

Being a person who has routinely entered into everything in a full-blown, give-it-all-I’ve-got kind of way, or who hasn’t bothered entering into it at all, has made this whole sober living business reasonably simple for me. Over Christmas, there was never a point where I thought I could just have one glass of Champagne, because I knew that it wouldn’t have ended there; one glass for me would inevitably have led to the entire bottle, my brain whirring away at a hundred miles an hour as it attempted to plan how I could manage to get hammered without anyone noticing. Foolish thoughts, the thoughts of an addict, but very real and most definitely guaranteed to take place as soon as a few drops made their way into my bloodstream.

And so, in that respect it’s easy; it’s a case of have a glass, drink the bottle, fall over, pass out, hate yourself, argue with someone/everyone, say stupid things, act like an idiot. Or, alternatively, drink something with no alcohol in it and do none of that stuff – a clean, straightforward, simple decision and one that I always take these days.

In other ways, it isn’t easy at all – there are occasions when those around you are getting drunk and letting their hair down and you feel as though you are a little too straight-laced, too conscious. There are times when it seems as though it is the correct way to behave; having a drink and acting all tipsy – Christmas and weddings being the two that instantly spring to mind – and being a non-drinker has the effect of making one stick out like a sore thumb, sobriety becoming a defining characteristic that you would rather people didn’t notice about you. But then it once again boils down to the above choice, and I am left with no choices at all – being the sober and straight one is infinitely more appealing than being the passed out inebriated one.

When I drank, my life tended to undulate in an entertaining (lively and slightly wild, not usually in a positive way) and often destructive pattern of highs and lows, peaks and troughs; swinging wildly from this situation to that, always some drama to contend with and some fallout to tidy away. Living without alcohol means that there is none of that – life is simple and rhythmic and controlled. And I prefer it that way. It also occurs to me that I could harness that very un-Libran quality of mine and use it to achieve some pretty impressive personal goals; if I throw myself into (for instance) running, with the same level of gusto that I once applied to drinking alcohol, then I could become better than I ever imagined that I could be, at that and boundless other ventures.

Food for thought for 2013…

Goodbye huge pants

Last week I wrote about switching the baby on to bottles, which she is now taking happily. This is a quick update for you. 

I found some nice organic, extra-satisfying stuff for her bedtime feed, which comes in a cute blue tin with pictures of the moon and stars on it; this (ridiculously) makes me feel happier about giving her formula instead of breast milk, because it’s organic. I know, I know, I’ve done six months (almost) but such is the strength of the government’s message about the superiority of breastfeeding that I still feel a bit guilty to be giving her the powdered variety, even this many months down the line. Anyway, it’s done and she seems happy and well, so that’s that.

As a result of finally reclaiming my body after almost a year and a half of baby making and building, I had a rather lovely moment today – I chucked my massive, fat-strapped, thoroughly unsexy, non-underwired maternity bras in the bin; hurray!! Did anyone ever invent a viler undergarment than the maternity bra? I think not.

All summer I struggled with what to wear. Ok, I live in England and the weather is notoriously awful, but there were the odd few days here and there when I wanted to dress in something strappy and floaty (despite the fact that floaty isn’t necessarily a good look when you are carrying that extra baby weight around your middle). Ignoring my bulging muffin top, I bought a couple of vest tops and one or two chiffon numbers, only to have any chance of them looking pretty ruined by the extraordinarily unfeminine, ultra wide bra straps. Ultra wide and a bit grey owing to being put through the wash too many times as a result of milk spillages and baby sick.

And, thinking about it, someone did actually invent a viler undergarment than the maternity bra, because I threw a few of these away today too; the super sized knicker. A few weeks after my caesarean, my new, wonky scar became slightly infected. ‘No,’ the doctor informed me gently, ‘it is not supposed to be that colour. Buy some massive pants, and make them really big – so that the elastic reaches your boobs.’

Off went the other half to Tesco and dutifully returned an hour later with a multipack of briefs (and I use that word in the loosest sense) that should never be worn by anyone under the age of 85. I have never felt less attractive in my entire life than when I put those things on (a generous 3 sizes bigger than my usual, but still a tad on the snug side) and teamed them with a grey, fat-strapped maternity bra, the enormous cup sizes almost matched by the bags under my poor, sleep-deprived eyes.

Today, all bras and massive pants took a flying nosedive in to the wheelie bin, and good riddance to the lot of them.

At the weekend I am going to purchase a sackful of nice, brand new, delicate-strapped lingerie. Hallelujah.

Say goodbye to the muffin top.

What a difference a day makes. I’ve spent the last couple of days feeling pretty flat with regards to keeping fit (I just wrote fat there by mistake – how telling!) and shifting this last stone of baby weight. I signed up for a 10k race which takes place on December 2nd, and I am starting to worry slightly that I may not be able to complete it, never mind improve on my PB (which was achieved approximately 10 years ago). None of this was making me feel particularly positive. Oh yes, to disconcert the healthy-lifestyle apple cart further, I seem to have gradually upped my biscuit and chocolate munching once again – this week it’s been close to the epic pregnancy portions, which is never going to make me happy. Or thin.

Not rocket science…these things have been maintaining my muffin top.

But this morning as I lay in bed at 6am with Lily gurgling next to me, I began to think about will power and positive mental attitude – how I have managed to successfully transform myself from heavy binge-drinking, manic depressive, bipolar-esque boozer, to calm, happy, level-headed person who is much nicer to be around (I hope). I didn’t switch from one persona to the other by accident, or with no effort. I did it by altering my state of mind.

Prior to giving up alcohol for good, I regularly knocked it on the head for short periods of, say, six weeks or three months. I would spend the entire duration of my wagon rides miserable as sin, drooling whenever I thought of wine. At the end of these aeons of alcohol deprivation, my spirits would lift once again as I embarked on a good old piss up by way of a reward for my abstinence. I’d give myself a good pat on the back too for not being an alcoholic – after all, if I could manage six weeks without booze then surely I couldn’t be dependent upon it?

In order to stop drinking for good and to be happy about it, I had to alter my thought processes. Without alcohol in my life, I wasn’t depriving myself of something desirable; I was giving myself the benefits of good health, happier state of mind and improved physical appearance. Without alcohol, I am able to go running whenever I want, I don’t have to worry about what I said or did the night before – ever (that is so freeing), I never suffer from a furry tongue, bad breath or dried leather-handbag skin owing to dehydration, I have more money, my fears about dying prematurely have vanished, I no longer have panic attacks, my self-confidence has improved massively, I have tonnes more energy, and I don’t hate myself. Makes me wonder why the hell I ever drank in the first place!

So, back to my ponderings this morning – in order to get back in pre-pregnancy shape, I need to apply the same state of mind alteration to my cake-munching and fitness programme. I read an article yesterday about Alzheimer’s now being regarded as Type-3 diabetes, in that recent research suggests that it is brought on by eating too many sugary and processed foods. Cakes and biscuits are bad for us; they keep us from reaching our desired weight loss goals, they’re bad for our teeth, they provide absolutely no nutritional benefit whatsoever and they cost money that could be spent on better things. Now they may even be responsible for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. I want to lose a stone and I want to be able to run a good time when I take part in the 10k in December. Cakes ain’t gonna help me do either.

So, with cakes out of the window and a new, more positive state of mind in place, I did 100 crunches followed by a 1 minute plank this morning in my PJ’s, and I am going to take the dog for a 5 mile run shortly. I skipped my usual cake at the café and I am planning on repeating my crunches/plank regime every day. Incidentally I have never followed a fitness regime for any length of time that specifically targets one area of the body, so I am intrigued to see how effective this will be. I am feeling much happier as a result of this mind change – it’s good to discover yet another positive from giving up the booze, which is that if I can get that shit out of my life, then I can pretty much achieve anything I want – happy days! (I’ll keep you posted re the six pack).

There but for the Grace of God

Keep on going!During the last week, I have experienced ‘the darkness’ twice. It’s enlightening, finding out a bit more about who I am (at the ripe old age of 36!), and not suffocating the bad emotions with too much wine; I am reaching a point close to acceptance of self. There is no perfection in humanity – all of our characters are flawed, but only now am I discovering all the facets of my personality in all their forms, giving them a chance to rise to the surface like lily-pads that have been weighted down on the bed of a stagnant pond.

I’ll describe that dark place to you; it doesn’t seem to arise for any particular reason but I know it’s there from the minute I wake up. A dirty, blackened lens colours my view of everything that presents itself before me; the news on the TV is wrong, their take on a story is prejudiced, unfair. The clothes in my wardrobe are badly fitting, unfashionable, cheap looking. My hair is frizzy and has no style. The weather is too hot or too cold. I haven’t got enough money to do what I want to do, to do what would make me happy. Nobody understands me – the world is acting conspiratorially against me. My maternity leave is running out, time is moving too fast and I don’t want my baby to have to spend days away from me in a nursery. It makes me panic. The laundry is never-ending, the floor is perennially dirty. I’m fat; I can’t shift the baby weight. I look like a middle-aged, tired mum in bad clothes. My make-up is fruitless, a waste of time. I can still see the lines and dark circles beneath my eyes. I am going grey. It builds and builds.

Before I stopped drinking, I would quash the panic with cold, white wine. Its effect was instantaneous, washing away the bad thoughts and filling me up with a rosy glow, ameliorating the world in minutes. These days I go for a run.

On one of these self-medicating runs last week, I saw someone who shocked me to my core. This person is an ex-boyfriend from the days when I spent my life in self-destruct mode; a great catch and someone I think of often. In and out of prison for heroin-dealing, violent, a drug-dealer, an alcoholic fresh out of rehab for his smack problem and who had found his Higher Power in Stella Artois and ecstasy pills, his redeeming features made an impressive list. I had heard that he had been seriously ill, that he had been suffering from throat cancer, pneumonia, and that he had been taking heroin again, but I hadn’t seen him for maybe ten years so I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. An old man of 46, shuffling along the pavement with a walking stick and a stooped back, shrivelled and weak and small. He had no charisma; his swagger had been annihilated by years of self-abuse. The man who I used to walk into a pub with and watch as he bought three pints of Stella in one purchase, in order that he could down the first two like a runner drinking water at the end of a marathon before moving on to the third at a more relaxed pace, was no longer there. Never before has the expression ‘a shadow of his former self’ applied to a person so aptly. The man who used his bulk to push me around when I was twenty has almost succeeded in killing himself with drugs and drink, just sixteen years after our relationship ended.

I didn’t speak to him. He didn’t see me. His eyes were staring at the ground as he dragged his feet along, one in front of the other with slow deliberation. I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a while. My black mood vanished without a trace. Oh, there but for the grace of God go I.