The Time Is Now

It’s funny how slowly, gradually, gently, we can slip and slide into a happier life, almost without noticing it happening. When things are not going well and everything seems like an uphill struggle, just existing occupies so much of your mental and physical energy; striving to cope, keeping your head above water, wondering why all this stuff always happens to you, and asking yourself, over and over again, when will I get a break?

It has been my experience that things have increasingly fallen into place the longer I live without alcohol. It’s not that nothing bad happens anymore; of course it does, but I am more resilient, wiser, less impetuous and calmer now that I don’t drink, and therefore I have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with challenges as they spring up from time to time.

The dangerous precipices, the cliff edges on which I used to totter and stumble and frequently fall right over, taking months to recover myself from, those don’t crop up anymore. There are the rocky, scree-covered slopes that are difficult to traverse; I lose my footing occasionally and my feet go from beneath me momentarily, but I can reclaim stability these days – I never fall too far.

bluebell wood

More noticeable is that my entire landscape has altered. It’s no longer a case of intermittent splashes of beauty and fullness scattered sparingly against a barren background of an arid, harsh wilderness. The good is now rich and far-reaching, and it colours my life with a regularity and predictability that I could never have imagined anyone witnessed.

When you feel happy and content, you tend to attract positivity into your world. Happiness breeds happiness. Positive people attract positive people. Life becomes a happy, virtuous circle.

I don’t write this blog wishing to sound smug, because I’m not. I am very grateful and acutely aware of how good life is. You will know from reading my previous posts that my life wasn’t always this way, and I know how easy it is to slip and slide in the opposite direction, away from the good and back towards those cliff edges once more. But I engage in certain things that I know increase my chances of staying over here, where things are coloured in goodness and cast in a clear, bright light: I don’t drink. I exercise a lot. I eat well. I surround myself with lovely people who love me for who I am and who I love for being them. I spend time doing the things that lift my spirits and help me cope with stresses and the odd anxiety. I look after myself. I don’t do things that make me feel bad. I stay away from people who make me feel bad. I listen to music that soothes me and elevates me, and that transports me off to a different place for a while. I lose myself in good books and immerse myself in art and culture to broaden my horizons and challenge my perspective on the world. I focus on what I have, as opposed to what I don’t.

holding-hands6

Earlier on today, I found myself driving home from the supermarket, car boot full of chocolate goodies and Easter eggs, looking forward to the next few days during which I will be with my family and relaxing, building happy memories and valuing one another without the terribly wasteful and pointless addition of alcohol tainting our time together. And I felt very content, and suddenly conscious of how things have seemingly all come together and fallen into place. At long last, I can say that I have a life I am really happy to be living.

And that gift is within everyone’s reach – but sometimes you need to navigate your way across the rocky patches before you get there.

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Footprints In The Snow

I was walking my dog in the woods yesterday when I experienced something of a déjà vu moment. Except it wasn’t. Not fully.

Momentarily I was transported back in time to when I was aged about fourteen years old and trudging along a muddy path with my old dog, George, a bumbling Black Labrador who felt like a brother to me. Twenty-seven years ago, there I was, making my way between autumnal trees, ruminating on whatever perceived troubles had been plaguing my teenage mind; probably smoking a roll up and wearing head-to-toe black with Doc Martins on my feet.

But it wasn’t a true déjà vu moment because I was acutely aware of the layer-upon-layers of life that have settled like sediment within me since I was just fourteen years old. Back then, I was so untainted and, for want of a better word, blank. I was a blank canvas setting out in the world with nothing holding me back, no ink stains on my copybook.

When I was at school, we had an assembly in which the headmaster told us that as we made our way through life, we should be aware of the steps we take being like footprints in the snow; that the actions we took and the way we treated people would remain forever as a part of our histories, they would be critical in how others perceived us. Footprints in the snow, a phrase I have often recalled over the years.

shutterstock_240140632

I felt a sadness envelop me yesterday as I realised that although I was ostensibly experiencing an identical moment in life – walking my dog in the woods – it would not and could not ever be the same as that which I lived through aged fourteen. I have grown so much as a human being since then, seen so many things – good and bad – and have loved, laughed, cried and agonised; an eternity of life’s ups and downs that have accumulated and ultimately reworked the very essence of what I once was. I now have responsibilities, worries, fears, regrets and knowledge of how dark life can get. Back then I was as free as a bird with nothing weighing me down, no deep footprints in the snow.

That is life; it is the journey of ageing, as inevitable as the sun rising and setting each day. We can’t hang on to the innocence of childhood, the lightness of how we once viewed the world.

But as the fresh, clean slate is slowly filled in with the countless experiences life throws our way, so our wisdom grows, and so too our ability to empathise and understand the world around us. That is something to be celebrated and, crucially, not to be wasted. We are, as we grow older, capable of achieving so much, if we utilise the lessons we learn along the way and put them to good use.

As 2017 approaches, it occurred to me that this might be a helpful way to put past mistakes to good use; you could consider the process to be turning faeces into fertiliser. Rather than merely suffering the injustices of all the negativity that has arisen over the decades, maybe we should channel it into doing better, empathising more, being more sensitive to the needs of others, and trying to make our individual little worlds a happier, brighter place.

We can’t remain truly young at heart during our lifetimes. But we can perceive life as a series of important lessons and from those, become more compassionate people – both towards ourselves and to those around us.

Love Is All You Need

Drinking alcohol affords a person a temporary escape route from life, a means of adjournment from a humdrum day-to-day existence. When I drank, I never looked further than about 7pm, when I knew the wine would be brought out of the fridge and my routine departure from the real world could begin.

For many people, faith provides a very real comfort from the harsh truths of our existence, and more specifically, our certain mortality.

I am neither religious nor a drinker, and it has become clear to me that here lies a real challenge in life. There is no escape route, no security blanket, no gentle dissipation of the absolute fact that I will, one day, die. And, worse still, that the time I spend on the planet will essentially amount to nothing – the Universe will one day cease to exist, and everything in it will be reduced to nothing more than a black space in time, forever more.

Is this why many people drink? Is this why I drank – because the truth is too unbearable to contemplate? I have pondered these questions over and over again since I quit drinking four years ago, desperately seeking a sense of purpose and a meaning to life that would result in alcohol, religion or any other cushioning from reality not being required, or even contemplated.

Occasionally when I look at myself in the mirror I am reminded of how old I am, how fast time is ticking away, how close I am to reaching the beginning of nothingness. At other times I think I still look young, I feel young. I’m glad I stopped drinking and smoking, and that my lifestyle choices are now reflected in my outlook on life and in my appearance. Sometimes I desperately want to wind the clock back, have another chance – do it all differently. I wish I had known myself at twenty like I know myself now. I’m often bothered by a desire to understand the purpose of it all, the meaning of life, and sometimes crushed by a sneaking suspicion that there isn’t one.

The things that I thought were important in my youth are not important at all anymore. The only constants for me are music, and love. Love seems to me to be the thing that matters the most because it allows us to leave a lasting, meaningful impression on the earth after we have departed it forever.

sunset in heart hands

We can affect other people, bring them happiness, care for them, make them feel worthwhile, nurture them, help them understand that they are not alone. We can change a person’s existence for the better, even if it is only while they are here, alive, caught in the present. The experience of living is heightened when we are loved, and in love. And yet, being selfless and loving is often difficult to achieve – we are, as human beings, prone to self-serving behaviour. It is our survival strategy, to take care of number one. Striking the balance is not always easy.

I have discovered that loving other people – and I mean truly loving them – is far easier when alcohol is not in my life. I am able to think rationally, empathise and make sacrifices whereas when I regularly drank, I was selfish, thoughtless and impetuous. I engaged in knee-jerk reactionary behaviour and was entirely unable to contemplate the outcome of my actions before setting forth down a particular path.

I’m different now, emotionally more mature. This is a very worthwhile and valuable outcome of sobriety. Finding the inner reserves to love other people fully has allowed me to attach proper meaning to my life, and in times of darkness I am assured that there is a purpose, and there is a point. For me, love is the point. Love is what we are all about. It’s the only real meaning of life that I can find.

A Precious Life

Most people won’t recall the first day of primary school. A sea of new faces, new rules, new routines and new information, all racing through the immature brain at a hundred miles an hour, little of it sticking with any permanence – at least not for the first few weeks. Most people won’t remember to whom they spoke on the first day at school; whether it was a child who was to grow into a friend or just one of many faceless classmates who would eventually drift off into the far reaches of the school experience. Perhaps there will be, for some, a glimmer of a memory of a tearful, wretched goodbye to a parent at the school gates, the very first real separation marking the beginning of a series of many.

Most children readily absorb school life; they relish the learning opportunities presented. That first day becomes the first week, and then a month, a year. Our infant education whizzes by and suddenly we are moving rapidly into the junior years and beyond. Friendships are cemented, the shared background of metamorphosis from child to teenager makes for deep bonds, the like of which are rarely repeated in later life. The innocence and freshness of youth sparks dreams of what might be waiting for us around the corner as adults, a place none of us know but most, in their teens, would claim to be familiar with. Clutching at a medley of half-formed views and childish interpretations of the world, we are united in youth by a lack of real life knowledge and, simultaneously, a belief that we are more than capable of going it alone.

I do remember the very first person I spoke to at primary school. Her name was Fiona and she was a one-off; a live wire, filled with intelligence and passion, topped off with an unruly mop of brown curls. We became best friends, and remained so throughout much of primary school. Once in secondary education we slowly disconnected, each of us becoming welded to new groups of friends but always retaining the close, unmistakeable childhood bond we had sealed on our very first day at school all those years earlier.

When she was aged seventeen, Fiona was murdered, very brutally. Her death has haunted me almost every day since I became aware of it, when I recognised her face on the front page of the local paper, a patchy look-alike created by a police artist. It was the week before Christmas, December 18th, in 1993.

Today I went for a run, up through the parks and close to the border of the Peak District. It is twenty-one years exactly since Fiona was killed – years that I have been lucky enough to live, and she has not. As I stopped to take in the view at the top of a hill, I took note of my health, my vitality, my age; that I have made it to thirty-nine, am fortunate enough to have two beautiful daughters, and have friends and family who I love. So many things that have shaped me over the last twenty-one years ran through my mind; the music I have listened to, nights out I’ve had, holidays I’ve enjoyed, sunrises I have witnessed, snow I have played in, seas I have swum in, books I have read, people I have met, films I have seen, laughter I have shared, love I have known, goals I have reached, tears I have cried.

And for a few moments, I categorically understood just how precious this one life is with which we are granted. How fast it goes, how easily it can be snatched away and how, once it has gone, it has done so forever. It’s so important that we make every day count, that we don’t wait until tomorrow before we make the changes that will get things moving in the direction we want. Too many people never have the chance to see their dreams realised – those of us who do should try our very best to make sure they happen.

I have always known that Fiona’s chance to shine was just waiting for her, if only she had made it just that bit further in her life. At eighteen I didn’t fully grasp the monstrosity that her death amounted to, the tragedy that losing someone at such a young age is. As I have grown older, I have felt it acutely, year on year. And the only sense I have come to make of it is that her death should serve as a reminder of what a gift life actually is.

Live Life to the Full

It’s my birthday tomorrow. I’ll be 38. Creeping up on me over the last few years has been the dawning realisation that eventually (drum roll please), I am going to die.

I have always known this to be the case since I was a little girl, but back then it was the kind of acceptance where mentally you exclude yourself from the situation, i.e. no acceptance at all. We are born, we grow old, we die, but apart from that, I’ll be here forever – gross delusion, one might call it.

Sometime around the age of 30, that all changed. I became deeply aware of my own mortality, a cognition which provided, in part, the motivation I needed to stop drinking. Now, a couple of years of sobriety later, this acknowledgement of my own ultimate demise is never too far from my consciousness. I consider it often and occasionally feel fairly overwhelmed by the force it. The world will keep on spinning, the sun will continue to rise and set, people will go about their business and build things and have children and go on holiday and buy stuff and take out mortgages and attend school and visit the dentist and the hairdresser, and I won’t be here – ever again.

One thing I have realised as an ex-drinker is that regularly quaffing booze acts as something of a barrier to these thoughts. Especially when you drink on a daily basis, the addiction process operates sufficiently well in limiting how far one thinks – the major concern is to make it through to the next drink, thus reducing the scope of one’s thoughts, and once that next glass has been filled the mind-numbing process begins all over again. Mornings are adequately taken care of thanks to the low-level but all-too-noticeable hangovers, and onwards the little cycle proceeds. What an alcohol dependency initiates in us is a shrinking of the reaches of our minds.

And I often wonder, is this (at least in part) the reason why we, as human beings, have been attracted to mind-altering substances for so many thousands of years? Why so many of us seem utterly compelled to escape our reality, that reality being that we all, one day, will be no more?539

Other animals are in the dark with regards to their limited life span. They are not weighted down with the knowledge that their very existence will, one day, be of no relevance at all.

That is, for me, an epic and startlingly difficult concept to grasp.

Without excessive amounts of alcohol numbing and fogging and confusing my headspace, I am a far more profound thinker than I ever was before. And despite the lack of booze resulting in a greater awareness of my own mortality, I believe I am living a richer life, and am filled with a deeper level of gratitude, than would ever have been possible as a boozer.

When I hit the ripe old age of 38 tomorrow, these thoughts will be prevalent in my mind; I am alive and healthy, I have my freedom, I am surrounded by people I love, I understand myself, I know where I want to be and who I am striving to be, I am not constrained by any influences other than those I choose to be constrained by, I learn from my mistakes, I am making progress, I recognise my weaknesses and know how to work at improving on them.

On my birthday I will be intensely thankful for living – and the finite nature of that life makes it all the more valuable.

Focus On The Important Stuff Instead

Never underestimate the human ability to adjust to new situations – what you may imagine is impossible will one day become easy, if you open your mind.

 Find time every day to get your rock n roll kicks from listening to loud music; lose yourself in it.

My beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Do exercise a few times a week – it makes your weight easier to manage, kills stress and releases an endorphin rush so you’ll feel happier too.

Refuse to be influenced by your past failures or your imagined future limitations – the person you are today is the only one who can affect change in your life.

Learn from mistakes and then leave them where they belong – in your history. Getting it wrong enough should always lead to getting it right, so don’t beat yourself up for the things you did when you were younger and not so wise; use your experiences to foster growth instead.

 The people you love should be the recipients of your kindest, most generous self. When they’re gone, you will find it hard to shed deep regrets; try not to have any.

Drink plenty of water; it helps your body and mind work effectively. Avoid fizzy drinks – they are of no value.

Only you know when a habit has become destructive – that little voice in your head is there for a reason; listen to it before you have reason to regret not doing so. It’s there to protect you from yourself.

Eat when you are hungry; forget about food when you’re not. Over-thinking anything will only lead to negating good intentions.

Trivialities aren’t the makers or breakers of your happiness – whether you buy those new shoes or not won’t fundamentally alter your life. Focus on the important stuff instead.

Having a change of scene and breaking your routine does you a world of good.

Never hold your looks in too high regard – one day they will fade and you need to make sure you’ve got back up. You’ll be much better off if you put the effort into developing your character.

birthday-cake

Ironing, cooking, gardening and knitting are so much more than practical chores. Losing yourself in one of these tasks acts a little like meditation; it demands enough concentration to stop you sweating over the small stuff, but not so much that it feels like effort. Try immersing yourself in baking a cake next time your anxieties are getting the better of you.

joyful child

Be nice to someone you’ve never met before – you’ll feel better and their faith in humankind will get a major boost.

Make an effort to look nice, but avoid obsessing over your outward appearance. Vanity makes even the most beautiful person appear ugly.

Adopt a cat or dog from your local shelter – having a pet reduces stress, and you’ll be giving an animal who has felt the cold hand of hurt and abandonment the chance to feel at peace. Don’t buy one from a breeder when you could help so much more by taking a stray.

Find an art form that helps you escape from reality for a while; whether it’s a film, book, seeing a live band or visiting an art gallery, get your hits from someone else’s creativity; avoid searching for highs in mind-altering substances. The former will help you grow; the latter will stop you dead in your tracks.

Make the effort to empathise. You never know what life will fling at you next – good or bad, you will always want to share things with people who understand.

Remember how fleeting your time on Earth is; use your sense of mortality to put life’s minutiae into perspective, as well as to focus your mind on doing your best where it counts.

Always keep your ego in check – when things are on the up, remind yourself that you are just human; when you’re down, tell yourself you are unique and amazing.

Let go of hatred; it prevents you from being a free spirit.

Letter to me, 20 years from now

A while ago, I wrote a post entitled ‘Letter to my 14 Year Old Self,’ so I really felt inspired to write this letter to me in twenty years, when I saw it as a Daily Prompt on the Daily Post.

I’m an atheist so I struggled with the concept of a Higher Power when I first gave up drinking. An alternative source of motivation to help me stay away from the booze came from an image I kept in my head of me in the future; a version of me that I would be proud to grow in to, rather than the grumpy, stressed pisshead who I had turned in to, in the last few years that I spent drinking. I knew that I had to become that woman in my head, otherwise I would be letting myself down big time, and I couldn’t stand living with that sense of failure. Below is a letter written to that imagined future me – the one who helped me get booze out of my life once and for all.

Not me, but a random woman writing a letter.

 

Twenty two years ago you stopped drinking alcohol. Do you remember that chapter in your life, the drinking days? Does it stand out in your history as a definitive period, or has it now been consigned to the ‘insignificant pile’ of your memory?

 

Funny how, when you were in the middle of it all, you couldn’t imagine another way, an alternative way of living. For years you thought you would always be a boozer, forever wasting your weekends in a haze of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, constantly picking up the pieces after foolish nights out where you made an idiot of yourself, again and again.

 

So, was ditching alcohol the right thing to do? Do you regard the making of that decision as a defining moment in your life? I suspect you do. If you hadn’t made that choice, you more than likely wouldn’t even be around to read this letter twenty years from now – and if you were, your liver would be shot to bits and you’d look like shit. I bet if you had continued to drink, you wouldn’t be in a relationship either, certainly not with your beloved soul mate, the one you became engaged to in a tent in Cornwall, June 2011. And if you hadn’t embarked on the path of sobriety, you wouldn’t have the wonderful joy of close relationships with your two girls, both of whom will be adults now and maybe with children of their own, making you a grandma.

 

Do you have that kind of relationship with them? Did you turn out to be the kind of mum that you always wanted to be?

 

When you stopped drinking it seemed like the only choice to make. Do you remember that moment of clarity when you woke up the morning after your last drunken episode, so full of self hatred and remorse and fear, so fed up with failing to live up to your potential, and hell bent on climbing off that ride? Does it still haunt you – that feeling of being alone, terrified, sliding down in to oblivion and without any certainty that you might discover a slip road, a route off the madness?

 

My guess is that life became a whole lot better, fuller and happier in the times that followed 2011, the year you had your last drink. I imagine there will be a few regrets, but they won’t be the sort that turn in your stomach like a rusty knife, gouging away at your inner soul and inflicting self hatred over and over, like a relentless torturer. God, those mornings when you used to lie in bed, crying and cursing yourself, wishing for anything that you could turn back the clock and wipe away the events of the previous night. Do you still think of those times? I hope that if you do, you think of them thankfully – that you regard them as the foundations of a new you, a better you, the right you. Because if those times hadn’t have happened, you never would have stopped drinking – it had to get that bad for you to put an end to it, once and for all.

 

In your mid thirties, things were just coming together. You found optimism around that time, something that had been lacking previously. The future suddenly began to look attainable, bright and full of possibilities. I hope you managed to fulfil all the dreams that you formulated in that period, when you first gave up alcohol.

 

Can you recall how much more energy and passion you discovered post booze, for everything, or has that just become a happy norm rendering you unable to remember ever being any different? It’s funny to think that in twenty years from now, those couple of decades you pissed up the wall boozing will be a distant memory to you. It probably won’t even seem like you anymore; the you that is together and fit and healthy, mostly happy and steady, dependable and predictable, I bet she won’t recognise the old version – depressed, wallowing in negativity, drowning in wine and shame, and unable to find her place in the world. It’s odd to imagine that the boozy you was something of a blip, you but with errors, a Lucy possessed by demons – demons that I hope you saw the back of.

 

Did you finally put all your ghosts to bed? Did you forgive yourself all those misdemeanours, the messed up relationships and bad moods, the wrong turns you made here and there, as you tried to navigate your way out of the labyrinth that alcohol abuse led you in to?

 

My wish now, in November 2012, is that in twenty years you will look back over your life and see that boozed up woman, the younger you in her teens through to mid-thirties, drinking, smoking, in denial, frightened, ashamed, loud-mouthed, terrified, nervous, anxiety-ridden, panic-stricken, alcohol addict, and you will dismiss that chapter as a bit of a cock up, a bump in an otherwise smooth road. My wish for you is that life without alcohol became the absolute norm.

 

At the time of writing, in November 2012, I think I am already profoundly different to who I was just two years ago, so who knows what the next twenty years will bring? I am no longer frightened to catch up with you, future Lucy. I trust you and when we eventually meet, I know you won’t have let me down.

Nb. here’s the link to the previous letter I wrote, to the 14 year old me – https://soberistas.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/letter-to-me-aged-14/

 

 

 

Happy Memories of Electric Whisks

I was 23 and pregnant with my eldest daughter, now almost fourteen, when my grandma died. She had lived with us since I was nine years old, with my grandpa (prior to his death, when I was sixteen years old), parents and older sister. Even before my grandparents moved over to join us in Sheffield from their Lincolnshire bungalow, we were very close. My sister and I were thrilled when they, along with our parents, made the decision to buy a house in Sheffield and for us all to live together.

Me, aged about six, with my lovely grandparents

My grandma suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her last years, and when she finally passed away, she no longer knew who I was. I visited her in the nursing home where she saw out her final months when I was several months pregnant, and although she demonstrated happiness at the news of the impending baby, she had no idea that my soon-to-be-born daughter was her great grandchild. She died soon after that visit.

Life moves on; my baby was born and I married my (now ex) husband a few months later. Although I was extremely sad that I had lost my beloved grandma, I was so caught up with the hectic schedule that accompanies being a new mum and wife that I buried my grief to a degree in order to concentrate on the here and now.

As the years went by, the memories became increasingly distant, pushed to the back of my mind. I began to drink heavily in my late twenties, attempting to anaesthetise myself against the pain of my divorce and the sadness I felt at being left to raise my daughter without her dad around. All the negative events that I had experienced during my life prior to then, including the death of my grandma, gradually whittled away to minor grievances, diluted by wine, numbed by my drunkenness. Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling.

When I gave up drinking alcohol, and the weeks of sobriety turned in to months, I began to think a lot about stuff that I had interred, long ago, in the depths of my consciousness. I became aware that most of the sad or painful life experiences which had occurred earlier on in my life, had never been ‘dealt with’ – instead of feeling emotional pain, living it, working through it and then moving forward, I had just drunk those emotions away, blotting them out like an eclipsed sun. I had, effectively, never known true pain.

I had lived through things as though I were an automaton, forbidding myself to feel emotions like a human being should, boxing painful memories away like disused ornaments in a dusty attic. Drinking took away my ability to hurt.

But slowly, emotions have returned. Over the last few months, particularly after the birth of my second daughter, I have thought of my grandma frequently (our baby is the namesake of my grandma and of my partner’s mother). Silly things remind me of her; an M&S nighty hanging on an old lady’s washing line; re-reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’; whipping cream to peaks with an electric whisk, mine being a modern version of the 1970’s one I used to borrow from her as a child who was a keen baker; the new series of Dallas; attempting to sew my other half’s trouser hems, minus the wonderfully equipped sewing box she kept so well stocked; Pond’s face cream, the reason behind her lovely pink complexion; my baby’s little chin, round like a button, and which so reminds me of her great-grandma’s.

Although it has been fourteen years since her death, I still miss my grandma. I wish she could have known my two lovely girls, and seen my sister and me as mothers, with our own families to look after. She gave us such constant and unconditional love, and I wish that I had been given the chance to visit her and look after her at an older age than that at which she passed away.

Although I still cry sometimes when I see the seemingly inane things that remind me of her, I am so glad that I feel those emotions and think of her, so fondly, as often as I do. I wouldn’t have ever grieved properly for her had I still been drinking wine every night, and even though it  hurts, I am happy to finally be dealing with my feelings, good and bad, like a fully functioning human being.