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

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Message for Clara

I was planning on writing a blog today about why we should all learn to be a little kinder to ourselves, a thought that came to mind as I was getting dressed this morning in front of the mirror. Perusing my reflection, my gaze automatically fell on my caesarean scar, my (getting smaller but still there) love handles on my hips, my knobbly knees which I have always hated and my non-six pack stomach.

I acknowledge that I am no Elle Macpherson but then who is (apart from Elle herself of course)? But I’m ok considering I have had two children, the last one being only fourteen months ago, I am thirty seven years old (not ancient but certainly no spring chicken anymore), very busy, exceptionally sleep-deprived and recently recovered from a long-standing dependence on alcohol.

And yet it is so entrenched in my conscience to seek out the negatives in myself and ignore the good bits, that when analyzing my physical appearance I am, it would seem, incapable of giving myself a break. I simply do not notice the good bits – are there any?

When I logged onto Soberistas.com at lunchtime I read a comment from someone who is desperately trying to get out of the vicious cycle of binge-drinking and the associated self-hatred. There it was again – someone who sounds, for all intents and purposes, to be an attractive and pleasant person and yet hates herself inside and frequently attempts to rub out the awfulness with too much wine.

‘I so want what you have got Lucy….how did you do it? I’ve tried AA but not much luck. I know I need to want it myself and make the first steps but I struggle getting through a day :-(….I’m a 38 year old single mum and my mum and dad said yesterday how pretty I am and I’ve got an ok figure but why do I hate myself inside? Want to get out of this black hole and enjoy life again…..any advice PLEASE xx’

This blog post then has become my answer to Clara who left the above comment for me on Soberistas.com this morning.

Liking yourself, and eventually learning to love yourself, takes a lot of work. I think our culture is partly to blame as we, as a society, have a habit of disapproving of those who ‘fancy themselves’ a bit too much, whilst the adverts and media imagery which are blasted at our every sense in almost all walks of life depict only one ideal of perfection. It can feel like an uphill struggle to fend off the attack of ‘what we should be.’

Over the last couple of years I have transformed from a very insecure, emotionally unstable and mentally fragile person into someone who is pretty confident and likes herself, not thoroughly but enough. I still (as referred to above) despise my knees and that caesarean scar is taking some getting used to, but I know deep down that I am ok and I try my best to be the best that I can be – which is all any of us can do.

I am in absolutely no doubt that excessively consuming alcohol destroys a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Drinking a lot and feeling good about the person you are just do not go together, and so the only way to escape the trap of self-destruction and self-hatred is to cut out alcohol altogether. It is the alcohol that is at the root cause of how you feel.

Lucky is a funny word to use for coming close to death as a result of booze, but in some ways I do perceive my rock-bottom moment of waking up in hospital as a stroke of luck – it scared me sufficiently to ensure that I never wanted alcohol to pass my lips again as long as I live. However, for those who drink dangerous amounts but have not experienced a frightening wake-up call as I did, stopping drinking (and staying stopped) requires something akin to adopting blind faith in what people who you probably don’t even know, are telling you to be true, and doing so in a climate in which alcohol is prevalent and widely revered.

For you, the person who wrote the comment above, and for anyone else who is in a similar situation, my advice would be to put all your faith in the notion that life becomes easier in every way when you don’t drink; the rough patches will still crop up but your ability to cope with them will be so much stronger, and most importantly you will begin to piece together your self-belief once again, something which is impossible to do when you are drinking heavily on a regular basis.

Give yourself a break; recognise that the best route out of the black hole you have sunk deep inside of is to not drink alcohol TODAY. Believe it, focus on it, make not drinking your absolute priority. And remember that with each passing sober day, you are repairing yourself from the inside out and learning the essential art of liking yourself. And once you like yourself, you will be armed with all the ammunition you’ll ever need to remain sober and happy long-term.

It may feel like an insurmountable climb that lies ahead but, as Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” Just get today out of the way, and tomorrow will be easier.

Good luck x