It’s 00:12 and I am officially 60 days sober. Probably the longest time without having ingested an alcoholic drink since I started drinking at the age of 13. That’s 30 years of cultivating an addiction to a substance that both cocooned me in its nectar yet created the opportunities for blackouts, sexual assaults, lying, cheating and putting myself in stupidly dangerous situations.
These 60 days represent a pivotal turning point in my life. I feel a bit like the battered daffodils across the way from my window – still just about standing despite the efforts of Ciara and Dennis. We sit in therapy and what can start out as a jovial session with one of us believing that we have achieved something or regaling a past deed, can often end in anger, shame and (in my case) tears. The counsellors picking apart our words and with an invisible highlighter reveal the manipulation and denial in our stories.
I don’t know who I am. I am not sure what my opinions are on anything anymore. The never-ending layers of an onion being stripped away day by day and the constant weariness at the intensity of the sessions leaves us exhausted. With it however, there comes a lightness and a distinct lack of pretence. I can admit to it all as it arises.
This evening, after I had a bath with my battery lit candles and finished some written work, I attempted to play darts. Bolstered by not being the only female in the house, the new girl (who happens to be particularly good at the game), tried to improve my technique which resulted in my finally getting the sodding dart in the right place, despite at least 2 minutes of not having a clue about what she was talking about.
I am tired and hoping that I can finally manage to sleep through the night and not wake up with a mind like a washing machine as I do usually.
Excuse the poorly written post, my batteries are on empty…
Sitting in my room on my bed in between lunch and a workshop. Reflecting on a) how much I cry and b) how I might be able to pull a sudden sickie and be excused from another excruciating hour of ‘let’s pull the addicts apart and bare their souls until they howl for mercy’.
Yes I am feeling a little dramatic and if I were a cat (which alas I am not.. I have never seen an alcoholic cat before so can safely assume I wouldn’t need to be in a rehab if I were one..), I would be painstakingly licking my fur so that every strand of hair was laying in the correct direction and then would sprawl out and knead my claws into the soft blanket under which I am currently hiding. Right now, being a cat would be the ultimate solution for my weary brain that has had enough of the constant barrage of therapy.
The thing is that I am fully aware that out of this pain comes growth. It’s just it hurts so fucking much. I struggle to sleep when I go to bed and then can’t wake up in the morning. My first thoughts as I stir are muted and fuzzy but within seconds negativity bombards the mind, like shots being fired from a gun. The idea is that I pray first thing and meditate. Unfortunately the fatigue is crippling first thing and I struggle to get down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea let alone pray to my higher power. Ideally I would pray to my higher power whilst simultaneously receiving a cup of tea but I feel that asking for tea and serenity might be pushing it.
Relationships throughout my life are fast becoming an obvious issue and I witness from my mind’s sidelines how I play out my role in relationships now. In fact I almost feel like I have just been thrown back to being a young child and I am having to relearn how to be a friend, a daughter, a sister as well as a mother. And god knows what hell being in a relationship now would manifest. Almost 6 weeks in and I have realised that not one of my past relationships have been healthy. Blood red ‘Codependence’ is stamped condemningly on each one, as I file them into the ‘LOVE – archived’ cabinet drawer.
With shocking clarity as I sat on a bus coming back from the Portobello market, I realised that each time I envisioned being with a partner, I was looking for someone who had the same values with a shared sense of humour, who liked the same things, adored animals, listened to the same music.. In fact, I was looking for me. I don’t actually need anyone else to fulfil me or make me whole.. I have already found that person. It is me. I have everything I need and now I just need to love her. The tears that threaten to drown me also come from the stark realisation that there is no person alive who can save the little girl who resides within, that critical time has passed. The loneliness and fear that stemmed from instances of neglect needed to be addressed between the ages of 0 – 16. They simply cannot be fixed now by anything external. That boat has most definitely sailed. Love, material objects, new hair styles or multiple piercings and tattoos.. it is time to accept that they are nice-to-haves. The only way that this vessel can be repaired is via a self-care manual that incorporates the instructions to fixing one’s container so that it is supportive, can bear rough seas and doesn’t leak. And to do this I assume I need to do a bit of work on self-love, self-care and self-esteem.
Through drawing and painting, meditating, writing and (my latest addiction) collecting house plants, I endeavour to create a safe space whilst I am here. My essential oil diffuser puffs out therapeutic steam whilst changing colour and the salt lamp exudes a warm glow. Fuck knows what the cluster of healing crystals are actually doing by my bedside but I do seem to think that shoving a different one down my bra each day may help with something. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
It has been quite some time since I last posted. About a year. In some ways life has changed dramatically, in essence, however, it has remained the same. Fault lines that run through my soul, emitting warning tones that increase with frequency and intensity. Now at least I am in a position to address them despite the change in circumstances.
I look out of the window and see council flats. I’m sitting in the TV room in a treatment centre in South East England. The place is both alien and familiar.
Almost 7 weeks ago I took an overdose and thereby, inadvertently threw myself off of the train that I had unwittingly boarded years ago. The train that was speeding through events and problems on a loop, going back over and over again on itself with me at the helm, unable to apply the breaks or take a different route. The only way that seemed possible to disembark was to derail the train. And that is what I did.
And the landing was hard. I woke up on the hospital trolley and felt immediate humiliation and shame at my failed attempt. The guilt at the pain I had caused rose like the water in an empty sinking vessel and indeed, that is how I felt. Empty. Devoid of anything substantial other than the knowledge that I had fucked even this up.
Within a couple of days I was in a private local rehab centre trying to come to terms with the damage I had caused to those close to me; to my position as a newly qualified nurse; to my life as I knew it. The admission that I was a functioning alcoholic who had wrapped herself in denial rather than admit defeat and hold her hands up to the unmanageability of her life. It stung. A million wasps stings attacking mind and heart; my core was squirming and withering whilst I tried to think my way out of the shit storm I had created.
Now, a month and a half later, the pain is still there. As my various masks get stripped off via the counsellors, like a steady swell, the tears rise up and then fall away. There are small steps forward followed almost immediately by a trip and stumble backwards. My love for another alcoholic and addict still burning despite the the hoses of water trained on it from so many different sources; family, friends, therapists, peers and myself. Knowing that my self worth must overcome the agony of rejection and loss which follows the declarations of love, the lying and manipulation. Knowing that despite the rosy future I had imagined, the reality as it stands was likely to be more thorns than petals.
The laughter in here though, is infectious. The residents move in and out depending on their treatment time and whether or not they relapse. We currently are ten men and two women. The amounts of times I have squealed and had to immediately cross my legs whilst hopping about in fits of laughter are unquantifiable. The different personalities in the house emerge as time allows and there is a general feel of camaraderie. Although this can be upset by the arrival of someone new or the departure of a well-liked housemate… or the failing of a house member at their ‘therapeutic duty’ *… Actually, poorly thought out meals (i.e. anything meatless it appears) are a proper recipe for disaster and spark a flurry of outings to the local fried chicken shop.
All in all though, I feel that I am in a good place despite the unease at knowing what I have to face combined with the aching and longing to be with my children. Another 7 weeks to go and I am in no doubt that I need to grasp the ethos of recovery with both hands and absorb everything if I am to have a fighting chance at both sobriety and being the best mother I can be.
*Therapeutic duty – basically a cleaning or shopping chore.
It was the accent that gave it away. For the past few months my ‘external motivator’ voice hasn’t had an accent. It’s just been dreary and dull and well basically, my own voice but worse. Today I was ordering myself around in a (bad) Irish accent – think Brad Pitt in Fight Club – and as I told myself to ‘put da fockin kettle ahn’, I grinned in delight. Yes! Things were going to get DONE today… When I am being really stern with myself and trying to study, it is generally an Afrikaans accent and occasionally when I need to be a bit softer on myself, it’s either Brummie or West Country. (disclaimer: please do not think that at any point I am being judgy about countries/accents.. this is purely my own mental shit coming out.. bear with). Now, interestingly, as I did my second attempt at a bloody horrid medication exam, I spoke in my own voice. But very strict. Not until I had passed the 100% pass mark did any other fun accents deign to materialise. So, the return of them can only signify that the fog is lifting and I am on the mend.
The sun, daffs, Floradix and the miracle of high potency vitamin D3 spray on my buccal mucosa are potentially the components that kicked me up the arse physically and mentally. The relief at just doing, not thinking about doing and having a constant internal struggle as to whether I can muster the courage and energy todo… The problem with innate inertia is that the idea of even taking a shower just poses so many issues… literally, it’s less Midas and more Misery touch.
So think of my utter glee at not feeling like this today. Like someone turned the fucking light on! There I was skipping about the garden, trying not to tread on the mud-was-grass and stick to the stepping stones which must have been laid by an idiot (me) as you can’t walk on them without looking like a drunk pirate walking the plank.. in the end, (think fit pirate whatsisface Depp when he is pissed and trying to run), you get faster and faster and if you can make it to the end without falling off one of them.. it’s a Brucie Bonus. Admittedly this is much more fun (and less possible) when inebriated.
Things are settling.. Mr P and I are working things out and I feel blissfully happy about it. Plans are being made for the Spring and Summer.. the end of my course is in sight and all is looking good in the hood.
Last night I decided to do Lazy Studying which basically involves lying on one’s back reading relevant literature to one’s dissertation and then watching TED talks followed by YouTube videos on the topic of choice.
My dissertation, as mentioned previously, is on domestic abuse and its identification within A&E departments in the UK. The next video uploading last night was on narcissism and how to recognise it. Hmmm.. I thought, interesting…. (in light of my last – and final – dalliance with ‘romance’, outside of my marriage). As I watched and listened to further more accounts of narcissistic behaviour, which involves manipulating, controlling, demeaning, coercing etc.. I realised that this was something that I had encountered more times in relationships than I had realised.
First instance was as a 13/14 year old going out with an 18 year year old who stole motorbikes, did drugs, lived in the most horrendous squat-like residence (even though it was actually owned by his father) and loved to taunt me about his past girlfriends being far better in the sack than I. He also set his dad’s dog on me once. Admittedly it was only a Jack Russell but it had teeth and was aggressive. I sat cowering on top of a set of drawers crying, while he and our ‘friends’ fell about laughing. He also had an affair with my supposed mate from school and left love letters to and from her that I would find. He even got me to pick up a letter from the post office and then proceeded to read it out to me – from the ex apparently – although I now have my suspicions that in fact a lot of these instances were fantasy and game playing to undermine my already shattered sense of self. After six months I woke up to the fact that he was a dickhead and stopped seeing him. (Note: I was a wilful teenager and whilst my mother did attempt to stop me seeing him – it didn’t work). Then proceeded years of intermittent stalking, silent calls and even fairly recently, a friend request on FB.
The next narcissist gave me quite a strong hint on the first night we went out – he told me my hair smelt disgusting as we stood on the escalator on the tube. To be fair I hadn’t washed it that day but still. Rude. He would regularly get drunk and tell me that he didn’t need to meet or see my friends as he had enough and didn’t like mine anyway. He was 39 and I was 23.. there were regular put downs and the final straw came when he stayed at my flat while I was at work and inadvertently folded my two cats into the sofa bed. They lived, the relationship didn’t.
The third lovely fella is someone I have had to remain in contact with for a long time due to the child we produced together. But along the same lines as above.. I left him after a year and a half. There were many instances of control and manipulation but my main memories are of being told to dress and behave more like a lady and to straighten my hair so it didn’t have ‘fizz’ and that it was ok if he mistakenly stayed out (repeatedly) until 6am after going out for a pack of cigarettes 12 hours earlier..
but if I planned a night away at a friends then I was deserting him.
The final guy I have spoken about previously.
Interestingly, I don’t generally believe that I am pushover. I am pretty feisty and independent and certainly with the last 3 men, they were presented with that version of me on the first meeting. So I wonder if the challenge of being able to reign those characteristics in, is what appeals? Equally do I need to admit responsibility in thinking that I can somehow change their personalities too? Each of them were troubled and had experienced difficult upbringings, so did I too think it was a challenge? Did I want to temper them down? Or instead is it some perverse longing to feel secure and in the absence of a father, fathered? There are many theories out there I am sure but this reflective process has left me very much grateful that I can see my own manipulative traits and desire to control through my own perceived omnipotence.
Mr P and I are building bridges, hopefully out of slightly more sturdier materials. As a result of this painful intermission, we appear to be able to look at each other in a new light; with more acceptance, understanding and hopefully, tolerance.
It comes to something when you hear the glee in your mother’s voice upon telling her how many meetings you have made in the past 5 days (7).. ‘that’s fantastic!”. “Yes”, I reply drily, “isn’t it just?”. I did also mention that because there are a majority of people who drink more than I ever did, that maybe I didn’t need to stop quite now.. and could continue until I got to where they did and and then stop. I quickly laughed to iterate how it was all such a funny joke.. meanwhile mentally clarifying to myself that this could be an option… couldn’t it?
Oooh it’s funny how your mind can turn things around to make them fit. A bit like a piece of puzzle that isn’t really meant to go where you are putting it, so you just rip off the protruding peggy bit off so that it slides in nicely. Rearranging the narrative.
My mind, desperate for some sort of pleasure, has decided that I need to buy things. Constantly. Ayurvedic tea seems to be the recent addiction – which of course needed new glass mugs and a loose leaf teapot. Before that I decided I needed to purchase literally anything that Facebook showed me. So I now have a new duvet cover, my own purpose made home hair colouring kit from the US, a gel nail kit with UV lamp and I have paid a tenner to find out which food I need to eat to help with my Vata Dosha (basically, amongst a plethora of other things, it is supposed to help you sleep better, restore better mental health and stop farting like a trojan.). I could’ve got this information for free. From Google. However, I only discovered that after I had paid. I also nearly booked for a massage and spray tan before common sense prevailed and I realised that food for the family might be more beneficial.
The mental fogginess is still there. I can’t seem to think about anything meaningful at all. It’s as though the brain has shut down that area for refurbishment – “Closed until further notice” – my relationships with my family or friends etc? I can’t think about them. What I want to do regarding applying for a job? No, not today thanks. I am only able to place one foot in front of the other and think about the day in hand. Thankfully, it is suggested that when giving up an addiction, you only take one day at a time, which is lucky really, because that’s literally all I can manage. The moment I try and plan something concrete for the future, the amount of mental effort it takes to sustain the process is enormous and I mentally and physically crash afterwards. I want to sleep sooo much. The exhaustion is overwhelming at times.
Maybe that’s why currently, instant gratification is key. I have a sneaky feeling that I need to move away from this type of thinking.. that I need to sit with the discomfort and accept the loneliness and difficulty of feeling like I am missing something but for now small steps.. and maybe that elephant duvet cover that I keep seeing an advert for………
I can certainly recognise that I am at the beginning of a long, long road and as I tentatively am putting down my feet, feeling my way, I am just thankful that my wake up call didn’t involve other services, that I am still on my path (albeit a tad rockily) and I do have the option of making the right choices now.
I felt it wash over me, a sense of peace. Contentment. Reminiscent of a time long ago as a child on a mediterranean holiday, lying in the shores on warm, wet sand, as the waves gently passed over my small, brown body.
The coils have been so tightly sprung for so long that I couldn’t quite work out what was wrong. The house was still in need of a good sort out, no miraculous dumping of millions had occurred in my bank account and I hadn’t lost 2 stone. So why on earth did I feel.. ok?
Surrendering isn’t something I do very easily, well not without mind altering substances and as they are officially off the menu, I am having to find alternative measures; meditation and yoga are my mind altering practices.
Meditation has been delicious.. there is something about the letting go; the shoulders gently relax; the tension melts and you surrender.
I suddenly ‘get’ recovery and the serenity it can bring; letting go and accepting; the tribe I have become part of and within which support freely flows.
The anxiety is lifting and my eyes are starting to smile once more.