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One Whole Year of Sober

This was the sight that greeted me this morning - I wanted to wake to see the sunrise on the anniversary of being sober for a year. It seemed fitting given my new found obsession for early mornings and catching the dawn, which had only been possible since being sober. The ray of light spoke volumes to me, as this time last year, unbeknownst to me, a ray of light had started to shine on my life. Now, as I look out of the window from the office I have just started working from, I see my car in the car park, looking back at me. In my head, I say ‘Hello little car. You weren’t the same car I was driving this time last year’. And that makes me think, ‘Hello body. You weren’t the same body I was driving this time last year either’. This body of mine, that for years I would force to go running on a hangover in order to stay ‘healthy’ was also being self-sabotaged by the amount of booze I was tipping into it every night. Laughable that I believed running or any form of exercise would counteract that continual assault. But not now. Now, I am looking out this window, from an office I didn’t work in a year ago, (in a career I am super proud of having attained) and reflecting on all the changes I have made, all the things I have achieved, all the imperceptible changes that have occurred in order to better myself. And all of those things, without exception, are down to the fact that a year ago today, I decide that enough was enough. I stopped drinking.

It had started innocently enough. Another Monday, horribly hungover, where I promise-promise-promised myself that I wouldn’t drink today. No matter what. I wouldn’t because it was Monday, and because that seemed like a good enough place to start. To try and not drink for a couple of days a week – maybe make it to the weekend without one. I had been aware for a while that things were careening out of control, and now the pandemic was in full swing, lockdown had facilitated drinking like no other situation could – nowhere to show up for except here, no one to be accountable to except me. No need to worry about having to drive the next day. Ever. So coupled with a disastrous personal life, insidiously, Drink crept in. It took a hold of my evenings, smoothly justifying it’s arrival with a ‘hair of the dog’ reasoning – pointing out that there was nothing to get up for tomorrow, nowhere to be. Being self-employed meant that Drink was right, I had no accountability – it didn’t matter what time I worked, not really, as long as the work got done. My teenage children were old enough to get themselves up and ready for their set school tasks every day (although I always ensured I was up to make breakfast and generally help things along), and half the time they were at their Dad’s, so even more smooth reasoning on the part of Drink to urge me to go ahead, have a few, let your hair down, what’s the harm? But the harm was there. It was there every time I had one too many (which was every night now). It was there and present through my scary blackouts, thankfully never bringing me to actual physical harm, for which I am eternally grateful. And it was there mentally – oh the mental harm I was constantly inflicting on myself. The cycle of addiction means that you know you’re self-harming, painfully aware of it, but the perceived pleasure apparently outweighs the inevitable consequences. My mental health was suffering a lot by now – it had for ages actually; the feeling of constantly failing at life, despite having a wonderful family and loving home. The complete and utter detrimental lack of self-worth. The permanent anxiety that was off the scale. The dark depression, permanently on the periphery of my mental landscape, that I was constantly trying to drown out and fend off with a bottle. Anything to get rid of those feelings, anything to avoid confronting them. Not once did I allow myself to face the fact that Drink was actually the root cause of them, dragging me down deeper.

So on this particular Monday, an evening without the kids, I decided a supermarket trip was necessary to kill some time. All was fine until I hit the booze aisle, and picking up a small bottle of gin, the smallest one without reaching for a miniature, I told myself this was just going to be one drink. One small gin and tonic before bed. Others could do that I reasoned, why not me? They made it look easy, the ones who could ‘take it or leave it’ (I hate that phrase with a vengeance now). Turns out those people don’t have a drinking problem- but anyway. I now know that moderation will never be a possibility for me, and that night was the catalyst for my realisation. Inevitably, I had my one drink, but that wasn’t enough – it never is. I had to have another, and by the time that was gone, all reason had left the building, escorted out by Drink. The bottle got finished quickly, and was followed by more of whatever was to hand. Towards the end, I really wasn’t fussy – amaretto, whisky, anything that was behind the bar. It culminated in, as per usual, dredging up an endless list of my failings as a wife (at this stage ex) a mother, a human being. Feeling incredibly depressed, I tipped into my usual pit of despair, thinking about ending it all. Instead, a sobbing mess, I called my best friend who is unfailingly there for me even through the darkest nights, and then texted a sober acquaintance, who promised to help, despite it being 2am in the morning. My best friend, as usual, talked me through it, calmed me down, sent me to bed, promised we would sort it and that it would be OK tomorrow. I knew then, and the next day, that it was over. I couldn’t feel that utterly low again; if nothing else, I had to start turning things around for my kids - and for me (and maybe, just maybe, stop bothering people at 2am). I had seen this coming for a while, this storm on the horizon, had known I was going to either continue to stubbornly weather it, eventually at great cost, or admit defeat and try and seek sober shelter. I had known that one day soon, I would need to make that decision, and it would need to be an either or, but could never be both. Thankfully, on waking the next day, I sought sobriety with a mixed sense of relief having finally made the decision, and regret of what I was about to try and sever myself from. It was like a painful separation from a much loved but abusive partner, who while I knew was doing deliberately awful and harmful things to me, I couldn’t stop loving or running back to for more; I had to stop feeding the monster.

Thankfully this time, there was something different in my resolve. I think facing up to the fact that it would have to be all or nothing (and I had chosen nothing) made me realise I was finally facing the end of it all, and as a result, sought external support. There is nothing worse than trying to get through early sobriety on your own – it takes a mountain of willpower, and absolute sheer bloody mindedness. Some manage it, and fair play to them, but I had tried and failed on that path before. As I mentioned in a previous post, this time I enlisted the help of Belle from, to be my personal sober penpal for a year. I had subscribed to her emails ages before (which are free and amazing), knowing perhaps that one day I would need her. And I did. Looking back, this was the right path for me - not free, but freeing (and well worth the cost - I would have spent far more on booze, and had a lot less to show for it as a result). She gave me unwavering support in various forms, a penpal at the end of email, lots of extra tools to use, and most importantly of all, accountability to someone other than myself. She made me not want to let her down, which in turn made me not want to let myself down. I told my children too – and more than anything, I didn’t want to let them down. Accountability is an incredibly powerful sober tool, make no mistake. I was also lucky enough to have a small group of very, very supportive friends and family, some of which had also experienced problems with alcohol, and so opened their arms to my weak and beaten mess of a self. My advice to anyone who can’t afford to pay for help would be to either seek it from your GP, and/or find a level of support that you feel comfortable with, whether it’s a group such as AA, online communities, or friends who are already sober. Tell people. People who you know, people who you don’t but who are sober. If you reach out, they are there, known or unknown, and always more than happy to welcome someone new – at least in my experience. I don’t think I’ve met a sober person who wouldn’t willing help others try and achieve the same, because we all know what a bastard Drink is, and how immeasurably better life can be once you’ve kicked him to the curb. I’ve also written a post about the sober tools that can help you through if you’re looking for inanimate support suggestions – you can find that post here. The point is, if this is all sounding a little too familiar to you, ringing alarm bells, then reach out. To me, to an online group (and there are plenty), to someone you know. The first step is indeed acknowledgement – and as they say, if you think you have a problem, you probably do. Talking to someone about it truly helps, especially if they have been there themselves.

So yes, new car. New Job. New me. New attitude to life, one that I am eternally grateful every morning for, and I that I continually guard against sabotaging every minute. So many things have changed for me over the last year from big to small – I’ve filled my newly found spare evenings with lovely hobbies (playing guitar, learning a new language, and turns out I like baking; I also now sea swim with a brand new group of amazing friends that I didn’t even know a year ago – and that’s just the start). I am so incredibly proud of myself for achieving a year of sobriety, and that’s not something I will say often – I’m not very good at taking compliments, let alone giving them to myself. But credit is due here, and it’s going to come this evening in the form of a delicious takeaway pizza and spending loads of time with my kids, then an early night in my lovely, cosy bed with a cup of tea and lots and lots of chocolate torte that my son has made in celebration. Because today my friends, I am definitely, definitely worth it. Today I rock.

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