Creeps Up

You’d think after almost 5 years of alcohol abstinence that I’d be past any significant craving, however, the drive was strong on and off for about an hour tonight.

I’m operating substance free. Well if you don’t count Oil of Evening Primrose, anti inflammatories and antidepressants as substances. What I mean is no mind or personality altering substances. I make myself sound like an automaton devoid of human emotion and working methodically without sense but that’s not the case. I have to focus, keep busy, change my routine somewhat to break habits at the same time treating myself with compassion and kindness when the struggle manifests itself; allowing myself to feel the surge of craving a quick fix. To feel the warmth ripple through me as I glug back the alcohol accompanied with the carefree liberation of giving less of a fuck or the euphoric hit after around 15 minutes of popping 60-80mg of codeine along with 3 or 4 paracetamol. Or the crazy hazy daze of doing both!

There was one solitary can of lager hidden in the fridge vegetable drawer left over from a family gathering a couple of weeks ago. I had never really given it another thought and felt sure it could just stay there and would stay there until at least Christmas 2019 but tonight the drive to crack it open was strong.

I found myself starting to weigh up the pros and cons if I drank it but quickly made a snap decision to remove the temptation. I did crack it open but poured it down the sink.

I’m not ashamed to say that I gave the empty can a good sniff after and the smell of the lager on the cold metal did conjure up a strong desire. I found myself leaning on the kitchen window sill, resting my head in my hands and staring out the window taking deep breathes and counting.

After a couple of minutes it passed.

After an hour I started to write this.

After tonight that’s another day free.

Night night x

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Right here and now.

It’s been exactly two weeks since I last took an opioid. I can try to be blasé about it but truth is this is about the fifth time I’ve been here. This seems to be one I return to like an abused lover who keeps going back because it seems easier to keep things as they are and their self worth being so low makes them believe that they are nothing without the toxic element even though they know it’s destroying them. Cheerful thinking and one way to look at it. I could of course put a positive spin on the past two weeks reflecting on what I have achieved and looking ahead with strength and not predict some relapse leaving me back at the starting block again with high heels on.

On Wednesday I reach the official mark of another year older. It’s funny how we age but so true that we don’t inside our feelings so often. The past two weeks has been full high emotion, great expectations followed by disappointment, many laughs and quite a few tears… in other words life. This life has always been so. What’s different is my coping mechanisms. Today I feel under par; dissatisfied with a certain situation. That’s the difference. I feel. I’m not masking. I’m not ignoring. I’m not denying. I’m feeling. As uncomfortable as it is I am allowing those feelings to come out and I’m treating them with kindness.

I used to think that being kind to myself was getting drunk or almost comatose with medication- in the past sometimes both – but that wasn’t me practicing self kindness at all. Where was the nourishment? The love? The understanding? The courage? The resilience? As much as I sit here and so often have the overwhelming drive to lose myself in oblivion I can see that what I was doing was be on the road to losing myself completely.

Yes life can hurt, frustrate, anger, and disappoint and lead you to question your own self but it is life. It is living. And right here and now I don’t want it any other way. Right here and now it’s love and compassion for the little girl inside this woman. Right here and now is all hers.

She is here now and it’s right.

X

Renewing

Yesterday I couldn’t get my self focussed to write. I got through work and was thankful for being there as it took my mind off the flu like feeling and mood swings but by 8pm I was in bed and zonked out. I woke up around midnight realising I hadn’t turned off any lights, brushed my teeth, sorted stuff out for the full work day ahead and more importantly that the kids and now the puppy were coming back. Self care is all well and good when you only have you to care about the next four days are the real challenge.

Feeling like I’d been hit over the head with at least three rolled up copies of Marie Claire I went about my business and eventually fell back into bed. There I lay and I lay and I lay. The restless leg – hell no – body syndrome began. I didn’t know what to do with myself except constantly move and wriggle and turn. The excruciatingly infuriating necessity to move constantly makes me want to scream. It’s like my veins are writhing and jumping and it’s all I can think about.

Anyway somehow I must have fallen back to sleep as the intense dreaming started. I’ve noticed that before when I’ve stopped taking them that I have very vivid intense dreams that although not necessarily nightmarish can still leave me unsettled on waking and underpin my day ahead. All part of the process and shows what a huge control any kind of opioid has over a person. My understanding from the reading I’ve done is the drug effects certain neurotransmitters in the brain that send pain signals and after prolonged use the cells in the body can’t function without the drug as the brain isn’t giving the correct signals so part of the withdrawal is the cells renewing themselves and your brain learning to send the correct signals again – kind of like rewiring. So once your mind and body need the drug to function the tolerance to the original dose becomes higher so you require more and more.

It’s actually quite incredible how are bodies naturally function and astonishing that we seem to look for artificial ways to alter that natural awesomeness or in my case and with countless others abuse it.

So welcome day 3. The physical feelings of withdrawal I will try to see as my body taking care of me and renewing itself. That’s the easy part. The rewiring of the brain is the real long term work.

X

Day 3

A New Mountain

The 1st of April this year marks my 5 year anniversary of stopping drinking alcohol. It is hard to believe and sometimes I still get the overwhelming desire to throw alcohol down my throat, get pissed as quickly as possible, not give a damn but I sit with it, I let it be, then I let it go. I trust in myself, the process, the recovery work and the universe. Being teetotal has become me, who I am but as I have written before (naively thinking I had cracked it) alcohol abuse is just one string to my addiction bow.

It’s not the first time I have “come clean” about this but it is the first time ( like alcohol back in 2014) that I am writing openly about it holding my hands up and putting it out there. Even though I attended SMART recovery meetings for 18 months and eventually stopped I still started to reuse and stop again and again. Each time more fervently and physically and psychologically controlling probably under the illusion that ‘ hey I’ve stopped before. I can do it again’.

Having my mum act as a drug supplier isn’t fair and puts her in a very difficult situation. Doing the rounds of pharmacies so as not to be “too regular” purchasing the highest strength tablets containing codeine I can get and letting myself into my parents home when they are unaware with the sole intention (and there’s no easy way to put this) steal medication to keep my supply topped up is unacceptable. Being aware that the amounts of paracetamol and ibuprofen that is mixed with these preparations is at least double the recommended daily dose and it’s only a matter of time before my liver and kidneys become affected and my tolerance to the opiate higher resulting in my craving more and more. Knowing that ‘it won’t happen to me’ just won’t wash anymore.

So this is day one of a new peak. It doesn’t matter if 1 or 100 people read what I write it’s getting it out of me and owning my addictive behaviour. I’ve not had any codeine since 10pm last night and started with mild withdrawal symptoms around 1pm today. The usual – upset stomach, diarrhoea, shivering, dizziness, goosebumps etc but I know I can get through that. It’s staying off that’s bloody hard but I really bloody want to. I bloody have to.

So kindness to myself and early to bed.

Night night x

Day 1

A-Z

It’s been four years today since I became alcohol free and one year since my last post. Writing had been such a help during my journey into sobriety giving me the space to work through the mix of emotions I felt whilst letting go of my coping tool but also dealing with so many emotions that before I had anaesthetised with alcohol. It was revelatory but also at times terrifying. The idea that all there is was me made me feel at times isolated and fearful. What this past year has shown me is that in stripping back the one thing I used to cope with the highs, the lows and the flatlines left bare the wounds that were not healed and bloody hell they stung. I thought that by leaving a toxic situation or by no longer having a person who’s influence could be at times both loving then in a nanosecond destructive was enough to move on from but it wasn’t. It wasn’t because I never really dealt with any of it. I only numbed myself, then talked through it in an addled way not even remembering half or most of what I had said, done or thought. The following day was spent popping codeine to take the hangover head away leaving me with a different numbness and just a focus of getting through the day hour by hour then come evening, most nights, drink again. Granted I didn’t get wasted every night. I could locate the off switch at times but that was only safe in the knowledge that I could give myself permission to lose it the following night. I knew the way I used alcohol was taking me down a dark path. Drinking alone in the house mostly, carrying alcohol in my bag when going out to top myself up in the loo, having sneaky shots at the bar, glugging back ready mixed mojitos and pina coladas in public toilets before meeting people, drinking wine alone in parks, necking vodka and tonic in Sainsbury’s loo before meeting my ex and going to pick up the kids. It’s not easy reading that back but it’s true. It’s my truth and I have to own it. All the while I functioned, I kept going even whilst drinking all that I was taking codeine on top.

Something in me sparked the fire to change my life and even though I am now four years clear of alcohol and I still have an on/ off battle with codeine I realise that this wasn’t the sum total of moving my life forward letting go of anger from the past but only part of it. Removing one heavily relied upon substance didn’t solve anything but it did let me see more clearly.

I always knew that feeling unsettled, displaced since a child and growing up with (however perhaps unintentionally meant) conditional love I had developed an outward appearance that bared no resemblance to how I felt inside or could begin to make sense of. Truth is I got me. I absolutely understood what was going on underneath the surface, deep down but naming and acknowledging it is only the start of the healing.

This last year has been difficult but only because I started to truly feel the weight and strain of the load I had been carrying for decades. A load layered on top again and again and all I could do was keep on carrying it until I felt something I hadn’t really ever felt before. Sadness. I felt genuinely sad. I was use to anxiety, stress and anger but not sadness. I felt myself sinking more into dark thoughts, feelings of despair, helplessness and a sense of pointlessness. These feelings felt different and I couldn’t seem to control them.

I’m very good at being my own worst critic maybe it’s the actor in me or growing up and later being married with criticism of who I am but something I can do which I see now is a strength is knowing when I need to seek help. Maybe my openness with myself does leave me more vulnerable to others negative words or judgments but it also shows I know who I am. Sometimes I wish I learned to not give so much so soon but a life apologising for being me is no life at all. I suppose when I was drunk I could absolve myself of the responsibility of my character and now with nothing to excuse it I am left with just who I am.

Me.

And I don’t need to apologise anymore for that. Being me is just fine.

Through that dark period I am beginning to see that I was eventually going through the sadness I felt as a child, a teenager and a woman. That I had buried the parts of my emotional self that could leave me vulnerable under lock and key and had never allowed myself to feel sadness, loss, disappointment or even true happiness. I just brushed myself down, dusted myself off and started all over again or didn’t indulge myself in congratulations. That outwardly I showed strength and sassiness but inside I was lacking in self worth. I am beginning to let myself feel and that isn’t just in my head but my whole being. Today I got up and thought. Right. It’s the 1st April, I’ve not had a drink for 4 years, the kids are away, it’s sunny therefore I should do something. I should go out. I should go for a walk. I should go to the cinema. I should treat myself to something nice. I should, I should, I should.

Towards the end of last year I did a mindfulness course. One of the many things that struck a chord with me and has become very apparent in how I am feeling now is how much we live in our heads. We are disembodied beings running around mad, never stopping to actually make sense of how we feel and what our bodies are trying to tell us. I had been living in my head for so long I saw my body as a separate entity that I had to drag around with me. Getting wasted brought the two together but only in a kind of gooey play dough numbness.

My body was telling me so much that my head wasn’t listening to. It was only when my head started to get sad and thoughts of not existing anymore came in that I think my body said ‘ That’s it! Enough!’ A dose of the flu and confirmation of now being perimenopausal in this case was just what the doctor ordered. I was forced to stop and do absolutely nothing but focus on my body. Bless her she has carried me this far for 48 years so best give her something back. So today I looked out of the open window, listened to the birds sing, felt the sun shine through the glass on my face and felt how my body was feeling. I wanted my own space, with only me. I wanted quiet, peace, maybe a little music, a favourite film, some chocolate, nice tea, an afternoon nap, to write, to just be me and that was fine. That was good. I saw this drawing today and it has stayed with me all day.

The rose at the surface but underneath the thorns. Not thorns to hurt but to protect. One couldn’t live without the other. We are complex in all of our emotions but we try to hide so much or deny ourselves the right to feel. Nature shows us that we can be all things if we just look and allow ourselves to just be in all our complexity.

Maybe this all sounds a little new age hippy but I am finding myself more grateful each day. I am grateful that I can admit when I need help. I am grateful that we have the NHS who have helped and supported me. I am grateful that I am blessed with people in my life that never judge just love. I am grateful that I have the capacity to love unconditionally. I am eternally grateful for the two human beings that are my children. I am grateful for every path I cross with a person who struggles because we learn from each other if we listen and expect nothing in return.

My alcohol misuse for me as for most wasn’t the cause of my sadness, anxiety or anger but a symptom of a deeper emotional issue. It gave me a false sense of worth but my actions when drinking only exacerbated my lack of self worth when sober. It was like a self fulfilling prophecy. You are told you are x, y and z so therefore you are x, y and z.

Well no! I’m the full bloody alphabet and I’ll write how I want.

Four years and counting xx

Forgiveness 

It’s three years ago today since I last drank alcohol. 23:59 to be precise when the last drop of vodka slid down my throat. I hadn’t been to a meeting since the start of the year but felt today I wanted to make a concerted effort to go. Not that I felt the need in the sense to stop me from using but to share in my abstinence success, catch up with other group members and to stay focussed. It’s easy to get complacent and not celebrate that what you have achieved so far is pretty damn good. I don’t ever give myself enough or even any praise with the successes in my life. Far too easy to accept failures as that’s more the way isn’t it? You can’t go into a recovery meeting and tell everyone how great you’re doing and how you never think about alcohol now and don’t even miss the codeine buzz and calm either? I mean there are people there who are really struggling with addictive behaviours and they don’t want to hear about everything being hunky dory with you? Truth is … they do.
Each and every person around that table celebrated in my success. They were generous, kind, hopeful, supportive and humorous. That’s why I like to drop in still because we all help support each other at whatever stage of recovery you are at. 
Right now on the eve of the start of my third year of sobriety it has got me thinking about not only how far I have come but also where I am going. As I’ve written about before stopping drinking was only one aspect of the bigger story. Stopping codeine was something else and in many ways the harder of the two due to the physical withdrawals and the realisation that I was on my way to just being me. Just little old me. I had found that prospect quite terrifying. I’d have nothing to hide behind but what was I hiding from? The answer of course was myself or the me that allowed myself to properly feel and not self medicate the negative feelings or enhance the positive ones but to actually feel what was happening in me good and bad. 
Since I was around eleven I started to have feelings of judgement, conditional love and not being good enough. Although that could also come with big love, support and praise it could change like the flick of a switch. My coping mechanism was to adopt a cool, ice maiden exterior where no emotion was shown that way I couldn’t let what I was feeling inside affect me. What I was feeling inside was hurt, sadness,  fear and a whole lot of anger. My Nana was the creator of this but through circumstances my parents facilitated it. It is only now with my new found clarity that I look back and accept what happened. A lot of it circumstantial and a lot of developing clashes between a dominant older personality and an emerging strong teenage one who like her grandmother also knew her own mind. It could be really tough and sharing a room didn’t help but in many ways both of us were put in a situation where familiarity really did breed contempt. For so many years I blamed every negative ounce of me on her and what my parents allowed by moving in with her but I can either choose to carry on living like that or I can choose to let go and get on with the rest of my life but in order to do that I know I need to do one thing. Forgive. 
I do and I feel a weight lifted. I look at my own children and I know what I want for them. I want them to know every minute of their lives that I love them – unconditionally. I don’t want them to ever have an ounce of doubt of my love for them. I don’t want them having to show forgiveness towards me for how I made them feel once I am dead. I don’t want regretful love and wishing it had of been different. 
I’m not making that an excuse for my binge drinking habits or analgesic popping ways but I know the root of my inability to accept myself lay in my formative years and I carried it into adulthood using substance to take the edge off of me. It took a real plummet in my self worth from an unhappy and emotionally toxic marriage and subsequent divorce to enable me to take that substance crutch and throw it into the recycling. What came back was the courage to support myself and my children without the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t a good enough daughter, granddaughter, wife and even mother. 
The kids and I have our own unique way of saying we love each other. When they drive off on a Sunday for three days with their Dad we always sign ‘I Love You’ by pointing to our eyes, heart then each other. Nothing new there and commonly used by many but we have our own unique way of writing it too. An eye, within a heart, within a U. We sign it on birthday and Christmas cards, letters, postcards, notes or messages to each other and have done since it has just been the three of us together. 
Here you can see my youngest leaving a message on the kitchen reminder board. 


I had this idea to do something that would stay with me forever and always bring home to me even in the darkest moments how blessed we are to have each other. How blessed I am to receive such unconditional love from two human beings and what a privilege and joy it is to love them without condition. So I made the decision to take our unique and personal symbol and give it permanency. 


This is phase one and completion will be in a couple of weeks time but when I look at it I find it reminds me that being just me is good because I am being authentic in my love and every night my children go to bed they know how much they are loved and so do I. 
In many ways my binging on drink and codeine was a form of self harm for it stopped me from forgiving myself all the negative thoughts and feelings I had squeezed to capacity inside of me. Forgiving another does take courage, faith and trust but to forgive yourself takes kindness and that can be hard to do. When I sat in that group today I felt kindness from each and every one of them, I feel kindness from my children, I feel kindness from my family and friends but by forgiving myself and celebrating what I have achieved I am starting to be kind to me. 

Laverne of the Thousand Days

Today is now Tuesday 27th December and marks the 1,000th day anniversary of my stopping drinking alcohol. I had my last shot of vodka at 23.59 on Wednesday 31st March 2014. It hardly seems real. In so many ways it was quite straightforward. It was just something I didn’t do anymore and that was the end of it. I made it public to my friends and anyone who read this and then that way I couldn’t take it back. It aided my incentive to stay stopped. I knew it was the right thing to do. When I was totally honest with myself my drinking habits were toxic and were only going to get worse unless I did something about it before my body became physically dependent. Psychologically I was well and truly dependant and that was what I needed to work on. Latterly when I woke it was the first thing I thought about. My first decision of the day was – ‘ Shall I drink today or not?’
Writing helped enormously as did being honest with family and friends. My parents probably in denial of their daughters drinking and in many ways my mum encouraged it at certain times but my continuing honesty with them has forced them to hear my truth. Slowly but surely they are understanding. Slowly but surely so am I. Trouble was as I revealed in my last post alcohol was only one symptom of the bigger problem. All the blog posts in the world with their profound learnings about myself would amount to nothing if I continued to misuse another substance. That substance being codeine. Now that was not only psychological but physical in my dependency of it. Every time I had tried to stop my 320mg per day I had felt awful. Shivering, upset stomach, headaches, restless legs, insomnia, skin crawling, muscular aching, irritability and depression. If in the last years whilst still drinking I had managed to go cold turkey and get through it I had had alcohol to take the edge off. Certainly that helped with the physical withdrawals but psychologically I was not working through anything. To think I was drinking and taking that sometimes too makes me feel ill at the thought now but then I was very unhappy and trying to find coping strategies just to get through day to day. I was in total denial with the idea that I could just stop it when I wanted and all would be fine. After all the doctor was prescribing them for me so they must be OK? 
What I chose to ignore and justified as necessary was watching my Mum and Dad leave their house to go shopping and my letting myself in and stealing them from the medicine cabinet as the doctor had reduced my prescription and I wouldn’t  have had enough to keep the horrible feeling from coming back. Also ignoring the series of pharmacies in a rotation I had set up that I would go to in order to purchase as strong codeine as I could over the counter to top up with my prescribed ones just to try and make them last me till the next prescription. The sense of relief when I did get them or the sense of panic and fear if I couldn’t. Who was I trying to kid? I was addicted and only I could stop it. It terrified me. Not the stopping because I had reached the point where I truly wanted to but the fear of me. The fear of being exposed. Just me! Nothing to hide behind. Just me! No tricks or confidence boosters. Just me! No trying to get the party higher. Just me!  No drowning my sorrows in a substance. Just me! No trying to feel something more than the emotional flatline. Just me! Just me!  It terrified me. I had never really been just me since I was 15. In all honesty I wasn’t sure I knew how to be just me or who that me was in adulthood. 
That is when I reached out and came clean – so to speak. I confessed to the GP, my family and closest friends. Each and every one were unbelievably supportive and my GP guided me through a reduction plan but very clear that it needed to be at my own pace. It didn’t matter how long it would take it was the being ready to stop and staying stopped that were important. She also recommended that I get some counselling to help support me emotionally through it. She gave me a card of an organisation so I called them and made an appointment. What then happened was meeting and becoming part of a group of people that allowed me to be brutally honest and helped with my understanding of what made me tick. Sitting in a room with people I never thought I’d ever pass the time of day with and I’m sure they thought the same of me was a total leveller because regardless of background, gender, sexuality, class, race or age we had all one thing in common. Addictive behaviour resulting in bad choices. 
Since owning my substance misuse in October 2015 I have been slowly but surely reducing my 320mg to a nominal 30mg per day. In the last 28 days I have had only 14 tablets meaning 14 days when I have had none. That is an incredible achievement for me but does make me realise one thing. I am as ready now to fully stop as any other time in the future. I no longer have a physical dependency and what is left is the psychological hold. The story I am telling myself. The final letting go. The just me. I keep holding on setting dates in my head of when will be my last day with codeine. Worried if I slip back into bad habits again. A trip to the chemist or a hand in my mums tablets? What if I end up turning to something else ? What if what if what if ? But what if I don’t? That’s what all the recovery work is for to help you stay focussed and keep on the clean path. I don’t walk into Tesco’s anymore and feel panicked when I’m near the wine aisle or think ‘that’s it I’m heading out to get a bottle of vodka!’ No, it’s something I just don’t do anymore. 
I remember when I moved down to London in September 1995. I was going to study acting at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A huge life changing time. I was 25 and had only ever lived at home with my parents and my Nana. Yes the Nana that I had shared a bedroom with since the I was 10! It was all planned out. My Dad was driving me down with my Mum travelling too. We would stop off in York to visit my Aunty Rita and break the journey up. We would then carry on to my cousin Alison (Aunty Rita’s daughter) in Romford where we would stay the night. The following day we were to drive into the City of London where Guildhall was so I could matriculate and move my luggage etc into the halls. We were then going to see my Uncle Clifton performing at the Players Theatre and afterwards travel to his house in Enfield and stay the last night there. The end of the plan was the following day being Sunday my Dad and Mum would drive me back to college where they would let me settle into the halls and then take their leave returning to Edinburgh. I would next see them at Christmas. It was a fairly big deal and although I was so bloody ready to live my own life or at least have my own room it was also incredibly emotional and all of us were just avoiding the inevitable. The saying goodbye. The letting go. 
As I sat in the theatre I had this gut instinct. What was the use of putting things off as long as possible? Sitting there in denial that any goodbye was to occur. Refusing to believe that there would be any tears or breakdowns of emotion or worse snot ridden wailing and hugging. No I needed to make the break now. Yes it was going to be sad, difficult and hurt even but it had to happen and by taking control of when it did happen I was being proactive, assertive, sensible and courageous. During the interval I turned to my Mum and said, ‘After this I want you to take me to the halls. I need to say goodbye tonight’. She was visibly shocked and upset as was my Dad but they agreed and understood and afterwards made the drive to the city to take me up to my room. The City of London on a Saturday night is eerily quiet. The City is alive Monday – Friday but apart from those attending the Barbican there is hardly a soul around. Even some of the pubs stay closed at the weekends because there is no trade. We got out of the car and we travelled up to my room. I can still see it. It wasn’t the halls I was meant to be in as the new super duper ones were yet to be finished so this was emergency halls for the first two weeks until the new ones were ready to open. This room was near the top of a high rise block and although had an amazing view over London inside it was dark, over heated and bleak. Vinyl flooring and a single bed that a size zero model would struggle for space in. The tiny sink was enclosed in a cupboard and the only plug socket was a two pin affair. Yet I knew I had to do it. I had to say goodbye now. I couldn’t prolong it. I felt it in my gut and I had to go with it. We cried, we hugged and yes there was a fair amount of snot but they left, they went back to Edinburgh the following day and luckily we are all still here to tell the tale. 
That is how I feel just now. I feel it in my gut that I have to just do it. I have to go with it. I have to be courageous and take the leap. I need to trust in all the work that I’ve done and continue to do so. I need to let go. I need to just be me. I can really feel what I felt like that night when I said goodbye to my parents and the door with its safety hinge closed on me inside that tiny soulless room. I can honestly say I felt true loneliness but I also felt alone for the first time and in that I felt empowered. The two are very different and after 25 years I realised this was the start of my life as I wanted it to be. I was alone but I was fully in control and I was in charge of the choices I made. That night as I looked out over London with it’s twinkling dancing lights I made the choice to stop feeling lonely. Being alone was good because that was a choice but I wasn’t going to choose to be lonely. Well right now I want to look out of that high rise window and see the lights. I may be alone but I’m not lonely. I am ready to take charge. I’m ready to take that last step. I’m ready to just be me.
 I had 14 tablets left. I don’t anymore. I washed them down that tiny sink and closed the cupboard door on it. I’m not looking inward. I’m standing looking out and the view is quite dazzling. 


1,000 days

1 day.