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.