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.
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.
Today marks not only the near killing of King James VI of Scotland and I England ( let’s get it right) and destruction of parliament some 410 years before but also the two year anniversary of my divorce. Ooh the irony! Might as well go out with a bang although certainly not in the biblical sense. Today has been full of whizzing, crackling, zooming, firing and banging but inside my head. Today I have found even speaking quite a challenge. Well it’s not that I am finding I am unable to speak it’s more that with every word that comes out there is a tension in my throat, neck and shoulders which results in my speaking through clenched teeth with my hands spread out so rigid that the fingers are white like snow. Maybe I’m just tense? Maybe I’m just being glib. Today hasn’t been one of my finest but then in truth it certainly has not been one of my worst. Something I am realising is that even though I have abstained these past 19 months from drinking and I am working constantly on my emotional self that it doesn’t mean that I am not still recovering from the effects of them. That just because certain people or substances are not in my life as they once were does not mean that I am not still coping with the residisual feelings and emotions they left me with. That the psychological and physical renewal of myself is still ongoing and might always will be. That fills me with dread sometimes because I have always been impatient, wanting it to change immediately, to have a quick fix. Someone said to me today, ‘ as you seeked the quick fix of drink to distance yourself from what you were feeling, in turn you are now seeking the quick fix to stop you needing it.’ Patience. I am working on it.
I used to feel quite sad when I watched fireworks. All that energy, light, beauty, expectation and joy exploding into a dark velvet sky only to burn out as quickly as it had appeared and disperse into the ether as if it had never even existed. The impatience for another to explode and light you up with a sparkling warm glow. Again the dissapointment when it fades to nothing. Another and another and another….. Wanting more, chasing the buzz. I never really took in the beauty of each colourful sparkle because I knew it would end and there would be a void and in that would be me waiting for the next injection of illumination.
Truth is the void will always be there and the prospect of staring into it with clarity rather than a foggy mind is scary, terrifying even. I am edging closer to it but not in the sense of falling into it only to be engulfed by its cloaking darkness. No. I am getting closer to looking at it and naming it as mine. It’s ok to be sad sometimes. It’s ok to feel angry sometimes. It’s ok to feel you want to be on your own and indulge your negative feelings sometimes. They are real emotions that need to be given time to be explored, listened to and then released. Too often we bottle the negative emotions up because we must always be seen to be positive and happy but if we were smiling and laughing we wouldn’t feel bad about showing that so why be dishonest about the others?
Mindfulness fireworks now there’s a thought. It’s too easy to reprimand yourself for feeling negative. Oh I shouldn’t be feeling like this, I need to snap out of it. Why? Every emotion is valid but before we can get validation from others maybe we need to validate them ourselves. To really stay with the fear of clarity, to allow feelings of needing to weep develop, to punch a pillow or scream when angry, to indulge in crabbit behaviour or to just do bloody nothing. If I don’t allow myself to remain in the darkness, truly feel it, understand it and accept it then maybe I’ll never be able to really appreciate the light.
Nighty night and may your rocket burn beautiful and bright.
PS 584 days
‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’, Anthem by Leonard Cohen.