Emotions

I don’t know about anyone else but I always subscribed to the view that alcohol reduced inhibitions and “allowed” me to express emotions / feelings that I otherwise kept suppressed. As I am a bit of a master at suppressing emotions and avoiding conflict, it’s perhaps not surprising that after a few drinks a torrent of rage and frustration would, at times, burst out of me.

There have been many, many such occasions over the years. Many evenings that ended in tearful recriminations, many stand up arguments, many outbursts triggered by innocuous comments that spiralled into full-blown raging conniptions. Afterwards, the next morning, I would piece together who said what, what I remembered, and cringe a bit. Underneath though, I always believed that I had some justification for screaming and yelling – letting my feelings out – MAKING someone understand how I felt. Whilst I understood and accepted that alcohol had a part to play in the genesis of these episodes, I always firmly believed that the alcohol didn’t manufacture the feelings – these were there already – alcohol just lowered my inhibitions and allowed me to say what I thought. And thats a good thing, right ?

Wrong.

I’m still early on in this journey, and this is part of a half formed thought process, so I’m not 100% sure about this, but despite my ongoing (though less frequent) mood swings, there seems to be less RAGE in my soul.

There are several things in my personal life that make me very unhappy. They did result in pretty regular outbursts whilst under the influence. Mr Lily has taken quite a few verbal batterings over the years. Did anything change ? No. Did I feel better having let it all out? . Not really. Did I learn ? No. The next time, or the time after that, the same argument would ensue, again with no resolution. All that has been left by that enormours emotional carnage are scars and fear and damaged trust.

What role alcohol? Its certainly true that sobriety has not erased the problems. It hasnt changed the things I think or the position I take. It hasnt made the hurt of certain circunstances less intense, or provided me with an acceptance of things I really struggle to accept. I’ve not morphed into some complient doormat who has no problems. BUT, it seems to me now that just maybe, being sober has firmed me up a bit, in a non confrontational, calm, solid kind of way.

To explain. I spent a LONG time ANGRY about certain things, really deep down angry and hurt, but I felt unable to express those feelings when sober. So they all burst out, exploded out when I was drunk, Nothing changed. Now, sober, I dont feel any happier about those things but I am beginning to accept that I CANNOT CHANGE THEM. And in that acceptance, comes the next thought that what I CAN do is either;

  • state what I want, calmly and clearly, why I believe its right; Ask for others to change, and make a plan for what I will do if things remain the same
  • accept that life isn’t perfect and that I have no more right to what I want than anyone else.

That saying – known in AA as the serenity prayer, feels very apt.

grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

It looks so simple. But it isnt.

I am less sure about how aspects of my life will pan out now, but what I do believe, is that I will be taking responsibility for my own emotional wellbeing. That I am, or will be, strong enough to do that – and that after years of being too befuddled to accept that personal responsibility, I can now see it in front of me. I’m not there yet, but I’m closer.

 

 

Serotonin

 

I’ve been really struck in the last few days at the number of blog posts I have read from people struggling with guilt and shame at having to take, or being recommended to take, antidepressants / medication for anxiety.

I work as a General/ Family practitioner and I see this so often. People struggling with crippling anxiety and debilitating anhedonia, who somehow believe this is a sign of ‘weakness’ or  a character flaw. That if they could just “pull themselves together’ it would all go away.

This is just NOT the case. Low mood / anxiety are two sides of the same coin and they are both due, in part at least, to low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This is FACT. An individual can no more control their levels of serotonin than their levels of insulin. Ergo, will power alone will NOT , CANNOT manage anxiety and depression.

Anxiety / Low mood is very,very, very common. Probably about one in three people will visit their doctor at some time with this complaint. Sometimes its presented as fatigue, sometimes as somatic symptoms. But the underlying low serotonin, if treated, will improve all these symptoms

(and before any one jumps on me, not everyone with fatigue is depressed, obviously, but its very common)

This is a somewhat simplified version of the role of neurotransmitters, as my aim with this blog post is not to discuss the finer points of neurophysiology, but offer evidence that might make someone who is low, feel less stigmatised about being offerred / taking antidepressants.

NEUROTRANSMITTERS are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body.  They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons”  The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which affects mood, sleep, concentration, weight, anxiety, appetite, memory and learning, temperature, and behaviour. Norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphines and oxytocin are also involved in various aspects of mood.

Lots of things, obviously affect mood. Social circumstances, relationships and thousands of other things. But low serotonin levels- are definitely one of the factors that affect mood and one of the factors that we can modify. The diagram below shows the overlapping relationships between some of the neuro chemicals involved

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We can ‘help ourselves’ with exercise and a variety of other techniques, we can try to manage stress levels, and we can avoid substances that deplete serotonin – eg alcohol… BUT, for many people, medication is a very useful tool to improve mood and reduce anxiety. I will often explain to my patients that lifting your mood allows one to create a ‘virtuous circle’ – when you feel a but more motivated, you are likely to exercise more, get more done – this makes you feel better – and so on…

so please, if you are low, depressed, anxious, unmotivated, exhausted, struggling with mood disorder, please recognise that this is an illness; Its not under your ‘control’ and there is treatment that can help.

DOI. I take a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and I believe it has, if not saved my life, helped me beyond measure.

Holiday – how to cope…?

In 12 days we are going on holiday. As previously mentioned Mr Lily and I are are going away with my two younger children, our friends J & K and their son.

I’m really looking forward to it.

BUT I am worried about my sobriety.That might sound a bit bonkers – I have 140 consecutive days of sobriety. I’m proud and pleased.

Why should I be worried ?

I’m worried because I KNOW ME

  • I will be on HOLIDAY. I DRINK on holiday; everybody drinks on holiday, because it doesn’t matter if you have a headache or don’t get up till lunchtime, or drink at lunchtime, or exceed your weekly units in a single day..Units drunk on HOLIDAY don’t count. This is, and always has been, my expectation of a NORMAL holiday
  • The other adults are ON HOLIDAY. Ditto the above.
  • The last time I was sober (2014) I went on HOLIDAY (to the same place) And drank. A lot. And I couldn’t get sober again for 22 months
  • Me not drinking might make Mr Lily, J and K feel uncomfortable drinking, which might spoil their holiday. which will make me feel GUILTY
  • Mr Lily, J and K might drink a lot every night, and why not really…; I will feel bored, left out and frustrated, and irritable, these are all HUGE triggers
  • I wont be able to access many / most of my AF substitutes
  • I’m actually struggling a bit anyway… I’m tired and don’t feel well. I’m stressed and pretty anxious. I’m not CLOSE to “fuck it give me a bottle glass of wine”, but I’m not THAT far off either. I’m an Alan’s Drink Con 3 I think.

What can I do? I absolutely KNOW that drinking would be a BAD idea. Lets get that out of the way first. I cannot have ‘just one’; and its not the one day’s drinking that scares me, it’s that I will drink again the next day, out of despair and disgust and shame. And before I know it I’ll be back to a bottle a day and have to go though all this again – or worse I wont be ABLE to get sober again.

And NOT going is not an option.

My ideas so far ….

  • I will share with Mr Lily, and he has already said hes not intending to drink much.
  • I will send some Seedlip in a parcel ahead of us..
  • Also some sketching stuff, which will occupy my hands if others are drinking
  • Load up the Kindle – although that could be sen as antisocial
  • pack my yoga kit

Any other ideas sober friends? I’m really quite anxious about whether I can manage this…

What would you like to drink ?

I’m quite sure I’m not the only relatively newly sober person who has fretted a LOT about ‘what to drink’ now that wine, beer, cider, spirits, cocktails and pretty much everything else I liked to drink are permanently off the menu.

As I have mentioned before I am a big fan of ‘planning’ any occasions at which I might be tempted to drink. That’s pretty much every occasion if I am honest, whether alcohol was actually appropriate or not. Over the last 139 days I’ve built up a reasonable repertoire of drinks I LIKE and enjoy, which significantly cuts my feeling of resentment, at having to stay alcohol free.

I thought I would share them.  I always choose things at less than 0.05% alcohol, and you have to be careful especially with AF beer and wines; there are quite a few at 0.5% or even 2%, which to my mind is ‘low alcohol’ not ‘alcohol free’

Starting with the simplest...

BOTTLEGREEN GINGER AND LEMONGRASS WITH FIZZY WATER,

This comes as a premixed bottle, or as a cordial to which you can add your own water. I LOVE the ginger bite in this one, its not too sweet, but less bitter than some of the other ginger drinks. You can add a dash of lime which is also nice

BECKS BLUE LEMON

To my taste this is much better than the plain Becks blue. Like its straight cousin, the lemon Becks Blue is < 0.05% alcohol and the last of lemony sweetness cuts through the lager taste. Very refreshing when really cold !

EISBERG WHITE WINE

This is my favourite of the AF white wines. (I haven’t tried any of the ‘low alcohol ones’) Its not wine, but it comes in a wine bottle, it looks like wine, and it tastes ok. I REALLY like this when guests come round at home and I’m feeling like I want to join in – is that cheating ? I don’t know, but it helps me. Also Eisberg spritzer with ice is nice.

BOTONIQUE

Marketed as a  sparkling wine ‘substitute’,  I’ve included this, although I’m actually not THAT keen on it, because it is completely AF and has an interesting flavour. The slight aniseed taste is not something I really enjoy, but I know many people do…

Slightly more complex drinks

SEEDLIP

This is a complete revelation to me. Its a distilled alcohol free spirit. The taste is adult and complex. There are now two different types, the original is woody and rich, and the recent addition smells of flowers and grass. I mix the former with good quality tonic water with a slice and a squeeze of pink grapefruit. It is just lovely and tastes properly ‘adult’, The No2 seedlip I mix with bitter lemon and a little mint or cucumber, The ONLY downside to Seedlip is the price – its about £30 a 70cl bottle which is steep. But as a treat ? unbeatable. I’ve given it a plug at the top of this page as I love it so much!

 

Things that really need you to make a ‘few’ / proper mocktails

I like cocktails, and here are a couple of ‘mocktails’ I’ve tried. The recipes all originate from other people, but Ive adapted them a bit for my taste. I don’t like sickly sweet things – so you might want more simple syrup.

Blackberry Mint Spritzer

Ingredients
For the Simple Syrup (makes enough for 4-6 drinks)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
For the Spritzer (makes 1 drink)
  • 5 blackberries
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1.5 oz simple syrup (a little less than 1 shot glass!)
  • 1/2 cup sparkling water
  • Ice
  • Garnish (optional): extra mint leaves, 3 blackberries, lime slices
Instructions
  • For the Simple Syrup
  1. Combine the sugar and water in a small pot and bring mixture to a boil. Stir when needed.
  2. Once it boils, turn down the heat to low for about 2 minutes and let simmer until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. This can be stored in the fridge for quite a while ( I’ve done about 3 weeks with no ill effects! )
  • For the Blackberry Spritzer
  1. Combine the blackberries, mint leaves, and simple syrup in a cup. Squish everything together, squishing the juice from the blackberries and mint leaves. You can use a liquidizer depending on how smooth you want the drink  ( similarly you can strain the liquid if you don’t like seeds)
  2. Then add the sparkling water and fresh lime juice. Adjust to taste
  3. Fill the rest of the glass with ice, garnish with some sprigs of mint, a few black berries, a slice of lime and serve immediately.

VIRGIN MARY

really simple or really complex –

  • tomato juice
  • worcestershire sauce
  • back pepper
  •  celery salt
  • BIG squeee of lemon / slice of lemon
  • tabasco (if you like it HOT)

personally I don’t serve it over ice, but that’s just a matter of taste

ORCHARD MIST

Ive used apple puree for this (made myself with apples on the stove) but the pear puree I bought from the baby food section of the local supermarket ! You can mess about with the relative proportions – I have also made this with ginger beer and ginger ale… and with the above mentioned bottle green ginger and lemongrass instead of elderflower.

 

  • 60ml. Schweppes Citrus Blend
  • 25ml. Pear Puree
  • 15ml. Lemon Juice
  • 10ml. Sugar Syrup
  • 15ml. Elderflower Cordial

If you have any favourites, please share. I also love coke zero, or citrus diet coke, but I’m sure the caffeine isn’t that great for me!

 

 

 

Magic

I’m writing this in Chinatown London between the two “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” performances that I am enjoying  with son #2 today. I’m sure most, if not all,  of you will have at least heard of Harry Potter. The play which opened recently in London is delivered in two separate performances (part 1 and part 2) which can be seen on the same day or separately. As sons 1&3 are away, I have taken the opportunity to do something special with #2 , and spent a huge part of yesterday afternoon sourcing tickets.(The show is completely sold out until the end of the run in May 2017)

So here we are. The show was fantastic, and we are grabbing a coffee ….

One of the themes of the show is about “what might have been”. I won’t say much about the show at all – the plot lines have been extremely closely guarded –  but it has made me think. Like many people recovering from addictions, I have a lot of regrets. Things I have done, said, not done, neglected. There are many regrets for missed opportunities and seriously stupid decisions made. Not all of these were decisions when I was drunk, but they were all decisions taken when my self esteem was Rock bottom – at least partly as a result of drinking.

In the show, the “what might have been” is invariably worse than what actually is. And that’s a way that I don’t often look at things. When I’m blaming and criticising myself for decisions I made, I always imagine that the alternative would have been better.. That if I were not a woman unable to control my alcohol intake … I would have made better decisions, that would today see me in a better place than I am …

Maybe that’s not the case. Of course we will never know, but perhaps if I had done other things, taken different paths, things would NOT be better, but as in the show, quite a lot worse ….

Maybe this is an allegory I am meant to draw- to remind myself that I am lucky – blessed – and that things are as they are for a reason

Dark Mood

dark mood

What if I had succeeded in my first attempt to stay sober ?

Today would be day 1,001. Instead I only have 136 days. This is because I am useless. I will fail again. see what I should have achieved? Others could have done that. Its just you, 

This is me today. That narky voice in my ear that moves from contemplation of the potential 1000 day celebration, to the critical, to the blaming and personally nasty … I’m in that kind of mood today. Self critical, nothing quite good enough. Irritable.

In this mood I am a FAILURE. As a person, as a mother, a partner, as a daughter, sister, friend, doctor, colleague, employer, blogger and student. Just NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

I’ve kind of got used to these mood swings. If I am honest they are less frequent than they were. These days of intense self loathing come along less often, but the depth of personal chastisement and feeling of displacement is not any less intense.  And  I remain at a loss to deal with them effectively, terminate them, or harness my feelings in any useful way at all. Its almost like a thunderstorm – you just have to wait for it to pass. I have also failed to notice the developing signs, anticipate it, or mitigate it in any way at all.

What I most hate about these black moods is the accompanying feeling of agitation and inability to settle to anything . For the rest of today I will be padding back and forth, fretting about things that need doing, fretting about money, finding fault with everything internally, (I probably wont say anything except perhaps to hapless son No2 who is the only one home at the moment). Nothing will distract me enough to calm me, ‘nice things; like sketching / painting will be dismissed because “there’s no point, I can’t do it”; planning and making lists – which normally soothes me – will seem too much like hard work. Anything useful like cleaning the floor / doing the washing will be angrily rejected.

No, probably what I will do when I get home is sit in a corner of a sofa , fret and seethe until I drag myself off to bed and seek some oblivion in sleep. Mr Lily might ask me what’s wrong and I will glare at him and say ” NOTHING”, even though its perfectly obvious something IS.. But I am quite unable to articulate the depth of despair that is gnawing at the bottom of my soul and the chasm of anxiety/agitation/irritation that opens up on days like that.

Sometimes I think THIS is why I drank. To get rid of THIS. But its not. I know that drinking WOULD get rid of THIS (at least for today) but It wouldn’t solve any other issues,and THIS would return tomorrow.

Today, actually NOW as I am writing this post, I am wondering if THIS mood is actually the clarity I spend a long time trying to avoid. If it actually comes along when I can no longer ignore the internal debate.

Naturally I’m an optimist, and reasonably good tempered, I also ignore things I don’t want to face. Demands I don’t want to make. Ultimatums I don’t want to issue or confront, or even think about. Things I want so desperately, from other people, but feel I, little worthless me, has no right to ask for or expect. Then a little defiant voice inside says ” why NOT you?” Why DON’T you deserve these things ? Why should you settle for things that make you unhappy ? (I’ve coloured my little inside voice orange, for no reason other than that I like it) Things I don’t have explanations for despite asking for them. Perhaps this mood comes from the recognition that I’m tired of having MY FEELINGS and needs treated as less important that everyone else’s, and fed up of just giving way to it for an easy life….

Maybe this black horrible mood comes from recognizing that I stuff down my anger and resentment and frustration for an easy life.

Maybe if I look at it that way, at least some of THIS mood is both understandable and predicable. Still no idea how to deal with it. These are the habits of a life time

 

Amy

I watched this ‘movie’, or more accurately documentary about the life of Amy Winehouse a few days ago. Of course we all know the tragic outcome of Amy’s addictions, but the film shocked, saddened me in several ways I didn’t expect.

I completely accept that we are being shown a version of Amy’s story, that others will have different perspectives and that the “truth” of Amy’s life is different depending on your place in the story. But …

  • She was SO young. And vulnerable.
  • Neither of her parents were really engaged with her as a person. Her mother seems shadowy, her father blind to the reality of her addictions, interested (and I’m sorry if this seems brutal) only in her fame, pleasing her public and making more money.
  • She had really good friends, from childhood, who tried extremely hard to help her
  • No one in her management / publicity team seemed able to protect her from herself. The shambolic appearances on stage when she was too smashed to even stand up were painful, embarrassing and simply should have been stopped. Cancelling a gig, at short notice, is bad… This?  this was carnage.
  • She could sing. My god she could sing. What a voice, what a talent.

Amy Winehouse started off as an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent, the early videos and stills of her life seem very “normal”; she has great friends, she plays music, she’s a bit wacky, but she’s ok. And it all fell apart as she became increasingly famous, and was introduced to drugs.

I know my recovery is from alcohol addiction. I’ve never taken drugs, but if you are as famous and wealthy as Amy, the usual barriers to drug taking don’t apply. And Amy was vulnerable, insecure, in love with a man who then left her (and she herself said “I’ve fallen in love with a man I would die for”) she had eating disorders and couldn’t step outside the door of her flat without being mobbed.. It’s not that surprising she found something to “take the edge off ” … And then of course it spiralled. The man she loved introduced her to hard drugs and she couldn’t stop … Amy was shy, she described her anxiety before performing,

Amy Winehouse was found dead in her home in Camden Town, north London, 5 years ago last Saturday. She was 27. Amy died of acute alcohol poisoning . Alone.

I’ve vomited in my sleep before. Unconscious from alcohol poisoning – there is no other word for it really . By great good fortune I was sleeping on my side, not my back, or I might not be here today either.

I felt so sad watching that film. Amy wanted attention and love, she needed someone to love her unconditionally and stand firm with her. Watching her get thinner and thinner, more shambolic and reading the increasingly cruel, critical and personal insults in the press – I can’t help feeling that I would have coped no better than Amy and that her death was inevitable… What a terrible waste.

I don’t know why she didn’t go to a proper rehab, maybe it had something to do with the awful stigma that still exists in relation to addiction and the fear (at least amongst her management and family) that if /when it was discovered her career would be damaged. So they left her, alone and struggling till she died 😟 I don’t know if there are lesson to be learned here, on a wider scale, I expect there are. For me, I will remember to reach out and offer a supportive hand to my fellow addicts, maybe if Amy had had access to the sober support I do, she could have kicked her demons .

So what’s different when you are sober… 

Sunday morning, cocooned deep in the soft luxury of our hotel bed. My only significant decision for the next few hours is what to chose from the extensive breakfast menu ! And I am appreciating being clear headed and having a bit of time to think…

I did “miss” drinking yesterday, in an esoteric kind of way, as we sat outside and ordered a lunch platter, I did envy Mr Lily’s glass of sav blanc, and I noticed how droplets of condensation collected on the glass, and could imagine the ….. Ok ;stop. It’s not helpful. Suffice it to say, I would not have stopped at one glass , so I  played the tape through and stuck to Diet Coke.

So, Mr Lily is taking a swim, and I’ve been looking at my list of definite sober benefits – I’ve been compiling this list for a couple of months….

  1. I am not  attractive when I drink a lot. This is particularly bittersweet, of course, because I FEEL more attractive. There are plenty of photos to prove otherwise  The smeared eyeliner, the vacant look, the staggering to the bathroom: and worse, falling over. Not pretty, not classy. A woman in control is much more attractive. And I feel more attractive.
  2. A LOT of people have told me how well I look. Mostly my patients, many of whom I have known for a long time. That’s nice.
  3. People who pay attention to what’s in my glass are generally people with alcohol issues. I’m not judging them – but it’s true
  4. It’s surprisingly easy to talk to people when not drinking. I used to fret that without liquid courage, I wouldn’t be able to manage at social events. What would I say? How would I make people laugh? Sober, I manage quite well, actually. What I notice is that most people are also struggling a bit with social anxiety , and they enjoy it when you laugh at their jokes and ask about their lives.
  5. Conversations without alcohol can be astonishing. Without the distraction and numbness of a bottle (+) of wine, I can string an argument together, debate, and LISTEN!
  6. Related: Drunk people talk much louder than they need to, and their jokes are not nearly as funny as they think, and they tend to repeat themselves a lot.
  7. I have noticed how easy it is to leave. I have no guilt about driving home or unattaching myself if I’m bored or tired or have to work the next day, instead of staying until the bottles have all been drained and suggesting we make a beer run for more.
  8. Not drinking is also an amazing way to halve the dinner bill. A nice dinner without alcohol is so much cheaper ! Who knew!
  9. When you’re sober, it is a sad fact that there are some people  you feel comfortable around, and some  who make you itch for an open bar.
  10. There are many less arguments in our house, especially between me and Mr Lily. I have more patience and perhaps more tolerance. I can wait for things to be resolved, as long as there is some movement in the right direction. This is the subject of another post I think.

Against that lot, and the promise, and expectation that there is more good stuff to come … What’s the value of a glass bottle  of wine ?

Nope, day 135, and I’m keeping on…

Space

This weekend Mr Lily and I have gone away. Son’s 1 & 3 are away, and son 2 is with his father. We have a (very) rare free weekend and decided to splash out and book a spa hotel for two nights. The hotel is not too far from home but in the countryside and when we arrived I could feel myself relax immediately. A very lovely dinner, followed by a long deep sleep, and I’m already feeling the benefits.

Dinner last night was weird from the non drinking perspective. This is another first for me, a sober holiday (even a mini one). Like most heavy drinkers, a holiday was always one massive excuse to drink – at times that might usually be unacceptable , and more heavily than at home. After all, “I’m on holiday, I deserve it.” I’m not worried that I will relapse this weekend, I’m with Mr Lily and feel very safe;  more I’m worried that I will be agitated / edgy because I’m not drinking, and that will interfere with relaxing. So, last night; the range of non alcoholic options was very uninspiring, so I settled for sparkling water; the food was delicious, and it was lovely to have dinner, prepared by someone else ! , with Mr Lily. I WAS very aware of alcohol around me: of the couple opposite, where he poured more wine for HIMSELF and not for his companion and then ordered port with dessert; of the next table where the woman was heavily pregnant and not drinking; of the waiters taking bottles through the dining room. I was aware of this, but it didn’t disturb me, and at the conclusion I ordered a peppermint tea to our room, which was THE best peppermint tea I have ever had 🙂

As a slight aside I have come across Alan’s “Drink con” -an emotional self rating tool that can be used to gauge your risk of relapse, by assessing feelings against a scale. I think it’s great, I’d be about a 4 right now, and you can find it here . 

Alan’s Drink Con
I feel great this morning physically, and so pleased I didn’t crack.. I was going to say Mr Lily wouldn’t LET me,  but that’s wrong, I hope he would try to dissuade me if I ordered a drink, but he’s smart enough to know it has to be my decision. 

So, this post is a bit meandering, but I think what I really want to share are my fears about the health of our dear friends J and K. As I previously mentioned, J has had a diagnosis of advanced, incurable prostate cancer for about 15 months now. Despite this, and through a variety of unpleasant procedures and treatments, J has been working, and managing OK.  I think this period of relative normality is almost over. J is on a trial drug. It’s early days, but he is less well. The details don’t matter, but the emotional impact does. K, my dearest friend, is struggling. I’m scared.  With my background – and I have worked in cancer hospitals, and cared for many patients through terminal disease, I am all too aware of a variety of horrible  potential scenarios. And however it goes, this will be tough. I’m scared for J , for the pain, but more for the loss of independence, the slow creeping loss of physical capacity, the increasing dependence on others, the physical indignities of a failing body. I’m afraid that this descent will be slow, painful and cruel, devoid of hope, without respite and that emotionally he will be frightened and angry. 

K too, she is in unstable employment, in a stressful, top management position. She is working full time, caring for J, supporting their 16 year old son, managing the home. As J deteriorates, something will have to give. 

We have a holiday booked together, in just under 3 weeks. It’s in the UK, and despite my (at best) shaky faith, I find myself praying hard that j will be well enough to go. It might be the last holiday, it’s in a beautiful place… They so need the break. We just need to get there…

I know I just need to take this “one day at a time”, not look too far ahead, not worry about what has not yet happened. Mr Lily and I need to support each other, and we will do whatever we can to ease the pressure on J and K.

one day at a time

         This often quoted phrase is a bit of an addicts mantra; and as such has been very over used. I’ve got this on my sobriety pendant – but I have very mixed feelings about this innocuous little maxim.

In one way, when I initially felt compelled to quit drinking (because I didn’t do this voluntarily !) the very thought that I would not be able to drink again, at all,  EVER, was so horrific to me that I literally felt paralysed. How on earth would I manage Christmas, girls lunches out, celebrations, disasters? How would I cope with disappointment and frustration with out a bottle glass of wine to help me calm down. This was back in October 2013, when I hadn’t seriously tried to quit drinking for at least 15 years. The thought of NOT having wine was seriously scary to me (how completely fucked up is that ?) At that time I literally clung to the “one day at a time” .. Pretty often it was reduced to one hour (or less) at a time …

It saved me, I know, not looking too far ahead. The anxiety at having to cope with Christmas sober for example , freaked me out so much, if I had looked at it, I think I would have caved in right then. So I grimly refused to think about anything further than 24 hours ahead and navigated the initial acute withdrawal and the persistent, intrusive thoughts about alcohol, by coping in the minute.

As the days turned to weeks and the occasions I had been so afraid if passed despite me not drinking, (-and oddly seemed to be better sober) I still found myself unable to picture myself long term sober .. So I kept on with the “one day at a time” and that was ok – until it wasn’t.

It took me 22 months to get sober again. And again, this time I started, 132 days ago, by taking each small chunk of time and planning to say sober in the minute. But I think to achieve long term sobriety you have to let go of that at some point. I genuinely feel I am now able to do that. I do not consider drinking again to be an option for me, no matter what situation I find myself in. I can’t envisage any circumstance that would be improved by my drinking alcohol, and so, whilst I still plan, I don’t any longer feel I am lurching unsteadily from one fragile sober day to the next.

Which brings me to the negative connotations of the phrase. To me, it implies that every day will be a struggle, that there is no peace and no security in the choice to be sober; that the decision has to be revisited each day, that even years into sobriety it’s a hard thing to do. I disagree. I’m not expecting it to be always easy – but then nothing at all (worthwhile) is always easy. I anticipate days and events where I would like to drink alcohol, just as there are days when I struggle with my exciting, demanding stimulating job … But it doesn’t mean that the initial decision to take the job was wrong, or that I regret doing so, or that each day I consider again the decision to remain there… And so it is with sobriety. I chose it. And I will stick to it, for good …. Not just “one day at a time” …