Last month I was contacted out of the blue by a BBC journalist who had read my post ‘Almost Alcoholic‘. She was writing an article about the same thing and wondered if she could interview me. We chatted on the phone for a while and then I forgot all about it. As a journalist myself I know that not everyone you speak to makes the final edit. Stories often get dropped or overtaken by other news. So it was a bit of a surprise when I woke up on yesterday morning to find lots of emails and comments from people who’d read this:
Tag Archives: 100 day challenge
A crazy couple of days
A bit of a plateau
I’ve not been feeling the need to blog so much lately. I still check in every day to read other blogs, but I don’t feel like I have much to say about my own sobriety at the moment.
For the most part, I think this is a good thing. Sobriety is not dominating my life in the way it was six months ago. It just is what it is. When I met Belle in London a few weeks ago she said to me something along the lines of “you’re not going to slip and accidentally land in a drink anymore are you?” I forget the exact words but that was the gist of it and it was a good summary of where I am at the moment. I think – and hope – that these days I would recognise that Wolfie voice before it took hold. And I really hope I haven’t jinxed myself by writing that…
The only downside to this stage of sobriety is that it’s a bit, well, boring, if I’m honest. Secretly, I think we alcoholics like a bit of drama and chaos. In the first few months of sobriety you’re kept pretty busy with all the ups and downs, milestones, pink clouds and sober firsts. In the first 100 days you do a lot of learning. Epiphanies left and right centre, the works. But I’m on day 206 now and it doesn’t feel like a great deal has happened in last hundred days. I’m just getting on with not drinking. And that’s ok … I guess.
I’m not as broken as I once was but I’m not as fixed as I thought I’d be by now. Take, for example, the re-wiring that goes on in your brain when you stop drinking. When I first quit all I could think was ‘Why can’t I have just one drink? Life is going to be so boring otherwise.’ But after a while I got into the habit of thinking through the drink and I now accept that for me, one drink will never be just one drink. And yeah, there were some fun times, but there were a lot of bad times too. Gradually, I seem to have stopped asking myself the ‘just one drink’ question because my brain has learnt the answer.
So there’s an example of some progress. However, I feel like I have tons more rewiring to finish. I just don’t know how to go about it. Do I just wait and see if it works itself out?
The other day I was on a train, alone, and feeling a bit miserable when the food and drink trolley came round. Lots of people were getting wine and beers. I did briefly think, why not? No one will know. Which is crazy because I live on my own so can drink in secret anytime! In the end I decided against the drink, not because it was the right thing to do, but because it looked like the wine only came in those really tiny miniature bottles. I knew one bottle wouldn’t be satisfying enough, but I didn’t have much cash on me and whilst I was on the train it’d be hard to get hold of a decent amount.
It annoys me that after 206 days of sobriety that was the kind of fucked up logic I used to steer clear of the booze. Of course later I did think about all the other, more normal reasons not to drink (like, you’ve come this far so don’t throw it away now on something stupid) But all in all I feel pissed off that after all this time I am still thinking things like “I’ll say no incase there’s not enough booze for me to get properly drunk.”
When do you reach the point of never even contemplating having a drink? I hate to admit it, but when I see people drinking and having fun I still feel a bit envious. Not in a let’s-pack-this-in-and-have-a-drink type way, but seeing other people enjoying the good aspects of alcohol makes me wish I could drink normally. Ah, to be normal! Why do I crave that so much? My life has got significantly better since I stopped drinking. I should be happy with that. Most of the time I am. I know I can’t drink like a ‘normal’ person but sometimes I still wish I could. Thinking like this can’t be doing me any good, yet I can’t seem to stop it.
Stoptober vs Dry January
It’s only October, yet I’ve already had several emails reminding me that Dry January is not that far away: “Thank you for taking part earlier this year … We hope you’ll join us again… only 78 days to go!”
What they don’t know is that I crashed out of Dry January about six days in and spent the rest of January drinking a lot. I’d actually started off quite well and I didn’t even drink on New Year’s Eve, as I didn’t want to start the year drunk or hungover. But six days in something happened – I can’t remember what – and I thought: fuck it. This is too hard. I remember feeling like such a failure because so many other people managed it successfully. For once, Facebook was full of people boasting about teetotal nights in rather than their hangovers. It was the perfect time to stop drinking and I just couldn’t do it.
This January should be different. I hope I’m feeling as good then as I do now. I am secretly looking forward to everyone moaning and whining their way through their month off the booze while I lie back and smugly say “Ha! One month? That is NOTHING, you losers…”
One of the strange things about Dry January is that it’s something people are only expected to do for a month. Once over, it’s totally fine – normal even – to go back to drinking as you were before. The attitude surrounding the whole month is quite different to Stoptober, the NHS stop smoking campaign that’s in full swing at the moment.
Stoptober is all about stopping smoking forever. The theory goes that if you can quit for a month you’re five times more likely to stop for good. Stoptober has had high-profile coverage in newspapers, magazines and on TV. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea because it’s widely accepted that smoking is bad. Smoking is addictive. It’s hard to stop smoking and if you do, well done you. Pat on the back.
And frankly, it is annoying the hell out of me that smokers get so much unwavering support while us boozers get so little. Alcohol is also addictive, it’s also bad for you and if you manage to stop drinking then you deserve a pat on the back too. Or a medal.
Deep down everyone knows alcohol is bad for you – why else bother with a Dry Jan? – but the idea of giving up for good is so scary that most people can’t even contemplate it. The people behind the Dry January campaign don’t even dare to suggest it.
I don’t smoke but lets pretend for a minute that I do, or did. If I’d given up smoking rather than drinking on April 6th this year then I guarantee you all my friends would know about it. They’d have been behind me all the way. If I’d struggled to quit I’d have been able to get plenty of support from my GP or nurse without worrying about what they’d think. I’d be posting about my milestones on Facebook. I would not be writing an anonymous blog because I am too embarrassed to talk about my addiction openly.
It makes me so mad…
This is turning into a ranty, moany post and I didn’t mean it to be. I wanted to tell you about the great weekend I had in London, which ended with a lovely afternoon meeting Belle and Carrie. It was brilliant to meet face to face after all this time. I also meet some other fantastic Team 100 members: FitFatFood and The Secret Place Under the Ivy. Meeting other sober people, who are going through the same thing, is pretty amazing. Meeting sober people who know about the 100 day challenge is really amazing. I felt like saying to everyone “Wow! You look so NORMAL!” but I didn’t, because that would have been weird. Sometimes the sober blogosphere can feel a bit big and anonymous but on Sunday it was just the opposite – it was tea and chat and cinnamon buns. Good times.
Crikey. Wowsers. Amazeballs. It has been 100 days since I last had a drink and that feels like a long time and a short time, all at the same time (if that makes any sense).
The first few weeks went so slowly, time seemed to be going backwards. But somewhere around Day 30 things just started to speed up a bit. My sober car moved up a gear. My cravings became a lot easier to manage; they came and went pretty quickly. I was on a high from all the amazing things you notice when you stop drinking: the improved sleep, the weight loss, the sudden ability to Get Shit Done. The money saved. The improved mood. The freedom from all the guilt.
A bit later, maybe around the Day 40 or 50 mark, I started to realise that I didn’t really miss alcohol itself. I didn’t miss the ‘pleasure’ that alcohol supposedly provided — that buzz. No. What I really missed was the escapism and the ability booze gave me to avoid life. The tricky thing about being sober is that you have to deal with everything that’s thrown at you. There’s no running away. You can’t block out or squash down uncomfortable emotions with a bucket of wine. Instead you actually have to deal with stuff.
And this – I realised – this is what is called ‘life’. This is what proper grown ups do.
I am still finding my feet. Alcohol was my comfort blanket, my way of dealing with everything. I’ve had to learn how to survive nights out, sober. Networking, sober. Dealing with stress, sober. Heck, even dealing with success and achievements whilst sober is a bit weird – because that was always a good excuse to drink, right? I’ve been on a couple of first dates recently where I missed alcohol. I didn’t really want a drink but I still couldn’t help feeling that it would be handy to drink. Alcohol helps people bond. It is a social lubricant. I am still jealous of people who can enjoy a few drinks, get tipsy, then put the glass down.
I’ve had to learn what I do and don’t like. Once you take the booze away, a lot of things that seemed fun – clubbing for example – don’t interest me anymore. Looking back I think I only liked going clubbing because it was an excuse drink a lot.
I feel like this post is taking on a bit of a negative tone and I didn’t mean it to. Let me say this very loudly: I really, REALLY love my life at the moment. The other day Carrie wrote on her blog that “if this is as good as it gets then I still choose this”. I loved that because it summed up how I’m feeling so perfectly. In the last 100 days my life has improved so much that the few ‘downsides’ to being sober don’t really matter. I just love being back in control of my life.
The question now is: what next?
Well … I think another 100 days might be in order. Because 200 days has a pretty nice ring to it.
A Wimbledon win
For two weeks every summer the UK goes a bit tennis mad as Wimbledon rolls round. I love it; the over-priced strawberries, the tennis whites, the drama on court. Every year fans believe there will be a British winner…
… And this year they were right! Yesterday Andy Murray won his first Wimbledon title in a dramatic victory over the world number one Novak Djokovic. It’s been 77 years since Britain had a men’s champion and no one can quite believe the wait is over.
Yesterday’s celebrations got me thinking about this time last year, when the outcome was very different, in more ways than one. Not only did a tearful Andy Murray lose to Roger Federer in the final, but I watched the entire match whilst battling one of the worst hangovers of my life. Seriously, one of the worst ever. In fact, on days when I question my alcoholism I try to remind myself of that miserable Sunday last July…
It all started on the Thursday before the final. I was nearing the end of a long week at work and decided to have a few glasses of wine when I got home. Just ‘a few glasses’. I went to the supermarket and on a whim I decided to buy more wine than usual. Perhaps it was on offer – I can’t remember. I never usually kept spare alcohol in the flat. I vowed to put the second bottle of wine in the cupboard and leave it there.
Somewhat predictably I ended up opening the second bottle and I went to work very hungover on Friday. By the time I finally left the office that day I was pretty convinced I deserved a drink. I’d earnt it. So I bought more wine, drank it all and passed out on the sofa.
When I eventually resurfaced on Saturday morning, I felt really depressed. I’d noticed before that I felt a bit down after drinking but this time was exceptionally bad. After moping around the flat, I decided to cheer myself up by shopping for a cheesy rom-com and some nice food. I was in the DVD store, trying to work out if there was anything I hadn’t seen, when it struck me that the easiest way to get over my hangover would be to buy more wine. (There’s a bit of logical thinking for you) I usually tried not to drink two days in a row, never mind three, but I figured that if I just had a tiny bit of wine I could take the edge off my hangover without feeling rough the next day.
Well surprise, surprise, it didn’t work out like that. In an attempt to control my drinking I’d bought two miniature bottles of wine – the kind you get on trains. I guzzled them and wasn’t drunk at all. Yet I suddenly wanted to be drunk again, very badly. The booze monster inside me was awake. I ended up going to the nearby corner shop to get yet more wine, and beer, which I drank into the early hours…
* * *
And that is how I ended up watching last year’s Wimbledon final with one of the worst hangovers of my life. I left the flat once that Sunday, to buy a pizza, and I remember wondering whether I smelt of booze because I could taste it in my mouth. I was grey and clammy and felt out of breath. I hated myself. When Andy Murray gave an emotional loser’s speech (he’s normally a man of few words) I cried my eyes out. But my tears weren’t really for him. I was crying for myself, crying over my sad, pathetic life.
Like I said, a lot has changed since then (thank god!). Part of me thinks that Murray winning this year – the year I stopped drinking – is some sort of sign. At the very least, it must be a good omen? The more sensible part of me knows it is just a coincidence. You make your own luck in life. Murray worked hard to become a better player, just as I have worked hard to stop drinking (and I continue to work on how to stay stopped).
But still … if Murray could just win again next year that’d be really great …
Back home …
I’m back. I had a great week away. The time went in a flash – after the first few days the rest seemed to slide into one another.
I spent a lot of time sunbathing and sleeping, but I also got up early for some pretty awesome runs along the coastline. I read lots. I ate ice cream. I sat in cafes, people watching. I had an internet break and only checked Facebook and email once. Most evenings I watched DVDs and caught up on the second season of Homeland. (I know – I must be the last person on the planet to see it.) In short, it was the break I needed.
Thanks for all the lovely comments on my last post – it made me feel like less of a loser for going away on my own. Whilst I was on holiday I had time to reflect on how my life has changed since I stopped drinking, two and a bit months ago. I started thinking about the other things I want to do, so I made a list of goals – some big, some small:
1. Go to some AA meetings. As amazing as the sober blogosphere is – and the support on here really has been terrific – I would like a real life sober friend, one who lives in my town, someone I can talk to face to face. So maybe AA will help with that. I wrote off AA after a bad experience four years ago, but maybe I wasn’t ready then? It’s got to be worth another go, even if it’s just to decide that no, it really isn’t for me.
2. Stop watching EastEnders. It’s a stupid soap with ridiculous storylines. I watch it more out of habit than anything else and if I stop, I’d gain an extra two hours a week.
3. Find a good running club. I have a half marathon to do in September and I don’t think I can train for it alone.
4. Try online dating again. I keep hoping I will bump into Mr Right in the supermarket but it hasn’t happened yet. I wrote ‘go on at least four dates’ next to this (i.e do not give up after one bad date like you did last time)
5. Find a new job that doesn’t involve working nights. I’m not sure I can do them for much longer and stay sane (and sober). I am fed up with feeling tired so often.
Looking over this list, only one goal is really to do with staying sober. But they’re all linked to my sobriety in a way, because if I was still drinking I’d just be plodding on, doing the same thing day after day and wondering why better things didn’t happen to me. Part of me wants to do everything at once and get results right this second. But I think that’s the alcoholic part of my brain, demanding instant gratification and immediate results with minimum effort. So I am going to try and be patient and remember that some things don’t happen overnight …
Out of office is on. Bikini is packed. In a few hours’ time I’ll be flying off for a week in the sun. It’s a cheap deal to a quiet resort that has a good fitness centre. Sunbathing, running and rest are high on the agenda.
Holidays might be a trigger for some people but I’m not too worried, mainly because over the past few years they’ve been about the only time I’ve managed to stay sober. Whilst a luke warm summer’s day in England makes me want to sit in a beer garden, something about the intense heat abroad makes me want to sip water. Even at the height of my drinking I used holidays as an opportunity to give my body a break from the booze.
I’m going away on my own. To be honest, I can’t decide whether I should be proud of the fact that I’m an independent woman happy to travel alone, or whether I should be embarrassed that I haven’t got anyone to go with.
My best friends are all in relationships and understandably, want to spend their holidays with their partners. Strictly speaking I do have other people I could go away with, but I’d rather be on my own. I can’t imagine spending an entire week with any of my single friends right now. They’d want to go out every night and watching them gulp piña coladas would not be much fun. I want to be selfish and do my own thing for a week.
Still … it worries me, how much I like being on my own. Has drinking played a role in this? Looking back, I can pinpoint a very specific time (2008) when I started drinking to combat loneliness. I’d moved to a new city and was struggling to meet people and fill my spare time. Drinking made my own company bearable. After a few years I moved again, landed a new social life and loneliness wasn’t such an issue. But by then my boozing definitely was a problem. I’d acquired a taste for drinking home alone and began to factor it in to my life. Did I want to go to that party/ meal/ pub quiz or did I want to spend the night drinking properly at home? Too often I chose the latter.
It was very isolating behaviour and I got used to spending yet more time on my own. Now that I’m not drinking, the desire for some ‘me time’ hasn’t gone away. In fact sometimes I think I need it more than ever. Without booze I no longer have an instant off switch and it can take longer to relax. Will this change? Maybe. Who knows.
Anyway – back to this week. I plan on doing a lot of reading. I’ve bought some great sober memoirs recently that I haven’t got round to reading yet. I’ll let you know what they’re like.
Cleaning and complaining
I’ve been in bad mood these past few days. I feel really, really annoyed about not being able to drink. The pink clouds have gone. Although I’ve been focused on the 100 day challenge, in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted this to be a more permanent decision. Suddenly, the idea of not drinking ever again is depressing.
The weather is great and the rest of the world is sunbathing in beer gardens. I hate them. I turn on the TV and everyone is opening bottles of white wine. Two friends got married last weekend and Facebook is awash with pictures of them clutching glasses of champagne.
As someone who doesn’t have a boyfriend, never mind a potential husband, maybe it is a little ridiculous to worry about how I won’t be able to have champagne on my big day. And with my logical hat on, I know that being sober would not stop me having a magical wedding. But still.
I keep thinking – was my drinking really that bad? Cos it definitely wasn’t as bad as some people’s. I have what you might call a high bottom. I never got caught drink driving, I never lost a job and I never ended up in a police station. I just quietly got shit faced on my own.
It occurred to me today that if you told me I could never eat chocolate again I’d be pretty gutted. I love the stuff. I’m not addicted to chocolate but I’d really miss it. I’d probably think about it a lot and obsess about it. Therefore, the fact that I have wine on the brain doesn’t necessarily mean that I have a problem. Right?
I guess the difference between my passion for chocolate and my passion for alcohol is that chocolate has never caused me any problems. I have never called in sick at work, passed out on the sofa or done things I don’t remember after eating too much chocolate. I have never started eating chocolate and found myself unable to stop. I’ve never stumbled around looking for a late night chocolate shop.These are the kind of random, swirly, angry thoughts I’ve been having this week. Big old pity party for one. Turns out anger makes me pretty good at cleaning though. Over the past few days I’ve spent hours on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor of my balcony, after I realised the wood floor was actually supposed to be light brown and not black. I meant to do that last summer. I also meant to buy patio furniture but never got round to it. But I’ve finally got it all done. A few days ago everything was dirty and green tinged. Now it’s all shiny and clean and my new red patio furniture looks pretty ace.
It’ll be a great place to drink wine I mean, it’ll be a great place to drink Virgin Mojitos.
The strongest cravings take you by surprise
Today I was on my way home when I found myself walking behind a cute guy in a smart suit. He was carrying a few groceries in a see-through plastic bag, like he’d just swung by the supermarket. There was a stick of French bread poking out the top of the bag, but what caught my eye was a bottle of red wine that seemed to be looking straight at me.
Wowee – I am fifty days sober today!
All in all, it’s gone pretty quick. The first few weeks dragged, but then somehow the numbers just started ticking over.
You know what? Sometimes this sober stuff is hard work but most of the time it is pretty damn amazing. Today the sun is shining and I feel GREAT!
I kind of celebrated my 50 days yesterday when I got a bit carried away shopping for summer clothes online – that’s how I justified the cost anyway – today I am going to a spinning class and then eating ice cream. Cos that’s how I roll these days….