50 DAYS! Who'd have thought it? And there's no-one I can celebrate with who'll understand apart from YOU LOT! So Yay! Go me!
I thought that I'd done a couple of months sober back in the summer of 2013, but when I went back through my old diary with my honest hat on, I realised that I started having the 'odd glass or three' after only 35 days, and within 2 months I was back to square one.
That means that this is my longest sober period since I was about sixteen years old. And that includes my 3 pregnancies.(In those days British obstetricians were very relaxed about a couple of glasses of wine a week).
To mark the occasion I've been thinking about what I've discovered over the last 50 days. Here are 5 things:
1. Not drinking changes everything.
I'd thought that when you stop drinking your life carries on as normal, but just without drink in it. Not the case! When you take drink out of your life everything changes.
For me, it's like when I first became a mother. I thought that I, and my life, would be just the same but with a lovely, gorgeous baby along for the ride. In actual fact, you change fundamentally once you have a baby - your priorities, your perspective, your relationships, your body and your emotions. And the same is true when you take drink out of your life, which is why it's such a huge adjustment.
2. It's difficult to do it alone.
...which is why AA has saved the lives of so many.
When I gave up smoking I announced it to the world, so I had constant support and encouragement. One of the main reasons that I (eventually) succeeded was because I couldn't face letting down the family and friends who'd been so helpful.
But the shame of being an 'alcoholic' (can't believe I used the 'a' word), is such that we do it quietly. And it's oh so easy to 'quietly' start drinking again. We just announce that we've had our two months off and now we are re-joining the merry band of drinkers. Rather than being disappointed in us, our friends are actually rather relieved.
I still can't face the idea of AA, or of 'coming out', so you - my wonderful, faceless inter-web posse, are my support. A number of times when I've reached out for the bottle, chilled, inviting, and oh so accessible, I've stopped myself because I couldn't face either posting an admission, or lying to you by omission. You have kept me on the straight and narrow, and I am humongously grateful.
3. It's a journey, not a immediate transformation.
When you only give up for a month (dry January, sober October etc) you don't get a proper sense of the sober journey - the ups and downs of the 'sobercoaster'. But like bereavement, or (again) motherhood, there are distinct phases.
Now I totally get the theory of the 'honeymoon' phase. I spent the first 6 weeks in a 'happy land'. In retrospect, it was very much like the land of the Lorax, before the Once-ler got busy making sneeds. It was all candy coloured Truffula trees, and happy, frolicking Brown Barbaloots.
I'm now climbing The Wall. And it's not a low, crumbling Cornish dry stone wall covered in blackberries that you can easily see over. Oh no. It's a giant wall of ice - like in the Game of Thrones. It's a monotonous slog of one hand, followed by the other. Left foot followed by right.
But I know that 'something better' lies over the other side of that wall. And when I get there, I'll let you know what it is.
4. The obsession gets worse before it gets better.
One of the worst things about alcohol addiction is the constant inner dialogue about drinking. It goes on and on, checking what's available in your fridge or your cupboard, where/when you can buy more, how you can avoid anyone spotting how much you're drinking yada yada yada.
I'd thought that not drinking would, pretty quickly, shut up the inner addict. But it's still there, it's just that now it's obsessed with not drinking. I may not be talking to friends and family about it, but my internal monologue is boring me to death. And it makes me spend at least a couple of hours a day blogging about not drinking and reading about not drinking. I'm still waiting for the 'clear headspace' which I only experience in small bursts - a tiny promise of what, I hope, is to come.
5. Everyone is different.
From everything I've read over the last 50 days, it strikes me that every drinker is different. I've been desperate (as many of us are, I think), to find the answer. I want a definition of what I am, what my 'problem' is, and, therefore, what the solution is.
There do seem to be huge consistencies - for example, we all seem to associate with the idea of the 'wine witch' - the devil on our shoulder. But how we got here, our specific drinking patterns, and what made us want to stop all varies.
I've always found it tempting to read other people's stories and use them as justification - I never did x, y or z - therefore I am not a 'proper alcoholic' and 'I do not need to stop.' Yet now I see that other people could easily read my story and feel that, in many ways, I was 'worse' than them.
I'm sorry that this is not an overwhelmingly cheerful post. Believe me, the longer I spend on the sobercoaster the more convinced I am that it's the right place to be. But I am more 'grown up' and realistic than I was in the pink cloud days. Now I see this sober thing as a work in progress - but I am progressing.
Onwards and upwards sober friends, and HAPPY SOBER BIRTHDAY TALLAXO (possibly my only bloke reader. Any others lurking???)!