Today has been the first time that I have ever had the slightest inkling of what it is to experience Christmas when you don’t want it. When you aren’t ready for it and when it doesn’t fit.
There is a strange atmosphere in the house. Just me and the boys trying to be festive. The EO has been granted the freedom of staying somewhere light and airy until I collect her tomorrow (Xmas day). The feeling of guilt precipitates the urge for annihilation but is controlled by the frontal cortex. Most of the time. I wonder what mess I would be in if I was on my own this evening. To what lengths would I attempt to block out the screams?
I count the previous years when Xmas managed to fit. Sometimes a bit baggy or maybe on the toight side.. but fitting nonetheless. This year, it’s like it hasn’t even been sewn together.. the sides flap in the emptiness.
Now in London, it’s Boxing Day. I have spent some glorious time with my very funny younger brothers.. reducing me and the EO to squealing “Stop it! We have weak pelvic floors!”. Even watching Hereditary failed to scare, the constant narration in the room wondering why the 16 year old son looked like he was an adopted 30 year old instead. The most amazing food cooked by my stepdad.. I managed to forget my Shit Vegetarian status once more.
I drink, knowing it will be noted but not stopped. My stepfather quietly lets the reins drop – he never uses them – we both know that will need to change sooner rather than later. For my children’s sake, for the sake of my degree, for the sake of my sanity.
The anxiety still bubbling away like a pan on simmer. As the boys and I leave late to go to their friend’s annual Xmas day party, I feel the panic and wonder if I will have to leave. Instead I was greeted with such enthusiasm from their school hood friends, some of whom referred to me as the Illusive Sister. Getting back after 6am probably sums up how much fun it was. Discussing so many topics from North Pole marine conservation to how not to fall for inappropriate people with another girl, 10 years junior.. who is entering the similar whirlwind that I am untangling my battered emotions from . And now? Still crying. Happy that I could forget just for a short time, how raw and vulnerable I am but now the hangover adds to the agony. But I might just get to a meeting tonight. Sobriety, I hope will be less illusive than me.
And tomorrow as I drive home, maybe the longing to drive into a wall will be less demanding.
The tension mounts but the pressure drops and the sky darkens. Gusts blow post-winter debris along the ground and birds stop singing. I know that from somewhere deep within I am going to blow. Where’s my blue sky?? Where’s my fucking blue sky?! I am stuck in dark clouds, they are everywhere. Under my feet, above my head, they are suffocating. As the heart rate quickens, the tears prick the eyes and I feel caged within my own mind. I can’t penetrate the bubble that everyone else is in, the laughter so loud, so shrill. I can’t laugh. I don’t know how to laugh. What happened? How did this suddenly arise? At what point? Which comment? Which thought? And like a train bound to crash, I know I can’t get off. I grab at a passing reason. No, not that one.. that one doesn’t fit.. that’s not why.. what about that one? No, although it might be plausible than the other. Is it hormonal? Is it overwhelm? Am I tired? I feel anxiety and anger, I feel resentment, I feel fear..and at the same time I feel numb.
At this point I would reach for a drink. Drink through it… ‘just keep drinking, just keep drinking’; not sure Dory would approve. The paranoia continues to mount like some determined mountaineer. ‘Take a break’, I whisper, ‘take a fucking break’.. ‘Oh no young Chloe, no breaks for me.. we’re on a roll!!.. We are going to reach the peak!’. I don’t have the energy for the peak. Not enough sustenance inside of me, I didn’t pack enough protein bars. I panic, I run home and I hide.
These moments punctuate my life in fits and starts. Hard for anyone to understand, including me. I know from past experience though that this is my ‘me’ talking. This is gut instinct yelling at me that something is wrong. That I am not listening. I think I know but I don’t want to hear it. It used to be come-downs from alcohol, or not getting enough sleep, or pride, or ego. So how do I know what it is this time? Which me do I trust?
The more I strip back, the more I face, the more raw and vulnerable I feel. The problem with not self medicating like I used to, is that now I have to face all the Chloe’s in one. And that is no mean feat. I want to line them all up and remove the ones I don’t like. Slowly, I hope to merge the others I do like into just one. Like bits of mismatched play doh… all the same substance but different colours… moulding them together. Making a version of me that I love and am happy with so that in time, others can be happy with me too.
After much to-ing and fro-ing I have come to a decision. I am going sober. No more postulating, no more indecision. There will be those that question my decision and I haven’t yet gone out out but here are the whys and wherefores that have contributed to this conclusion.
(Disclaimer: this has frank accounts of my past alcohol driven behaviour. I am ok with this).
To those that say “but you weren’t that bad”, “it’s not like you were an alcoholic or anything”, let’s pick that apart a little.
What constitutes as ‘that bad’?
Being raped at 21 by someone I knew because I was so drunk I had passed out and fallen asleep? And those close to me at the time, told me that it was not really likely to be rape, because let’s face it ‘that’s the sort of thing you do when you’re drunk’. A little bad?
I reckon the time I nearly lost my now husband due to being drunk, was pretty bad.
Or the time that I was 22, living in the Santa Cruz mountains and working for an American friend with the sole responsibility of looking after her 8 months old baby at a conference she was attending (she was pretty high up in the company). I had gone to the bar and had a few more than just a couple, ended up singing in a karoake with her work colleagues and then had to be led back to a hotel room by a security guard as he was worried I was about to disappear with some dodgy bloke who was giving me a light for a cigarette. I have no recollection apart from attempting to sing an Eurythmics song (ridiculous I know, who the hell can manage to sing like Annie Lennox?). The shame the next day was dire. That sparked off my first foray to AA. Again, quite bad.
Or the time in my mid 20’s when I passed out on the Bakerloo line and must have travelled the entire route from Wembley to Elephant Castle about 4 bloody times before I was kicked off the train. I couldn’t see or walk straight and had to sit in a shop doorway. A strange but kind man who lived up the shop came down with a duvet and radio and sat with me until I realised I really had to try and get home. I then managed to put 2 and 2 together and got to a phonebox, I rang my then (also verging alkie) much older boyfriend who told me to get a cab to his and he would pay. Something clicked and I realised there was a bank. And I had a bank card. And I had money in my account. This resulted in a lightbulb moment (took 2 hours to reach) and was able to pay for my own cab back. There were also quite a few ‘waking up on a cold bench in a closed railway station’ scenarios. I’d like to think that not only was that bad but also pretty fucking stupid.
And more recently, well yeah I would agree that more recently I didn’t binge drink that often, but the thoughts of wine were frequent. I would rather sit at home and drink than make the effort to go out and drink. I felt safer drinking indoors (due to aforementioned ‘bad’ behaviour). I would look forward to getting home and having some wine. If we were at a friends it would worry me if the wine was running out. I would check to see if I was drinking too fast. Thank god for the friends who would drink more and faster. I would struggle not to drink wine every night. And if I did manage a few days then my god did I go on about it.
The thing is, I want to move on. If I make a mistake or sound like a tit, then I am going to own it! A sober tit if you please.
To the “just cut down, don’t drink so much” crew?
Er.. no. Because that means I have to constantly self moderate. Is that enough? Do I want more? Can I have more? Am I being an arse? Would I have said that sober? When you have to put that many thought processes either before, during or after an event such as lifting a glass of alcohol to your lips, then I don’t think that event is worth it. I’m getting older, I need my brain cells to actually fire and connect. I want to feel mentally and physically fitter. When I drink alcohol, even for just one evening out of seven, I feel dumber. The next day I am tired, emotional, stressed and anxious. I have three children and I don’t want them thinking that my drinking patterns were normal. If we are in a society where the amount I drank and the thoughts surrounding my drinking, are considered ‘normal’, then we really need to get a grip. My MO’s friend asked.. “what happens if you go to a really big party, won’t you drink then?”. My MO replied, “she doesn’t need to get drunk to get crazy, she already is crazy”. My eldest two have told me that they prefer me sober. That speaks (painful) volumes.
Some might say that I am very brave to put this to paper on a public forum. Yep, probably. They might add that I will regret doing so. No. I don’t think so. Our country has some of the worst statistics when it comes to the drinking culture, However, this is apparently lessening according to the Office for National Statistics. There are certainly more alcohol free drinks in the supermarket aisles than I have ever seen in my lifetime. Public Health England have a campaign about reducing alcohol consumption, and most are aware, that should alcohol be introduced as a new drug, it would be banned. So if my ‘sharing’ is uncomfortable for you, then ask yourself why? Coz I am ok with it. If reading my blog means that just one person is tempted to look at their own drinking behaviour, then it means some good has come of it. Will I now go around bleating rhetoric every time one of my friends drink? Don’t be daft! I might be a little envious that they are still able to enjoy it, I might leave a party a little earlier (“how is that even possible?” I hear my friends laugh… yeah okay, you can have that one) but at least I won’t be passed out. Getting The Horrors the next morning, wondering who I have offended or what twattish thing I have done now. So if I am there with you whilst you drink, don’t worry that I am judging you, but equally don’t judge me for being sober because I am happy with my decision. I feel relieved and ready for my new chapter.
Today I am going to tell you about my old story and then provide you with a draft for my new one.
Ihave been a little damaged as a human being. Nothing major.. no lawsuits pending, (well none that would stick).. but a bit broken nonetheless. As a result of this, I have self medicated most of my life and this has mainly been in the form of booze. With a dry January under my belt, I have felt the benefits of a (slowly) diminishing waist line and I have almost become an athlete of olympic standards.
There is the propensity to resort to my behaviour of 2017; evenings on the sofa supported with a good ol’ glass of vin de rouge whilst I guffaw at the absurdity of Ian Beale and squeal with delight when Phil Mitchell punches someone on Eastenders and says something ridiculous like “you don’t mess with the Mitchells”. Or I just scream at the tele to “oh just PISS OFF” because the story line has really become so bad that I can no longer justify to Mr P why I actually still watch this shit. Red wine was my go-to as I got ready for a rare night out.. as we had a roast on a Sunday, as I read one of the kids a story (that may or may not have been a little slurred on delivery). I fantasised about sitting in front of our roaring fire with a glass of red in hand and I will admit to trying to muffle the sound of the wine pouring in, as I topped up my glass at the same time as being on the phone to my mum. She thinks I drink drank too much.
The amounts of times I would proudly declare to my friends and family that I hadn’t drunk for ‘at least two days this week!’ are unmeasurable and I have lost count of the amount of times I have alluded to the fact that I know I drink too much. Or that I have bored friends and family with the plans to cut down drinking. We all knew I had a problem but because I was so open about it, I felt like I had almost vindicated myself. And because I don’t crave booze in the morning or get the shakes when I have a few days off, I was content to justify that I wasn’t an actual alcoholic.. I just needed to reign it in a bit. But it’s a funny thing, quitting booze. It’s practically frowned upon. Now if I said I was going to stop smoking, everyone would have slapped me on the back and told me that it was about time. Not so with alcohol. Our society, so ensconced in the voluptuous arms of the delicious nectar which warms, enlivens and caresses our bodies and minds, doesn’t appear to relish the idea of someone cutting it out. It appears to almost instil a sense of fear.
So last night, I did an experiment. I didn’t actually particularly want to drink but I was curious as to how it would make me feel. So, I had two small glasses of red wine whilst I had a marvellous back massage from the EO and then read my book. First of all I noticed the smell and taste. It was very similar to the alcohol free (AF) wine from Rawsons Retreat, Tesco. Like with the AF wine, I didn’t seem to relish the wine and there was still no buzz. I finished my glass and fell into a deep sleep, waking at 3am and noting the slight dehydration. At 6.30am I felt the tightened skull as it threatened a headache and I felt a little depleted. A little bit robbed. I slightly wished I could unread all the books on alcohol and how utterly shit it is. How it really does play havoc with your neural plasticity, how it really does fuck up your REM sleep and leaves you feeling low as your brain battles to correct the stimulation the alcohol causes as it hits your brain, leaving you anxious and low in the morning. As I argued with my MO at his billionth tantrum this week, I cried.
However, mid journey to uni, I realised I didn’t have to continue on this same path. I could reinvent my story. I don’t have to replay the same guilt ridden arguments between Shit Me and Good Me, I can go back to being alcohol free. And I might even enjoy drinking occasionally and IF I drink, it will be because it is what I want to do. The moment I feel guilt, I stop. The moment I start berating myself, I stop. And if I can’t drink without doing that? Then I don’t drink anymore.
I have had a month of feeling bloody marvellous (albeit fucking bored in the evenings…. yeah that’s still a work in progress) and so here’s my draft… it’s quite simple.. in fact it’s practically a one-liner..
My New Story
From now on, what I do will be without guilt.
If I am sober, I will not feel guilty to those who would prefer I drank and if I drink, I will not feel guilty to my Self who would prefer me to be sober.
In other words.. I am now gonna shut the fuck up about my non-alcohol/little-bit-of-alcohol/oh-hell-I-am dying from alcohol levels of consumption!!
So as some may know I am attempting 31 days of sobriety with a view to raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support – this is no mean feat for the likes of me. I drink most evenings, be it red wine, prosecco or a G&T. I see 6pm as wine o’clock.. earlier on the weekends. It is my de-stressor.. If my children were snakes.. wine would be my anti-venom.
However, I saw the Go Sober advert and thought.. “hmmm.. can you do it Chloe? You have tried and failed before..” (I think I managed 10 days once about 3 years ago which was a minor miracle in itself). But this time I have a few tactics in my arsenal..1) I am trying to lose weight and have started running and doing yoga regularly; 2) I have also started uni and thought that being a student nurse without liver failure might be a plus; and 3),my piece de resistance, is that I have decided to actually get sponsored! This means I have guilt on my side. If I fuck up, I then owe money and as I don’t have any money (tactic number 4), this is a no go.
Getting people to sponsor me might be a bit tricky though, even my best friend’s husband asked if he could sponsor me pro-rata ..or just wait til the end. Cheeky git.
Day 1 – I won’t lie, it’s half 8 in the evening and I am tetchy. This could be because we have spent most of the day in Brighton celebrating the MO’s birthday, negotiating the usual “it’s not fair”s because we didn’t buy ‘this’ despite buying a lot of ‘that’. It would appear that EVERYONE was enjoying a tipple, even at 11.30 on the train and most definitely at 5.30 on the train.Plus, we have also had to rescue our chicken Betty, literally out of the fox’s mouth. A lot of her feathers strewn around the garden – she actually let me hold her while she sat, shocked, in my arms and when I set her back on the ground she scuttled up to her nesting box, refusing the grapes offered by a very distraught MO. I hope she survives the shock.
So yes a glass of wine would not go amiss right now. Instead here I am, tapping away and desperately needing the toilet as I have drunk sooooo much tea that my bladder is due to erupt like a burst pipe. However, I want to do this and I know that when I wake up tomorrow morning, I am going to feel so bloody virtuous.. and at least I will feel like building the fortress needed to keep Mr Fox away from our chickens!