When I is replaced by we…

When I is replaced by weIt’s been a while since I posted!  Namely because the start to this year has been nothing sort of hectic and not quite what I was hoping for when the the New Year clock struck twelve, but we forge on with hope and fortitude.  I also migrated my blog to a new ISP and I’m really hoping that the people that have been reading my blog won’t get lost in the transfer.  I’m eternally grateful to those that do read my posts and always hope that my musings bring you some sort of personal comfort, insight or ideas.  My hope is that through my recovery journey, I am able to aid and inspire others.  Like I’ve said before this is not an easy road to walk, but like anything that challenges us, the rewards are rich.

Today I want to talk about the ideas in the Huffington Post article, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think“.  I’m not going to dissect and critique the article, but I want to talk around the theme of “connectedness” that Johann Hari discusses in his article.  What I will say is that the article is nothing short of outstanding and it’s wonderful how many people have become engaged in discussion since its publication.

For too long addiction and substance abuse disorders have been viewed as a moral failing on the part of the “addict”!  The idea of “Just say no!” has perpetuated the idea that people who develop substance abuse disorders are somehow morally challenged and that they should simply choose not to take part in this type of behaviour.  After all, if you are strong-willed and righteous there can be no debate when it comes to the question of using a substance (illegal or otherwise).  But the truth is that in trying to find comfort in loneliness people (like the isolated rats discussed in the article) we are drawn to behaviours that synthetically feed our souls.  So that when there is emptiness, a lack of fulfillment and undetermined purpose, individuals can be drawn to that “cocaine- or heroine-laced water bottle”.  And in modern society the substances are not just illegal street drugs, but often medications subscribed by qualified medical professionals to “get us through this rough patch”!

Sleeping tablets, anti-depressants and mood stabilisers are prescribed freely and are just as addictive as coacaine, heroine and methamphetamines.  And let’s not forget alcohol, which can be purchased on every other block.  And because of feelings of isolation, a lack of self-worth and the inability to connect with the people around us, we are drawn to something to help us feel a part of things.  A moral failing?  I think not.  But definitely an indication of the society we live in.  When surrounded by others many have never felt so alone or disconnected from the 7 billion people that occupy the planet.  And like the rat separated from the the others, we are drawn to something that will ease the emotional trauma that we are experiencing when cut off, whether literally or figuratively.

And it can be hard to find our way back from that place where we are alone and scared, but it’s not impossible.  By reaching out and slowly reestablishing the relationships with ourselves and others that led to that initial isolation, we are able to rediscover our purpose.  By determining our values and the spiritual principles that guide us, it is possible to live a healthy and fulfilled life in recovery. Substance abuse needn’t be a stigma that you carry around with you, the definition of who you are, it’s simply a part of your life’s journey.  Through learning, education and peer support you can move forward with clearly established goals and plans, supported by those around you.  The way I see it is that no one is meant to journey life alone…it’s just not how it’s meant to be.  But through a variety of social, emotional, spiritual and environmental factors we are often secluded, even hidden in plain sight.  By stepping out of the darkness of solitude, we can continue our wanderings.

Recovery Wellness Coaching is a powerful aid for reconnecting with ourselves and others.  It presents us with the opportunity to excavate our true purpose, find fulfillment in our lives and move forward with personal insight and emotional connectivity.  Understanding that we are not your substance abuse disorder and developing tools and techniques to create our personal vision, set goals and develop action plans makes recovery coaching an empowering choice.  Too often we get lost in the quagmire, forget who we are and what we want…becoming so caught up in what’s going on around us that we end up losing sight of ourselves, somehow becoming inadvertently separated in all the chaos.  Recovery Coaching has the immense power to help you rebuild the physical, emotional, mental, emotional and spiritual elements of your life so that you are truly connected to yourself and those around you.

I know that it’s done wonders for me and the people that I work with…so if you are interested and would like more information about Recovery and Wellness Coaching please contact me to explore your options.  Because “When I is replaced by we even illness becomes wellness”.

Til next time

Sober Something

You (don’t) complete me!?

While I was drinking I was incapable of having anything that resembled a mature,fulfilling relationship…  I simply didn’t have the faith in myself to get involved with anyone for anything more than a few weeks, and nothing that could be considered a relationship.  Let’s be honest here in that our choices in active addiction are hardly what would be considered reasonable and well thought out.  I’m sure that I am not the only one who’s made some pretty dubious decisions late at night…  But that being said, I am not the kind of person who likes to air their (long-past) dirty laundry in public.  Actually I have been thinking about writing a book about my journey for many years and as much as I know a little “dirty laundry” could possibly be good for sales and readership, that is not the kind of message I want to put out into the world.  Yes, I have my share of scandalous little tales, but besides taking ownership of my past indiscretions, it’s not something I believe needs to be rehashed for public consumption.

What I do want to talk about today is relationships in long-term sobriety.  So often in early recovery we hear that it’s not a good idea to get into (or leave) a relationship in the first year.  As for me, it took more than six years before I was ready to take that step.  The main reason was that I wanted to become someone that I would want to be with…and clearly that took some time!!  I didn’t want to go into an intimate relationship hauling the cargo that I had accumulated over the years, and have to deal with that while I was finding myself as part of a couple.  When we’re vulnerable and scared, often the natural thing seems to be to find someone to share our unease and pain.  And when we are not alone, perhaps it doesn’t seem quite as frightening.  But I decided for myself that bringing my insecurities and pain into a relationship, wasn’t going to bode well for anything lasting.

Now let me be completely honest, I am not saying that I am some sort of emotionally superior being, who has no insecurities, vulnerabilities or moments of personal discontent.  That’d be incredibly inauthentic and arrogant of me!  I am not close to being an Eckhart Tolle who has mastered the spiritual art of living in the now, free of the pain of the past or the anxiety of the future.  What I am trying to say is that I worked incredibly hard for a long time to be honest about where I am in my life and learn to accept myself.  I looked around at the people I know and paid careful attention to those who were in happy, healthy relationships and those that were toxic and destructive.  I made conscious choices about the type of partner I wanted to be and decided on the things I wanted to take into a partnership.  It might sound clinical and unromantic, but I was not prepared to be an emotionally-driven, reactionary player in this game of hearts.

Of course we have little or no control over who we choose to love, but I knew who I wanted to be when Cupid took the shot!! And all those years of personal development, self-evaluation and hard emotional work finally paid off.  After spending long, lonely nights putting my demons to rest, I met an incredible man.  The truth is that there were lots of emotions, insecurities and anxieties in the early stages of being together, but I didn’t bring my recovery into our relationship.  I wasn’t trying to learn about who I am at the same time as getting to know him.  Of course it’s challenging to find your true place in a couple, but it wasn’t about finding myself as well.  It was just the normal stuff that most of us go through in the beginning of being with someone!

Yes, I checked my phone a dozen times an hour (our first year was spent in a long-distance relationship) and went through the roller coaster of feelings that my friends explained are completely normal.  I wasn’t finding it hard because I was in recovery, I was just going through the spectrum of emotions that get thrown in our paths when we are in the initial stages of being together.  I did attend a lecture a couple of weeks ago about relationships and the stages thereof.  It was based on the Imago Theory, which was a little too Freudian for my tastes, but the psychologist talked about how in the early stages of romance we feel like we have always known this person we find ourselves with (based on our familial experiences).  Following this romantic period, we’re bound to enter into a power struggle and if couples do the necessary work, perhaps 5% will be lucky enough to be part of a conscious relationship.

lets agree to be honestBut listening to the lecture I began to understand that if we know ourselves well enough before we find someone to be with, we are far more likely to be successful in our choice.  Communication is key from the very very beginning, and although I do not have a man who showers me with romance and we don’t feel like we’ve always known each other, I consider myself beyond blessed to be in a partnership that is authentic and honest.  Instead of sweet nothings, we talk about real situations and for me that is far more important than platitudes.  We both know what we want from each other, we are not living in some fantasy land believing that everything is perfect, but we are incredibly happy.  Sometimes the conversations can be a little scary, but we’ve discussed a range of topics that are very real possibilities in any couple’s life.

But the point of the entire post is that instead of rushing in (or out) of a relationship in early recovery, I can recommend doing yourself a big favour and learning who you are and what you truly want.  Then based on this you can start to make decisions that involve the heart and emotions of another person.  I cannot comment too much on the getting out, since this is my first serious relationship since forever, but I can say that there is nothing more empowering than knowing yourself really well before trying to look for someone else to complete you.  Being complete before you look outwards for something means that that other person only makes life more exciting, fulfilling and fun.  Don’t look outside for love and happiness, find it first in yourself and then look for someone to share it with.  If there is a void that needs filling, find ways to fill it by yourself, because expecting someone else to vanquish the emptiness is not necessarily going to lead to long-term emotional stability.

The man I am with doesn’t make me happy, because I am already happy in myself.  He is an incredibly wonderful addition to my world and most definitely brings joy to my life, but he is not the fountain of my personal fulfillment.  Of course I speak only for myself, when I say that by getting over my past and not rushing into any sort of intimate relationship until I was someone I wanted to be with, has been well worth the wait.  Because after all I really do believe that life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Til next time

Sober Something

I love you, but I’m not like you!

Before I get into my post today, I just want to express my gratitude to the people who follow my blog.  It’s always humbling to think that my words are being read by others and I really appreciate that!  If you are at all interested in sharing the story of your journey to or through recovery, please have a look at “Walking the Road Together“.  I’d love to share your thoughts with my readers and truly believe that we are made stronger by being members of a community of bloggers who are a major part of our sustained sobriety.  I find your stories so personally inspiring that I would love to share them with others.

Now to the business of the day.  Recently a close family member told me that their spouse had voluntarily entered a six-week rehabilitation program.  I’m delighted for her and wish her all the best, but it raised some interesting questions among close friends and family regarding the level of support that we are required to give once she returns to the “real world”.  Anyone who has been through a rehab program will probably agree that after the first few days of settling in, whether that be experiencing any level of withdrawal or coming to terms with the fact that your addiction has got to a point where you require professional help, it’s not a terrible place to be!  You’re surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through, whether they be fellow patients or well-trained professionals.

Your days are tightly scheduled and busy, and you’re completely focused on getting sober and kicking your habit for good.  You get to talk about your feelings, identify your triggers, come to a clearer understanding of your addiction and not worry about too much else.  I thrived in rehab, as I discussed in a previous post, but once I was outside the “pink bubble”, I didn’t manage to stay sober for more than 6 months.  Once I got back into the real world with work, bills, stress and accessible alcohol it was a lot trickier than within the nurturing four walls of the facility that I was in.  I was overly confident that I would not be a repeat patient, being one of the few people who was not on their third or fourth rotation.

The fact is that rehab is expensive and once you leave there is almost zero follow-up.  My Recovery Coach trainer talks of the incredible post-care he has received since being diagnosed with Diabetes, in the form of phone calls, educational material and follow-up support.  Correct me if I am wrong, but most people who leave rehab don’t receive that level of concern.  There’ll probably be a session or two about how one should find a support group and attend meetings, but following the level of attentiveness over the proceeding weeks I personally don’t think that it is nearly enough to ensure that people stay clean and sober.  The relapse rates are high, in my opinion, simply because after being cosseted and propped up for weeks, there is not really much of a transition phase.  Of course it is the individual’s responsibility to be in charge of their sobriety, but boy it’s not easy being tossed from the rehab nest!

And this also begs the question as to the responsibilities of our nearest and dearest on our homecoming… Because addiction is our cross to bear, and although we need the love and support of our families, we cannot expect them to change their lives because we have a problem.  We need to find our new place in the world after rehab in the face of the myriad of challenges out there.  People are going to be drinking when you go to your first social event, it’s as simple as that!  You cannot expect it to be any different and if we’re going to stay sober we need to learn to deal with it.  It’s inevitable that certain people within your social circle fall away, but it’s going to be a very lonely Road to Recovery if you think that your immediate family and friends will change their consumption habits – it’s not going to happen.  They may be more aware of them in our first few weeks, but believe me that if you start trying to change them you are going to be met with resistance.

If you’ve been there you can probably relate to what I’m saying.  If you’re in early recovery let this be a cautionary tale.  Our family and friends love us, but generally don’t want to think that they are like us!  They’ll support us by listening to us, maybe even attending educational or information sessions about addiction, but very very rarely will they be prepared to moderate their behaviour in the long-term.  And like I said that is something we have to come to terms with or it will be poison in our long-term recovery.  So I long ago made peace with the fact that one of the elements that I needed to include in my recovery was being okay with the drinking habits of the people around me, and the fact that they continue to do so is not because they don’t care about me, it’s just that they are were not hit with the addiction stick.  And if they were, well that’s their decision to make, not mine to preach about.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

consider-how-hard-it-is-to-change-yourself-and-youll-understand-what-little-chance-you-have-in-trying-to-change-others-benjamin-franklin

Where do I fit in!?

In five days time I am returning to South Africa after living and working abroad for close to eleven years.  I cannot contain my excitement at the thought of being home again, with the people I love, but there is also another feeling lurking inside me.  I am more than a little nervous of figuring out where I fit in with my loved ones after being away for so long.  There have been visits over the years and a couple of them have been a few months, but on the whole I haven’t spent more than a two or three weeks in South Africa for a very long.  It’s not about worrying whether the people in my life are looking forward to having me back, it’s more about finding my place again in the day-to-day space of everyday living.

I’ve made it my mission over the years (before and after sobriety) to stay in touch with the people that are important to me.  The vast majority of correspondence is initiated by me on any given day, and I learned to make peace with that a long time again.  It’s not that people weren’t interested in me, it’s just that when you are out of their immediate sphere it’s much harder to maintain close relationships.  So I made it my business to stay in touch with the people I wanted to keep close over the years.  There are ebbs and flows in any relationship, but the ones that I have nurtured to ensure that they didn’t die across distance are still in place.  The majority of these people have been in my life a long time and I am blessed that they stood by me through the more challenging years of our friendship.  But now after eleven years it is time to go home and fit into life on a more regular basis.

Visiting home for holidays means dinners, braais (SA barbeques), nights out and other social events.  There’s always something exciting going on and lots of quality time spent with friends and family.  But going home permanently I am going to have to remember that this is not how life is usually.  I’m going to have to rediscover what is expected of me as a friend, a partner, a sister and a daughter.  Last time I lived in South Africa I was a very different person to the person I am today and I know that I will cross paths with those from my younger years when I was drinking.  I’m proud of who I am today, but the past craziness inevitably gets mentioned in a conversation with old friends and acquaintances who I haven’t seen for a while.  So there are often awkward moments in conversations with people, but I just need to remember in these instances how far I have come in the last six and a half years.

I suppose it will take a little time to work out how things are going to work from day to day and week to week.  Where will I spend Christmas this year?  Will my mother be upset if I choose not to travel to her for the holidays?  Will my boyfriend and I, who have been in a long-distance relationship for over a year, have strong enough feelings to find ourselves in a “real-time” relationship?  Am I expected to spend time on a regular basis with my father and his wife?  How often should I see my best friends?  There are so many questions racing through my mind at the moment it’s a little overwhelming.  It may sound odd that I am unsure of myself in relation to these questions, but I am really in personally uncharted territory at the moment.

And the truth is that as someone in long-term recovery there are still times that I am unsure of myself.  Days when my self confidence is a little low and I am wary of where I stand with others.  But I’ve learned to acknowledge those feelings on the days that I experience them and instead of pushing them away I let them into my conscious thought patterns.  Banishing them only gives them strength in my experience until I am a overawed by them and in a state of emotional confusion.  So I let myself feel the insecurity, think it through and try to understand why I am feeling like I am.  And instead of fighting the negative emotions, they are integrated into my day and dealt with in a proactive way, rather than hoping they’ll just go away.  It can be difficult to do this as it takes some personal stock-taking and honesty, but in the end it’s far less exhausting and a lot more productive than waging emotional war with myselfhome is where.

So as I count down the last few days in the desert I am both excited and nervous about the next stage in my journey.  I have been moving for a very long time and this allows avoiding certain things to some extent.  Now it is time to stop, drop anchor and really find my place in the world, with myself and the people I love.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

 

I’m really not that fussy…

I’m not very good at putting myself first!  I genuinely feel that I am doing people a service by elevating their needs, wants and desires above my own.  Yet, when I am honest about it it actually tends to be of disservice to me in the long-run.  While I was drinking I did it because I felt like I needed to be constantly finding some way to apologise for my bad-days behaviour.  So putting others first seemed like a good way of showing them that even though I may have been verbally aggressive towards them over the weekend or failed to show up because I was too hungover to function, didn’t mean that they weren’t important to me.  So I got into the habit of doing things for my friends and family that didn’t always take my needs, wants and desires into consideration and sometimes even left me feeling a little hostile towards them.

Unfortunately this is now seen as being part of who I am.  Always happy to be agreeable and maintain the status quo to avoid confrontation where possible and go along with what the other person or people have in mind.  The problem is that now that I’m not drinking and having to be constantly apologetic, I find that I’ve started to feel really hostile towards these same people when they do this, because now I feel like they are taking advantage of my niceness.  I’m not a total pushover, but in the realms of insignificance I chose not to do battle.  So I’ll consent on the trivial things over and over again, and it’s started to piss me off about myself.  I’m not talking anything that goes against my moral fibre, but rather decisions over evenings out, places to eat, leisure time, what’s on the TV, which movie to watch…you get the idea.  I’m starting to think that I should stand up for myself a little more in the respect that my opinion, no matter how insignificant the subject, should matter to the decisions taken.

I constantly hear myself saying things like, “whatever works for you” and “I’m really not that fussy”, but actually when I start to think about it there are times when I’m not that happy with the option.  I grew up with parents that fought about really stupid things that still don’t make any sense to me and I’ve always believed that compromise is important.  The problem is I think I’ve swung to the opposite extreme where there’s no compromise because that actually entails discussion and reaching a mutual decision.  And I don’t want to carry this into my new relationship because I can only imagine that I’ll start to become resentful of the fact that I’m just too acquiescent.  I’m not talking about constantly disagreeing over the silly little things, but if I don’t have any practice how do I voice what’s important to me on the larger issues!?

well-behaved-women-rarely-make-history-marilyn-monroeI’ve learned how to stand up for myself professionally.  I guess I just need to take myself more seriously in the personal sphere of my life and talk about the things that matter when choices crop up.  There are things that I’m willing to let slide, but I suppose what I’m getting at is that I need to be more vigilant about just letting things go and then regretting that I didn’t give voice to my wants, needs and desires at the time.  There are so many new skills that I’m having to learn as my journey into sustainable recovery lengthens that it can be a bit daunting at times.  However, I do need to remind myself that I have 20+ years of self-neglect and bad habits to undo and underdeveloped and new personal skills to sharpen and acquire.  At the moment I’m going to focus on looking for the assurance inside and sticking up for myself when it matters.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

I am (not) alone…

Today’s been an inextricably tough day for me for some reason.  I woke up this morning and lay in bed thinking of every imaginable reason for not going to work and then once I had lulled myself into a completely negative frame of mind I finally got up, dressed up and showed up.  To be honest I should have looked harder into the excuse bank and just laughed today off.  And then I spent all morning trying to get rid of my sullen moodiness, which of course only made it worse.  Trying to push emotions away tends to lead to them swinging back even more forcefully and overwhelming you.  In the coaching course I am studying and the work I do with my coach and tutor, they advocate acknowledging these “negative” feelings and trying to find the positive that they are trying to bring you.  If I’d spent a few minutes doing that this morning as is becoming more habitual I would have honoured that is has been a very tough 12 weeks away from home, with no festive season celebrations and no tactile closeness in my life for three months, I’d have given myself a bit of a break.

This is part of the reality of my life at the moment.  I live a long way from home and work with people, most of whom I’ve known less than a year and I am simply lonely.  This isn’t the kind of lonely that I experienced when I was drinking, and I’d close myself off from people because I was embarrassed by something I’d done at a party.  This is the kind of loneliness that can only be remedied when someone you truly love puts their arms around you and just holds you until you are ready to move.  So I guess it’s more of a physical longing to be close to people I love.  There is no shortage of communication with home, but a virtual hug just doesn’t come close to the real thing.  And there were plenty of times during my years of drinking that I could be in a crowded bar and feel completely alone, and that’s the scariest feeling in the world.

So this morning instead of acknowledging my feelings of loneliness I tried to push them aside and as the day wore on they eventually came crashing down on my head, leaving me emotional and anxious.  Had I simply embraced the feeling for a while earlier in the day, acknowledged and accepted its existence in me, my day would have been a lot smoother.  But I got overwrought and along with that came an episode of serious self doubt.  It’s a roller coaster really and one that years of addiction means I am less able to cope with than people who have faced their personal demons stone cold sober and wrangled with them.  The problem with the easy accessibility of alcohol is that when I’d get into these situations where I needed to deal with personal and emotional issues I’d simply do it by having a drink and then all sorts of important issues would be sidelined.

And one of these things is that I’ve always been a little afraid of being alone.  As a child I slept with a night light and even in adulthood I don’t really like being by myself for long periods of time.  So drinking allowed me the opportunity to go out and be with people.  Now I have to deal with my solitude because I don’t hang out in bars anymore and without the dulling of my personal inhibitions I’m not as confident as I used to be in social settings.  Coupled with my isolated working environment at the moment and the fact that I live alone, I’m bound to feel a little removed at times.  It’s not going to last forever and in a few weeks I’m going to feel that strong embrace that I’ve been longing for.

The loneliness I experience in sobriety is so fleeting compared to the years of desolation I felt while I was drinking.  Feeling like an outsider even when I was with the people who meant the most to me, but never really being comfortable within any given situation.  Any sort of real intimacy was impossible while I was drinking and I’ve started to recently experience just how incredible true, honest intimacy can be.  So even though I have had a day today where my loneliness was crippling because I didn’t look at how I was feeling, it is nothing compared to the years I wandered around feeling forlorn while I was caught in addiction.  If only I hadn’t tried to fight against my feelings this morning as I fought against my addiction for  so long, because pushing things away and trying to ignore them only allows them to gather strength and return even more powerful than they were initially.

So before I finish this post I just want to say that I am grateful that even though I may feel lonely at times there are incredible people in my life that love, support and encourage me as I journey through my new life with an open mind and an honest heart, and because of them I am not alone.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

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Learning to love (in sobriety)…

For the whole of my twenties and a good deal of my thirties I never had a romantic relationship that didn’t begin fueled by the artificial courage of alcohol.  There’s every possibility that I’d never had a one up until I stopped drinking in my mid-thirties…  Let’s be honest it’s far easier to navigate the marshy uncertainty of a new relationship after a couple of drinks to calm the nerves.  Getting to know a prospective partner a lot less scary after a few glasses of wine.  It really does go back to my previous post about friendship and how conversations are just a little less initially contrived when you’re not feeling quite as self conscious and inhibited.

The thing is that a drinking problem does nothing for creating and maintaining healthy romantic relationships.  I never really had boyfriends in high school, preferring to spend my afternoons and weekends focused on my show jumping.  Of course there were high school crushes and short-lived dalliances, but nothing that could be considered a serious commitment.  Being at an all-girls’ school also meant that the opportunities to meet guys were far less frequent and it never really bothered me that I didn’t have a boyfriend.  After leaving school and starting university there were a couple of brief assignations and one short-lived relationship, but nothing of any depth really.  And then there came my first proper 20-something relationship…

In my first few years at university I drank heavily.  The reasons we drink are as varied as the types of people we are and I’d never really done any introspection on why I drank.  I know now that there are many reasons, one of them being that when I was even slightly intoxicated I was not scared to express myself, especially emotionally.  If I wanted to let my interest be known it was far easier to do it after a couple of drinks than stone-cold sober.  Being emotionally-closed and worrying about rejection is a deep-seated fear in me and something I am working on daily to overcome.  My coach assures me that I am not the only person in the world that suffers from this constant need for approval, positive assurance and the belief that being vulnerable makes me weak and needy.  But this was not something that concerned me during my drinking years.  I’d simply say how I felt and if I was rebuffed I’d deal with it in the cloudy places of dulled senses and get over it, slightly numbed to the reality that I’d been rejected.

But my first real relationship did nothing to assuage these fears once it gathered some momentum.  The first man I truly loved was cold and manipulative, emotionally abusive and just plain mean.  So all the fears in me were magnified by this early relationship and became far more destructive than they were before we dated.  My parents were unhappily married for many years and I was desperately looking for someone to love me.  It was a difficult relationship and I cannot blame him for everything since my drinking was an issue, but every weakness I had with regard to myself and my idea of what a relationship should be grew out of all proportion during the two years we dated.  He’d tell me things like “If I don’t love you nobody will!” and “If you were thinner I’d love you more.”  I lost all sense of myself during the couple of years we dated, believing that I was lucky to be with him and that I wasn’t really worthy of great love in my life.  I saw my friends less and less as time wore on, my self confidence and self respect withered away and I drank more and more.  He’d question my choice of outfits and friends, and I became one of those young women who would retort with “But you don’t know what it’s like when it’s just the two of us.”

Our final months together were filled with raging, venomous arguments that normally took place late at night after we’d both been drinking.  And we’d wake up in the morning not really sure what had started them.  We broke up after a terrible fight over him not being prepared to attend his surprise birthday party because he was playing golf that day.  And when he did arrive a home video in which I was smoking on a trip away with friends led him to ask me, “If I cannot trust you not to smoke, how can I trust you not to be with other men?”  We only saw each other once after that and the argument ending with his parting words, “When you read my death notice in the paper tomorrow let it forever be on your conscience.”  He’s alive and well, married with children I believe, but those words scarred me for a long time and my hands are trembling over the keyboard now.

There were a couple of relationships after him during my drinking years, one of which was an engagement, but the reasons for that are very sad and it never worked out.  It’s been more than ten years since I told a man that I loved him.  Being sober and “relationship unfit” (my coach’s words which I completely agree with) is really tough.  There’s no choice of “Dutch Courage” when it comes to picking up the phone or sending the message in the early stages.  There’s no false bravado and there’s no hiding behind the excuse of “I had a couple too many drinks”.  It’s raw, real and scary starting a new relationship when you’ve never done it with all your mental faculties about you before.  The one thing I do know is that there will never be fights and arguments initiated by me because so many things seem so inconsequential when you haven’t been drinking all night.   And I don’t for one moment believe that our real selves come out when we drink.  We become less inhibited and more outspoken, but I cannot subscribe to the belief that the argumentative, aggressive people that hard drinkers become after a few too many are who we truly are.  So I’m a much calmer person who knows that of there are disagreements to be had and conflicts to resolve it is far healthier and more productive to have these difficult conversations without a drink in hand.  But I do feel emotionally vulnerable and am working very hard on trusting, not being needy, staying calm and finding peace…relationship skills that I never developed while I was drinking, but that are pivotal parts of any mature, grown-up relationship.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

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Before and After…

I haven’t made very many new friends since I stopped drinking.  I’m not sure whether this has something to do with the fact that I am getting older or the fact that since I began to abstain I am simply not as gregarious.  Shyness is part of my personality to I tried hard to overcome as an early teen, begging my parents to let me change schools to a smaller, girls-only, Catholic school in the area.  I’d spent the good part of two years living in daily fear of the monstrous things that the boys might whisper to me in the corridors.  The girls were equally as intimidating with their “big hair” and make-up.  My father had been transferred from a small town the previous year to the country’s commercial capital, and I had been torn from the security of my early teenage comfort zone.  Having attended an all-girls’ school for many years, I was completely out of my depth in a co-ed system, and withdrew horribly.

I’d wake up in the morning, crying, begging my mother not to send me to school.  After about 18 months my parents finally relented and I traded in my aqua-blue uniform for a maroon and yellow combination, complete with a very unflattering hat, and steeled my resolve to become more outgoing.  But being a little introvert in a new social or professional surrounding has always been my default mode.  Being confident and self-assured at work after an initial settling in period has never been problematic for me, but people tend to be sober and rational at work, and I can rely on my professional wits to stay ahead of the game.  It’s different in a social situation and this is where I’ve tended to make most of my friends over the years.  I prefer to separate my work and play time, and not spend too much time socialising with colleagues.  It’s got nothing to do with the calibre of the people I have worked with over the years, rather that I’d rather not live my job and have very definite rules about not “talking shop” after hours.

The only thing is that since I got sober I have been living as an expat where the people you work with tend to be the people you socialise with.  Since I pride myself on my professionalism people tend to find me a little personally aloof.  So I am seldom asked on social outings and I tend to spend a lot of time alone.  This is not the case when I am on home ground with people that have known me for substantial periods of time and have been beside me through my recovery to this point.  There have been a couple of exceptional people that have come into my life over the last five years, but due to the transitory nature of my job they tend to not be permanent fixtures.  We stay in touch through the wonders of technology but with some of them there is little chance of being reunited and spending any time together merely because of our chosen locations.  So sober I may be, but there are times when I feel very alone and isolated in my sobriety.

At the moment I am a long way from home, living in a country that is socially and culturally isolated from where I want to be.  I hanker for my nearest and dearest, and I struggle to make those friendship breakthroughs that in my past have often happened over a couple of drinks and a fun night on the town.  I meet new people on an almost daily basis, but I find myself too shy or too weary to make an effort that will eventually translate into a bond.  It’s not that I don’t want new people in my life, it’s just incredibly difficult for me to say goodbye to people , knowing that there is a high probability that we won’t see each other again.  It’s almost like I have become a little jaded and I know that separating oneself it not healthy behaviour for an addict.  The brain’s hamster wheel spins out of control some days and even though on those days I choose not to drink, it’s not a mentally healthy place to be.  I have to push myself to do any sort of social interacting with people who are more acquaintances than friends.

It was so much easier to get to know people over a couple of bottles of wine, discovering that you had oodles in common as the wine flows and the hours tick away.  And some of those people I still count among the most important people in my life.  They’re right here in my life and I feel blessed that they have known the before and after me.  So if you’re finding it a little more challenging to make friends and getting to know people just takes that much longer, don’t despair…  The people I have become friends with over the last few years and even the last few months have become very precious to me.  It’s been a slower, steadier process rather than I’d experienced in the past, but the results have been as rich as any I’ve experienced in the past.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

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