(Still) Sober

When I first wrote this I had no idea if I would make it this far with my sobriety intact. It’s now been 10 months since I gave up alcohol, the longest period of abstinence in my adult life. I’ve had a few messages asking how I’ve been getting on so thought I would give you an update. Here’s a few things I’ve learned since January:

Sober Socialising Sucks

I don’t have to tell you drunk people are annoying, it’s a fact. I’ve found socialising without alcohol really difficult. I get panicky, then bored. Boredom leads to temptation and I struggle to resist temptation. Whether it’s weddings, baby showers, funerals or work functions; booze is the common thread running through each event. I can count the amount of times I’ve been “out” this year on one hand and there was only one party where an alcoholic drink wasn’t thrust into my hand. So I make my excuses and stay home. Social isolation isn’t a great long-term strategy but until I can control the urge to binge on booze it’ll have to do.

The Shame Struggle is Real

Sobriety is my dirty little secret. I don’t routinely tell people I’ve given up alcohol because I’m ashamed to admit I’m an addict. I also think if I don’t tell anyone I am in recovery less people will know I’ve fucked up if I fall off the wagon. I’ve made up some mediocre excuses for refusing alcohol rather than tell the truth – antibiotics, driving the next day (I don’t own a car), upset stomach and Dry January and Sober October were two bandwagons I was happy to jump on.

I Miss Some Aspects of Boozing

I miss the buzz I got when I was drinking. I miss the flush of my cheeks, the loosening of my tongue and my inhibitions melting away. Drunk me danced, sang, made friends with strangers and had no fear. I miss the loss of clarity. My problem drinking stemmed from wanting to escape from the pain of reality. Months of sober contemplation have made me crave a little less lucidity. I tried to replace the high from drinking with something healthier (exercise endorphins) but all I managed to do was injure myself.

Time Passes More Slowly…

…or it feels like it. I seem to have more time on my hands now I’m not spending two days in bed recovering from a night out/in. I could easily lose a whole weekend to vomiting, naps and pizza. My local takeaway actually thought I’d moved house when I called recently, after years of calling every Sunday to order a huge pizza and chips to finish off my recovery from Friday night.  I certainly don’t miss the post alcohol comedown when the anxiety, fear and paranoia could stretch to over a week.

My Problems Didn’t Disappear Overnight

Part of me believed giving up alcohol would be the solution to all of life’s problems but unfortunately the majority of them are still there.  I fall easily into destructive patterns so it’s really simple for me to replace one vice with another. Casual sex, sugar, junk food, spending – I’ve overdone them all. The mental clarity I’ve gained from sobriety has actually accentuated some of the issues I was having. My insomnia has gotten worse as the negative thoughts I would quiet with alcohol are now loud and clear in my head every night. My anxiety, particularly in social situations has never been worse. There have been some welcome side effects though – I’ve lost some weight, made less poor choices with men and my skin looks better. It’s not been all bad.

I’m Tougher Than I Thought

It may be strength or stubbornness but the fact that I sit here 10 months sober is all down to me. I’ve had the means and opportunity to get hammered every night but I made a conscious effort not to. In the summer I stood at a function for an hour with a glass of champagne in my hand, which I picked up out of habit and could have happily gulped down and asked for another, but I didn’t. I’m lucky to have found support from friends who read the blog and strangers who’ve gotten in touch since January to share their stories. Some who have been sober longer than I ever drank and some who are taking the first steps towards seeking help.

This year I’ve found determination I never knew I possessed. I dealt with really stressful situations without my usual crutch. I attended five funerals in three months after series of shock bereavements tore through my friends and family. I started a new job, suffered financial woes, had a serious health scare and experienced the worst PTSD episode of my life. And I survived them all without drowning my sorrows. Did I want to? Fuck yes. Sobriety will always be something I tackle one day at a time but the impulse to drink is getting a little less every day. Now we’re coming up to the biggest test of the year – the festive period where all day drinking is acceptable and merriment is mandated. Luckily I’m too bloody-minded to piss away all my hard work now.

Advertisements

Top of the Pods

unnamed

Hi, my name is Cath and I am a podcast addict. It’s been 30 minutes since my last download. I’ve already written at length about my love of the spoken word and podcasts help sustain me between Audible credits. My tastes are diverse but I love listening to writers, hearing about films, beauty, music and am fascinated to know what makes humans tick. I spend a lot of time by myself but am never truly alone with hundreds of downloads to keep me company on long walks and tiresome commutes.

Having given up booze and men in 2017, I need some stimulation in my life so here are my absolute essential podcasts of the 50(ish) I currently have on rotation. I am almost as promiscuous with my listening preferences as I am with men…

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review

In a Nutshell:  Two middle aged men bicker, occasionally discuss films.

Why I love it: I am a huge film fan and when I bought an iPod Classic in 2005 this was my first download. The show has seen me through a divorce, the loss of a parent, multiple health crises and is my longest commitment to date. Simon Mayo hosts and acts as the voice of reason when Mark Kermode goes off on one of his infamous rants about everything from the loss of human projectionists in multiplexes to the rampant stupidity of Michael Bay films. The duo have nurtured a worldwide community with their own code of conduct, acronyms and in-jokes. I don’t get a chance to listen live but if you can, try to catch the studio webcam feed, it’s always nice to see Kermode’s flappy hands in full flow.

Desert Island Discs

In a Nutshell:  A guest is invited to choose eight discs, a book and a luxury to take with them as they’re cast away on a fictional desert island.

Why I love it: Desert Island Discs is valium in audible form. The show has the ability to calm my foulest mood and the theme tune alone can instantly lower my heart rate. The concept is so simple and the joy comes during the interview, when the host delves into the Castaway’s life and reasons behind their music choices. The online back catalogue boasts over 2000 episodes and includes royalty, prime ministers, movie icons and musical legends but I delight in discovering humans who are extraordinary but not famous and often find myself moved to tears.

All Killa No Filla

In a Nutshell:  Two British comedians discuss serial killers. Funnier than it sounds.

Why I love it: I have a morbid fascination with murderers, perhaps because I have met more than one in the flesh (a story for another day). I could blame coming of age in the 1990’s when Fred and Rose West, Aileen Wuornos and Dr Harold Shipman crimes were tabloid press fodder. The podcast is hosted by comedians Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean and each episode is devoted to a different killer with their crimes described in a style that is often hilarious, but never at the expense of the victims. Not one for the fainthearted but after nine years working in a hospital I am not squeamish and my dark sense of humour ensures very little offends me. I’ve heard each episode at least twice and can often be found cry laughing while listening on public transport.

Full Coverage

In a Nutshell:  A podcast for beauty addicts, by beauty addicts.

Why I love it: Despite my low maintenance appearance I love beauty. I can spend hours on blogs and forums researching products and rarely impulse buy cosmetics after some previous costly mistakes. The show, hosted by professional makeup artist Harriet Hadfield and author (and beauty junkie) Lindsey Kelk, gives no-bullshit reviews of new beauty releases, Holy Grail products and interviews with beauty insiders. The pair are brutally honest and hilarious; this isn’t the regurgitated PR fluff you may be used to from some Vloggers.  You may not believe a show about beauty would translate to audio but the descriptions are so vivid it’s like you are in the room as they test out products. And if you follow either presenter on Instagram you will often get a sneak peek at some of the goodies they’re trying out.

The Emma Guns Show

In a Nutshell:  Writer Emma Gunavardhana’s show features interviews with celebrities, brand creators, editors and authors on a wide selection of topics.

Why I love it: Spending time with Emma and her guests is like hanging out with old friends. The range of interviewees is huge, from well-known faces to knowledgeable health and beauty professionals. Emma tackles tricky subjects with ease – anxiety, ageing, hormones, diet, motherhood, work ethic and entrepreneurship – no topic is off limits. In a world of facetuning and filters there’s a joy in the way Emma engages with her listeners on social media on bad days as well as good. Every episode leaves me a little bit inspired and with another girl crush to add to my ever increasing list.

Anna Faris is Unqualified

In a Nutshell:  Interviews with celebrities and cultural figures followed by advice calls with listeners.

Why I love it: On paper the show shouldn’t work – a famous actress interviews celebrities and gives (unqualified) advice to members of the public. I’ve watched enough shitty chat shows with “personalities” to know that fame doesn’t always equal talent. Unqualified plays to Faris’ strengths – she has personality, humour, intelligence and empathy in buckets. The show is unfiltered, foul mouthed and candid with no subject too delicate for Faris, her producer/co-host Sim Sarna and their guests to discuss. The shows are often chaotic and hysterical, even when tackling difficult topics.

Made of Human

In a Nutshell:  Sofie Hagen chats to a guest about life and how to cope with being an adult.

Why I love it: The world has gone a bit batshit crazy recently. My faith in humanity is at an all-time low but when I need to top up my belief in Good People I listen to the Made of Human podcast (or MohPod). Danish comedian Sofie Hagen talks to fellow comics, activists, academics and celebrities to get to the heart of what makes us all human. Spoiler alert – nobody knows what the heck they are doing, but that’s ok. Thought provoking, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking and always emotive. Just like real life.

The High Low

In a Nutshell:  Writers Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes present a weekly pop-culture/news roundup.

Why I love it: This fast paced, quick-witted take on the week’s events could feature anything from period poverty to Taylor Swift and the hosts cover all cultural bases from highbrow to lowbrow. The duo are prolific readers, host regular author specials and I have yet to disagree with a book recommendation from either presenter. In a world where podcasts can ramble on for 90 minutes or more it’s always nice to download an hour long show that takes me from home to office and leaves me educated and entertained instead of bored.

Soundtracking

In a Nutshell:  Edith Bowman sits down with film directors, actors, producers and composers to talk about the music that shaped their work.

Why I love it: I adore this show because Bowman is clearly a huge film and music fan and her enthusiasm comes across in every episode. Her relaxed interview style puts guests at ease and if she’s ever been starstruck it never shows. I have learned more about the music of the movies than I ever did through years of listening to director commentary on DVDs. The range of guests – from composers to directors and producers helps us understand how a soundtrack is constructed, how it weaves through and shapes the narrative and you’ll find yourself picking up more musical cues when you’re at the movies than you ever did before.

If I had to pick my own Desert Island downloads I’d be happy with any of these. What’s your “must listen” podcast? I’m always on the lookout for my next great listen so feel free to drop me a comment below!

Now for something a bit different…

Hello lovely blog readers 👋🏻

There are some new posts ready to publish which are a bit different to what you’re used to from me. I’m writing about my passions: books, music, podcasts, beauty, film and future posts may even contain some humour 😉

I’ve discovered that there’s a lot less drama to write about once you eliminate dating and alcohol from your life…

The Last Vice

Capture

This month I decided to take a break from dating, whilst still fully in the throws of my latest fling. I realised I’d had enough while weeping onto bedsheets that still smelled of a man I’d known a month, having flown to another country to meet up with him. This was not the first time I had travelled hundreds of miles for a man. Once I become attached to a mate I get drunk on lust, high on dopamine and engage in sleepless nights of frantic sexting which render me useless at everyday tasks. Please don’t expect me to concentrate on work when I have a hot man to fantasise about.

I have given up so many of my vices this year (I am nine months sober from alcohol and even drink decaf coffee, I’m practically a saint) but men are much harder to shake. I haven’t been in a serious relationship for years but I can’t seem to let go of casual entanglements. I get giddy on stomach flipping kisses. My fragile ego gets a boost from being looked at the same way Homer Simpson looks at beer. The couplings may last a few weeks or months but I always end them before any declarations of love are made. I try to keep civilian casualties to a minimum.

There’s nothing wrong with serial dating, it’s just not right for me. I have a whole set of emotional baggage, am damaged from years in an abusive relationship, have low self-esteem and a habit of picking men who need to be “fixed”. So many men have gone on to marry the girl they dated immediately after me that I should start charging for my services or open a Centre for Wounded Males. Need the rough edges of your potential life partner smoothing out? Send them here, I’ll happily talk through their daddy issues until the early hours or buy them beard oil when their face is rough enough to sand timber. Once they’re feeling better about themselves I get bored and inevitably boot them out of my life. I will pick fights or change my behaviour, letting my dark side out and quickly extract myself from the relationship. I’ll tell them we can stay friends, without meaning it. If I stay friends with them I am treated to happy status updates, engagement announcements and wedding pictures. I don’t need to see that shit. Most of the time I block their number and social media profiles before they’ve even had a chance to digest what’s happened.

Why don’t I settle down with one of these suitors? Well, the person they are dating doesn’t really exist. The perma-grinned, perfectly made up girl who will laugh at their jokes and is never too tired for sex is pure fantasy. A friend once compared this version of me to Disneyland, somewhere that’s great fun to visit but eventually you get tired and want to go home. Once the initial high of the first flush of attraction wears off I suffer crushing low mood, debilitating paranoia that I’m about to be hurt and am a weeping wreck. That’s when I know it’s time to end it.

I did come close to falling in love when I met a guy a couple of years ago who was funny, sweet, already in therapy and wasn’t scared of my darkness. Eventually I got scared he’d hurt me so I pushed him away. It was a test, I wanted him to fight for me, but he didn’t. We reconnected this year and after a few flirtatious coffees where we struggled to keep our hands to ourselves we ended up in bed. It should have been Happy Ever After except for one thing – he has a live in girlfriend. I would love to say our hookups ended as soon as I found out I was the other woman but they didn’t. Sadly my moral compass must have gotten lost in my last house move and I let things continue longer than they should have. Told you I was damaged.

But no more, I’ve gone cold turkey. Full on man detox (mantox, if you wish). I need time to heal. I’m losing the fake smile and suppressing the overwhelming desire to please everyone because I am hollow after years of giving parts of myself away – my heart, my money, my time, my energy. I’ve got nothing left to give and after putting myself last for almost 10 years I am going to claw back some of my dignity, self respect and maybe I can start to forgive myself for the way I’ve treated others. And myself.

Mother

The most complex relationship I’ve ever had is with my mother. Only a handful of people know that prior to finding out my mum was terminally ill I didn’t like her very much. I loved her, that was a given, but like? That was a lot more complicated.

The rift that tore us apart came when I was 14, when I found out mum had been having an affair with her best friend’s husband. The women who gave birth to me, who held my hair back when I was sick, who trudged miles through a snowstorm to get me medicine for an ear infection had just broken my heart. When I was little I idolised her. She was the cleverest person I knew, she was generous, funny and strong. On that September night my trust disappeared. I was always her ally and found the lies over her cheating harder to get over than the infidelity. My parents separated for one whole night and after a short session of marriage counselling their relationship was back on track but I couldn’t forgive her actions that easily.

Mum and I spent the three years before I left home at 17 arguing. I used my parents marital woes as an excuse to act out and started drinking, dressing provocatively, going to nightclubs and kissing guys much older than me. When mum and I fought we would both be cruel in a way that only a person who really knows you can, we’d pick on each others insecurities and use them as weapons. When I left home we didn’t talk for six months and I honestly didn’t miss her. Once I saw her in the supermarket and walked past without acknowledging her, an act I found out 10 years later hurt more than our verbal sparring ever did. When I left an abusive relationship and turned up on my parents doorstep physically and mentally broken it was mum who was reluctant to take me back. I heard my parents arguing through the thin walls and her not wanting me to stay because I was “trouble”. Years later, when my marriage broke down and I ended up staying with my parents (again) I overheard my mum tell a friend, “ I don’t know why she’s upset, they had nothing in common.”

There’s a U2 song that reminds me of us, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” and this verse punches me in the gut every time:U2We started to repair our relationship in my late twenties, thanks to my best friend (and now sister in law) who adored mum and couldn’t understand the years of animosity between us. I tried to explain that mum had shattered my trust, broken my dad’s heart and obliterated my belief in Happy Ever After. She told me to grow up.

I was 30 when mum got sick and I want to say the years of resentment evaporated immediately but it took time. We got drunk one night, when dad was out with friends and aired out a lot of the feelings that had tortured us both. We decided to forgive the past and treasure the little time we had left together as mother and daughter. Mum told me she was jealous that every time I had gotten myself into a bad situation, be it with a boyfriend or a job, I had always left. Mum had been married to the same man for 36 years and in the same job for 27 and had wanted to leave both many times but never felt brave enough. I learned more about mum in the last 14 months of her life than I had in the previous 30 years.

When mum died I regretted all the years I’d spent arguing with her, it was all such a waste of time and energy. She was flawed but I am far from perfect. There’s no law that says you have to like your parents but holding onto anger for a prolonged period of time is utterly pointless and emotionally draining. If you have truly toxic people in your life, by all means cut them out. But when you love people you need to make sure they know it, even if they piss you off and make your blood boil sometimes. Before it’s too late.

The Kindness of Strangers

635999257015757101-206990663_FacebookFriends.jpgI met my soulmates online. Not through a dating site but through a Facebook group spawned from a Guardian column. I can hear the eye rolling and screaming “online friendships aren’t real!” from here. But they were real enough for me to travel 200 miles in 2012 to meet 30 women I’d never encountered anywhere but online. My mum called them my imaginary friends but those women gave me the glue to hold myself together after her death.

It all happened completely by accident. In early 2012 I turned 30 and decided to overhaul my beauty “routine.” I use the word routine loosely because at the time my twice daily ritual involved washing my face with soap and using whatever cheap moisturiser I could pick up at the supermarket. My makeup skills were nonexistent and this was before the ubiquity of YouTube tutorials. One Friday night I Googled “How to apply flicky eyeliner” and found this Guardian piece by Sali Hughes. A bit more digging and I found a Facebook group called Sali Hughes: Get The Look. Little did I know that joining the group would change my life.

There’s a feeling that the anonymity of the internet can bring out the worst in people, you can say things online that you would never dare to say to someone’s face but I found that posting under an alias, as I did on the Facebook group, allowed me to be more honest than I would be in person. I could openly talk about my mental health battles, relationship woes and embarrassing topics without fear of judgement. The group was the first place I posted about my mum’s terminal cancer diagnosis when I was still raw and weeping. I received private messages almost immediately from supportive women and the transition from virtual to “real” friend began.

I found myself checking in on the group every day and the friendly faces became a constant source of support and humour during the most horrific period of my life. Like any community things constantly evolve and I became a member of spin off groups where friendships deepened. The GTL Facebook group closed in 2013, moving to a proper online forum which made following threads and topics a lot easier. Facebook is a great and easy tool to use on the go but near impossible to search for a thread on a group with 5000+ members across the world posting throughout the day.

The first meet up I attended in 2012 was truly the beginning of some amazing friendships. To anyone who tells me that these aren’t “real” friends I will remind them that I have drunk with these women, danced with them, held their babies, met their partners, slept in their homes. I spent my first motherless Mother’s Day travelling back from a weekend in the Lake District with a group of these friends and one in particular held me as I quietly cried at the radio dedications to mothers who were very much alive. After mum passed away in 2013 I received sympathy cards from all over the country and the most amazingly generous gifts, including a spa day and a Tiffany necklace, the result of a whip-round from the women I’d met and some I was still to meet. One of the friends I made online came to mum’s funeral, an act of kindness I will never forget. In the years that followed when my sanity was hanging by a thread these women offered me emotional and practical support. When PTSD nightmares disturbed my sleep and my waking hours were spent in a fog of disordered thoughts I always found someone willing to listen to my ramblings. Sometimes I just needed to rant at the world (there’s a “Can We Have a Fuck Off Thread?” on the forum that I hang out on a lot) and sometimes I wanted to celebrate the small achievements like going outside when anxiety had rendered me housebound for days on end. The group were there for me through it all.

Of course, this being the internet it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, utopia doesn’t exist online. You simply cannot have a space with a large group of humans where everyone agrees with each other. There have been fights and flounces and I’ve even been guilty of both. But if you ever feel your faith in humanity slipping, join the Sali Hughes Beauty Forum and search for Carey Lander or Sarcoma UK. Carey, a talented musician and member of Camera Obscura was a SHB forum member, close friend of Sali and was given a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2015 at the age of 33. She wanted to leave a legacy by raising money for a woefully underfunded rare cancer, setting up a fundraising page which eventually totalled over £100,000. The forum rallied with prize draws, members selling valuable items for the charity and the forum’s fundraising efforts were in the thousands. On the day of Carey’s funeral forum members posted on a selfies thread wearing Carey’s signature red lip and animal print. Over 200 faces flooded the site, including many members who’d never posted pictures of themselves before. It was incredibly moving and I often find myself scrolling through, reading the messages and feeling proud to be part of such a group.

The main criticism I get when I tell people I met some of the Best Humans Ever TM on a beauty group is that we must be a bunch of vacuous twats. Firstly, don’t talk shit about my friends. Secondly, the women I have encountered have been some of the cleverest, funniest, most talented people you will ever (or never) meet. Beauty may be in the name of the forum but it’s so much more than that (just like Jaws isn’t about a shark and ET isn’t about an alien). I see acts of kindness on a daily basis and my social media streams are full of pictures of friendships forged online. Some of the women I speak to almost daily I may never meet in “real life” due to geography or circumstance but that doesn’t make them any less important to me.

Did I change my beauty routine? Yes, I thankfully don’t wash my face with Dove soap anymore. I sometimes splurge more money on a lipstick than I used to spend in a year on supermarket moisturiser but that’s my choice. What I do with my face and body is and will always be for me, not for anyone else. Do I have any regrets? Well, despite it leading me to the best friends I could ask for, I never did master that flicky eyeliner…

Disclaimer: In this cynical, cynical world we inhabit I would like to point out this is not some kind of ad or puff piece. I have never met Sali Hughes or been asked to write this. I just really love these women and wanted to celebrate them.

Trauma

Trauma

This morning I received a text message that convinced me I was going to die. It was a perfectly innocuous message from a courier company telling me that Colin would deliver my package between 2 and 3. What was threatening about that? I was convinced that this man was going to deliver my parcel of dresses. During our time together he was a courier driver and my brain made the illogical step of making him today’s courier. That’s PTSD for you. It makes no sense to anyone but me that a message about a delivery could send me on a thought spiral which ended with me being murdered on my doorstep. I was terrified, shaking and crying and felt sick knowing I would be alone when he arrived.

Read More »