(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

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 »

Forgiveness

Long-list

I am the queen of holding a grudge. Just ask the girl who I fell out with in primary school and haven’t spoken to since, the ex-boyfriends who broke my heart or the friends I’ve discarded over the years for their actions. I have 28 blocked numbers on my phone – once you’re on my Shit List that’s it. I’m a nightmare – I have a near photographic memory, am quick to judge and loathe to forgive or forget. Last week I told my niece and nephew about the time their dad locked me in a cupboard and described the event in such detail it could have happened that day (it was 26 years ago…)Read More »

Speaking About My Broken Brain

b0d919470c69c2142f9e3485206739a2
At 17 I left home, by 22 I was married, divorced at 26 but I never truly felt grown up until I was 30. That was the age I decided to (wo)man up and ask for help with my failing mental health. I had been experiencing bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia since my teens but when the issue came up with my GP it was always by accident. Luckily my doctor wasn’t clueless and when I would say “Oh, I have a twisted ankle and by the way I haven’t slept properly in three weeks” he would always probe me on the insomnia rather than the ankle. I fell into a cycle of taking some tablets, being referred for counselling that I inevitably cancelled after one session and eventually feeling “better”.

In early 2012 I turned 30 and had everything I could possibly need: a job I enjoyed, good friends, a loving family, money in the bank and a roof over my head. I had nothing to be sad about but I felt completely and utterly empty. I was given good news by people I loved and I couldn’t raise a smile. I didn’t suffer from low mood – I had no mood. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and would find myself reading the same article in a magazine repeatedly and not absorbing the words. I became so forgetful it scared me. I would look at people I know and struggle to recall their names and forgot my PIN number so many times I had to save it in my phone to avoid embarrassment in the supermarket.

In March 2012, I made an emergency appointment at the doctor after I realised that I had been subconsciously stockpiling paracetamol. I wasn’t sure if this was because of genuine forgetfulness or if I was planning a suicide attempt. My appointment was due to last 10 minutes but I left after half an hour with a puffy tearstained face, two prescriptions and an urgent referral to the local mental health assessment centre. I had completed the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and was found to be severely depressed. I remember my doctor asked if I planned to take my own life I said that I had no real plans but every night I went to bed hoping I wouldn’t wake up. That’s when the tears started. It was the first time I had ever said that out loud.

I would love to say that after that day everything fell into place and I was miraculously well again. Unfortunately that was not the case. My depression wasn’t triggered by anything specific and I didn’t gel with the counsellor I saw. I took the medication and whilst this helped with the depression my anxiety increased. My insomnia spiralled out of control and I had a constant sense of impending doom. I was convinced horrific things would happen to my family and had nightmares about car accidents, fires and violent deaths. But rather than give up, every time I felt worse I kept going back to my GP. My medication was changed, I self-referred to a work place counselling service which was much better suited to me and I started talking to people about how I was feeling. My mental health issues were always my dirty little secret, I was ashamed to tell people I was close to how I was feeling because I didn’t want to be judged.

I just started to feel a little lighter in mood then my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012. It was as if all the nightmares had come true. In my head I felt like all my anxiety had been justified and that I was somehow right to be so paranoid and pessimistic. I now realise this was my broken brain speaking. What happened to my physical and mental health during the period of mum’s illness and the time following her death were devastating but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be alive right now if I hadn’t sought help before the shit hit the fan. I don’t believe in psychic abilities but I have always had a decent sense of intuition. Maybe in the months before mum’s diagnosis my brain started sending me signals that I was going to need all the help I could get.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I am saddened that in 2017 many people still can’t talk openly about their mental health. They are ashamed, disgusted with themselves, misunderstood and maligned. I have been called selfish, lazy, an attention seeker and a psycho (that last one was from an ex-boyfriend, charming fellow). But the more we talk about mental health, the more normal it becomes. The more I talk to people about what I am experiencing, the more they understand. If you keep cancelling plans because you are too anxious to leave the house, tell someone that rather than make up a bullshit excuse, they are more likely to offer to help or come to you. Some of the best friends came to see me when I couldn’t face the outside world.

I am not “cured” as mental illness is something I will always have in some form. I deal with life one day at a time, take medication as anyone with a long-term health condition would and just try to be as kind to myself as possible. Remember, asking for help isn’t a sign of failure. It’s scary and the process may suck sometimes but talking about how you feel may just save your life.

If you or anyone you know may be suffering from mental illness please seek professional help. I found the following websites and podcasts helpful:

Mental Health Foundation – Practical advice to help with your mental health and well-being
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind – A-Z of mental health, an online community and tips for everyday living are just some of the excellent resources
https://mind.org.uk/

Samaritans – if you are in the UK or Republic of Ireland you can call Samaritans on 116 123, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This number is FREE to call. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.
http://www.samaritans.org/

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World Podcast – A ten part podcast series in which Telegraph journalist and OCD sufferer Bryony discusses mental illness with a different guest every week. The Prince Harry episode gained worldwide attention and started a lot of important discussions around mental health.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/bryony-gordons-mad-world-podcast/

Dear CC

broken-heartI am so sorry I didn’t say goodbye properly. I found out you were really sick on Friday and by Saturday night you were gone. I wrote a short message that didn’t even begin to explain how much I wanted the news about your failing health to be an ugly rumour. I needed to tell you how much you meant to me and how much you will be missed. You were my first real friend. Two doors down the street and born three weeks apart, it was almost inevitable that we would be buddies, especially given how close our parents were. Inseparable during their pregnancies, our mothers were delighted to give birth to two daughters in the same month that would grow up together.

We weren’t just friends, we were family. We called each other’s mothers “Mum” and became the sisters we both craved so much (I was big sister, you were little sis). We spent weekdays together at nursery, then school and at weekends had sleepovers at each other’s homes. You had a Christmas stocking and an Easter egg to look forward to every year at my house. I put more time and effort into our friendship than I have with any subsequent romantic relationship. Although we looked so different we always dressed alike and I laugh now looking back at pictures of your long slim body in the same outfits as my short round frame.

I still remember the day 26 years ago when I broke your heart (your words, you always had a flair for the dramatic). I told you I was moving house. Not very far away but enough of a distance to move school and for everything to change. We both wept and vowed to be friends forever, in a way that only nine year olds can. I promised to phone every day and write letters every week to tell you what I was up to. You told me that no one would ever replace me. We continued to have sleepovers, although they went from weekly to monthly and eventually stopped altogether.

Neither of us wanted to admit we’d outgrown each other. When we met up things seemed strained and we couldn’t just pick up a conversation where we’d left off, there was so much explanation of “who’s who” in stories that it was too much effort. Also, the differences in our personalities became more apparent as we got older; you loved a party and I loved staying in with a book, you looked like a model and loved fashion, I looked like a hobbit and was sporting hand me downs (from my brother).

We went years without speaking and I regret not making more of an effort. There were times I would see you on a bus or on the street and I would hide behind a book or scarf to avoid your gaze. Your life always seemed so fabulous and glamourous. You travelled for a living and I was stuck in the same city in a dead end job. I thought being around you would make me feel like a lesser human.

I thought of you often and when I joined Facebook in 2009 you were one of my first friends, just like when we were born. You ended up amassing 10 times as many friends as me and I do admit to the odd pang of jealousy. We exchanged the occasional message, particularly in times of crisis. When your dad passed away I had to let you know I was there if you needed to chat and you were one of the first people I heard from when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I will never forget the kindness of you coming to mum’s funeral when you didn’t even live in the same country as us anymore.

I was speaking to dad about you just over a week ago. We were both wondering aloud how you were, you had been uncharacteristically quiet on social media and I hoped it was because you were loved up and enjoying life offline. I didn’t know you were fighting for your life. When I found out on Friday night what was happening I wanted to give you the biggest hug. I wanted to kiss your forehead the way our mums did when we were sleeping over at each other’s houses. Or I wanted to make you laugh, you had a bloody ridiculous snorting laugh and I can’t believe I’ll never hear it again. I also can’t believe I am referring to you in the past tense. I am so sorry.

Love always, BS (Big Sister)

Chills, Thrills and Penis Pics 

Was one of your resolutions for 2017 to find love? Then you may be one of the thousands who signed up to Tinder in January. If you have no concept of Tinder, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock or recently released from a cult, here’s the deal; it’s the world’s simplest dating app. All you need is a Facebook account and a smartphone. You enter basic details of what you are seeking: gender, age range and distance from your location and Tinder will find singles in your area. It’s stunningly superficial, users have 500 characters and six pictures to sell themselves. You swipe through a series of profiles – right to say you are interested and left to say you are not. If you both “like” each other you have a match and true love can blossom 😂

Read More »