Sober but no judge…

Posted: March 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Two and half weeks of sobriety deserves to be celebrated with a cheeky little blog that I hope gives a glimpse into the challenging attitudes one faces when one decides to make that extraordinary, apparently incomprehensible leap into, er, NOT wanting to poison oneself on a daily basis.

Things I’ve heard since I decided to stop drinking: ‘I didn’t realise you were feeling so bad.’ ‘Yeah right, I’ve heard that before.’ ‘But a little bit of what you fancy does you good!’ and ‘Come on, don’t be boring, just have one with me’.

My response to those, in order:

I don’t ‘feel bad’. In fact, I’m totally in love with my life in every other respect, more than ever before. Annoyingly so. I even want to slap myself repeatedly about the chops with a half-read self-help book. I adore my kid, my job, my little cottage, my music and songwriting, my relationship with my ex-husband, still my friend and love of my life, my friends and family, my writing, my art, my yoga… Aside from the odd hormonal cataclysm, my decidedly restricted culinary skills and the fact that I can’t seem to keep a plant alive for more than three months, everything is groovy. I’m a happy little hippie. But that makes me realise that, as much as I didn’t need drink before, I certainly don’t need it now. My need has ceased to be. It is pushing up the daisies. It had become an annoying, expensive habit that controlled my thinking and muddied the process of doing the things I wanted to do. My need, in actual fact, never ‘was’. My need is ‘deed’ (that last bit needs to be spoken in a Mike Myer-style Scottish accent to appreciate its maximum hilarity).

Ahem. Onwards to the next bit.

Yes, of course you’ve ‘heard it before’. That’s because I stopped drinking before (after reading Jason Vale) and then started again, for some reason, after a happy few months. Yes, I failed, that time. I let alcohol’s myth back in. I thought I could moderate my drinking. I could, and can still, to an extent. I can go for several days without drinking. On those days I’m a veritable angel of abstinence. I have special halo polish. But when I do drink, I do so with great gusto. I’m excellent at it. I become filled with the spirit of hedonism, supping away, feeling creative, feeling philosophical, musical, lyrical. But the truth is, nothing particularly creative ever results from those times. Scribbled-on scraps of paper are disposed of the next morning, predictable chord sequences and cheesy lyrics dive headfirst into the bin willingly, me left with self-ridicule and a fuzzy brain.

Drinking doesn’t de-stress me. The very act of moderating becomes a stress in itself. Not drinking is the freest I’ve ever felt. It might be that this is another phase. I may go back to drinking and try to do it moderately and then slide merrily down that hazy helter skelter until I hit the bottom and start all over again. But for now, I don’t want to. I can see alcohol for what it really is. Flavoured poison that kills off brain cells and damages my body, even in moderate amounts. Addictive liquid that kills far more people than other, ‘illegal’ drugs.

‘A little bit of what you fancy’. Why do we ‘fancy’ it, though? Did we fancy alcohol when we were kids? Did we need it to make parties more fun? No. We are conditioned by advertising and by society to believe that our lives are somehow inferior without alcohol. That alcohol is cool, that it gives us courage, that it makes us have more fun, that it’s a reward after a hard day (or any day, actually). Mums chirp cheekily on facebook ‘is it wine o’clock yet?’. Posts proudly declaring today’s status as ‘hanging’ or ‘last night must have been fun – I can’t remember it’.

Without plagiarising authors who have written on the subject, suffice to say that alcohol actually doesn’t relieve stress, it causes us stress, it actually doesn’t taste nice until we grow accustomed to the taste, it suppresses our senses so that actually, we don’t have more fun, it’s just that we just don’t care so much about being bored or about the idiotic things we do or say when we’re under the influence.

And as for ‘a little bit’. Of course, I get that. If you can do that, and you want to, then great. But for me, and for most, a little bit doesn’t stop there. It becomes a lot. And that then brings on feelings of guilt, lethargy, deadened senses, wasted time. And for now, at least, I don’t want even a little bit.

It has been proven that this realisation, this debunking of the myths surrounding ‘flavoured ethanol’, when it leads to something apparently called ‘spontaneous sobriety (I rather like that, don’t you? It sounds crazy and carefree) is a far more successful route to stopping alcohol than support groups like the AA, who treat alcoholism like an incurable illness that needs to be fought against and suffered forever more. Doesn’t it make more sense to teach your brain to unlearn the stuff we’ve been conditioned to think about booze, so that drinking is no longer appealing?

Many of my friends and family have been really supportive and I want to thank you for saying the things you have. Your comments will really help to stamp out those little niggles that might creep in every now and then, for a while, while my brain adjusts to this reconditioning. So far though, I haven’t even missed it. Not a jot. And no-one needs to worry about drinking around me. That’s cool. Just don’t be freaked out when I have a cup of tea and dance like the Mad Hatter on speed.

I feel happier, I wake up bouncy (ish), I can taste food better, I can make plans without wondering whether I might feel ‘worse for wear’ that day. I can get way more stuff done in the evening – drawing, reading, playing music, yoga. I feel more attuned to the natural highs of life, like listening to a good tune, dancing like a loon, feeling the sun on my face or simply having a cup of herbal tea with a book and an incense stick burning. I have added years to my life already, without even considering the health benefits.

One thing that has become blatantly apparent to me is this: Those few who (albeit unwittingly and with good intentions) belittle your decision not to drink, simply want to justify their decision to carry on drinking. That’s all it is.

The one thing I’ll never do is lecture anyone on their choice. But please don’t belittle mine. I’m sober as a judge. But I’m not judging.

Now, is it carrot juice o’clock yet?

*with special thanks to Annie Grace, author of ‘This Naked Mind – Control Alcohol’, who has reminded me of all the stuff I already knew from Jason Vale’s book but who, in my mind, has written it in a better way. I thoroughly recommend her book.

Cheers!

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

Apologies in advance for this necessarily self-obsessed post, verging on what may be perceived as (but isn’t) a load of old psycho-babble. This blog entry is therapeutic for me and is the first positive step towards my improved existence.

Today I decided to be sober for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t a decision based on a hangover. In fact, considering the amount I drank last night, with some friends, after a bit of a lie-in I’ve had a productive day, no headache, just a little weary. But that’s the problem. My liver is having to cope with what I throw at it. It’s done a brilliant job so far but I’ve decided it’s time to let it rest now. Needing to waste my last morning of half-term sleeping just to get back to normal? That’s just sad.

I’ve often felt secretly proud at my ability to ‘keep up with the boys’, drinking pints, even managing to show off with my (admittedly impressive) yoga headstand while inebriated. At home, opening a bottle of wine, drinking it to feel warm and nicely fuzzy, intending to stop after a glass or two but always, always finishing the bottle. I’m one of those who doesn’t fall over, or throw up, who doesn’t get into fights, is in general, though not always, a happy drunk and one who, I’m told, often doesn’t seem as drunk as perhaps I am. I never drink during the day, other than perhaps with lunch on a Sunday. I often have breaks of three or four days without touching a drop.

But I have decided to stop denying to myself that I have a problem with alcohol. Many people I know do, but our society is so conditioned to accepting a ‘cheeky drink’ as the normal way to pass our precious time, we routinely deny our reliance on it.

I’m tired of it controlling me, wasting my days, taking up space in my head that could be better used. Sick of re-reading pages of my book because I’ve forgotten what I’d read last night, sometimes with a glass of red still at the side of my bed. I’m sick of that constant nagging voice at the back of my bonce, saying ‘have I got alcohol for later? Will it be wine or beer tonight? Shall I not drink at all tonight? I’ll just get some in case.’

A few years ago, I read a book by Jason Vale. In it, he explains the physiological effect that alcohol has; that feeling of relaxing with a drink is actually your body’s response to coping with the flavoured poison you’ve just put into it. After reading his book I stopped drinking for three months but sadly let myself believe after that, that I could drink moderately. I did, for a while, but then the all-too-familiar grip takes hold and the slippery slope gets slid happily down in a haze of shiraz.

Sometimes I can drink moderately. But, on the whole, I can’t. Yes, I wash my face and clean my teeth, I read my book before bed, I don’t fall into bed in a stupor. But I can do all of that having drunk a whole bottle of wine or several beers, and that just isn’t making me feel good any more. My poor liver is compensating and I’ve been taking my health for granted.

So, this time, I know my decision is for good. I won’t be swayed. I have friends on hand for support and advice. I have joined a group – called Soberistas – of likeminded people.

I feel proud that I’m brave enough to admit I have a problem with alcohol – not as great a problem as some, but significant enough to know that it’s the right time to stop, to take back control, and to enjoy my wonderful life without my old ‘friend’.

The money and time I save will be put towards organic, ethical food and more thoughtful preparation of meals. I will pour my passion into writing and music instead of kidding myself that I’m ‘just a bit rock & roll’ or that ‘I’d rather die a bit early than be boring’. It’s all rubbish. I love my life. I love my son. I want to be around for as long as possible, as healthy as possible, for him and for me.

There has always been a little rebel inside me. But I realise that true rebellion is not being a sheep. Not following the herd around the wine aisle at Aldi.

I know at some point I will have a wobble and my inner Withnail will surface. But I know I have good friends who will help me to ‘un-wobble’ and ‘un-Withnail’ myself.

I now have a wine glass in front of me. It’s full. Of organic carrot juice. Cheers!

booze

This week at school I covered a plethora of subjects, from Geography to Maths, Music, English, Art, Science and three PSHCE lessons discussing euthanasia, transgender children, and depression. With varying levels of knowledge because, believe it or not, I was lying about the ‘veritable genius’ bit).
I sent one student out this week for persistent rudeness in class, but otherwise gave no detentions and dished out lots of merits, some where they were due and some just because I was feeling generous and the kids hadn’t actually maimed me in any outwardly obvious way. I sang, without warning, ‘Silence is Golden’ during a rare moment of tranquillity and, in another class, when I asked for a little decorum, was asked what decorum was, my answer being, ‘well, it’s not this’.
I also had the small matter of a student dislocating her shoulder in PE this afternoon. Oh, the things they’ll do to get out of a bit of exercise! At other times, I put up display material (a brief but welcome holiday for my brain), I mentored students (one of my favourite bits), answered and sent emails about the dullest of things, and had a good old impromptu chat with a young student who has the same type of epilepsy as me and we compared notes on our seizures instead of getting on with the maths they were supposed to be doing. And that was, in a weird way, much more fun.
Oh and I might have sworn a little bit in the staffroom today too because, after all, it was ‘f*ck it Friday’.
All this for £8.40ish an hour, but I don’t care about the money because I really do love my job. If you ever fancy being a pretendy teacher, doing a job that can be really hard work, predictable in timings but unpredictable in content, drives you potty, stretches every fibre of your patience and requires you thinking not just on your feet but standing on your head while reading from a cover sheet, where you sometimes feel undervalued but also elated when you know you’ve done a great job, and best of all, where you can leave at 3pm and forget about it until the next day, then being a Study Supervisor might be just the ticket.
It’s the ticket for me. And, of course, it stops the rock & roll goddess bit going to my head.
And now, on a rainy Friday evening, a personal one-to-one PSHCE lesson in drinking wine moderately. Oops, that’ll be a detention then. Must try harder. Or less hard? Hmm. Depends on perspective, I suppose.

Six years ago today

Posted: May 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

Six years ago, I experienced a day I will never forget.

In the morning, 16 weeks pregnant, I went to my midwife appointment to get my baby’s heartbeat checked out. Having miscarried before, more than once, I was expecting the worst. But, in her words, it was “a good strong heartbeat”. I was so excited that I rang my mum, as I was on my way to be observed in a lesson for the PGCE I was studying for at the time. As I walked past the admin buildings at what was then NCYPE (now Young Epilepsy), I rang my mum to tell her about the heartbeat. She sounded a bit sniffly, but when I asked her what was up she said she was coming down with a cold. Fair enough.

I took my lesson – music & movement for special needs students – and the observation went well. I was at last successfully pregnant, I was possibly the beginnings of a good teacher, my little brother had recently had a beautiful baby boy, and I was feeling happy about everything.

Then I saw a voicemail had been left on my phone. It was my cousin, in Ireland. He’d left a slow and solemn message, simply saying hello and asking for my younger brother’s number. I rang my mum back again, asking what the hell was going on. ‘Don’t worry’, she said, ‘it’s just your family being weird as ever.’ Ever the optimist, I forgot about it and carried on with my day.

Early evening, I was back at home and, I seem to remember, grappling with iron tablets and the stomach ache they were causing. There was a knock at the back door of our tiny cottage. Joolz answered. It was the elder of my younger brothers, Adam. I later found out that Joolz had known he was coming. He had come to tell me that my nephew, Theo, the 5 week old son of my younger brother, had died. My family had known since the morning, but knowing that I had so much going on that day, had chosen to tell me later, in person, gently.

Without having since had Arthur, I would never have even begun to understand the pain that my brother and his partner were going through, that day and ever since. I hope I never will.

This year though, for some reason, I felt the pain of that day more than ever before. Perhaps it was because Arthur said something really funny. That he’d swum on his own for the first time. The fact that my bloody CD in the car played song after song that reminded me of that day.

I’m glad it did, though. I’ve cried a lot today. Partly because I’m still so sad about the pain Theo’s mum and dad have to bear each day. Partly because I have a son so near to his age that every time he reaches a milestone I know it’s one they’ll never see in Theo. But also partly because, that day, that week, and ever since, I’ve experienced what a close family we are, through thick and thin, and I’m proud to have them around me. So that makes me cry a bit, too, in a good way.

That day I will never, ever forget. A little piece of my soul died that day.

And, just because I can never write anything without a bit of shameless self-promotion, here are a couple of lines from the song I wrote for Theo:

“Lazy shadow, linger on, please excuse me if I can’t stop holding on…”

Hold on to those you love, near or far…

And, most importantly, rest in peace, little guy X

Often my thoughts turn into songs. But sometimes those thoughts are so wrapped up in an all-consuming, self-analysing, narcissistic cloak, they have to be left as thoughts, otherwise no-one would listen to my songs, and rightly so. But I still have to put those thoughts ‘out there’, if only to stop my soul from turning black. Here are my ‘Notes from the Sauna’:

I’ve been thinking about mistakes, regret and forgiveness.

I have made a lot of mistakes and some of them I will always regret. As much as I try to go all fortified and French and declare with a quite frankly disturbing warble that ‘je ne regrette rien’, I can’t help it.

In any case, a healthy sense of regret is constructive, surely? Regret can’t change the past, nor improve the present, but it can help to shape the future. Like I said, I have made a lot of really, really stupid mistakes. The ones I regret most are the ones that have hurt others. Most of my mistakes I’ve learnt from. Some mistakes I keep on making, regardless. In which case, regret is a fat lot of good and maybe that warbly French bird was right all along.

But the thing that struck me today, sitting in a sauna and sweating out existentialist angst, was that I’d rather have made all of the mistakes I’ve ever made if it meant I could retain the capacity both to say sorry and to forgive.

I spend a lot of my time saying sorry.

I’m good at that bit.

People, throughout my life, have hurt me too. Some have been cruel, used me and then boasted about it to others (yes, you, Mistake of 1985). Some have been violent. Some have told lies and spread false rumours for their own gain, amusement, or very possibly to mask their own wrongdoing. Some have simply not understood me, just as sometimes I haven’t taken the time to understand others. I know I could have done better. I’ve taken responsibility for it all. I could have done more to improve situations, to calm brewing disquiet, to stand up for myself, to not follow the herd, to recognise when I was being mistreated and when I was being unfair to others. Maybe I couldn’t have changed a thing. Who knows? But taking responsibility means I’m in charge of how these things affect me and stops me wasting my life blaming everyone else.

Forgiveness is the key.

Learning to forgive – particularly if the wrong hasn’t been recognised by the perpetrator – is something that can be harder to crack than a walnut with a pair of marshmallows, but once you’ve cracked it, it’s immensely liberating. Taking back responsibility for the way you feel, and forgiving others’ actions – whether or not they’re aware of what they’ve done or how they’ve made you feel – has been the key to me not going utterly insane. The little bit of Buddhism that I practise – not often enough – has helped a great deal with that. I should do it more. But then there’s always beer to fit in, too. Life gets busy.

But yes, my sweaty little sauna session left me realising that, as much as I will always regret some of the foolish and hurtful things I’ve done, I would rather have made my mistakes, and learnt (or not) from them, and have the ability to say sorry (and mean it) and to forgive (and mean it) than to never make mistakes and never be able to forgive.

The lack of capacity to forgive is a prison cell I’m happy not to be locked inside.

But I still can’t learn to forgive myself. That’s another little prison cell all of its own.

I think I’ll be in here for some time.

“Blog Cabin”

Posted: September 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

She Shed. Woman Cave. Her Hut. Haven of Tranquillity. Divorce Prevention Unit (DPU). Kaleido Kabin; just a sprinkling of the monikers ascribed so far to the creation that has been brewing, slowly, surely, sometimes surreally, in my little head.
Our family home is a veritable cacophony of clobber and clutter, a barefaced brag of musical instruments, not to mention a museum of my man’s myriad artefacts and a deeply detrimental dose of amps, power tools, chargers, nuts, bolts and reams of ‘in progress’ paperwork strewn across the kitchen, and now my brain is closing down. I can’t breathe. I need some space. A space. My space.
For a long time, I’ve been yearning for this space. Somewhere I can write without my peripheral vision being encumbered with ‘stuff over which I have no control’. Please note, dear reader, that I have bought my husband countless filing systems in the vain hope that he might someday start filing his receipts and paperwork, but over time, the filing boxes have merely multiplied the muddle. Not dodging fault entirely, however, I have accepted a portion of the blame and spent much time de-cluttering my own things. I’m sure I own the fewest pairs of shoes in the history of girldom. Nothing new there. Everyone knows I’m not a shoe girl. Two bags, one for work, one for not-work. I do have quite a few hats, but I do wear them. They disguise my bad hair days. They cover up my face a bit. Everyone’s a winner. And yes, I have books and CDs, but when I shuffle off my mortal coil I want my son to discover some of the things I once read and listened to, by looking at an actual shelf and picking actual things up off it. Not going down the characterless cyber route, by having to guess a password and then by chance happening upon some random music mum had once downloaded onto the laptop or by seeing my ‘recently played’ on Spotify. And would he bother anyway? I wouldn’t. So, I have pared down my possessions to what really matters to me. It feels good. But still, the communal chaos prevails.
So, back to the log cabin. Yes, that’s what it will be. A proper log cabin. I’m using my savings to have it built. I have, for months, been agonising over whether this is a massive, narcissistic extravagance, a ridiculously self-centred pipe dream that should stay firmly in its pipe, and whether I should just stop dreaming and put that money into the mortgage. But then that’s where all the rest of my money is, and life is way too tiny, so the answer to that was a resounding (excuse me) ‘F*CK NO’.
No, for my life to feel like my own again – if that sounds selfish, it is totally meant to – then I need this space. Somewhere for me to write, to play my instruments, to practise yoga (without the usual accompanying dog hair, toys, dogs, postman watching through the blinds at me in a headstand – not a look you want people to see when you’ve been upside down for three minutes and your face resembles a worrisome pink blob). Somewhere to chant when I have my Buddhisty moments, and even somewhere to sleep in times of hormonal imbalance, when the world is a safer place with me secreted at the bottom of the garden.
In my dreams, this little place will also have a secret bunkroom for my boy, so he can join me in my childlike escapism. Even his dad will be allowed in from time to time if he behaves, takes his boots off at the door and promises never, ever to bring so much as a whiff of a cigarette to within ten feet of the building.
I have to keep reminding myself, the money I’m spending isn’t about buying a ‘thing’ but an experience we will all benefit from for years to come. Happy me, happy kid, happy home. I hope.
So, that’s my pipe dream. And now it’s about to emerge from the pipe, like a rather expensive puff of magic. Watch this space. This one, here:
hole

E.T. Exciting Times

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

quill

As a shiny new school year descends upon us, and my pocket-sized person prepares to don his newly labelled uniform and book bag for the first time, I’m heading back to my career roots as a journalist/editor and am available for copywriting and proofreading. And, once my much yearned-for Woman Cave/She Shed/Her Hut has been built, in a couple of weeks, then I’ll truly be raring to go, in my very own creative haven at the bottom of the garden. So, if you need me, in a word creating or correcting capacity, I’ll be right here. Like E.T. Only not as pretty.