Counselling

Still here, still sober. Halfway through month eleven now. I haven’t posted in a while because any “self-reflection” energy I’ve had has been going into counselling.

When I signed up for counselling I explained that I wanted to talk about my drinking problem and mentioned that I might need to speak to an addiction counsellor specifically. But the counsellor I was matched with doesn’t have any background in dealing with addiction whatsoever so she basically just listens and can’t make any comment when I ask questions because she doesn’t know the answer. She’s really lovely, but it’s a bit frustrating seeing as I wanted some actual academic answers to stuff.

Instead we’ve been getting into the social anxiety/shyness issues I have, and talking about my “overactive inner critic”. I know I have quite a few traits that are typical of people with drinking problems – an all-or-nothing personality, a streak of perfectionism and an out of proportion fear of failure – so it’s good to dig into that stuff a bit. It was nice to hear that she reckons it’s all very fixable stuff, but after a few sessions I was none the wiser as to how I am meant to fix this stuff. “Getting conscious” of being self-critical was the first step, but I don’t really know what’s meant to happen after that…

After the first four sessions I decided not to continue because it seemed really expensive for what I was getting out of it, but she suggested a group counselling option, which my work would cover the cost of. So far I’ve been to one session and it was about as bad as you could expect a group counselling session to be. Here are a bunch of reasons it sucks:

  1. Sitting in a room full of strangers talking about all the embarrassing aspects of your personality, explaining that I could barely breathe due to anxiety and just feeling extremely vulnerable. Pure hell.
  2. As people in the room share their issues, the counsellors who are running the session try to involve other people by saying things like “Bob, how do you feel about what John has shared?” And poor Bob has to tell John that he empathises with him because he doesn’t get on with his in-laws (or whatever the issue is). It couldn’t be any clearer that Bob doesn’t feel any way in particular about John’s life problems and it’s equally clear that John feels incredibly awkward about forcing an opinion out Bob. Poor Bob, poor John, poor me.
  3. No one knows I don’t drink. My counsellor didn’t think I should bring it up because it’s a ‘side issue’. People keep mentioning how difficult the sessions are and joking that we all need to go to the pub. I predict that by session three everyone will be hitting the pub afterwards. That’ll be a fun one to navigate.
  4. The sessions run for two and a half hours. They feel like they go on for six and a half.
  5. I’ve already cried in front of a room of people. Dead embarrassing, but I may as well get used to it because my face leaks tears the entire duration of every counselling session I’ve been to. Now that I’m doing group counselling, it means I get to cry in front of 15 strangers instead of just one.
  6. I wasn’t told that the sessions would also include “psycho-drama”. Apparently this is where you get up in front of the group and act out your issues and then explore ways to deal with the issue by acting out different solutions and seeing how they make you feel. Acting. In front of people. Need I say more?
  7. There are EIGHT weekly sessions plus a weekend workshop. This hell isn’t going to end anytime soon.
  8. I can’t just stop going because my work have paid and the counsellors will surely tell my work that I’ve stopped showing up and I’ll get in trouble for wasting a lot of money.

I know this list makes it sound like I’m not really trying to be open to what group counselling has to offer. I did go in with a really open mind for the first session and after finding the experience seriously un-enjoyable I think I’ve made up my mind that it’s just going to be torture from here on in.

In drinking news, absolutely no desire or cravings to drink except a lot of anxiety in social settings when I’m around other people drinking, which I’m mainly avoiding at the moment. Still completely undecided about whether I want to attempt moderating at some stage, but I think having it there as an option makes me feel a lot more chilled out and happy to not be drinking today/this week/this month. I really wanted to discuss this stuff with a counsellor who knows what they’re talking about, but as I mentioned she hasn’t really been able to help me out there, so I might have to keep shopping around.

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Runaway train

In the three weeks since I last posted, I have well and truly gone off the rails. Not drinking, but I’ve completely lost focus and feeling distinctly untethered.

Maybe I’m just going through a bit of a dark patch… I’ve read blogs by long-term sober folks before where they’ve mentioned that they’re going through rough patches even after years of being sober, but I’m not really sure if they mean rough as in they’re just feeling a bit low, or whether they’re going through a patch of full blown doubt like I am right now.

There’s been several days in the last few weeks where I’ve dived head first down that rabbit hole of negative self-talk, letting it go on for hours, losing control and letting the inner addict take over my mind. I’ve bargained back and forth about picking up wine from the supermarket as I drove there. It really is like having multiple personalities and it’s really fucking tiring trying to constantly keep it in check.

I think that’s how I have been feeling lately – just really jaded. Mentally tired of there being no let-up. The weird part is, most of the time I don’t actually want to drink. I’m not specifically craving alcohol as a way to switch off, but I am craving an end to… an end to what, I’m not sure. I’m really restless. My life is boring me. I feel like I want a big change, but I also feel like I’m not stable enough in my sobriety to handle big changes.

I still feel frustrated with my lack of progress. Ever since I stopped drinking I’ve wanted to be ten steps ahead of the point that I’m at. I get frustrated with not having made as much progress as I think I should have. A couple of weeks ago I had to skip a good friend’s birthday in favour of going home and crying in the bath. I was hormonal and sensitive and just couldn’t handle being around other people drinking. I was so on edge and it really pissed me off that after eight months I still didn’t feel up to sitting through a dinner for the sake of a friend.

And that’s how everything has been feeling lately – like a matter of enduring life. I’m so, so bored. When I look back at what I’ve achieved in 2016 it looks like fuck all. I look like I’ve strung a long line of sober months together. Nights spent enduring social events, finding myself snatching at snippets of fun and really, really trying to be happy, but the only time I am truly comfortable and not thinking about being sober is when I’m sat at home on the couch in front of the telly. Am I going to spend the rest of my life taking it easy and killing time hiding away in my house like a hermit? Is it a matter of sitting patiently for a few more years? Or is day to day life always going to feel slightly more shit for the sake of something greater, like my health?

***

In other news, we’re talking about making a big move over to London – probably not a good idea in my current state, but will I ever be in the right mind set? It’s not for a few months yet, but when I fast-forward to thinking about moving to a new city, meeting new people, making friends, getting a new job etc., of course my mind goes straight to the thought that I wouldn’t be able to get through it without drinking. I do realise that I can definitely move continents and make new friends and build a new life etc all without alcohol, I know I can, but I just know that it will be ten times harder.

I’ve been dreaming of moderation – every alcoholic’s dream right? Wondering whether I’m doing this sobriety thing at the right time in my life. So many other bloggers are in their 30s and 40s – they’re married with kids and settled. I’ve always said that I’d do a year and see how I feel after that. What happens if, come Christmas, I still feel like life is just a slightly shitter version of the life I was living before? What if? What if? What if? I’ve been feeling like I owe myself the chance to see whether I can moderate, and if (like I suspect) it all turns to shit then at least I’ll know.

Feel free to try and talk some sense into me – I can’t promise I’ll listen. I can’t tell whether it’s me or the addict in charge of my mind right now!

Am I doing enough?

I read an article today that was shared by Kate from The Sober School blog. Her site seems to be aimed much more at people thinking about quitting or just getting started with giving up the drink, so it doesn’t apply to me as much anymore, but I still follow along because she’s pretty inspirational. When I first started to seriously look at my drinking and came to the decision that I needed to quit, I was pretty bummed about it. I worried about how uncool it was to have a drinking problem and expected to spend the rest of my life as an outcast, living on the fringes of society, but Kate’s site was the first I found that had a different approach and helped to allay my fears a bit.

Anyway, Kate’s awesome, but to get to the point of this post, she shared this article today and it really got me thinking…

I’m not really sure whether I’m doing enough.

I know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, everyone’s journey is different, my path is my own, yadda, yadda, but surely there are some recoveries that are better than others. Surely there are healthier ways to go about things – specific things that make sobriety better/happier/more successful.

I don’t think that I’m living as a ‘dry drunk’ as described in the article, but I do worry that I’m somewhere in between white knuckling it through and having a deep, life altering experience. People have said to me before that “as long as your not drinking, you’re doing it right”, but there must be a bit more to it than that. Is connecting with an online sober community enough or should I be connecting with sober folk in real life? I’ve heard that real life connections are infinitely better, but I’m painfully shy and the thought of going along to a meeting makes me shake in my boots. I also have close friends and family that I’m completely honest and open with. They’re definitely a great support, but I wonder how important it is to have real life support from those who know exactly what you’re going through.

And then there’s the emotional side of things. The desire to numb my feelings with wine for many years must have stemmed from emotional issues, but I don’t really know where to start with identifying or addressing those problems. I suspect I’m just an overly sensitive, anxious, painfully shy person who is highly skilled in self-criticism and has a penchant for overthinking any situation. So that’s awesome – no idea what to do about it though! I’m loathe to go to a counsellor to talk about this stuff because I hate parting with money unless it’s for something physical that I can put in my house. I don’t even know whether a ‘counsellor’ would be able to steer me in the right direction – is it a therapist? Or do I need to be paying someone with a PhD to fix me? A psychiatrist? Psychotherapist? Psychologist? Or will I just naturally figure out new coping mechanisms by myself over time? (See, over thinking things again.)

I also know that a lot of people find something new to devote their spare time to. Hobbies, or yoga or running or whatever. But I haven’t really channeled my focus in any one direction. I’ve dabbled around, making a few healthier life choices and have enjoyed the freedom to think about stuff (like my career and big life choices) that I just wouldn’t have looked at seriously before (because wine was the centre of my universe). I wouldn’t go so far as to say removing alcohol has changed my life completely though… should it have?

***

In sugar quitting news, everything is going swimmingly. On Friday night I caved and had half a glass of ginger beer and I’ve had a couple of hot chocolates before bed. The ginger beer happened at work drinks. I was already feeling a bit deprived being sat in a middle of a bunch of people drinking wine, so out of the alternatives (ginger beer or water) ginger beer won. That was a lesson in poor planning. And the hot chocolates were the result of feeling anxious/overwhelmed and wanting the comfort of sugar. I’ve been really good with making sure there aren’t any hidden sugars in my food though, so I’d say I’m under the daily recommended amount of 6 tsps.

I’ve always said that this sugar free experiment won’t be at the expense of my sobriety. If it’s all too hard then I’ll be throwing in the towel, but I’m happy with how things are going so far. It hasn’t been as painful as I expected.

 

 

 

Sparkle, where are you?

I’ve heard so many women describe their new sober lives as “sparkly” since I’ve been on this sober road and it has always confused me. Am I the only one that doesn’t get it? Because when I think of the sparkle in life, it comes in liquid form and its name is wine. Even on days like today when my mood is bright and I’m feeling sure and secure in my decision to remove booze from my life, I still think of alcohol as adding that extra bit of joy, that sparkly sheen to an otherwise dull end of the day. I mean, that is why normal drinkers drink right? Because it winds you down quick, it makes you giggly and happy and relaxed. Well, the first drink does at least.

It’s been more than three months since my last drink so I could well be getting nostalgic about my drinking days and letting rose tinted glasses cloud my judgement but I don’t think so… :/ In my crashing on take-off post, I had managed a few weeks of sobriety, so I was becoming a lot more self aware. I wrote that post as a reminder to myself of what happens if you buy into the romantic notion of “having a couple of sparkly glasses of bubbly”. My day quickly became decidedly unsparkly, and had a filthy hangover to ruin my Saturday the following day. But even though the night turned to shit, I still wrote that “a little bubble of pure joy bubbled up inside me – lovely” when talking about that first glass.

And that is what I mean when I say I don’t get how life is “sparkly” when you take the alcohol away. Sure, you’re removing the horrifying unsparkly side effects of drinking when you remove booze from your life – that’s kinda the point – but you’re also removing all the sparkle and joy that the first glass of wine brings you, so it just leaves life a bit dull.

I loved the emotional rollercoaster wine would take me on each night. It both numbed my emotions and heightened them. I’d be crying at docos on telly one minute and in fits of laughter at my own ‘witty’ texts to friends the next. Wine numbed out guilt and anxiety, but wreaked havoc with other emotions and I loved that the first glass could bring me happiness immediately and would do so without fail every single time.

Of course, I couldn’t stop after one. I wanted to maintain those happy first glass feelings, so I’d have another five glasses, sinking deeper and deeper into a slurry drunken mess enjoying the rollercoaster. I remained oblivious as my reactions to everything and everyone around me would get more ridiculous as the night wore on. I was beating my body up every single day (rinsing bottle after bottle through my poor liver), pouring money down my throat, wasting weekends in a darkened room nursing a hangover and just generally wasting away my life being drunk.

At some point, and I’m talking years ago, I began to pay attention to the fact that there were negative side effects to drinking. That’s when things got scary because it began to dawn on me that I was going to continue drinking despite knowing it was bad for me. So of course I washed the worry away with a big old glug of wine (and a few tequila shots for good measure). Even though I could quash the fear by ignoring it, the fact that I wasn’t in control chipped away at my self-respect. It got really scary when I finally put effort into stopping, but I couldn’t, so I just kept going…and going.

Until last year when to my amazement I decided to give quitting a proper serious go and no-one is more shocked than me that I’m still going. But that’s the thing, I don’t feel like I’m ‘going strong‘, I’m just ‘going’, just stringing a bunch of days being sober together, which like I said right from the beginning is not how I wanted to live my life. I don’t feel like my life is ‘sparkly’. It’s certainly better in a lot of ways – I’m spending money more wisely, my health has surely improved, I began to regain self-respect I wasn’t aware I’d lost. There are definitely benefits, but they are all a bit dull, and it still feels like there’s always going to be a trade-off. I don’t get to use alcohol to lower my inhibitions in awkward social settings and I don’t get to have a sure-fire, fast-acting way to wind down at the end of a hard day.

Obviously stopping drinking was the right thing to do. It was the grown-up, responsible choice to make because when you weigh up the pros and cons of drinking, the cons far outweigh the pros. But the benefits of quitting drinking haven’t added ‘sparkle to my life’. On the contrary, my life has got a hell of a lot more dull since giving up the wine and I’m not sure where I’m meant to find the sparkle in life now that I can’t find it at the bottom of a wine glass.

 

 

Wanted: 1 rudder

For the past week or so I’ve been having cravings that aren’t really cravy so to speak, they don’t come in bursts or waves and I haven’t been craving a specific type of drink. Instead it’s like a faint yearning to go back to my drunken ways and I can’t seem to shake it like I can with normal cravings. It’s a really subtle under the surface feeling, so it’s not really on my mind, but in some ways that makes the feeling seem all the more dangerous. It’s like the wine goblin has given up working away at my conscious mind and is now attacking my sub-conscious.

Now that I’ve battled past the first couple of months that were filled with really shitty tough slog, I’ve emerged into a kind of limbo where I’m not really sure what to do. And my sub-conscious mind is bugging me to do what I’ve always done when I don’t know what to do next – drink.

I suspect that this is just a phase and that I will just drift along aimlessly for a while before ‘popping’ through to the other side (the ‘other side’ being a wonderful mystical happy state of being that so many long-term sober folk rave about). I’ve heard so many of these sober folk saying it’s worth it, it’s worth it so just keep trucking until you get there, but it would be lovely to know that on X date at X time, I will have reached that point. It would just be nice to have some set expectations instead of just aimlessly wandering in that general direction.

Maybe my patience is just wearing a bit thin, but I’m feeling a bit rudderless at the moment.

 

Ho-hum

I’ve been having a pretty easy time of late. No knock-your-socks-off cravings, just strolling along ticking up the sober days. It’s not really that joyous pink cloud feeling that visited me in the early days though, because back then I felt self assured and thrilled with my decision to stop drinking, and these days I feel quite flat and life is just a bit ho-hum really. I’ve settled into a bit of a dull day-to-day routine that is making it really easy to avoid alcohol. It doesn’t feel weird anymore to come home and make dinner and drink cups of tea and gingerbeer (not mixed together), and I think less and less about what wine will go with food when I’m planning dinner these days, so those old habits seem to be fading.

And so here I am strolling along in my ho-hum sober life. Thoughts of drinking still drift into my head all the time, but they’re easy to remove with gentle reminders to myself that I can’t drink like other people and that realistically ‘moderation’ will end up in misery, so what’s the point in trying and failing when I’m happy enough as I am sober. It all feels quite easy and I really feel like I’m getting a hang of this sober business.

But then I was reminded that I’ll have the house to myself when my partner goes away to watch one of his sports teams in a few weeks, and BAM! My mind was flooded with a sense of relief that “I can totally go and buy a few bottles of wine and get written off for the weekend” and “I totally deserve it”, and “it’ll be such a luxury”, and “no-one will be any the wiser”. What. The. Hell. Where the fuck did that come from!?!? Addiction is such a sneaky little lurky fucker. Just when you think you’re finally rid (haa as if!) of the cheeky little gobshite, he rears his sneaky little head to remind you that he’s still there.

Obviously when these thoughts popped up, I didn’t act on them and sneakily start planning a private little party for one, or I wouldn’t be sharing this. When I sat and really thought about the feelings, they weren’t even a craving, it was just my old boozer brain leaping at an opportunity to get drunk. Just an old pattern of behaviour, my brain constantly scanning, constantly on the lookout for an acceptable opportunity to get drunk. It was probably an extra ferocious thought because it was an opportunity to get drunk in peace, which was my favourite type of drinking.

The thoughts did knock me off guard a bit though and I had to ask myself whether I really wanted to drink if I had the opportunity. I was relieved to realise that I didn’t want to, but it was a really good reminder of just how fragile my sobriety is. Although it seems like a really obvious thing to say, it kinda hit home and made me think ‘Shit, the only person standing between me and alcohol is me.’ Like of course there’s the accountability that I’ve created for myself etc, but that wouldn’t stop me drinking if I really wanted to drink. It’s good to know that I’ve reached a point where the part of me that doesn’t want to drink seems to be stronger than the part of me that does want to drink. For now anyway. Who knows what that sneaky little goblin has up his sleeve.

Pangs

The last couple of days have been frustrating. I’ve been having little niggly pangs popping up all day long. Each time they pop up, I pounce on the feelings and remind myself that one glass of wine equals two glasses the next day (and six the day after). I remind myself that I can’t drink like a normal drinker and that, while I have been doing well with cutting it out completely, that doesn’t translate to being able to have one and stop. One equals a slippery slope back into miserable old habits.

I’ve also been patiently taking each pang and dissecting it to try and work out whether there’s rhyme or reason to them cropping up. I run a mental checklist that goes something like this:

  • Am I thirsty?
  • Am I stressy?
  • Am I jealous?
  • Am I anxious?
  • Am I tired?

Which is usually answered like this: Nope, nope, nope, nope and nope… Oh just another inexplicable pang then. Great.

I’m actually surprised by my patience with these pangs. Generally I’m a pretty impatient lass, but these pangs are testing me and I’m rising to their challenge each time, despite my frustrations with my mini analysis not drawing any conclusions. I’ve been coming around to the realisation that brain re-wiring is a marathon, not a sprint.

Because of all these fecking pain-in-the-arse pangs lately, I decided to give our all company Christmas do a miss tonight. The thought of a room heaving with free drinks freaked me out a bit and I was worried that if a pang were to strike just as a glass of wine was waved under my nose I might cave.

So instead I’ve come home (buying myself an array of NA drinks on the way), parked up in front of the telly and have grand plans to make a new hot chocolate recipe later too. Let’s get this (couch) party started 🙂

 

 

 

Sober Socialising: Round Two

I’ve had more and more cravings peeking through in the past couple of days, so I think my pink cloud may be dissipating – waaahhh! It’s as though I’ve been racing along in my big pink car, but now it’s running out of gas and I’m put-put-putting to a stop. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been getting a bit lazy with my ‘sober work’ this week. I’ve been doing so well and feeling so settled in my decision that I’ve let my guard down a bit. I’m nowhere near seriously contemplating drinking, but the cravings are fluttering away in my subconscious a bit.

Went out to dinner with friends last night, so beforehand I got in quick and suggested we all meet in a bar that I knew did a good selection of mocktails. I got stuck into a pineapple and passionfruit number, while the others had proper grown up drinks. And then the most peculiar thing happened – everyone switched to mocktails for the rest of the night – how bizarre! But then I remembered that not everyone has an alcohol fanatic living inside of them making sure drink after drink is poured down their throat.

At the restaurant, with pressure on from a waiter standing ready to take our order, I didn’t know what to order off their limited drinks list and ended up going with a raspberry and chocolate milkshake (what am I five!?). I felt a bit uncomfortable and awkward in my own skin for the whole evening. No-one asked why I wasn’t drinking, except to ask whether I’m pregnant (nope, just a food baby), but I still felt conscious that I wasn’t relaxing. I felt a bit uptight and tired all evening, so it wasn’t as successful as my first sober socialising venture.

I’ve got another BBQ to go to tonight (oh the joys of the festive season), which is an annual catch up with old friends from school and I haven’t really done any planning. I had been thinking that I’d try and fly under everyone’s radar by drinking NA wine, but from recent experience no-one really seems to care whether you drink or not. In fact, the only person that has seemed to care so far is my boss, who I never even drink with anyway! (Yesterday, he asked with concern whether I was planning on not drinking forever? He seemed genuinely concerned that I was making a very poor life choice, haha.) So anyway, I think I will head along to the BBQ  tonight with soda or a pre-made mocktail and just bite the bullet and tell people that I’m no longer boozing. Cue the pregnancy questions (note to self: wear baggy top).

Once tonight is out of the way, I really need to get cracking on some positive sober thoughts to pre-empt any cravings that rear their ugly heads before Christmas (eeek 13 more sleeps!), because that’s going to be my next big challenge – a week staying in a house with 15 other people – most of whom looooove their alcohol.

Has anyone got any suggestions for useful ‘keeping positive even though your whole family are raging boozers‘ sober reading material?? I’ve heard Jason Vale’s ‘Kick the drink‘ is pretty good.

 

How much is luck?

The raging cravings are dying down today and I’m feeling a lot calmer. My long term goal of removing alcohol from my life has come back into clearer focus and I am thankful that I trusted in my decision not to drink over the last couple of days (even though it seemed like the dumbest decision I’d ever made at the time).

This rough patch has made me realise how fragile sobriety is though. I literally got to the point where I decided that I would drink again, so I think it’s safe to say that if there had been alcohol within arms reach, I would be mid-way through a drinking spree right now.

It’s made me wonder what portion of sober success is made up of pure luck. If my resolve was weaker than usual and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could quite easily cave in and there is only so much I can do to prevent that happening.

Today though, I’m grateful that luck was on my side and I’m happy to be here, feeling clear headed and positive 🙂

Cravings

Today I’m still wrestling with my cravings for a drink, but I feel like I’m regaining a bit more control than I had yesterday. I have, at least, had some rational thoughts floating around my brain today.

What I’m really still after is the taste of wine. I’m practically drooling at the thought of it. Last night I stood in the wine section of the supermarket staring sadly at the bottles of red wine like a complete nutter. Tonight my cravings for white wine are out of control and I can’t stop thinking that all I want is one sip of crisp cold white wine.

I’m about to go and pick up stuff for dinner, so I’m interested to check whether they have alcohol free wine (not sure whether that would be a godsend or a recipe for disaster), but if the cravings get any worse I will have to RUN through the supermarket with my eyes closed to avoid the wine.

Fingers crossed I make it out unscathed!