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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Struggling with stigma

Lots has changed since my last Debbie Downer post about feeling like I was enduring my dull, directionless life. The biggest change is that we’ve decided for sure that we’ll make the move to London in December (just in time for Christmas). Having something to work towards, plan for and get excited about has really lifted my mood and I feel like my life (that was passing at a glacial pace) is finally speeding up.

In saying that, all the same fears that I had a few weeks ago are still there – that I’ll struggle to make friends if they all think I’m a weirdo that doesn’t drink, and that socialising will be so much harder, but I can also see the benefits of having a fresh start in a new country and building a sober life from scratch there.

I still really struggle with the social stigma of not drinking. The evenings spent in a day to day routine (work, dinner, TV, bed) breeze by so easily. I rarely have cravings and I find it hard to imagine that I once used to polish off a bottle of wine each night – the thought of doing that now seems ridiculous. How did I run my life? How did I find the time and energy!? So in terms of day to day life, I can give that a big fat tick – progress achieved. But in terms of social life, I still hate it.

I went to a big boozy work party on Friday night and stayed for half an hour. People say that that’s okay, that skipping these social events is just all about finding out who you really are and what you really enjoy, but that doesn’t change the fact that I felt so left out. I felt like a frumpy loser leaving early to go home and get into my PJs and watch TV like it was any other night of the week. My anxiety was through the roof hours before. I feel so dull without alcohol at social events and anticipating how dull and boring I will be all night gets me worked up and feeling emotional. I felt like crying as I ordered a soda and lime at the bar. Just felt like a massive loser with nothing interesting to say to anyone because all I could focus on was how uncomfortable I was.

So when I think of sober socialising in a new country where I know no one, the thought fills me with dread. I’ve read that new sober friends are generally of a higher calibre than people you bond with over boozy sessions, and that’s all well and good, but the reason they’re better friends is because you have to put so much more effort in. Call me crazy, but I’ll generally try and find the path of least resistance when it comes to doing anything in life. I am dead lazy, which is frustrating, but also just a part of my personality that I have to deal with. I may go in with great intentions of joining clubs and developing hobbies, but realistically I’ve never been a social butterfly and those intentions have never panned out in life in New Zealand, so I don’t see why they would in England. I’ve always found boozy events – work drinks/flat parties/dinners etc to be the places where I meet people and make new friends, so I don’t know how I’ll cope with those if I’m always leaving after half an hour of extreme discomfort!

I have a counselling appointment in a few days. I’m not really holding out much hope that she’ll be able to make me feel completely positive about sober life, but hopefully she can offer some advice about dealing with anxiety and socialising. I’ll talk to her about the realities of moderating and whether it’s possible to drink socially without diving straight back in to addictive behaviours. I’m sure we all know what the answer to that question is, but I’ll ask anyway 🙂

***

Here’s some relevant material I’ve been consuming lately:

  • Home Podcast’s talk on the ‘Why me?‘ question that plagues us.
  • This post on building new sober life connections and making friends (from Hip Sobriety)
  • This article on sober socialising.

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!

Dickheads everywhere

I don’t think I’ve ever really grasped just how good I’ve had it when it comes to other people’s reactions to my decision to stop drinking. I’ve had it soooo, so good, but if the last fortnight is anything to go by, my luck has run out.

When I first quit I was constantly on the defensive, always prepared for hostile reactions when I turned down offers of drinks. Boozing culture is so well ingrained in our society that I expected it to ruffle a few feathers when I decided to go against the grain. Plus, I had been living in a world that revolved around alcohol and I couldn’t believe that people wouldn’t care about my decision not to partake in a bit of gasoline guzzling.

On the whole though I was pleasantly surprised by other people’s reactions. Close friends and family knew that I’d been worrying about my drinking for a long time before I actually stopped, so they had a bit of background and didn’t hassle me one bit. In fact their reactions have ranged from being curious about it all, to hugely supportive, to awestruck. And the majority of workmates, strangers and acquaintances have been mildly surprised, yet completely un-phased by news that I no longer drink. Overall, people just do not give a monkey’s what I decide to put into my body. It’s fab, it’s how things should be.

And so (with my surprise at everyone else’s lack of surprise), alcohol free me has slowly come out of hiding and I’ve gained confidence in this new aspect of my identity. I’ve become better at picking my timing and dropping it casually into conversation. Things seemed to be on the up and up. But, as this image so wonderfully summarises, up and up is never the reality:

Expectations v reality

The reality is that there are, in fact, an abundance of dickheads around. Absolutely loooooads of them. Ignorant, insensitive, ill-informed, blithering idiots, who feel it is their place to make you feel like a less of a human for becoming addicted to an addictive substance, and feel that it is their right to be offended by your decision to do something about that pesky little addiction.

I guess I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by all the wonderful mature reactions I’d had the good fortune to experience for the majority of my time spent sober, so I was a bit miffed at my work-party last week to be met with judgmental comment after judgmental comment all night long. There was pity “Oh you don’t drink? What… ever? That must be so booooring!”, and shock “You don’t drink? You?”, and attempts to coax me out of the ridiculous proposal that I stop drinking “It’s not forever, right?”, but what I found most unsettling was the disgust I encountered. My standard explanation when people ask why I don’t drink is to tell them that I wasn’t comfortable with the amount I was drinking so I decided to cut it out completely, but watching strangers’ faces balk in disgust at this fact has been making me second guess whether being honest all of the time is best for me.

To be fair to this particular bunch of dickheads, I think it was the age group of a lot of the people there that night – we’d recently hired a whole lot of junior staff straight out of uni and they probably haven’t learnt that there’s a big old diverse world out there and that they’ll need to learn to tolerate differences.

What’s rattled my cage a lot more recently is the judgement and disgust I’ve copped from an old friend. I can cope with a lack of understanding from people that don’t know me, young people that live in a booze soaked world, who are conditioned daily to believe that alcohol is the only way to have fun, but it’s a lot more confronting when it comes from a good friend. This friend has tiptoed around the edges of disdain. She hasn’t outright said that she doesn’t agree with my decision, but it’s quite clear that she’s not in support. The problem is, her comments are so minor that I feel like I’m being petty by bringing them up with her. The other day she messaged me delighted to see that I’d started drinking again. When I explained that the big glass of wine in the photo was AF wine, she replied simply “ew yuck”. This friend is one seriously intelligent girl, who’s normally really open minded and considerate, which is why I find her reaction all the more frustrating.

I guess the silver lining here is that her display of shitty friendship qualities just makes my supportive friends shine all the more brighter in comparison. Plus, she has really ugly eyebrows, so that makes me feel better too 😉

Cringing

Today I had a job interview for a job I’m really keen on. The interview didn’t go as well as it could have, and all afternoon feelings of shame have just been washing over me as I re-live each appallingly bad answer I gave over and over in my mind. My face involuntarily scrunches up every time I remember how badly I ballsed up my responses and I just want to slither under my desk and the ground to eat me up.

I wish there was a switch that would turn off these feelings. I don’t know how to get rid of the feelings without drinking, so I’m just sitting here – sitting in the feeling, physically feeling like my guts have turned to jelly and there’s a pool of acid collecting in my stomach. It’s probably just an accumulation of adrenaline, but it’s making me feel horrific.

Anyone know how to get rid of these feelings of nerves and shame? I’ve tried talking through how things went with a couple of friends from work, but it hasn’t helped. I assumed the nerves would disappear and I’d feel relief after it was over, but instead I just feel doubly worse re-living the shame of making a fool of myself. Maybe it’s just a matter of time until the adrenaline drains out of my body…? Will running help? I’m clearly desperate to rid myself of this feeling if I’m considering running! 🙂

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.

 

 

 

Forever?

Month six was a good one. I was really beginning to relax into sobriety, cravings had pretty much died off completely and socialising was becoming easier. I felt strong. There were a bunch of times I was grateful to be sober (especially when I had to drive!) and the prospect of this new sober life stretching out ahead of me didn’t fill me with dread as it did in the beginning.

Roll on month seven and I feel like it’s two steps forward, one step back. My resolve over the past few days has weakened and I keep picturing myself going back to drinking at some stage down the track. I know I only have to focus on the here and now, and it’s not so important to be okay with not drinking forever, but I still get a bit stressed over thoughts of the future.

I want to move cities (if not countries) at some stage in the next couple of years and the thought of settling in to a new place without the ease of getting to know new friends over drinks is really daunting. I’m now a pro at staying sober during the day to day grind of work and home life. Routines make things easy, but turning my life upside down is really going to throw a spanner in the works.

I guess that’s the challenge though right? The possible always seems impossible until it’s done. I’ve always relied on alcohol to make boring evenings fun, to make socialising less stressful, to ‘give me dutch courage’, and so on. It’s not until you take away the alcohol and learn to live without it that you realise you don’t need it. Boring evenings aren’t less fun without wine anymore, I’ve had enough practice to know I can go without and not miss it. It’s a matter of doing it and proving to yourself that it’s okay. I just haven’t had the chance to prove to myself that I don’t need alcohol in my future, because I haven’t got there yet…  Am I making sense? Probably not.

In other news, I am about to commence operation ‘I quit sugar’. I’ve bought the book and I’m doing the eight week detox with a couple of friends. Week one involves cutting out obvious sugars, so no sugar in my morning coffee or bowls of icecream in the evenings. I’m on the soda and limes instead of ginger beer. My diet is dull and cardboardy now that I’m not washing everything down with fructose, but it’s only for eight weeks. Doing a sugar detox feels like such a luxury when I compare it to being sober because I know there is an end to this if I want it. If, after eight weeks, I want to go back to a sugar laden diet, I can. Which is funny because that’s how I started out with sobriety – it was just an experiment really. But I liked parts of it, and I was curious to see what would happen if I kept going, so I did.

When did I start worrying about whether it was forever or not? It’s a hell of a lot less stressful when I think of sobriety as ‘just for the foreseeable future’. Simply as a means to getting healthy again. Not bothering with alcohol for a while because it wreaks havoc with my anxiety. Sometimes thinking in the short term just has to be enough. I don’t know how Mrs D and others can be so confident in proclaiming that they’ll never have another drink again in their lives – it must take a lot of sober practice to have that confidence and I hope I get to that point too! #sobergoals

Pink clouds, is that you?

I’ve heard a lot of talk of these legendary ‘pink clouds’ and have been waiting patiently for them to pay me a visit for a while now. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was something along the lines of maniacal laughter, bouncing off the walls and having a sense of being able to conquer the world. It’s starting to dawn on me though that I may actually be in the midst of these fabled pink clouds right now… and there’s no manic laughter, I feel quite calm.

For the last 10 days or so I’ve just been coasting along without too much trouble. I’ve had a few cravings, but the doubt and questioning have evaporated and I don’t want to drink. The desire just isn’t there. In fact, I haven’t really been blogging much because I just feel like I’m being a bit of a show-off raving on about how this sobriety lark is child’s play. But yes, I’m realising now that this must be that feeling of easy breezy pink cloud tranquility that lures you in to a false sense of security.

Because I’ve been pre-warned that this is a risky frame of mind to be in, I don’t think I’m in danger of being over-confident and going back to my old boozy ways. I am however, totally gutted that this probably a temporary state of mind. I’m so, so gutted that I can’t expect it to be this easy for much longer and that I can expect a crash landing back down to reality at anytime. It’s a relief to have some peace and just be contented with my decision and truck along ticking off the days, and so I really really don’t want that to end.

I’m scared of the doubt and the questioning and the intense cravings kicking back in. I’m scared of it getting harder and having to battle away every day and losing sight of the reasons behind this lifestyle change and struggling away all day long to keep my mind focussed. I’m not a fan of that sub-par sobriety. I wholeheartedly approve of my current state of mind and just want to stick with that thank you very much!

The problem is, I have no idea what I’m doing right (if anything) that’s contributing to this mind frame. So all I can really do is cross all my fingers and toes that I get a good long run of these calm and contented feelings.