The road is long

“Still” meaning – as a continuation of my last post. Not as a continuation of the past eight or nine months.  I feel like this resurgence of desire is on some sort of schedule: I’ve never read anything in addiction literature about an 8-9 month hump, but I’ve definitely read similar things from bloggers in the sobersphere.  So, once again, thanks for being you.  It’s easier, knowing that this will pass again.  I had a moment the other day where I felt like I was going to be fighting cravings forever.  And now I understand why people say “don’t think about ‘forever'”, because that’s exactly the sort of overwhelm that could drive one to drink.  But I know I can not drink today, and not drink tomorrow, and the chances are good-to-definite that fairly soon, I’ll go back to not missing it.

On the weekend, some old friends came to dinner.  The male half of the couple is one of my closest and dearest friends, although since they moved to the other side of the world almost a decade ago, we’ve drifted apart.  Back in our twenties, we used to meet at a bar and share a bottle of wine and some snacks.  And then we’d share a second bottle of wine.  And then we’d look at one another, because we knew perfectly well that the third bottle would tip us over into uncomfortably drunk, and we always said we wouldn’t drink that much next time, but neither of us felt done yet.  And so we would, always, order that third bottle.

Those were nights of talking so fast that our words tangled together, too much smoke and alcohol, and feeling slightly nauseated on the last bus home, near midnight.  Nights of bad judgement and hungover mornings afterwards.  I wonder, now, whether our friendship would have been as close if it hadn’t been so alcoholic.

This time around, I knew I’d have to tell them that I no longer drank, and I managed to slip the information into an email giving them directions to my house.  No big deal at all, luckily: we’re of an age where several of us have stopped drinking for various reasons, I gather.

So I cooked beef fillets wrapped in prosciutto, and they arrived with some fancy gin truffles as a hostess gift (2% gin.  I’m going to eat them, but not this week, not when I’m feeling a bit shaky) and three bottles of wine.   And the food was amazing and the conversation was great, and I’m glad I got to see them again.

But.

Three bottles of wine.  For three people, for one dinner.  They arrived mid-afternoon, and when LH failed to offer them a glass by four o’clock, they opened one themselves.

By ten o’clock, the conversation was flagging, a bit.  It never used to do that.

crossroad

I find that I look at people differently, now.  I watch my old drinking companions drink, and I notice how fast they tip the last bit of wine into their glass before opening the next bottle, and I look at their faces closely; are they puffier, redder, then they used to be, or is it just age?  I feel mean, thinking things like that, but I don’t intend to be critical.  I’m hardly Dorian Gray to their picture, after all.  It’s just that I’m not very far down the path of sobriety yet: the crossroad is still in sight, behind me, and so is the road I didn’t take.  When I watch my friends, I’m peering down that path.  I’m reminding myself why I took the one I did.

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

Last night, lying in bed waiting for the day’s exhaustion to take over, I suddenly got hit with the world’s biggest craving for wine. It had been so long since I had a craving like that that it took me a minute to realise what I was feeling; it was as if a combination of amorphous thoughts coalesced, and then I suddenly got it. Hey, this thing that I’m thinking about and feeling, this is a sodding great big huge craving for wine. I really, really want a glass of wine.

I kind of explored it from the outside, because I knew I wasn’t actually going to get out of bed, go downstairs and pour a glass of wine. So it became an abstract object, which I poked at. How did it feel? What was different about this feeling, as opposed to the occasional idle ‘a glass of wine would be…oh, that’s right, I don’t drink’ thoughts that pass through my mind? And why, on earth, now?

I don’t know the answer to that third one. But I can tell you how the first two felt. They felt visceral. I wanted the whole experience of drinking that wine; not the idea of it, the glamorous image, sparkling glasses held aloft and tinkling laughs or cosy sharing with a partner. I wanted the taste, with all its layers of tannin and fruit and ethanol, that complexity that you don’t get with non-alcoholic drinks. And the glass, and the weight, and the sipping.

And then I went to sleep, and thought no more about it. Until this afternoon, when it hit me again. I was upstairs, finishing the girls’ bedtime while LH had dinner downstairs prior to going out for the night. I knew he had a glass of red wine, and I thought about it while I was negotiating the third request for another glass of water, and I thought about it enough that for the first time, literally the first time in … whatever it is, eight months or so … I thought ‘can I trust myself, alone in this house full of wine?’. And I thought ‘I could have just one. One glass, sipped slowly over the night, to enjoy’. I thought many things, my friends, in such quick succession that the thoughts piled up on top of one another. I thought ‘nobody would have to know’ and I thought ‘and maybe I can drink now, just a glass every now and then. Special occasions’. I thought ‘I’m tired of this. I want to be normal’.

I didn’t think anything spectacular, or anything new. I’m sure nobody reading this is thinking ‘goodness, what an unusual and unique thought pattern for an alcoholic’. I didn’t think that myself. Maybe, if I hadn’t been blogging for so long, and I hadn’t read so many other stories and talked to so many other sober people, I would have fallen for it. But come on. My drinking self, my addict self, is so fucking obvious, really. ‘Oh, I can totally drink normally now’. Is that the best you can do, self? What was I, born yesterday? I’m not an idiot, and I’m not falling for it, and you, self, can fuck right off. Not actually. Because you’re myself. Which is confusing. But you know.

Try harder, addiction. Find a new script. Or better still, give up. Go away. You are not wanted, and you are not going to win.

Embracing mediocrity

Where am I? What am I doing? I’m sober; let me get that out of the way. Not really thinking about alcohol very much, to be honest, which is why I’ve not been posting much.

But, well, this is also about the Everything Afterwards, so I’m back to talk about that.

Everything, at the moment, for me, is about trying to make a career out of writing. It is the thing I have loved forever and that I haven’t even allowed myself to do for the past few years, and it is so crystal clear to me that if I allowed alcohol back into my life, I would lose the writing again. That’s no bargain at all: that’s not even an option. I said to LH last night that over the years, I have walked around reciting a mantra of gratitude for my life: lovely husband, wonderful children, financial security, good friends, healthy family dynamic, good health for all of us, a luckier life, by far, than that which most people are afforded. But, I told him, the reason I was reciting the mantra is because it never felt like it was enough. I would try harder at the things I was doing. I would exercise more, redecorate the house in imitation of the interior magazines, cook elaborate meals, plan wholesome activities with the children. And none of that filled the hole that I never felt I should even have, because how selfish and grasping must I be to want more than the abundance that I already had?

I don’t have that hole any more. I tried to fill it up with alcohol, of course, but that never works. And then I took the alcohol away, and I started to write, and the hole isn’t there any more. That missing lego brick, the slice of pie, whatever the metaphor is the end result is the same, which is that I feel whole.

However. Of course it’s not that easy. Turns out, and this is crazy, that suddenly deciding to live a creative life is actually quite difficult. Especially when you have absolutely no formal training in writing whatsoever, let alone all the other journalistic and marketing skills that come along with that. In fact, I have gathered subtle hints here and there that quite a lot of people want to be writers, which seems unreasonable but I am assured is true.

So where I’ve been is, I’ve been on the steepest learning curve of my life, if we discount the time that an actual human being came out of my body and cried a lot and then I was allowed to take it home without a license or a manual or anything. I’ve been doing courses, blogging, sending millions of pitches out to a largely unresponsive audience of editors. I’ve been networking, researching, interviewing. I’ve been tweeting and updating my website and buying domain names and I spend hours every day reading the news because I suddenly need to know everything at once, all the time.

And what I’m getting from this is a bucketload of rejection.

I was a very smart child. I was the sort of smart that adults notice, right away, and despite their best efforts, it became the thing that I was; the thing I used in order to impress people, because that’s how I got praise and attention. The result of this, and this is apparently extremely common for gifted children, is that I have always been extremely bad at being mediocre. I give up very quickly, or I don’t try, because I will only do something if I know that I’m going to succeed at it. And more than that; I only count something as success if I accomplished it more effortlessly than most people. Not because I’m lazy, but because achieving something in the same amount of time, or with the same amount of effort, as other people, has always counted as failure for me. If I didn’t excel, I expected to see disappointment on the faces of the grown ups.

This is very much how I approached sobriety. I expected it to be easy, and I got angry with myself for not ‘doing it better’ than anyone else, by which I meant…I don’t know; finding serenity and grace within days, perhaps? I expected to be the best person at getting sober who had ever got sober, and once I started this blog I expected to be the best person at running a sober blog that had ever run a sober blog.

I am none of those things, and that is alright. I am also not entering the world of paid writing in a blaze of glory, and that is alright too.

This time, it’s different. I am telling myself that this period of rejection is normal for new writers, and it is, but I am also telling myself that this also applies to me. I lost my Smart Kid Get Out Of Jail Free card a long time back. I am telling myself that if I’m getting this many rejections, then I am getting something wrong, and I am going back and doing more study in order to improve.

I am starting to realise that my greatest strength is not my intellect but my stubbornness. When I told a friend, a couple of months into sobriety, that I felt like I wasn’t doing it very well, she pointed out that I wasn’t drinking, and by that measure, I was doing it perfectly. Sometimes, it is actually all about showing up every day and doing what you’re doing,.

So today, I am writing. And I am not drinking. And I am not doing either thing particularly spectacularly, but I am doing them nonetheless. That will have to be enough, because it’s all I’ve got.