…so that we were able to draw up to the fire and repair some of the damages of the day’s living

wildnight

Here is how I spent last night.

I shut myself in the kitchen, put on one of my CDs from the nineties that nobody else in my family likes, and baked fruit crumble and apricot muffins.  Then I dissolved a rose-petal bath bomb in a hot bath, soaked for a while, after which I put on my favourite pyjamas and took my Kindle and a mug of camomile tea upstairs so I could read in my freshly changed bed with its brand new linens.

It was AMAZING.  It was amazing because I hit all of my sensory high points (okay, not all of them.  What are you like?) without dissolving into a bottle of wine or a family packet of salt and vinegar crisps, and all of that good stuff.  But mostly it was amazing because I was making the places in my life into my spaces.  Kitchen: door closed, favourite music on, food I want to eat in the oven.  Bathroom: pink scented bathwater.  Fresh towels.  Door shut.  Bedroom: new linens bought by me.  Special nobody-else-is-allowed-to-touch-it mug.  Kindle.

Virginia Woolf wrote this essay, you may have heard of it.  A Room of One’s Own.  Most people haven’t actually read it, which is fine and perfectly understandable because Woolf, whilst a genius of her time and everything, did have this tendency to sort of ramble a bit.  I mean, come on.  You know I’m right.  But the thing is, the title of this essay gets referenced all the damn time, largely in contexts which do not relate to the original point (which was that women can’t be great artists without the space and the income to provide the wherewithal, which male artists are afforded.  You’re welcome, random college student who has somehow stumbled upon a sobriety blog.  Happy essay writing, and remember, don’t drink!).

Anyway.  The very concept of a room of one’s own has a huge amount of resonance with pretty much all the women I know, so much so that it stands alone as a concept.  Because we don’t have one.  The assumption is that the house is ours, whereas our men retreat to their ‘man cave’ when they need some space.  But a house is not a room of one’s own, it’s a space that is shared and invaded and encroached upon.  The fact that I chose the bed linen without reference to LH doesn’t mean that I don’t end up clinging to the edge of the bed like I’m sleeping on a rock face when my five year old has a bad dream and comes in.  ‘My’ kitchen is only that when the rest of the family wants dinner cooked for them; it doesn’t stop them raiding the fridge for snacks, or leaving coffee mugs everywhere.  My iPad is commandeered by Little Girl when she wants to ‘do drawings’, and having a book in front of my face doesn’t stop LH sharing hilarious titbits from Top Gear (disclaimer: titbits may not actually resemble hilarious).

It doesn’t just apply to domestic spaces, nor to women who live with children, of course.  Women are constantly expected to cede space.  Walk directly towards a man coming the other way on the street, and who steps aside?  Who takes up the armrests on an aeroplane?  Ever been on public transport and had the misfortune to sit next to a man suffering from EBS (Enormous Bollock Syndrome)?  And I’m not even getting into the fact that women are constantly told to never go out alone at night, to accept a (male) chaperon for their own safety, that there are places so male that if a woman enters them, she’s effectively conceding any right to choose what happens to her from there on in.

Public spaces are male spaces.  Domestic spaces are called female spaces, but are subject to intrusion and conditions that make them feel less than our own.  So for a lot of us, the space we withdraw into, when we need a room of our own, is ourselves. Our bodies.  I have, on occasions when I feel overwhelmed by the inability to withdraw physically, retreated inside my own head.  I mean, I have created an imaginary room, and stepped inside it, and shut the door.  It has a very comfortable armchair, and also a lamp.

But if you’re a mother, I think that the intrusion is more relentless, because it follows you home.  It’s not just little children and their endless demands to sit in your lap and pull your hair and tell you interminable stories about fairies; it’s teenagers who stay up late and go through your room and borrow your clothes, it’s husbands who ‘haven’t seen you all day and just want some company’ so you stay in the room and try and drown out Jeremy Clarkson, it’s the raft of in-laws who have somehow become your responsibility to maintain relations with by dint of you owning a vagina, and it never stops.

So you retreat into a bottle of wine.

Alcoholism is a lonely disease.  The lying, the hiding, the denial, they all serve to insulate the addict in a little bubble, away from their loved ones.  You can’t have meaningful, intense connections with people when your heart is secretly sworn to the wine glass.  As well as which, alcohol numbs emotion.  Like armour, it promises to protect you from harm, but it slows you down and robs you of fluidity and authenticity instead.

And sometimes, all of that sounds bloody blissful, actually.  When three people are clamouring for your approval before your first sip of coffee, and the world feels raw and bright and you can’t even have a wee without someone wanting to sit on your lap (although LH and I have discussed that, and he’s much better about it now), the idea of moving around in a little cone of isolation is very, very attractive.

One of the things that I’m learning to do, in this new sober reality, is claim my right to space.  It’s difficult.  It’s very difficult, because women are socialised to not need space.  But I do, and so do you, and we all deserve it.

So, shut the door when you’re in the bathroom; the children will cope.  Make your bedroom into a place you want to be, even if the lamp set-up isn’t exactly as your partner prefers.  Walk the streets after dark, when it’s quiet.  Tell people I am reading this book, I want to concentrate.  Choose a corner of your home, paint it your favourite colour, and hang a string of fairy lights in it.

You deserve a room of your own.

 

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53 thoughts on “…so that we were able to draw up to the fire and repair some of the damages of the day’s living

  1. This is beautiful and oh so true.
    Claiming space is not the same as crawling into that “cone of isolation” which is the wine, self care is imperative and will make every part of your world better.
    I love the way you write, I love that you are finding your way with such grace into sobriety.
    I laughed at the idea of the husband on your lap as you pee (american translation).
    I’m always so happy when I get a post from you in my email….
    and I am supporting you from the blog-o-sphere, glad to be trudging the same path.

  2. sometimes I think I shouldn’t spend so much time in the sobersphere. well, this is the sort of post which proves me wrong 😉

    loved every bit of it. it sounds like a blissful evening but the backstory to it is even better. making territory for ourselves. I imagine you spinning round, arms stretched out. re-occupying your space. the loss of autonomy when you have young children can be very hard to deal with.

    one unexpected bonus of sobriety for me is the ability to get up earlier and have the house to myself for a precious hour. which I spend getting me ready for the day and then time online checking in with you guys. so by the time the elves emerge rumpled and blinking I am 50’s Mummy offering omelettes with a head full of inspiration, rather than Slummy Mummy staggering out of bed with a head full of gin fumes. unbeatable.

    AND you made crumble 🙂

  3. Brilliant post and so true about the space. When I first got sober the time out I took felt selfish but necessary. I’ve since accepted that I have a right to some time of my own – I deserve it.
    Like Prim, it usually slots in nicely to where the hangover used to be and I just love each and every one of those early mornings that I’ve had to myself, head clear, whole day stretching out ahead full of possibilities and no pain !
    Really loved all of this post!

  4. Love this! Summer vacation has started here, so I’m up at 5:15 a.m. in order to sit in my space. My son offered (threatened) to get up early “so he can be with me all day,” and while it is a sweet notion that won’t last much longer, my brain was screaming “NOOOOO!”

  5. Marvellous, funny and totally spot on. Love it. Particularly – “it’s the raft of in-laws who have somehow become your responsibility to maintain relations with by dint of you owning a vagina, and it never stops”. You are naughty but I like you. I have found myself sitting on the toilet declaring, “I am 41 years old and I would like to change my tampon without someone walking into the room!” Now I am 42 and have a lock on the bathroom door. Progress. As carrieonsober said, I often find this is about claiming time as well as space. It can be hard to do, and sometimes feels selfish, whereas as often it’s about self-care. I mix the two up a lot, and have, as result, often ended up retreating inside myself as you described, which has not been good for me or for those around me, who just see someone withdrawing from them emotionally with no understanding of why. Also, I agree with Primrose, sounds like a great evening 🙂 xx

  6. Loved this post. I’m still only 45 days in, and I spend a long time each day reading sober blogs. Sometimes – oddly – I read them aloud. My 12 year old son asked me yesterday why I was talking to myself about hangovers and toolboxes. My house is full of my family. I used to stay up later than everyone else to find my space, though this was accompanied by sneaky wine top-ups. Now, I have to find the space outside on my dog walks, listening to The Bubble Hour. I’m inspired by your post to take the courage and initiative to carve out a place in my house, even when everyone else is in it, clamouring! Annie x

  7. Just wrote a long reply but it didn’t seem to work! It basically said that I loved this post, and that it inspired me to carve out a better ‘me-zone’ within my busy household. 45 days into sobriety, and the best space I’ve found so far is on my dog walks, listening to The Bubble Hour. I need an inside space as well!

  8. Beautifully written post! The first thing I did when I became sober was to create my “space.” It’s a lovely little room with a window, a comfy couch and a stack of motivational reading materials. I also created a private board on Pinterest devoted to my recovery. All brings energy and strength into my life. Best to you in your 100 day challenge! Looking forward to reading more. Hugs! Trish

  9. Thank you so much for this beautiful post. The paragraph about relentless intrusion resonated deeply with me. Since the arrival of two small children, I find myself joking that my fantasy is to have just a weekend alone, all to myself. I never connected this desire and feeling with my abuse of alcohol. On day 52, and this post has given me more to consider in developing strategies to keep myself from returning to alcohol.

  10. I haven’t been reading for awhile, but I just read this, and it’s lovely. It’s so true! (I wish I had a door to my kitchen, now…) and your writing is just as lovely as I remember it. Well done, you!

    • Oh, the door! I moved house a month or so back (sober! Oooooff, I tell you what) and this is a much older house that’s never been renovated, so the kitchen is at the back and doesn’t communicate with any other room. I LOVE IT SO MUCH I cannot tell you. Down with open-plan kitchens, say I.

  11. I found a lack of space to be one of the hardest things about having children. It would literally drive me mad. Now that they are 11 and 13 it is better; I have what I refer to as ‘my office’ (it’s my bedroom – more specifically, my bed) that I withdraw to when I need to, and they generally know to leave me alone!

  12. “Alcoholism is a lonely disease.  The lying, the hiding, the denial, they all serve to insulate the addict in a little bubble, away from their loved ones.  You can’t have meaningful, intense connections with people when your heart is secretly sworn to the wine glass. ”
    This totally hit a massive metaphorical nail on the head for me. It is such a lonely disease, and the sick and twisted thing is, I MISS the time alone I spent with a glass (bottle.. who am I kidding) of wine.
    Great post, funny and relatable. So glad I found your blog 🙂

    x

  13. For me, as a mother, there was always a level of guilt that prevented me from claiming time and space for myself. Guilt at the amount that I was drinking and the impact that I knew it had on my home life. I consider myself a ‘high bottom’ drinker but I knew that my children were missing out on an authentic mother so I let them climb all over me, put their tiniest needs, desires or whims ahead of my own needs or desire for peace, or sleep, or just being.

    It wasn’t until I read this post that I thought ‘I don’t do that any more’. Somewhere over the past eight months I have drawn a line in the sand, valuing myself and my sanity and my needs as being as important as theirs and I am a better mother for it. The lifelong lesson which my children are learning, particularly my daughter, is that mothers do not have to be saints or martyrs to be good mothers, in fact hopefully they will see that the opposite is true.

    Love your words.

    Kirst

    • I hate commenters like you. Coming along and encapsulating in a few words what I just spend pages trying to describe and not quite getting to. YES, that’s what I was really trying to say, that an important part of my sobriety has been saying to my family that no, my need for space and time trumps your need for me right now’. And of course, OF COURSE I was over-compensating before, thank you for pointing that out. I was thinking of it as going the other way – I drank because of the demands on my time – but of course it was symbiotic. GAH.

      (I don’t really hate commenters like you)

      • And I would not have realised that I had finally learned to value myself more had I not read your post in the first place, symbioses galore!

        I have thought on this for much if the day and realised that not only guilt but also fear made me go the extra mile in terms of doing everything for my children. Fear that because I wasn’t good enough that they would be taken from me somehow, as punishment for being less than perfect. As far as I know no one in my circle of friends and acquaintances knew I had a problem with alcohol (I was a bottle of wine a night kind of person, no blackouts or DUI’s etc) yet I was always scared, usually irrationally, that my children would either die or be taken away from me or that my husband would decide I was an unfit mother so I did everything I could to prove (to everyone who wasn’t even remotely interested anyway) that I was a 100% committed parent. How exhausting!

        Now I really don’t care what people think, I take me-time, I say things like “I love you but I don’t want to watch you jump on the trampoline right now” and I don’t feel a shred of guilt, though I did right at the start when I first started saying no. Like everything on this fabulous journey it is a learning curve.

        On a tangent this way of thinking has led me into exploring the theory that we are doing our children more harm by trying to fulfil all of their wishes. That resilience and patience and determination are built in children by ensuring that they are not immediately gratified. In terms of my children’s future relationship with alcohol I think that teaching them delayed gratification might be a good thing!

        But I digress … did I mention I love your writing? Keep it up and well done on getting through a move sans le vin. Glad you don’t really hate commenters like me, lol

        All the best,
        Kirst

        p.s. Don’t forget to organise a treat for your 100 days, it’s very important and well done 🙂

  14. Wow, I’ve been reading posts most of the morning and was feeling a little “done” with the sober world for the day, but figured just one more … and am so glad I read this one 🙂 I’m literally crying in relief and realization.

    Thank you so much for articulating what has been making me feel CRAZY these last few weeks. Yes, I’ve not been drinking for more than a year, but I don’t think I’ve ever given myself my own space or time. I’m constantly doing things for the home and for work and for my marriage, and while these things are good and important to me, they aren’t mine alone. Even my office isn’t my space, as it has all of our tax stuff and random crap thrown in there. (Ah the joys of working at home!)

    I’ve been feeling this sort of resentment that I haven’t been able to place. And I think this is it. I haven’t been staking my claim on my time and my space. Thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate your blog for all of your wit, charm, excellent writing and now, a-ha moments 😀

  15. I’ve just read this whilst sitting on the toilet, refereeing an argument between my two eldest whilst my youngest waves a piece of paper in my face and shouts, “Mummy!”
    It could not be more apt.
    I’ve often thought of putting a chair and a light in my wardrobe for this exact reason.

  16. I loved this and it felt very close to home. Unfortunately, a member of the family who is very close to me suffers from alcoholism, she originally went sober for 6 months and then a year later for another 9 and had discovered they had begun again on Saturday and had been drinking for the past 5 weeks in private which has been very upsetting. I copied one of your paragraphs to email to them about how Alcoholism is a disease. x

  17. I have read Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ and I remember thinking that what I got out of that story was a sense of the importance of having a mind of one’s own. I’m only 6 month’s sober right now and somewhat isolated and kind of ‘in the woods’ and surrounded by people who use various substances to varying degrees. None of them are intrusive though. I live in my bus on the periphery. It’s ok. More than ok. It’s bliss. I can close the door and regulate the climate, listen to public radio, dream, nap, sleep late, worry, do interventions on myself to worry less…use meditation. I can take time out to act as Woofy’s enabler in a game of fetch. He’s a fetchaholic. I can take my time emerging from dream states. I’m seldom startled awake into the demands or activities of others. So I can spend time reflecting on my weird dreams….I was sober 22 years and relapsed at a funeral…just the way it happened. I know I set myself up. It took me a little over a year to lose everything it had taken me 22 years to build. Houses, cars, relationships, a career…but somehow I’m still alive and I’m so grateful for this small space of time and this small space of my own to reflect and to practice again feeling my feelings and owning my thoughts. It was nice to find a piece on a topic that I could write about all day but I’ll stop here cause it’s your post…thank you!

  18. Jesus said to go to a room and shut the door and pray. Prayer is the best way to make a room for yourself; a room in Christ’s heart, safe and everlasting.

  19. Great post!

    I like the way you talk about using alcohol as an “escape” in such a literal way. I remember it being that way for me, too. I never could wait for the kids to be in bed so I could start drinking, and that was also one of the ways in which alcohol became associated with bliss and relaxation.

    I’ve always felt for people who get sober while in relationships and especially while being mothers. I was very lucky to have nobody but myself to focus on. God knows it was about as much as I could handle.

    Beautiful job! And the very best of luck with your recovery journey!

  20. This is such a moving peace. I share all of myself with my husband, but the idea of having anything for my own didn’t occur to me until this post. Thank you so much for opening me up to the idea of having one space that is my own.

  21. Great post! I totally agree that having space to yourself is vitally important, both physical and mental space. Living alone I have the physical space but often it is mental space I struggle to find. In much the same way as you describe with physical space, sometimes we need to find a cosy space to focus on our own needs. Physical space isn’t enough if you are deprived of the chance to think about yourself, your needs and your dreams.

  22. This is a wonderful post, even if you aren’t on a sobriety journey. I deeply understand the need for the consecration of personal space. I understand it much more than I used to because my house was foreclosed on in 2012 and I’m currently living with a friend while getting back on my feet financially. Though the whole place is open to me, right now I literally only have a room of my own. She’s a very good friend, and understands quite well why I need to hide in there and gather strength and resilience. Often. Thank you, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  23. Extremely well-written and a great testament to the pleasures (and challenges) of sober living. Thank you for saying it so very well.

    I’ve been sober for going on 5 years now after about several years of addiction. Although my husband and I have lived separately for the last 8 years, our relationship is better than at any other time in our 32-year marriage – at least in part because I now literally have a “room of my own”. I’ve completely renovated an old house (alot of it by myself) in a lovely little town and life really does just keep getting better.

    Best of wishes for creating your own room and on your continued journey in sobriety!

  24. Pingback: …so that we were able to draw up to the fire and repair some of the damages of the day’s living | lifeguardneeded

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  26. Yes, owning a vagina can be such a pain! You really hit on something important about women and alcoholism. I know that back in my mom’s day, women drank in secret (like many do now) but it seems like our society encourages women to drink now and it’s far more condoned. How many times have you seen pictures of empty bottles of wine or cocktails posted by women on Facebook with a clever caption about getting some “mommy time”? I had no concept of what self care was until I stopped drinking and your suggestion to find a space of our own is spot on. Fantastic post and I’m glad it drew such a large audience!

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