I am losing my glow.
Now that I no longer need a drink in hand throughout the entire evening, I am no longer drinking the gallons of peppermint tea, flavoured mineral waters and hot chocolates that marked the hours until bedtime only months ago.
Now that I am no longer desperate for evening distractions, I am not taking the long baths of early sobriety. I am not painting my nails as a way to stop my hands from picking up a glass. I am not taking long walks on dark evenings, puffing out cravings into frigid air.
I no longer fear late-night alcohol cravings, and so my bedtime has shifted back to where it was pre-sobriety; every morning I wake, reluctantly and with a mild sense of outrage that I am expected to, and swear to myself that tonight I will go to bed at 9pm, with a mug of tea. Come 11pm, I just need to finish reading this one blog post and it’s my turn on Words With Friends, because honestly, I was still cleaning the kitchen at 9pm and I want some time to myself, dammit.
Dieting, I can get to dinnertime fuelled only by coffee. The chocolate mud cake of the weekend resides in the stomachs of my family, and not in mine. Cake was good for my temperament, but now my skirts fit again.
When I first gave up alcohol, I treated myself like an invalid. Early nights, cheering-up gifts, whatever food I fancied. Once it became routine not to drink, the world crept back in. Women aren’t good at putting themselves first, second, or even third.
One of the reasons for that is that we don’t have a model for it. Early on in this sobriety lark, I complained, fairly regularly, about the fact that I had inexplicably failed to transform into an early-rising paragon of clean eating and marathon running, a model parent suddenly whipping up handmade shawls whilst rising to the top of her career between the school-friendly hours of 9 and 3. I did so ruefully, self-deprecatingly. Oh, look at little imperfect me with my ten extra pounds and crows’ feet, shoving a plastic bag of books into my daughter’s backpack because reading Marian Keyes is more fun than hand-stitching, oops I’m just so hopeless…
It strikes me, suddenly, that almost all of the things that I chastise myself for being or not being, doing or not doing, are not things that benefit me very much at all. In fact I am just as healthy as a size 12 as I would be at a size 10, and I do my job just as efficiently with no make-up and cursorily brushed hair as I would if I’d got up earlier to primp and straighten. I am relatively confident that Big Girl will learn to read just as well without a hand-stitched patchwork library bag (why yes I am a bit hung up on this one, why do you ask?) and baked beans on a potato with some cheese on top is a perfectly well balanced meal and saves on washing up. It is, in fact, far more fun to sit on my couch with a geriatric cat as a blanket, reading This Charming Man, than it is to go down to my dark and freezing-cold basement laundry and sort out a uniform wash. And I really, really like sleeping.
Women judge themselves by a series of actions and characteristics that benefit other people. When we talk about being ‘good’ we are thinking about acts of service and self-sacrifice. And what that means is that we find it very easy to slip away from looking after ourselves. Even the language around ‘self care’ for women is problematic. ‘I like a woman who takes care of herself’, proclaims many a man, but it’s a safe bet that he’s not talking about women who make time for a long bath or nurture a fulfilling hobby. He doesn’t care whether the woman in question can wield a power drill, and he probably hasn’t thought about whether her superannuation contributions are adequate to sustain her old age. He just means he likes a woman who doesn’t eat very much.
Think about the marketing of ‘pamper packages’ to women as a reward; as if nothing in the world could be more relaxing and self-indulgent than having hair ripped out of its follicles before being punched repeatedly on the back and then slathered in mud and left to set like a commemorative plaque.
So when I look at myself, dry-skinned and shadow-eyed, and I think ‘I must start taking care of myself again’, I don’t really know what that looks like. I know what it isn’t; it isn’t staying up late folding laundry, and it isn’t spending a fortune on uncomfortable beauty treatments, and it certainly isn’t drinking a litre of Diet Coke in substitution for breakfast and two coffees instead of lunch. I’m happy when my home is sparkling and my freezer is full, I’m happier still when I’m cosy with a great book and a hot drink, and I’m the happiest I can be when I’m writing. But the days are short and the evenings are shorter and my retinue of staff haven’t shown up for work for … well, ever. So I neglect the easiest thing to neglect, and that’s me.