The chasm between courage and crazy

Thanks for all the loveliness, guys. Not much to update here: in a shock twist ending, my employers have not, in fact, seen the errors of their ways and offered to double my salary if I come back.

On my last post, Sherry said something very wise, I think – that because I’m sober, I can deal with all the emotional crap of being laid off now, rather than postponing it. That’s true, I think. Certainly it’s true that I have been having All The Emotions, from euphoria to fury and back again. Did I mention I’ve also been solo parenting for two weeks? Fun times. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I am doing this sober. I still notice, every day, how much easier it makes my life. Little Girl has been waking at dawn this week, for some inexplicable reason, which translates to ‘around 5 am’ for those of you not sharing my part of the world. 5 am sober is a whole different world from 5 am hungover, guys, and I’m not saying that it’s a good world, or anything – let’s not get crazy here – but it’s one I can live in until Lovely Husband comes back and spots me.

That’s the practical stuff. That’s nothing, compared to the emotional stuff. If I were drinking, this redundancy would have destroyed me. DESTROYED.

Let me tell you a story. Let me tell myself a story. Settle in: this will be long.

Four years ago, and I may have talked about this before, I was asked to leave a job because I was under performing. I was a lawyer. I had a young baby, a horrendous commute, very high expectations of myself, and I wasn’t coping. Because I wasn’t coping, I was under performing more, and then hating myself more, and then drinking more. I lived in a miasma of self-hatred and terror; terror that the letter I’d forgotten to draft the day before would land on my desk like a time bomb in the morning. Terror that I would find myself in court with no preparation and get slammed with costs. I used to read the Professional Discipline Board hearings like they were prophetic. Every day was awful, and it was all my own fault because I just couldn’t, no matter how much I screamed at myself, make myself pull together and just do the fucking work. So I lived in a state of heightened anxiety every day, and every evening once Big Girl was in bed, I drank the terror away.

It was a relief when the partners finally suggested that I would be happier elsewhere. I found a new job. Part time hours, lower expectations, leveraging my legal experience but in a quasi-legal role. I could no longer call myself a lawyer, and I missed the cut and thrust of court and the excitement of a new file and I knew I was lucky to have the job. I referred to myself, ruefully, as ‘mummy tracked’, and if nothing else I felt grateful that I had that excuse for my downward career trajectory.

But I hated it. And I hated myself.

In that job, too, I procrastinated. My boss left me alone for days at a time, and I never had enough to do, so I took things very easily. Sometimes I gave myself a pep talk; they’ll never give you more responsibility if you don’t show initiative! But mostly, I showed up, did the things asked of me, spent a lot of time on Facebook, and went home again. And drank.

The thing was that although the job was a stopgap, I was too scared to try and get into Law again. I had been lucky that the last job ended as discreetly as it did, but if I took another job and failed at it, that was it for me in this small city. So I didn’t. A friend invited me to submit my CV to his firm, a firm I’d have loved to work for once, one that shared my politics and needed my speciality. But I didn’t. Once, I had the opportunity to go into a small partnership with another friend, but what if I screwed up my own files, with no boss to chase me and cover for me? So I didn’t.

And things went on. I had Little Girl, and I don’t even want to tell you how soon after she was born it was that I went back to drinking. I went back to work after maternity leave, and was thankful for it being easy work while I adjusted, but I was bored.

So I drank.

I drank for other reasons, of course. I drank before my career failed, and I would have drunk even if the dream job fell into my lap. But at the time I’m talking about, my lack of career, and my lack of self esteem, and my drinking, were inextricable. Losing my position as a lawyer was the most crippling thing that has ever happened to my self esteem. Four years later, I’m typing this in a cafe, and I can feel the emotions well up.

As Small Girl got bigger, and started sleeping through the night, my old energy and brain started to return, and I could see how stuck I was in a job that would never amount to anything. But I still had no idea what to do next, what my exit plan was.

And then I got sober. And, as you know, I started to write, and realised that writing was what I wanted to do. And it became clear that sometimes, other people wanted me to do it too, for their sites, and that was relevatory.

But it wasn’t the writing itself that was transformative. It was the realisation that I could write regularly, and set myself deadlines, and stick to them. It might sound ridiculous, to you, that such a mundane thing was the thing holding me back. But it was. Every time I thought about becoming self-employed, I remembered my inattentive, procrastinating ways, and all the times I’d failed to do something, and I’d squash the dream back down.

This time feels different. It’s different because I’m sober, but I’m sober largely because it’s different. When I wanted so badly to drink a week or two ago, I kept telling myself that I couldn’t drink and write: I want to write more than I want to drink. It’s my mantra.

What is transformative is that for the first time, I believe in myself.

I believe that if I can’t do something well the first time, I can and will take another course, find another mentor, just do some damn practice, until I get it right.

I believe that my habit of procrastination is not necessarily a moral failing, but just the way my brain works, and there are ways to combat that, and to harness it. In fact, the ability to think about several things at once, and always be excited by the next challenge, is proving an excellent asset in journalistic writing, which requires one to spread one’s attention very thin and retain all sorts of facts in the process.

I believe that even if I fail, I’m not a failure.

If I was still drinking, and I had been laid off, I would probably not be in a cafe, typing this post. I would be in a therapist’s office, or a rehab, or somewhere worse. Because a redundancy, in my old state of mind, would have been confirmation of my own self-hatred, of my conviction that I was a failure and a fraud. I would have blamed myself for my underperformance, and I would have laughed at myself for ever thinking that I could hold down a job. I have, of course, held down jobs successfully for twenty years, but the drinking brain is mean and abusive and grinds you down until you don’t recognise the person you used to be.

But I’m sober. And this was not my fault, and I was worth more than that job.

I’ve never done anything scary in my life. I have always meant to, and always found excuses not to. I once started to learn to ride a motorbike, but changed my mind after one lesson. I almost moved back to England, completely alone, when I was twenty, but I met Lovely Husband and decided he was worth staying for. When I inherited a small lump sum in my early twenties, I stuck it straight into the mortgage instead of travelling overseas like any self-respecting child free young woman should have done. Safely married in my mid-twenties, I had children at exactly the median average age for my generation. You get the picture. I’m a middle-income middle class woman, mired in the suburbs, and my idea of taking a risk is putting a red tea towel in with the whites to see if it’s colourfast.

But here I am, doing something terrifying. I’m going to try and make it on my own, off the back of my words. I’m no longer going to be a writer. I am a writer.

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14 thoughts on “The chasm between courage and crazy

  1. This hits home for me in so many levels, especially because I’m also a lawyer and as I get more sober, I find myself dragging my feet more in my practice. I’m thinking that procrastination is my subconscious message to my conscious self about what I do and do not want to be doing with my precious time. Keep up the good work. I love your reflections.

  2. This is so fascinating for me at the moment; the link between drinking and work, their symbiotic relationship and how beliefs about each feed from each other. I’m so happy that you have found your true path and I wish you luck and fulfilment ahead. Bea x

  3. I relate on so many levels.

    I’m still trying to work out what I’m going to be when I grow up… I need to sort that out really as I’m about 10 – 15 years from full retirement!

    I spent so much time worrying that “they’ll find me out” that all I did was “cover my arse”

    Now I do what I do, don’t do what I don’t and explain that to people. They may not like it, I only work 2 days where I am now so I can explore new options and complete some training, but in the end if it isn’t working they can have a conversation with me and we can change that arrangement or I’ll leave it isn’t that complicated or something to worry about

  4. Thank you. Your words are those of encouragement and inspiration along this woman’s journey.

    I studied and worked hard (not really) and enjoyed being a pastor (sorta) for a short forever. Then I wasn’t a pastor any more. I was just a has-been in recovery trying to figure out if there was anyway to make some sort of collage resembling a life out of the scraps remaining. So I took to blogging (ok, so I set up a page, signed up for Blogging 101, and posted one thing) hoping to discover … something. Turns out, I have discovered a big thing: I discovered there are others who are also finding their way —and doing so with tremendous grace. I would like to do that too.

  5. Yes you are. A writer I mean. And a very good one at that.

    I have just read most of your posts in one sitting and can relate to so much that I could write an essay length reply, but I won’t.

    I will just say a few things…. is it possible (like Another Day One said) you are not actually ‘a procrastinator’, but simply someone who was in the wrong job? You talked about writing filling a hole that has been there forever. Even if it never pays the bills (although I’m certain with your talent and determination you will make a career out of it and I for one would love to read a whole book about your sobriety), if writing fills you up so much that you don’t want to drink, that is enough. That is more than enough. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? The answer to what will fill me up if I don’t have alcohol? You have actually found the answer!!! And to top it off, the thing you love to do is actually helping others ( me for one).

    I’m a professional too ( too embarrased to say what but it’s in the health industry) and I’ve had my fair share of soul-destroyingly boring jobs. Time seems to go so slowly (just like it does looking after litttle kids some days) and all I could think about was wine o’clock. Boredom is definitely a huge reason for me to drink.

    I feel your pain about the five am wakeups from little ones and wholehartedly agree that it’s never fun by any stretch, but my first thought when they wake me up that early is thank-god I didn’t crack the wine open last night. I’ve had mornings when I was hungover and my husband left for work at 5am for work and I wanted to cry at the thought of the getting through the next 14 hours alone with two kids.

    Lastly, in relation to your last post about getting through tough times sober, that is my main motivation to stop drinking. I know there will be challenges ahead – my beautiful parents will die, my kids will be teenagers soon enough, one of us might get really sick – and I want to be prepared as much as one can be for those events. I don’t want to be dealing with my drinking at the same time as trying to deal with a crisis.

    Apologies for the long reply. I just want to say that of all the sober blogs I’ve been reading for inspiration in the last few weeks as I try for the 876th or so time to give up my beloved red wine, yours spoke to me the most. Thankyou for your honesty and for telling it like it is. Xxx
    Ps Have you read ‘Bird by Bird – Some instructions on writing and life’ by Anne Lamott? I think you might like it.

    • What a lovely response! With the procrastination: it is a combination of things. I have always been thus, and so I think it is a brain wiring thing. I have, though, had jobs in which I have developed excellent systems to overcome it and been very productive. So it is both : when I am motivated, I do better, but I am always working around my tendency towards what I now think is ADD.

  6. And I, for one, will be your reader.

    I also reserve the right to say, when you’re a published and highly successful author (more than you are already) that “See! I told you so.”

    Bravo and rock on.

    Sherry

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