Crisis management

(I haven’t been here for months, will you all forgive me?  Truthfully, I talk to you all in my head on a near-daily basis, so it was something of a shock to log in and discover that none of those words have made it into print. )

About two months ago, a huge stack of identical letters arrived in my mailbox, all bearing my old address.  I opened one.  It was a fine for $1100 – apparently my car registration had lapsed and I’d been driving unregistered without knowing.  $1100, and it was dated three months earlier.  My hands started to shake.  I opened another, and another, until I had a stack of fines totalling well over $10,000.  I sat on the floor because I didn’t think I could stand for a while.  There was a lot of noise in my head.

When I told Lovely Husband, he was not.  Lovely, I mean.  He was distant and then angry and then hostile and then distant again.  I cried a lot.

In the morning, I dragged Little Girl from government department to government department, trying to sort it out, and by the end of the day I thought it was under control.  I could legally drive again; some fines were paid; others were in abeyance pending review.

And then six weeks later, a police car pulled me over in the school yard, lights flashing, siren on, because there were more fines, ones I hadn’t known about, and I no longer had a licence.  Another day of sorting things out, another assurance that everything was under control.

This time, I didn’t tell Lovely Husband.

And it just kept spiralling.  I’d get a letter telling me that my payment plan was in arrears, when I didn’t have a payment plan.  I’d ring up to address one letter, and be informed that something else was now overdue and another fine levied.  Every time I got back up, another surprise would knock me down.  I no longer felt safe driving my children to school.  I dreaded opening the post.  I burst into tears several times a day, for no reason.  I snapped at my children.  I couldn’t sleep.

overdue-bills-pile-envelopes-late-payment-penalty-fees-word-to-illustrate-creditors-hitting-you-penalties-41634356

So I went to my GP, and I asked if he could give me anything for the anxiety.  Something very temporary, I said, and I added a caveat: I’m in recovery from a drinking problem, so I don’t want to take anything that will be problematic from an addiction point of view.

He wrote down Has a drinking problem.

No, I said.  I do not have a drinking problem.  I don’t drink.  What I have is a history of addiction, so I need help but I don’t want to risk anything potentially addictive.

I can prescribe you Diazepam, he said.  It mimics the effects of alcohol, so you’ll feel more relaxed, maybe a bit sleepy or just silly and euphoric, but like alcohol it can also exacerbate the feelings of depression if you’re struggling with that.

WHAT.

be happy

In the event, he instead wrote me a prescription for a series of therapy appointments, so now I’m in therapy, about which I am deeply fucking conflicted, thank you for asking, but I’m going anyway.  Report back here for my extremely interested musings on What Is Normal Mental Health Anyway.  But in the meantime, here are some things I have learned:

  1. CHECK YOUR CAR REGISTRATION BECAUSE SERIOUSLY
  2. Government departments suck
  3. I mean so do I but mostly them
  4. This whole thing has really, really sucked.  Like, I could write you an entire novel about this.  It has left such serious bruising in the tender flesh of my marriage, and I’m still working through how to deal with that and move on.  Also the original issue, re: the fines, is still at large.
  5. Doctors could maybe do with some training about non-active addiction because really?
  6. But, and this is important, I have ROCKED this shit.  That might sound ridiculous, given that I’ve just talked about bursting into tears constantly and stress-induced insomnia.  But I used all the tools I have at my disposal, doling out doses of sunshine and knitting and uplifting books like medicine.  I accepted that part of working through this was just going through it – the feelings were bad, but they were just feelings, and I sat with the anger and the terror and the sadness for a long time.  And when I could no longer function on a daily basis using my own resources, I went and asked for professional help.
  7. I see no reason at all why I would ever, ever drink again. Alcohol would have been the perfect solution to most of this situation.  But it hasn’t really been an option for me, not because of the dire consequences but because…it’s not one of my tools.  It’s not something I do.  It is astounding to me, this total absence of something that was once so important, but it is completely legitimate nonetheless.

Anyway.  So, that’s what’s happening in my life.  It’s not over.  It’s not yet a funny story from my past.  I’m not entirely sure that it won’t white-ant my marriage.  But I’m still here, and I’m still sober.

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So here is the post I should have written: Happy Soberversary to me!

A few weeks ago, I bought myself a present, and I saved it up in its little parcel until last weekend, and then I finally opened it today.  It was my gift to myself, because I am one year sober.

Why didn’t I open it earlier?  Because, oh, it’s not such a big deal, and oh, well, no need to make a fuss, and oh, look how cool and insouciant I am, I don’t need gifts or rewards or treats.  I’m happy here with my herbal tea (stupid Whole30) and my crafting and my virtue.

I’ve written before about my tendency to try and do everything better than anyone else, yes?

But I got here because I gave myself the licence to be kind to myself, and have treats here and there, and believe that I was worth the fuss and the trouble that getting sober can be.  So I took the present out of the cupboard.

My presentThe woman from whom I bought this is a friend, and I told her that it was a present to celebrate a year of sobriety, and so she said that she’d wrap it up for me.  Isn’t it pretty?

This was supposed to be a victorious post, full of the fact that sobriety has transformed my life.  It has done, beyond anything I could have imagined.  I said, a year ago, that I decided to get up drinking because otherwise, nothing would change in my life.  I would plod along, raising my children with less joy than I wanted to feel, hating my job but without the courage to try something new, narrowing my horizons more and more so that the only pleasure I had left was the same bottle of wine that was trapping me.

And then I stopped drinking, thinking well, if nothing else I’ll lose some weight.  In fact, I didn’t, but every single other thing got better instead.

At Easter last year, I moved house.  That doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, but I moved to the village I have been dreaming of for eleven years, to a dream home within that dream area, with enough shabby quirk that we could afford it, and which makes it far more lovable than a highly renovated version.  And in retrospect, we could have moved here years earlier, so why didn’t we?  Inertia, fear of debt, a lack of willingness to grasp the possibility?  In the end, I just opened myself up to the fact that I wanted to move, and a friend of mine sold me her family home.  Really.

I started running.

I ate food, without guilt or fear, and I learned to go to bed early with a good book, and I started taking long baths, and my skin shone and my hair shone and – without weight loss – the contours of my face returned.

My parenting experience transformed.  I have so much more love.  So much more joy, so much more gratitude.  And so much more faith in myself, so that even when I get exasperated and yell, I forgive myself because I love them and they love me and it’s alright.  It’s better than alright.  Children need to be allowed to love their parents, and I can accept that love now, in all its sticky physical glory.

I started writing.  And then I started getting published.  And then I was laid off, and with the financial cushion that gave me, I decided to do it for a living.  One year ago, I hadn’t written anything except Facebook comments since leaving university.  And now I make my living as a writer, and I do so successfully.

If, a year ago, you had asked me what my dream life looked like, it would look like this.  I’d like to live in a huge rambling house in Village, I’d have said, with a big garden that the girls can play in, and I’d work from home as a writer, and get up early to exercise, and I’d read more and take up a craft.  And then I’d laugh because it seemed so impossible.

Sobriety made it possible.

My whole life is a gift now, but I deserve one nonetheless, and so I opened my parcel.

towel

This is a Turkish towel, hand-loomed and fair trade.  The weave is beautiful and light as a feather.  I wanted something that would last, something lovely, something that would bring me comfort and pleasure in the everyday.  It’s no use buying myself lovely jewellery that I’ll save for a special occasion that never comes, or stationery too pretty to use.  Remember my scented candle?  I have never set it alight.  In eleven months.  So, something that I need every day, something to add luxury and comfort to a necessary ritual.   Something that would be mine, my special thing, that nobody else is allowed to use because it is Mum’s special thing.

But as I unwrapped it, this symbol of triumph that I so carefully thought through, I felt sad.  And lonely.  Because I wanted people to say well done, and to have noticed, and to share my pride in me, and it felt so anti-climactic, this present that I bought myself and unwrapped myself and hung in the shower.

And then I saw the card that my lovely friend had tucked in there.

cardHappy one year, from me to me.  Well done, me.

Swallowing needs

I’m eating like I drank. Not in dramatic binges, followed by remorse and purging, but compulsively nonetheless.

I’m a snacker. I mean, everybody is a snacker, but when I’m in this particular place, I skimp on meals and find excuses to be alone, so that I can snack instead of sharing dinner with a loved one. Alone with a book, or – unfortunately, more likely – a screen, hand dipping into the bag of crisps over and over and over again. It sets up a rhythm that is soothing, like the old ritual of glass to lips, sip, set it down, repeat.

Some mornings I wake up and contemplate the day ahead of me. Negotiate with Little Girl over what she’s willing to wear, nag Big Girl about putting on her socks. Her socks. Put. On. Your…you’ve got distracted again, look at your feet, you only have one sock on, I don’t CARE if you want to read Brambly Hedge to the cat, GO AND GET YOUR SOCK ON NOW, what do they want for breakfast, Christ I forgot to pack lunches the night before did I put the uniforms in the dryer or are they damp on the line, will I get them to school on time, what do I have to do today, do I have too many deadlines or not enough (will I be able to pay the mortgage this month)… And then I think to myself, do I have something treaty to eat tonight? Once the kids are in bed, what can I settle down with?

I realise that’s not normal. Lying in bed at 7 am planning what to eat that evening. It’s not about the food, of course. It’s a reward, something to look forward to.

But I don’t think it’s even just about a reward. It really is the soothing repetition of the whole snacking ritual. The way that, with the right combination of sensory input, the world disappears and I’m cocooned.

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the desire for a cocoon again. The same thing that drove me into the bottle. Inside those curved glass walls, sounds grow mute and colours blur, the world is not so much with us. Without the alcohol, and I’ve written about this before, the colours grow sharp and the joys more intense. And I’m grateful for that.

But sometimes I need the solitude and the cocoon. It’s a peculiar type of solitude, though; I work alone, from home, and on days when I am fortunate enough to have childcare I don’t see, or talk, to anyone at all between school hours. And yet I crave more than that.

I crave, I think, switching off. One of the things that I don’t get, no matter how lonely my days, is the abrogation of responsibility – because I may be alone, but I’m still watching the hours tick down to school pick up, hustling for work, tallying earnings and word counts in my head like the world’s most stressful metronome.

That was something that wine gave me – that abrogation. Eventually I would be too drunk to be a responsible parent or a functioning human being, and nobody could rely on me for a while, and that is what I wanted. It was selfish. It was especially selfish because I did – I do – have small children. But we all need to go off duty sometimes.

That’s what I seek, when I curl up with a book and a tub of ice cream. The sort of solitude that lets me immerse myself in it, as if – like a child playing hide-and-seek by putting her hands over her eyes – if I forget where I am, everybody else will as well.

So. After all that, a diagnosis. I am suffering from acute Adultitis. I prescribe clean sheets, a fluffy novel and an enormous pot of peppermint tea.