Almost 2 years: A life worth living

So here’s a thing.  I read back the posts I wrote last year, and it seems pretty obvious to me that I had something of a crappy year.  I got hit with thousands of dollars in fines, plus so much emotional stress that I ended up in therapy.  My mother (who only has me) was badly injured.  My marriage wobbled.  I started a new business, which meant a huge step outside my comfort zone, and not a small amount of anxiety.  When I posted here, I was always struggling, and you guys were so supportive, and thank you.

But here’s the thing.  I didn’t realise at the time that I was having a bad year.  Because in between the bad parts were the good parts, and the good parts are so much better these days.

2016 has not started off particularly well in the Things Going Right: Things Going Wrong ratio department either, honestly.  Expensive things keep breaking.  A promised shower of work has failed to fall, perhaps lurking in the dark clouds above instead.  I lost a friendship.AND YET, people. Things are still so much better.  It’s crazy.rain-clouds_60415.jpg

I can’t believe I ever thought that if I gave up drinking, I’d be bored.  Bored.  Who…how…how can anyone be BORED with so many things in the world to do?  I’m staid, and domestic, and tied to my home by small children, so I’m not saying that I’m going to hike the Andes any time soon (I’m not sure where the Andes are, if we’re being honest here).  But over the last twelve months I’ve taught myself to sew, and to knit.  I learned how to wield a drill and a hammer and I built a chicken coop and I got chickens.  I dug out a vegetable patch, and my tomatoes are hanging green and plump.

chickens

I have been running regularly for the past two months, finally, and I’m about to start joining group runs.  I spend my day looking forward to my evening, just as I used to when I drank.  But not because I can slump on the couch with a glass of wine: because maybe I’ll finish that cowl and watch a documentary, or it’s a running night and then I have that new book to start, or I can’t wait to sketch out a design for a new quilt I have in mind.  And I’m not getting to do enough of anything!  I want to run more often, I want a weekend with just my sewing machine and some podcasts for company, I wonder if I can justify going down to the chicken coop and sitting with my knitting while I watch the girls scratch around just one more time this afternoon…

run harder

And I don’t write much here because there is so MUCH life to be devoured out there, and I don’t keep up with you guys as often as I should either.

I’m under no illusion that this life sounds like the ideal life to everyone.  It’s domestic, and bounded, and probably dull.  But it feels rich.  It feels layered.  It feels cerebral and physical and tangible and simple and complex and fresh.

And it is without question, a life I wouldn’t have if I had a life with alcohol.

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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.

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.