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  • Writer's picturefollowingflamingos

6 years in

When I start to write I have two main fears as I truly do not know what will come out. How bad it will be, how self involved and how resentful and spoiled I will sound?! On one hand. And on the other hand, will what I write about be too depressing, too vivid…too much?


I guess these fears are similar to the ones that seem to drive and navigate my life. Am I just weak and selfish to voice my struggles? Am I just too much for people generally?


This coming week I will celebrate my soberversary – 6 years since I last had a drink. It’s not a particular milestone, compared with the half decade I reached last year. But it is still a significant date for me, as I again contemplate the journey I have been on since stopping relying on booze.



This past few months I have begun attending NA* and have found space to be myself and connect with others who have taken the brave step to address their addictions, to whatever was their drug of choice. This was a massive step for me to take, I have been unsure whether to write about it, partly because of the self-stigma and anxiety about being pigeonholed and looked down upon I guess. Stigma sucks.


I think I have changed a lot since I quit drinking. I no longer am focussed on the dramas of other people’s lives. I no longer put escapism above family life. I really struggled navigating relationships unless I pretended I was ok, when I truly wasn’t’. I realised I am probably quite an introvert at heart. I realised I had shown other signs of addictive behaviour growing up, and that I was not helped as a child to manage this.


Ultimately I feel a different person. Without relying on drinking I started to grieve things one by one. And that take away the chance to mellow out and lower inhibitions, I did not really like going to pubs, bars and clubs.  I like being at home more, perhaps that is age though?

Part of this is to do with my using alcohol to self-medicate some pretty difficult symptoms of mental illness. Abstinence-wise, things have challenged me in unexpected ways. Despite an almost complete lack of cravings, year two during lockdowns was both a blessing and a curse, those in recovery will know what I mean.


What I didn’t realise was how painful it would be to deal with other people once I stopped drinking. I used booze to drown out social anxiety and my own obsessive thinking when alone. I have lost many friendships, some because I stopped instigating social gatherings. To others, perhaps my purpose changed, I no longer would be reliable “drunk Lena” or any fun on a night out for example. This may be harsh. Of course we drink to commiserate, celebrate, to cheer and to cheer up. This is “normal” in our society. The one who identifies this doesn’t work for them is the weirdo, the odd one (left) out.

 

What has hurt the most I think is that time and time again, my openness about my sobriety (and stepping back due to my ongoing recovery from mental illness) has made some people who were close to me uncomfortable. On occasion it has caused rifts that appear unable to be healed.  

I regret that the first year of sobriety I was as open as I was to be honest. Which is sad. But the pink cloud was with me, that first 12 months some of us feel like we can achieve anything as look at us, look at what we can do. I soon found out that invitations dried up and life changed.


I have stopped working due to my mental illness and requiring intensive therapy. It makes me sad that I will not have any more children due to the impact of my mental illness on my family. Booze complicated my relationship with both work and family, and then became it’s own problem. Now I’ve solved that one, I  am at the stage where I feel there is a danger that my continued social withdrawal is not setting the best example and could impact my family. As mum and wife, I am the one who usually organises seeing family, friends, school friends etc. But now I don’t. Am I just picky? Perhaps we don’t need a busy social life as a family. I really don’t know what normal is.


It is taking time to build up a life worth living, I continue to be distracted by what I feel I have lost. Knowing that there is war, poverty, famine and chaos in the world only makes me feel ashamed to be so focussed on what I lack.  Part of this is the impact of depression and the brain neuro-circuits that are so well trodden as well as cPTSD interrupting many attempts to “pull my socks up”. Therapy, my loving family and close friends who stuck around help me to keep going and realise my strengths exist partly because of my difficult journey.



Finally, it is hard to imagine life, if I had not stopped drinking. Maybe I wouldn’t have had some of the pain I’ve described above. Perhaps I could have continued being in essence a functional alcoholic/addict and social extrovert and all round “normal” person? It’s all relative after all, plenty of people I know continue to drink in the way I used to and more.


I have a feeling that I was right, back in 2018 when I could only see things going one way – towards losing my health, my family and myself. These are the things that it has taken me time to realise that I value the most,


For many years I could not set aside my fear of losing these for long enough to see that it was my addiction that was putting them most at risk.

 

Thank you for reading


If you want to find out more or get help with your addiction please see the helplines here


If you want to seek help for symptoms of mental illness please see here



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