I deserve this, I earned it. And it suits me.
Posted onFebruary 8, 2014
So here we are now, 18 months down the straight and narrow line. My silver ‘chip’ collection (self awarded) now comprises a half crown, a silver penny and a number 18 key charm.
I don’t feel especially elated, but I am very proud and happy. I spent this morning texting a sober friend who has the wobbles, and we will meet for lunch tomorrow: my turn to be the strong one. I love my sober brothers and sisters and would be nothing without them.
My gift to myself, besides the silver for my tiny trophy cabinet, was a pile of books. It might seem strange to buy ‘how to’ books this far on in the game but for me keeping sobriety present, as one of the main pillars of my life, is the most important thing. If discovering the blogs has taught me anything it is that it’s never too late for more advice.
I’ve been reading up a lot about the human body, in relation specifically to my recent experience with panic attacks. I have had four during December: two in the dentists and two in Christmas crowds (one of which led to me being ushered out through a velvet curtain by an actor dressed entirely in furs – a meltdown in a Narnia diorama is quite the public spectacle).
It turns out that my habit of existing solely on coffee and cake for 10 hour working days has been playing merry hell with my pancreas and insulin production. The triple shot lattes I have been taking as my drink of choice have further exacerbated the harassment of my adrenal gland. It all seems pretty obvious when you think on it, but despite heart palpitations and terrible period cramps (both of which my doctor friend warned me some time ago were down to caffeine over use) I persisted.
I’m an addict. That seems to be the fundamental fact of my existence. Give me anything that gives my brain a fix and I will hammer that switch til my paws are bloody stumps.
Of course environment and education have huge parts to play. I wish they had taught us about brain chemistry at school, rather than about photosynthesis and that homosexuality was ‘just wrong’ (the wonders of Catholic school in the 80s). I wish my mum hadn’t been such a chronic alcoholic that food became something she did for other people. I wish I hadn’t decided that the thing that would get me through was seeing how much punishment my own body could take, and priding myself on it.
I’m trying to learn the lessons of my reading and return my body and brain to equilibrium. I have cut out sugar and other refined carbs, and caffeine. I am on day 4.
Caffeine works by blocking up receptors in the brain that take up the chemical signal that tells us we are tired, and if like me you ingested a lot of caffeine regularly, you have also grown more receptors (!) to compensate. So when you stop blocking them you feel, to use a technical medical term, like crapola. The headache is something else. The caffeine causes the blood vessels in the brain to contract, so when you open them again you get a swollen brain! Wow!
The symptoms were horrendous yesterday (I always found day 3 of nicotine withdrawal the worst too) but touch wood I am doing OK so far today. I am able to concentrate enough to write this, so I must be. Yesterday was like the ending of ‘Flowers for Algernon’…
In my agony yesterday though, I posted a moany, sympathy seeking status on Facebook and got some interesting responses. One person who went on about ‘why would you want to do that, it’s the elixir of the Gods’ and another which said ‘be sure to keep some vices, they are what make people interesting’. Now it’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of reaction to quitting. Cigarettes are seen as fundamentally bad by most people, so you always get cheered on for stopping those. Abstinence from alcohol, as we’ve discussed on the blogs before, tends to get a different reception depending on the national culture and the individual’s own relationship to drinking.
But coffee/caffeine brings up a whole other aspect, which is how most people don’t seem to object to the idea of addiction per se. So, you can find lots of listings if you Google ‘caffeine withdrawal’ all of which agree that the addiction is real and that the withdrawal terribly severe. But because the intrinsic negative effects of caffeine are very few, and its stimulant properties pleasurable and useful, the fact that it quite profoundly alters ones body and brain chemistry seems to be quite acceptable.
This doesn’t sit well with me any more. I feel like I have been through the looking glass of addiction and it is no longer about cost/benefit analyses but has become something more fundamental, political and spiritual. How dare people sell me drugs on which I become dependent, just to get through the day? And what does it cost me in terms of my own peace, to never deal with the world on clean and clear terms? All addiction is a waste, it provides quick fixes where instead I could be learning another tiny, precious lesson and growing stronger as a result.
The comment about being interesting to others was again quite an eye opener, it’s another thing we talk about a lot, isn’t it, that fear of being boring?
I’m ready to throw this one off too. It’s not my job in this world to be interesting to other people. I offer love and respect and community, but not entertainment. As women, we are raised to be people pleasers, whether as ornaments or servants. How much of our own power do we give away, when we make our self worth through the eyes of others? AA say to give away all your personal power because will is failure. I disagree. Will may fail you when you will towards something, yearning and pushing and striving. I am coming to see that. But the will to stand strong in one spot, and say no, this is me, I am your eggshell-dancing monkey no more, that comes from inside, and I will not give it away.
I have finished with refined sugar and caffeine today, complete abstinence, one day at a time. Daunting but I can’t wait to see the results!
**EDIT – this DID NOT TAKE (yet?)***
I started 2014 with stress and grief. The same thing happened again today. But I practised everything a sober woman should: I ate cake, and I bought myself presents. To all appearances, just £10 worth of silly cheap tat, but each thing significant in its own way. A pink notebook in which to write my thoughts, a smiling tiger and a black glitter band to put on my work keys (so tigers and smiles and glitter is what I unlock my office with next time I have to face the place). Black candles to light when I return to my home, for the exorcism of darkness, anger and resentment, and a beetle set in resin because it reminds me of the scarab, which is rebirth.
And I thought positive thoughts, about my own self worth, about how I am far from a drunk loser now, that if I wanted to I could even choose to change my situation. That no one can actually, really, hurt me. Not by withdrawing friendship or by any other means.
And, finally, I reached out and found a confidant to share with, and I cried.
And then I felt better.
I’m so used to slipping into black despair, it still takes me by surprise that every time I face a bad situation sober, it gets easier to keep smiling.
It really is the gift that keeps on giving.
I recently posted this photo on Twitter, saying ‘why not give it a go?’ – but I’ve thought about it more, discussed it with a few people and I am getting less sure.
Possible positive outcomes might be that someone who has an issue with drinking gets an excuse to try to stop. They can say that it’s for this but then carry on. Or someone else who doesn’t have much of a problem might find they just prefer not drinking, and this will accidentally help them to stop.
But for any (borderline) alcoholics who haven’t come to terms with their powerlessness, something like this could be really badly damaging. For a start, there’s not going to be any proper mental preparation, or support. It’s likely that anyone trying to go the month without tools is going to fail – and that may make them feel they can’t do it, that it’s hopeless. Even more worrying to me, from my own experience of stopping and starting, is the old adage about the ‘progressive disease’. Now, I’m not totally comfortable with the ‘disease’ label – I think it’s more a syndrome comprised of a lot of different factors (environmental and simply mental, as much as physical) – but I do have personal evidence that if you stop and start again it gets a quantum leap worse.
How many people will dry-knuckle to the end of the month to find they are deeper in than ever,when they get to that thirsted for, stared-down pint?
I don’t think the ‘Dryathlon’ is comparable to ‘Stoptober’, then. Smoking is something people really want to stop, and it is now extremely socially unacceptable. Smoking is a terrible chemical dependency but it doesn’t permeate your life and sense of self the way drink does. Overall, I think that this scheme may be misguided and even dangerous.
What do you think?
Just read back over this brilliant post from the soberjournalist and also note the very insightful comments. The great thing about these blogs is that they consistently stop you feeling alone and like a loser freak. The sugar monster is real! My weight has crept up and up since I stopped drinking 17 months ago. I am totally hooked on caffeine, sugar and bread as emotional crutches to the point where 8 shots of coffee and 2 or 3 sweet treats a day has become quite normal.
So I am going to give up coffee, refined sugar and bread/cake things on Jan 10th (when I get back from the in-laws. They already have to cope with me not drinking or eating meat. And did I mention they’re Scottish?)
It’s absolutely a sobriety thing. I’m dreading it but it’s got to be done, it will be done. I have some trepidation about where the whack a mole of my addictions/crazy will pop up next but whatever, these thighs cannot stand.