Monthly Archives: August 2015

Hangxiety or boozanoia anyone?

So it would seem a new set of terms have been coined for what we used to call ‘The Fears’ or ‘Beer Fears’ and has pitched up in the Daily Wail.  Thanks to SWANS for bringing this article to my attention 🙂

Beer fear

Yikes! What DID I say last night? Now that post-party paranoia has a name – meet the women haunted by hangxiety

Amanda Whyte spent her 40th birthday party in April chatting, laughing and dancing with family and her closest friends in a room she’d hired, and decorated for the occasion, at her local village pub.

Later that night, she settled down to sleep feeling happy and loved — confident that her guests had all had a fabulous time.

However, just three hours later, at 3.30am, Amanda, a mother of two, sat bolt upright in bed, her heart thumping and her pulse racing, in the throes of a terrifying panic attack.

‘I was gripped by this intense fear that I’d done or said something dreadful —made an utter show of myself — at my party,’ recalls Amanda.

‘I was convinced that my guests had been appalled, thinking I was mutton dressed as lamb, stumbling around on the dance floor in my high heels.

‘My husband, Ian, sleeps like the dead, but I shook him awake and said ‘Did I act like a complete idiot last night?’

‘He said: ‘No, you were great — now go back to sleep!’

But Amanda knew from bitter experience that she would be unable to calm her thoughts enough to fall back to sleep. Instead, she spent the next four hours playing back her memories of the night in an attempt to figure out what terrible thing she had done or said to her nearest and dearest to leave her feeling so panic-stricken.

When nothing specific sprung to mind, she checked her Facebook and Twitter pages, terrified she had written something offensive, then her phone, to see if she had sent any texts or emails she would bitterly regret.

In fact, Amanda had caused no offence to anyone. But, like many women, whenever she has more than a couple of alcoholic drinks, she spends the following day — sometimes whole weekends — suffering anxiety and paranoia.

So common are these feelings that there are now numerous words to describe them, including ‘hangxiety’ and ‘boozanoia’.

‘The anxiety the following day is so crippling that I’ve stopped accepting invitations to parties and events,’ says Amanda who lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband of eight years, Ian, a management consultant, and their children Sam, six, and Savannah, four.

‘I was made redundant from my job working for an international multi-media company and my colleagues had to drag me along to my own leaving do because I was so terrified of what I call the ‘screaming horrors’ the next day.

‘When one of my close friends turned 40 recently I didn’t want to let her down so I turned up at her party with a present, then left at 8pm so that I wasn’t tempted to have a few drinks and then spend the rest of my weekend in a panic. ‘I haven’t given up drinking entirely, but I just cannot risk it when I’m out in case I’m tempted to have a lethal extra glass.’

‘The feelings of negativity can be so powerful that they lead to panic attacks with physical symptoms sometimes terrifying enough for people to fear they are having a heart attack.’ 

Alarmingly, for some, instead of being a reason to drink less, this can trigger a dependency on alcohol as it becomes a formula for silencing their inner-critic.

However, according to Dr Robert Patton, an alcohol researcher and lecturer in clinical psychology, a ‘hair of the dog’ is not the answer.Alcohol can inhibit production of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin, leading to low mood and anxiety.

This is true for Sara Perry, 44, who says that as well as feelings of ‘pure paranoia’, she feels ‘sad and depressed’ the day after she has consumed alcohol.

‘I usually wake at 5am with this vague feeling I have upset somebody or done something I regret and, when I can’t figure out what it is, the anxiety just builds,’ says Sara. ‘It’s like the devil on my shoulder, following me around all day, impossible to shake off.’ 

Sara, who works in education training in Manchester, says she began suffering from boozanoia in her 30s and believes a couple of factors may have been responsible for triggering it.

A friend with whom she worked in China in her early 30s would have perfect recall of their nights out and remind Sara of things she had done or said, which she often had little or no memory of.

Then, in her late 30s, she rowed with her mother after drinking the best part of a bottle of wine and the upset that followed took a long time to heal. Ever since, Sara has woken after nights out ‘racked with feelings of guilt’.

Dr Derek Lee, a clinical psychologist, says the reason these feelings are so recurrent is that alcohol slows down the nervous system, making us less anxious.

Then, as the alcohol is leaving the body, usually around 3am to 5am, the nervous system cranks back into life and worries can appear more intense than ever.

Mother-of-three Tanya Raven sometimes suffers memory lapses after nights out and, worried that she becomes overly affectionate after more than two drinks, wakes terrified of photographs appearing on Facebook of her flirting with men, other than her husband.

Tanya, 36, a support worker from Nottingham, says husband, Dan, 37, a tee-total personal trainer, can be relied upon for crystal-clear recollections of their nights out together.

‘It usually takes a few hours for me to pluck up courage to ask him, but then he’ll say: “It’s fine. You didn’t do anything embarrassing”.’

Nonetheless, after three boozy parties over the past two months, Tanya cannot face another and plans to decline future invitations.

Dr Robert Patton says that severe anxiety after a night out should be seen as a sign that you’ve overdone it.

‘Alcohol interferes with the part of the brain associated with impulse control so we can end up behaving in ways we wouldn’t sober,’ says Dr Patton. ‘It also causes dehydration, symptoms of which — the shakes, dizziness, confusion — feel like anxiety.’

But, for occasional drinkers, like Amanda, Sara and Tanya — and many more women besides — knowing when to stop to avoid hangxiety is the tricky part.

As a side note I remember Lucy Spraggan on the X-Factor singing brilliantly about this very thing!  I cried every time I watched this.  2012 – still drinking and knowing the truth of her words.  Lucy if you’ve had enough of the beer fears you know where to find me LOL! 😉

PS Day 700 😀

Friday Sober Jukebox – 23 months today :)

So this is a request by Jimsdad and it’s a lovely tune so thanks Jim 🙂  If there is a tune that you’d like me to play just stick it in the comments and I’ll cue it up!

south park moveIt’s been a bumpy couple of weeks.  Now I remember why I last moved almost 7 years ago! Fortunately we had good weather but the stress did induce regression in me and prompted some fairly South Park like behaviour (Cartman anyone?!)  The stress of packing up the old house, move day, then unpacking at the new house stretched itself over almost a month and that level of chronic stress can really be our undoing – particularly if we are in early sobriety.  God only knows how I would have coped if I didn’t have almost 2 years under my belt?  In fact it’s a month today to my 2 year soberversary!

So the move is done, the unpacking is almost complete and my routine is returning to normal.  Last Friday I started to meditate again as a matter of urgency.  As Prim said to me recently it’s important for our emotional fitness in the same way that running is important to my physical fitness.  The minute I indulged in some me time to run and meditate, calm in my brain and body began to return.  That night no pub either – a glass of AF red, a chocolate bar and a gentle film on Netflix and I could feel the anxiety of it all start to drain away.

So this track continues that soothing theme 🙂

I have to say that this has been the biggest test of my emotional sobriety to date and I feel like I made it by the skin of my teeth.  As far as sober firsts go, this is monumental and I wouldn’t recommend moving house in the early stages of sobriety to anyone by choice!  But maybe like most other sober firsts, now that I’ve done it once, I’ll be better prepared for next time and will make sure to build in some ‘me’ time as part of the process – though I bloody hope moving again is a good few years away yet! 😉

 

 

Chocolate meditation

So it’s one month to go to my 2 year sober birthday.  Whodathunkit? 😉

chocolate 2

And after listening to Mary O’Malley talk to Tommy Rosen during Recovery 2.0 at Prim’s recommendation I’ve this to add to her words of wisdom.

Mary talks a lot about how our poisons can turn into our medicines and that the waves of compulsions we feel mean we have something to learn.  As she says:

Compulsions aren’t an indication that something is wrong;
they are doorways into the joy of being fully alive in each moment.
By learning to respond rather than react,
we can gather the gifts that they hold.

So much of what she says makes so much sense to me.  She talks about the stories and spells of childhood that lead to our control issues and struggle as adults.  How learning to numb saved our childhood.  And that this desire to control and our struggle is made of fear glued together with shame and judgement.  It’s that old chestnut about what you resist persists.

So in an effort to turn my current poison into medicine I’m going to detail a chocolate meditation 😉  This is taken from Psychology Today but there are lots of others available online.

The chocolate meditation
Choose some chocolate – either a type that you’ve never tried before or one that you have not eaten recently. It might be dark and flavoursome, organic or fair-trade or, perhaps, cheap and trashy. The important thing is to choose a type you wouldn’t normally eat or that you consume only rarely. Here goes:
• Open the packet. Inhale the aroma. Let it sweep over you.
• Break off a piece and look at it. Really let your eyes drink in what it looks like, examining every nook and cranny.
• Pop it in your mouth. See if it’s possible to hold it on your tongue and let it melt, noticing any tendency to suck at it. Chocolate has over 300 different flavours. See if you can sense some of them.
• If you notice your mind wandering while you do this, simply notice where it went, then gently escort it back to the present moment.
• After the chocolate has completely melted, swallow it very slowly and deliberately. Let it trickle down your throat.
• Repeat this with one other piece.

Mindfulness meditation is often seen as an austere practice (possibly because of all those monks getting up at 4 am and meditating before breakfast). While simplicity has its place, it also pays to remember that Mindfulness is first and foremost about compassion towards yourself and to others. Enforced austerity should play no part in the practice at all.

And that to me encapsulates Mary’s wisdom.  This process isn’t about enforced austerity it’s about learning what we do and why we do it and to have compassionate curiousity towards ourselves.  Mary says in shame there is no healing and by using compassion we can unhook ourselves from the core struggles that keep us stuck in our compulsions.  I’m all for that – with a bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure 😉

Charities approach to dual diagnosis of mental health and substance misuse

This has long been a bug bear of mine and others too who blog in this field, particularly my friend Libby Ranzetta over at Depression Lab.  We despair at the lack of joined up thinking when it comes to mental health and substance misuse knowing that the two are intimately linked and one feeds and drives the other and are recognised in research as being co-morbid and dual diagnosis is common.  In fact these are the headline statistics on dual diagnosis from the Drugscope report cited below:

Within the London boroughs of Brent and Hammersmith & Fulham, plus

inner city locations in Nottingham and Sheffield.
  • For clients of drug services, 75% had experienced a psychiatric disorder in the last year
  • For clients of alcohol services, 85% had experienced a psychiatric disorder in the last year;
  • For clients of Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs), 44% had experienced problem drug use and/or harmful alcohol use in the past year
  • Of clients of drug and alcohol services with co-morbidity, 22.4% reported contact with psychiatric services.

joined up thinking

So I was pleased to read the blog of Simon Antrobus, the Chief Executive of Addaction, one of the biggest charities working within substance misuse within the UK.

Last week I read the excellent report on Dual Diagnosis from the already much-missed DrugScope. The report highlights the very high comorbidity of substance misuse and mental health issues. It also, more worryingly, reveals the low rates of referral between drug, alcohol and IAPT (improving access to psychological therapies) services within local authorities. The report brought to mind two points. Firstly, and simply, what an enormous gap DrugScope’s closure will leave in our sector that so relies upon this standard of excellent evidence-based reporting. Secondly, the critical importance of integrated services in a ‘whole person’ approach.

I was reminded of the time I had spent a few weeks earlier at HMP North Sea Camp meeting soon-to-be-released inmates, all of whom had benefitted from Addaction’s prison drug services. The success of our prison work is in no small part down to how it operates as part of a broader system. By addressing all aspects of prisoners’ health and wellbeing, and working towards their likelihood of not re-offending, the service at HMP North Sea Camp prepares people for a supported, successful release.

These same principles apply to any person-centred approach. Substance misuse is very often a symptom of underlying issues that relate to a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Diverse and integrated services are vital; they enable support that works towards people’s wellness, as opposed to seeing them as ill, and give people the chance to manage their own recovery.

The importance of integrated services was a driving factor behind our current merger with KCA. By bringing together our organisations’ substance misuse and mental health expertise, Addaction – now more than ever – has both the diverse services and the pathways between them to face the complex, multiple needs of people and communities.

For us, that means further diversification into mental health and wellbeing, substance misuse, young people’s services and family support alongside specific projects on homelessness, housing support and employment. It also means treating people and families as assets as opposed to a deficit, and engaging with peer led recovery and mutual aid to enable a co-produced outcome. Because for integration to truly work, we need to ensure that the ‘professional’ support is matched by a service user-led approach in communities.

We are already doing this in Addaction services and we’re seeing the impact, but there’s no doubt that – even beyond our enhanced capacity post-merger – we would like to do so much more. This is an area where commissioners can take some leadership. We’re coming to a shared understanding of the cost benefits and effectiveness of integrated services. That understanding must now be used to inform both commissioning and service design.

Thank you to Drugscope for bringing this research to our awareness and for Addaction for acting on it in a way that our NHS seems unable to do.  This desperately needs to change if we are going to make progress in supporting people with both mental health and substance misuse issues, of which I am one.

Imagine if the media covered alcohol like other drugs …

This was a great article in Vox in June that posited the idea that what would the media coverage be like if alcohol was seen as being like other drugs …..

What follows is a satirical attempt at capturing that same type of alarmist reporting, but for a substance that really causes widespread and severe problems.

NEW ORLEANS — An ongoing drug epidemic has swept the US, killing hundreds and sickening thousands more on a daily basis.

The widespread use of a substance called “alcohol” — also known as “booze” — has been linked to erratic and even dangerous behavior, ranging from college students running naked down public streets to brutal attacks and robberies.

Federal officials suggest this drug has already been linked to 88,000 deaths each year across the country, including traffic accidents caused by drug-induced impairment, liver damage caused by excessive consumption, and violent behavior. Experts warn that it can also lead to nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, cognitive deficits among children and teens, and even fetal defects in pregnant women.

Excessive consumption of alcohol “is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the US,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention principal deputy director Ileana Arias said in a statement. “We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning.”

Ne Orleans

Here in New Orleans, the horror of the drug was particularly prominent in the city’s French Quarter, where hundreds of young adults could be seen roiling from the effects of the drug. Some collapsed on the ground, dazed from alcohol’s effects. Others could be seen vomiting in public — a common result of drinking alcohol. Many could be seen limping and clumsily walking down the street, showcasing the type of impairment that public health officials warn can lead to accidents, especially when someone is behind the wheel of a car.

What’s worse, public use of this drug has become widely accepted in some circles. In New Orleans, several men and women in their 20s and 30s shouted that they’re going to get “wasted” — a slang term for coming under the effects of alcohol. Some have even turned drinking alcohol into a game that involves ping pong balls and cups.

In other places, there have been similar reports of individuals engaging in bizarre, inexplicable behavior while under the effects of alcohol. Some reports found intoxicated college students exposing themselves to others or running the streets naked while shouting hysterically, particularly during spring time. Others report people urinating in public streets after a few alcoholic beverages. And at least one man who consumed alcohol tried to ride a crocodile and was seriously injured when the animal fought back.

“It actually starts to rewire the brain chemistry,” one law enforcement official said. “They have no control over their thoughts. They can’t control their actions. It’s just a dangerous, dangerous drug.”

Across the US, public health officials have linked alcohol to much graver effects, including domestic abuse, sexual assault in college campuses, 40 percent of violent crimes in the US, and more than 4.6 million emergency room visits in 2010.

According to federal data, alcohol is already the second deadliest drug in the country — topped only by another legal substance called “tobacco,” which causes an astonishing 480,000 deaths each year by some estimates and 540,000 by others.

No other drug comes close to the staggering fatalities of these two. Heroin, which has consumed widespread media attention in the past few years, was linked to fewer than 9,000 deaths in 2013, and marijuana — another drug that federal lawmakers, including President Obama, have warned is dangerous — reportedly caused zero overdose deaths in the past few thousand years.

Despite the heightened public health crisis, federal and state officials seem reluctant to do anything about the drug, which remains legal for adults 21 and older to possess and even sell in most of the US. Policymakers say that banning alcohol is out of the question, citing its importance to the economy and American culture.

Drug policy experts have suggested levying higher taxes on the drug or bringing its sales under state control, pointing to numerous studies that have shown these measures would reduce use. But lawmakers at the state and federal levels seem reluctant to take up even these milder measures, likely under the influence and lobbying of drug producers and dealers profiting from hundreds of billions in sales of alcohol each year.

Perhaps as a result, alcohol producers have felt free to advertise their product during major televised events such as the Super Bowl, which is viewed by millions of children each year. The marketing ploys tend to portray alcohol as cool and fun, seldom mentioning the risks and thousands of deaths linked to the drug.

As policymakers stand idly by, alcohol consumption has reached epidemic proportions. A recent Gallup survey found nearly two-thirds of Americans admitted to using alcohol — even as another survey by Gallup found more than one in three Americans blame alcohol for family problems.

For many public health officials, the startling numbers pose the question: what will it take to wake up the public and officials to this widening epidemic?

And what will it take for the public and officials to wake up to this state sanctioned epidemic, both in the US, the UK and across many other countries worldwide?

Cyber-shaming and it’s impact on young drinkers

There was an interesting article in The Independent in June that looked at the latest Office of National Statistics data and talked about a new phenomena on social media called cyber-shaming and how it was impacting young people’s drinking behaviour.

Cyber shaming

Facebook pictures of fresher’s week antics and boozy Saturday nights may become a thing of the past according to a recent report that shows young people are ditching drink partly due to fears of being “cybershamed” on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter

Figures show that over the last ten years the number of people aged 16-24 choosing to shun the hard stuff has overtaken the number of older teetotallers.

More than a quarter of people in their teens and early twenties are teetotal according to the report from The Office of National Statistics. Since 2005 the number of 16-24 year olds who do not drink alcohol has risen from 19 per cent to 27 per cent in 2013. While teetotalism among the over-65s has fallen only one percent from 28 per cent to 27 per cent in the same time period. The figure for 25-44 year olds was 20 per cent, and 17 per cent for 45-64 year olds.

Scenes of scantily clad youths slumped in street corners may also be dwindling as the number of teenagers and twenty something’s binge drinking, which is defined as drinking more than eight units for men and six units for women within one day, was also found to have fallen severely, from 29 per cent to 18 per cent. In older people, however, these figures rose from 4 per cent to 5 per cent.

The ONS report said: “Young adults are commonly associated with binge drinking in the media. However, the latest data about their relationship with alcohol might surprise you.”

Alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware suggested that clampdowns on off-licenses, bars and supermarkets selling alcohol to those under 21 may have been a factor in young people ditching drink.

Spokesman Kelly O’Sullivan told the DailyMail: “We’ve also seen something called ‘cyber-shame’. Young people who spend a lot of time online are quite happy to tag photos of their friend’s but are more concerned about being tagged themselves. This might curb their behaviour.”

The report also suggests that a “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle is increasingly less likely to be on the agenda for young people with fewer taking drugs and fewer having casual sex.

Reasons for this decline in young, reckless behaviour include strong campaigns to reduce alcohol consumption, young people being more strapped for cash after the recession and large numbers of young people preferring to stay in and speak to their friends online.

I personally find this really interesting because shame was such a big part of my drinking towards the end.  When I was in my 20’s mobile phones didn’t exist and neither did social media, in fact most of us didn’t have computers then – and no I’m not that old, 46 to be precise! 😉  Would my drinking have calmed down sooner if these had been around?  I suspect it would.  Or would it have driven my drinking underground sooner, and by that I mean, drinking at home alone?  I don’t know.  It’s an interesting development anyway and just shows the impact that shame can have on people’s behaviour …..

Plus The Independent picked up the story in July too:

Temptations of alcohol being replaced by lure of social media for many young Britons, says new study

The sobering effect of social media – whether as a distraction or a deterrent – is cited as a factor in the decline.

“The survey results certainly indicate that the growing importance of social media in modern life in playing a role in young people’s decisions around alcohol – both explicitly and implicitly. Overall, 42 per cent of the young people we surveyed felt that the Internet and platforms such as Facebook have given young people more things to fill their time,” commented Ian Wybron, co-author of the report.

“What’s more, 29 per cent of young people cited concerns about their online reputations as contributing to the decline in youth alcohol consumption – showing an increasing awareness of the ‘shareability’ of social media could be encouraging them to steer away from excessive drinking,” he added.

Other reasons given by 16-24 year olds to explain the change in drinking habits include a growing awareness of the health risks of alcohol and not being able to afford to drink.

Signalling a generation shift in attitudes, one in three young people think alcohol is more important to their parents than them.

It was this last sentence that really piqued my interest.  I have been wondering aloud if we have made it uncool to our kids and this statement confirms that I think we have.  For which I can only respond Hoorah!!  Our lessons haven’t been in vain and they are learning from us wisely 🙂

Everyone has blackouts right?

I remember reading an excerpt of this very early on in my sobriety.  It may well have been on a blog but it was brilliantly written, good and scary.  It was called ‘My drinking years, everyone has blackouts don’t they?‘ and reading it made me squirm in uncomfortable recognition.  I had blackouts and brownouts and had done things with other people that I had no recollection of the next day.  I’d spooked myself enough that I had learned to put myself to bed before things got too out of hand, before the line was crossed and it had fared me pretty well but was not always reliable ……. a bit like me when I drank.

blackouts

I’m in Paris for work, which is exactly as great as it sounds. I eat dinner at a fancy restaurant and drink cognac — the booze of kings and rap stars. Somewhere near midnight, I tumble into a cab with my friend, and the night starts to stutter and skip. How did we get back so fast?

I walk through the front door of my hotel, alone. It’s that time of night when every floor has a banana peel and, if I’m not careful, I might find my face against the ground, my hands braced beside me. I exchange a few pleasantries with the concierge, a bit of theatre to prove I’m not too drunk. The last thing I hear is my heels, steady as a metronome, echoing through the lobby. And then there is nothing.

This happens to me sometimes. A curtain falling in the middle of the act, leaving minutes and sometimes hours in the dark. But anyone watching me wouldn’t notice. They’d simply see a woman on her way to somewhere else, with no idea her memory just snapped in half.

It’s possible you don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re a moderate drinker who baby-sips two glasses of wine and leaves every party at a reasonable hour. Maybe you are one of those lucky people who can slurp your whisky all afternoon and never disappear. But if you’re like me, you know the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings come with trapdoors.

I don’t know how much time I lose in this darkness. Or what takes place. When the curtain lifts again, this is what I see: there is a bed, and I’m on it. The lights are low. Sheets are wrapped around my ankles, soft and cool against my skin. I’m on top of a guy I’ve never seen before, and we’re having sex.

Hold on. Can this be right? I’m having sex with a man, and I’ve never seen him before. It’s as if the universe dropped me into someone else’s body. But I seem to be enjoying it. I’m making all the right sounds.

I collapse beside him and weave my legs through his. I wonder if I should be worried right now, but I’m not scared. I don’t mean to suggest I’m brave. I mean to suggest you could break a piece of plywood over my head, and I would smile, nod, and keep going.

The guy isn’t bad-looking. “You really know how to wear a guy out,” he says. It seems unfair that he should know me and I don’t know him, but I’m unsure of the etiquette.

“I should go,” I tell him.

He gives an annoyed laugh. “You just said you wanted to stay.”

So I stay with the stranger in the shadows of a room I do not recognise, looking out on to a city that is not my home. As I lie in the crook of his arm, I have so many questions. But one is louder than the others. In literature, it’s the question that launches grand journeys, because heroes are often dropped into deep, dark jungles and forced to machete their way out. But for the blackout drinker, it’s the question that launches another shitty Saturday. How did I get here?

When the curtains opened up in my mind that night in Paris, and I was in the middle of having sex with a man I didn’t even remember meeting, the strange part is how calm I remained. I was still wrapped in the soothing vapours of the cognac, no clue where I was, but not particularly concerned: I’ll figure this out.

I was pretty sure I was in my hotel. I recognised the swirly brown carpet, the brushed-steel light fixtures. The panic started when I noticed the time. It was almost 2am. “Shit, my flight leaves in a few hours,” I said.

Actually, the flight wasn’t until 11am, but I understood there was not nearly enough time between then and now. The awfulness of my circumstances began to dawn on me.

As I left, the click of the lock’s tongue in the groove brought me such relief. The sound of a narrow escape. I was on my way to the elevator when I realised I did not have my bag: my passport, my money, my driving licence, my room card. I did not have my way back home. I turned around and stared at the line of doorways behind me. Shit. They all look the same. Which one?

I don’t know how long I sat in that hallway – 10 minutes, 10 years. When I finally stood up, I had a plan. “Bonjour,” I said to the concierge.

“Good evening,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“I left my bag in someone’s room,” I said.

“Not a problem,” he said, and began tapping on the computer. “What room was it?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

“Not a problem,” he said. More tapping. “What was the guest’s name?”

A tear slipped down my cheek, and I watched it splat. “I don’t know.”

He nodded, his mouth an expressionless line. But I could see the pity in his eyes. He felt sorry for me. And somehow this pebble of sympathy was enough to shatter my fragile reserve. I crumpled into tears. “Don’t cry,” he said. He took my hand. His fingers were dry and cold, and they swallowed mine. “It’s going to be OK,” he said.

And I believed him, because I needed to.

“Is it possible this gentleman is the one you were talking to at the bar tonight?” the concierge asked.

And there it was, finally. My first clue. Of course, I’d gone to the hotel bar.

“Yes,” I pretended. “That is definitely the guy. So you saw me with him tonight?”

He smiled. “Of course.”

He handed me a new key to my room. He told me he would figure out the guy’s name, but that he might need an hour or two. “I don’t want you to worry any more,” he said. “Go rest.”

“Hey, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Jackson,” he said.

“I’m Sarah,” I told him, and I took his hand with both of mine. “Jackson, you’re the hero of my story tonight.”

“Not a problem,” he said, and flashed a smile.

As I headed towards the elevator, I felt like a new woman. I had a chance to restore order, to correct the insanity of the night. Jackson would find the guy’s name. I would meet the guy downstairs, suffer the indignity of small talk, then take my stuff and bolt.

No, better yet, Jackson would knock on the guy’s door and retrieve the purse himself. I didn’t care how it happened, just that it happened. It was all going to be OK.

I walked back into my room. And there, to the left of the entrance, on an otherwise unremarkable shelf, was my bag. I had lost so many things in my time: scarves, hats, gloves. But what amazed me was how many things I did not lose, even when my eyes had receded into my skull. I never lost my phone. I never lost my keys. Part of this was simple survival: you could not be a woman alone in the world without some part of you remaining vigilant. How did my bag get to my room? I have no idea, only that even in my blackout state, I made sure my treasure was tucked away safe: a woman locking up her diamond ring before she leaps into the ocean.

I called the front desk. “You’re never going to believe this,” I told Jackson. “My bag is in my room.”

“I told you this would work out,” he said.

“And you were right.”

I changed into my pyjamas and curled into a foetal position under the covers. Maybe I should have been relieved, but I had the haunted shivers of a woman who felt the bullet whizz past her face. Now that my crisis was resolved, I could start beating myself up for the ways I had failed. Such a wretched place to be. Alone in the dark, with your own misery.

The phone rang. “I found a leather jacket in the bar,” Jackson said. “Do you think it’s yours?”

And here comes the part of the story I wish I didn’t remember.

Jackson stands in my doorway. He’s so tall. He must be 6ft 2in. My leather jacket is draped over his arm like a fresh towel. I stand there with my hand on the door and wonder how much to tip him.

“Can I come in?” he asks, and there is not an ounce of me that wants him inside my room, but he was so helpful to me earlier, and I can’t scheme quickly enough to rebuff him.

I step back from the door and give him entry. I’m still thinking about the tip. Would €5 be enough? Would €100?

He closes the door and walks to my bed. It’s not far from the entryway, but each step breaches a great chasm. “You broke my heart when you cried earlier tonight,” he says, sitting down on the mattress. He’s only a few feet from me, and I remain with my back pressed against the wall.

“I know, I’m sorry about that,” I say, and I think: who is manning the desk right now? Are we going to get in trouble?

He leans forward on the bed, resting his elbows on his knees. “I was thinking, a beautiful woman like you should not be crying,” he says, and puts out his hand for me to take. I’m not sure what to do, but I walk over to him, as if on autopilot, and let my hand hang limply against his fingertips.

“You are very beautiful,” he says.

“Jackson, I’m really tired,” I say. “It’s been a really long day.”

I think: if I tell him to go, he’ll probably stand up politely and walk out of the room without saying more than a few words. So why don’t I? Do I feel I owe him something?

He pulls me towards him, and we kiss. The kiss is neither bad nor good. I consider it a necessary penance. I can’t explain it. How little I care. All I keep thinking is: it will be easier this way.

We lie in the bed, and I let him run his hands along me. He kisses my nose, now wet with tears he doesn’t ask about; but he never asks for more.

At 4am, I push Jackson out the door. I climb into my bed and cry huge howling sobs. Real drunks wait and watch for the moment they hit bottom. As I lay in my hotel bed, covers pulled up to my neck, I felt the gratitude of a woman who knows, finally, she is done.

But I drank on the flight home. And I drank for five more years.

***

A life is bookended by forgetting, as though memory forms the tunnel that leads into and out of a human body. I’m friends with a married couple who have a two-year-old. She is all grunt and grab, a pint-size party animal in a polka-dot romper, and we laugh at how much she reminds us of our drunken selves. Any hint of music becomes a need to dance. Spinning in a circle. Slapping her toddler belly. One eye squinted, as though this balances her somehow.

I recognise this as the freedom drinking helped me to recapture. A magnificent place where no one’s judgment mattered, my needs were met, and my emotions could explode in a tantrum. And when I was finally spent, someone would scoop me up in their arms and place me safely in my crib again.

I wonder sometimes if anything could have prevented me from becoming an alcoholic, or if drinking was simply my fate. But I’ve come to think of being an alcoholic as one of the best things that ever happened to me. Those low years startled me awake. I stopped despairing for what I didn’t get and I began cherishing what I did.

Nobody remembers a life completely. We are all forgetting, all the time. But isn’t it some basic human instinct to hold on to as much as we can? If you are lucky, you will wake up, and remember this. I did.

This is an edited extract from Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget, by Sarah Hepola.  If you’re reading this and are worried about your drinking and having blackouts maybe it’s’ time to look at your relationship with alcohol?  Best thing I ever did 🙂

The fizz of life

pj champagne bucket

So we’ve been decluttering while moving house and as part of that process we’ve been selling much of our drinking paraphernalia – such as this Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Champagne Bucket.  We know we won’t be using this again so time to release it on to someone who will.  I used to love the beautiful Art Nouveau anemones adorning the Belle Epoque bottle.  I wasn’t the only one it would seem and it’s amazing how much these change hands for!

fizz bubbles

And it got me thinking about fizz.  We drink AF fizz these days but it doesn’t feel as needed as much now as it did in the early days of stopping.  Now it feels like we celebrate with the fizz of life.  What do I mean by this?  Tian Dayton on innerlook.com describes it like this:

take a moment to come up with a good feeling….then milk it, stay with it….and let it go….do this throughout your day…..take a feel good moment…..feel it, breathe it in and out a few times….then release it!

The way she expresses it reminds me of bubbles rising up within a glass of fizz.  But how much more accessible to conjure up a positive feeling, celebrate it and then let it go as it rises upwards through you.  It reminds me of the headspace meditations I’m doing too in the creativity pack.  In fact this post appeared in one of those moments of letting my mind be free after focusing on the breath.  Letting the bubbles of creativity rise from out of my mind.  How much better it feels to be able to rely on myself to create those moments of joy internally then to need to reach for something externally to fulfill that need.  I think I might be learning some of the lessons required to recover from co-dependency at long last 🙂  Now that’s a cause to celebrate!!

PS There is a recovery festival taking place in Bristol in September and you can find more details here.  I’d love to go but I’m at another recovery celebration closer to home! If anyone does go then please let me know how you found it 🙂

Emotional sobriety

So another great speaker on Tommy Rosen’s 2.0 Recovery conference has me reaching for the keyboard!  This time he was interviewing Tian Dayton about emotional sobriety and as I’ve said before here this seems to be the focus of my growth right now.

Emotional sobriety

She summarised so beautifully the issues that I’m struggling with now that drink isn’t the pre-occupying thought.  They are self-regulation and emotional literacy.  BAM.  Just like that in one sentence there it was.  I drank to regulate my moods and to quash all emotions so no wonder I struggle with these now!  The self-regulation lack is part of the co-dependency issue as an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) which she talks about.  How we swing wildly from numbness to over-reacting as part of our black and white thinking.  0 or 10 but no 4,5 or 6.

And the emotional literacy that Prim’s post highlighted so brilliantly here and that I fail to exhibit most of the time because it is so nuanced and I don’t  yet have the emotional depth of vocabulary …..

But that’s okay as recovery happens in stages.  As Tian says ‘let your wounds lead you but don’t fall in love with them’.  Let go of the maladaptive strategies you used to stay safe.  Make an active choice not to use these strategies because we are not a victim we are a journeyer and this is part of the journey 🙂

She also shared a link to a new website she has developed called innerlook.com, a community for emotional growth and exploration, which is still in beta but looks really interesting.  I’ve registered and will be interested to see how it develops!

So what are your thoughts about all of this?  Does this resonate with you too?

Friday Sober Jukebox – Just an illusion

So riffing off of last week’s track it’s another shot of Imagination!  Why this track?  Because in the last week I’ve been flirting with my old life again.

Illusion-1-GlamourousWe moved house and had dinner in the local pub across the road on the first night.  We had AF fizz to celebrate handing in the keys to our old place last Friday and then we had dinner in the pub AGAIN – my suggestion.  I’d not been running all week what with moving and kids summer holidays, meditation had fallen by the wayside and my mind was squirrely.  Wolfie had woken from his slumber, triggered by all the chaos and change and stress and was whispering in my ear – and for the first time in a long time I was listening.  I could feel myself slipping ……..

Chocolate and an early night and I came to my senses.  Went out for a run and this tune popped into my head.  In the warm light of the sunny Saturday morning run I could see what was happening and that I was kidding myself – that it was all just an illusion and I’d almost been suckered.  Almost.  The lesson I learned is that even at almost 2 years sober life can unsettle you enough to think that drinking might once more be a good idea – even if only for a fleeting second a few days in a row.  The door to the idea opens again and you have to be really vigilant to your own sh*tty thinking.  No harm done but even so – phew!

PS If you want a cold bucket of water pouring over you tonight about drinking and its consequences then I recommend you watch this:

Every year more than 250 people die on Britain’s roads as a result of drink driving. In 2014, North Yorkshire Police arrested up to a thousand drivers for being above the legal alcohol limit, and with some of the highest rates of drink driving in the country, all too often North Yorkshire’s traffic officers are faced with the tragic consequences of motorists driving under the influence.