Saturday, 17 March 2018

Day Fifteen - in which not drinking is like not hitting your thumb with a hammer (and a puppy in MUD)

Builder's tricks

I don't know how common this saying is, but in my little world we sometimes talk about walking away from a bad situation as being like no longer hitting your thumb with a hammer.

I'm a builder's daughter, and correct hammering and sawing were some of the few useful things my father ever taught me (most of my paternal lessons were observational and involved learning how not to be a functional adult, but more on that another day).

So if you aren't familiar with the hammering scene, the saying conjures the need to keep doing something even though it hurts.  You can't leave a nail half-hammered and you can't let pain get in the way. You are totally focused on the job in front of you and you come to associate the job with the pain as a necessary thing.

It's only when you either become really good at hammering or you stop hammering that you might recall, with a flood of relief, how good it is to not be hitting your thumb with that bloody hammer any more.

Don't examine the analogy too closely, it has all sorts of holes (boom tish), but trust me: there are times in your life when you only know how great something is because you stopped doing the awful thing that had become your very focused normal.

The path to peace, and unbruised thumbs

And here I am, two weeks' done, and the bruises are fading from my metaphorical thumb.

Yesterday, for the first time in a fortnight (let alone pre-sober) I woke up without a dull headache.  It took me an hour or so to realise what was different.  This morning I was a bit headachey again but I had a late (dry) night and sleep was a bit broken so I was not on top of my game anyway.

BUT, here are some things I'm noticing about not hitting my body, brain and spirit with alcoholic hammers every day:
  • hints of inner peace. I would think it's anything like the vaunted 'pink cloud' but of course it's very early days for me yet.  There most obvious thing is a slight slowing of my Popcorn Brain.  Ideas stick with me a bit longer and don't bounce away before I really grasp them.
  • my skin feels about a hundred times softer.  Maybe that's about hydration, as I'm drinking about four litres of extra water and tea every night.
  • flavours. I'm enjoying flavours more and using less salt on my food.  To be fair, this is partly because a month of sub-tropical downpours and humidity have rendered every salt source in the house unusable, but without the grog I find I mind much less!
  • reading non-fiction. I have been reading pretty much constantly since I was three years old (47 years ago) and apart from text books I reckon I've read perhaps six books of non-fiction, total, including biography and autobiography. At first it was falling headfirst into The Sober Diaries and Mrs D Is Going Without, then trying (and rejecting) similar stories but of car-crash style alcoholics who I can't relate to, like the journo in High Sobriety and others.  But now I'm into a looong book called Lost Connections about the nine major non-chemical causes of depression and anxiety (not as grim as it sounds)  and absolutely relishing every page.  I can only reason that this is connected to the aforementioned inner peace and being willing to delve into my own thinking without having to hide from myself.
  • self care not self denial. Friend J called back after the disrupted puppy call and we talked at length about the why of not drinking.  This handy phrase was how we decided to describe the difference between past attempts and my current mindset. In some ways I'm still a long way from traditional self-care (you DO NOT want to imagine the stains on the toenails of a 50 year old woman who can go barefoot most days but is suddenly surrounded by mud), but by not drinking any more, I'm also fully and permanently immersed in caring for myself. And it feels good.
  • time to do things. For a long while now I've been (blearily) wondering how I ever found the time to do more than work and slump.  How did I ever have enough hours in the day to bake cakes, sketch and paint, crochet, read magazines, clean things, garden, visit people and places? Turns out that needing to ensure you get and wallow in your daily alcohol fix takes a lot of time and mental energy.  I'm no DIY dynamo yet, but there's a gleam in my eye and a vision of a gorgeous acre of garden that will outlive me and bring joy.

Muddy puppy

If you've made it this far, you deserve a treat xx 
(Also you've seen too much of the clean, cute and fluffy side of Ms Maggie, here's her inner grot shining through.)


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Day 13 and I'm coming out (also a new pic of PUPPY)

Hello Sober World, how ya doing?

I've been busy busy with work upheavals (just don't even ask) and cooking batches of soup, casserole, curries and cakes for two families after my brother had a serious operation last week (my SIL doesn't cook).

I have been quietly working through some sobriety thinking though, and  - ta-da-da-da-duuuuum - I've told a few more people that I've given up drinking.

It's a bit of a weird thing to say, isn't it? 'Oh hey, guess what? I stopped drinking!"

I said it on the phone this morning to my wonderfullest friend J.  She and I have both stopped drinking before, and tried to stick to AFDs and switch to spritzers, or shandies, or alternate wine with water. We gave up together a couple of times, egging each other on to stay strong (I think we almost made it to 10 days once - and that was with free-drinks allowed for the weekend!)

But there it is: I told her I'd stopped and she, gorgeous creature that she is, asked some really sensible questions and we were in the middle of a really good chat about the how and why of this Big Decision when I spotted Naughty Puppy chuffing up the driveway to inspect the chooks at the front fence and I had to bolt (we live on an acre block so it's a short jog but not conducive to conducting phone conversations at the same time).

Puppy break!

Here's today's Naughty Puppy pic, shown hitching a ride to school this morning on Youngest-By-One-Minute's lap.

Ms Maggie's adorableness makes it easy to forgive her anything, even having to run up a muddy driveway in my PJs home office clothes, dumping phone and friend along the way.

The pact

So back to sobriety, and I'm fairly sure the three co-residents (the younger teens and the Prof) of my house have made a pact not to talk about me not drinking.  Either that or they really are all as oblivious to me as I have occasionally suspected. But no, I think there's a pact.  

No one has said anything to me about the lack of wine and the Twenty Zillion new ways to drink fizzy water I'm displaying each night. And I'm very ok with that. I'd like this to just keep ticking along until at least the three month stage before I really talk about it to anyone other than my aforementioned bestie, and my 500+days sober friend, and perhaps my doctor.

Still. It's weird that none of them has even looked at me sideways. 


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Day Eleven, and a good old sob.

I'm curious about other people who just quietly stop drinking like I have.

I will have to look for more stories in blogs, I think, because so far most of what I have read has been quite dramatic.

I know I said on Day Minus-One that I was stopping because we were getting a puppy, but the step before that is the more important one.

I stopped drinking because my dog died, but it was not an immediate decision.  It's really only now that I see it as cause and effect.

Something big had to change in my life so that I was not quite the same person, because that person was the one who vested so very much in the fact that her dog loved her without limits and wanted nothing more than to be with her.

That sounds soppy doesn't it? You need to know though, that I am country-tough about pets and this was the exception that proved the rule.  We just found each other, that's all.

She was the only creature, human or animal, who - at least in the last five years - made me feel unconditionally loved and worthwhile.  That isn't to say that I have not been loved, but with teenaged children and a long running marriage, and a thankless job followed by a struggle to work out how to run my own business, it's pretty easy to believe you're just a utility.

Of course, the alcohol wouldn't have helped with the worthlessness either...

But May was always there. Always. And there was nothing I could do or say that would ever dent that devotion.  And when I woke up in the middle of the night I would feel for her with my feet and within a few minutes I could fall asleep again.  She was my calm.

After she died I didn't do very well.  Perhaps strangely, I didn't really drink more than usual, but I also took less and less pleasure in it.  Everything was sour. Nothing was lively. I began to sense self-destruction and the seeds for sobriety were sown.

I wrote something, about three days after she was gone, because my heart was breaking over the space beside me where she should have been. I'd just seen one of those A letter to... articles in The Guardian and it felt like the right thing to do.

A letter to … my dog, who saved me.

I’m country born, and so were you, but we met in the city when your family lost their farm and you needed a home.

We had a dog already, always one. My mother used to say, ‘if you have one dog, you’ve got a friend, but if you have two dogs you’ve got two dogs’. Like many clever things she said, it turned out to be wrong.

You were meant to be pack for our slightly anxious dog, and to chill with the kids.  

But instead, you chose me. 

I didn’t encourage you, but perhaps you could tell that no one else was choosing me then. Not my weary husband; not my fight-to-be-free teens; not my former career. 

You, an outside dog for your first five years, landed your 30kg at my feet in bed on your second night and never left.

“She’s a woman’s dog,” your first owner told me, “she’ll know when you’re sad”. I believed her, because she’d known a lot of sadness, but I didn’t really understand until it happened.

The tap of your toenails, the jink of your name tag, the huffle of your evening sighs. Big Labrador eyes watchful for cheese or a carrot end flipped your way. For four years I immersed in your sounds, sight, smell, and snowy drifts of hair. I had to accept you actually wanted to be with me. I couldn’t resist the peace you gave me, you were my calm, my flow, my other self.

My younger daughter declared: “I’m going to fall in love with the man who looks at me like that dog looks at you, Mum”. Everyone knew there was an affair going on in our house. You tap-tap-tapped behind me on the wood floors, never far off.

I called you Silly Old Lady, I called you Great Big Dope, I called you My Love, and My Loyal.

And so: you were lying behind my armchair where you caught the fan’s breeze but knew immediately if I got up. 

Only you weren’t, really, because an unknown number rang my phone and when I ignored it my husband’s rang and he answered and I was running before he hung up.

“Yes, she’s ours,” I’d heard, and, “Yes, we’re on the Connection Road too”. I passed the mailbox chanting no, no, no, because that shape on the road in the headlights couldn’t be you.

There was blood below you, dark shine on the lit bitumen, coming from nowhere I could see. You were clean, soft, and the man said, “She’s gone I think”, but you were still breathing.

I cradled you, your eyes on me. You breathed three, four more times.

I don’t want a plaque, or your ashes, or to plant a rosebush. You weren’t my baby. I wasn’t your mum. I won’t keep your collar in a box.

All I want to keep is the peace we made together, but I am broken now and it has all spilled away.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Day 10: Double-digit-dry-days! And PUPPY update

Day 10

Hello day 10! Yay for double-digit-dry me :-)

I got my hair done today - I might be old  but it still grows way too fast so the regrowth was well and truly up to skunk stripe stage after six weeks.

Before I went in I had this imaginary conversation with my hairdresser (Sue, I love her) in which she noticed something different about me and I would say, Why yes! I gave up the grog and I think it's starting to show!

But she was just her normal loveliness so it was left to me to continue the chat inside my head in front of the terrifyingly large mirror while she finished another woman's foils.

Me: is there something different about your face?
Me: yes I think it's changed since the last time I looked in this mirror
Me: not so bulge-y around the gills?
Me: I think that's fair. And what's that in your eyes: have your eyeballs started to go WHITE?!

It's true.  They might not be shiny white again yet but the burst blood vessels have beat a retreat and the dull jaundice smears are fading to at least an eggshell tone so far.

Let's hope my liver is looking a bit more cheerful too.  Not that it was more than 'a touch down' according to my GP, after my last blood tests, which I always try to dodge for fear of being diagnosed with kidney disease, or Type 2 diabetes, or some other vile alcohol-induced illness.

So my hair is pearly blonde and my eyes are going white again, and as I type this I'm in my favourite wifi cafe, noting they have got a liquor license now and not the slightest bit bothered that I won't ever be using it.


Mrs D (THE Mrs D) came to visit, because she is, it turns out, just a delightful in her post-book real-life as any of us could hope.  And being a gorgeously polite Kiwi lady, as are several of my friends, she left a comment that made my day (Day 9 was made, to be precise).

It reminded me how absolutely wonderful blogging can be.  Some of my longest adult friendships are in fact from my newish mothering blogging days.  I've met many of them IRL over the past 13 or so years and we still support and entertain each other although it's mostly on Facebook and Instagram these days because who has time?

Well I do, now.  I have the time that's not being drowned in wine. And it is making me a happier person.


If you (if there even is a you, apart from the delightful Mrs D) read my first post as Mrs Sobers, you will know that I pinned my launch to sobriety on the arrival of our new puppy.

Her name is Maggie, and I have been remiss in not sharing more of the puppy love she brings to our family.

So here she is.  Keeping my every-brightening eyes on the prize:


Sunday, 11 March 2018

Day Nine. Getting shit done

I'm realising how much of my life had been tied up in planning for when I would start drinking each day.

Without being especially conscious of it, I'd be thinking about what there was to drink, how I would make sure there was enough to drink if there wasn't enough, reading special offers from wine delivery companies, then, of course, the glorious moment when drinking could begin, and pretty much nothing happened after that. Nothing meaningful anyway.

It wasn't always like that. I know that back a few years I was actually doing things after dinner.  Work, reading, crafty crap. Helping with homework.  Making calls with friends.

But that slipped away and more recently it's been a zoned-out, numbed up, slobby collapse on the lounge with tv and social media and not much else.

And that evening slothfulness extended into the afternoon, and the day, and less and less got done. 

I had all sorts of excuses for it - depression, anxiety, worthlessness. And as I got fatter and fatter it was physically uncomfortable to be more active (totally understand how people end up gigantic now, because the fatter you are, the less you want to move, and the more fat you become).

But really was it depression that made my drinking worse or - shock horror - actually my drinking that contributed to that vile depression and off-the-charts anxiety?

Yep. Box number two looks like the winner to me too.


I slow roasted pork that I'd marinated overnight; made chicken stock from the huge bird I roasted and served last night; baked a flourless chocolate-beetroot cake; cleaned up after all of it; felt more like a younger version of me.

Still not drinking.  Still pretty much ok with it. Still wondering if this is just too easy for now?


Saturday, 10 March 2018

Day Eight: Sober hangovers

When will the headaches end?

So I googled something like this in the hope of finding the answer to the question friends and I have asked before - how come you can still feel like utter crap some mornings when you haven't drunk a drop?

I have had a headache for parts of most days since stopping drinking (Yay me, by the way, one week down!) and despite drinking upwards of three litres of water and green tea a day I am waking up dry mouthed and feeling dehydrated - just like after drinking a bottle or two of wine the night before.

I had drunk so much, so regularly, for so many years that I rarely had real hangovers any more. I might have this achey head, or, if I'd really hammered the grog - like adding red wine or spirits to the mix - feel a bit queasy. But almost never what most people would call a hangover.

The Prof asked me a few times over the past five years, perhaps as I opened another bottle at 10pm on a weeknight, 'Don't you ever feel sick the next day?' and I could honestly (gleefully, defiantly) say No.

So why do we suffer still when we stop drinking? 

Headaches, insomnia, and daytime sleeping are the main downsides for me at present.

The science-y bit

Withdrawal from alcohol is the obvious answer, but the Interwebs aren't tremendously helpful in this department.

Most searches for 'alcohol withdrawal symptoms' will land you on American rehab websites that are paying a lot for SEO to hog the first pages and create a terrifying scenario where every housewife can expect the DTs if she doesn't sign up for their six week in-house program.

This bit below from the Victorian Government was more helpful, describing how the neurotransmitters in the brain get disrupted by alcohol and compensate to restore a functioning balance.

Alcohol acts in the central nervous system by changing the balance of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that send messages between nerves. Alcohol reduces the effect of excitatory neurotransmitters, and increases the effect of inhibitory neurotransmitters, altering the natural balance of the nervous system.
Over time, the brain tries to fix this imbalance by increasing the activity of the excitatory neurotransmitters and decreasing the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters. When alcohol is suddenly taken away, this compensatory effect keeps going, resulting in overactivity of the excitatory neurotransmitters and underactivity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters. This causes withdrawal syndrome.
But you still need a biochemical course to really make sense of it. Basically, with alcohol your brain is damped down too much so it internally revs up the neurotransmitters it needs to help it function. These revving messages keep going for a while when you have taken away the dampers, which might cause the headaches and insomnia (which in turn leads to daytime tiredness).

The good news

Hopping around to find semi-readable nuerological studies, I came across this piece of spectacularly good news.

The damage alcohol does to your brain is not just in rewiring the transmitters, it's physical harm. We've probably all seen the 'permanent brain damage' warnings about heavy drinking, but it turns out it can be healed.

The study from Brain Journal showed a 2% growth in brain size after heavy drinkers were sober for only seven or so weeks!

Something to aim for - a big fat brain and a shrinking butt.


Friday, 9 March 2018

Evening Seven. Bored, craving, and playing the long game.

Crave, crave, crave.

It's Friday night, and that is usually my signal to double down on the home-drinking.  Expect close to two bottles of wine to pour down my fat gullet, on most Friday nights.

But they won't tonight.  In fact, the simple act of opening up this post and writing it down will stop me for now.

And earlier, as Wine-O-Clock ticked by, I grabbed the very fat labrador and my very fat self and we went for a neighbourhood walk - something we haven't done in months and months.

Acting out

Got home and started finding fault with things so have taken myself off to my study to slug down mineral water (Voss - and I don't care if it's overpriced and overrated! If I'm not drinking wine I'll be buggered if I'm going to drink 95c homebrand soda water).

And I found myself writing a crankypants email to my slow-paying client and nearly sending it, which is not the point of writing crankypants emails is it? Crankypants emails are written so you can get them out of your system, so I barely dodged a wine-craving bullet there.

Part of the reason I was cranky was because they should have paid me today and I was planning on some lovely shopping for Not-Wine things, like new PJs for my lovely sober nights, and maybe some eye cream for my much-less-puffy eyes, and a big bunch of flowers, and new paints to tackle a still life of that bunch of flowers.

But now I can't do that until next week. Bah fucking humbug.

But I still won't send the crankypants email.

I snapped at the Prof instead. Then I opened up this blog post.


Something I did while walking the dog was practice the last-drink-not-first-drink visualisation.

It goes something like this:

Don't think about the first drink - any fool can have a first drink.  Your (talking to myself) problem is the LAST DRINK, which will be about 10 drinks later than it should be.
And because of that LAST DRINK you will be vague and say stupid things and get fatter and fatter and feel sluggish, at best, in the morning, and GO NOWHERE.

So here I sit.  With my Voss. NOT drinking, but going online to decide what gorgeous PJs I will buy next week with the money I would have spent this week on wine.


Day Fifteen - in which not drinking is like not hitting your thumb with a hammer (and a puppy in MUD)

Builder's tricks I don't know how common this saying is, but in my little world we sometimes talk about walking away from a bad si...