On February 3rd I made a decision to let Dry January over spill into February. Perhaps even into March. As long as I feel happier and stronger sober, then that is how I will remain.
This wasn’t a fast or simple decision. But I know it is time I grieved.
My ex and I broke up in August 2017. We legally separated March 2018 and we’re yet to divorce. We have been waiting to tick the “two years separated” box. It’s been the hardest year and a half of my life. So I decided to be kind to myself, but was I really?
As I was stuck in (and still am stuck in) most evenings with my children asleep in their rooms, I turned to the bottle as a source of comfort. At first it felt strange to drink alone, yet whenever I’d message or speak to friends, the first thing they’d say was “God you’re having an awful time, sounds like you need a drink!”. Even my therapist told me a medicinal glass of wine at night was better than taking antidepressants.
I told myself it was just a short term thing to numb my nerves, and numb my nerves it did. But it also numbed my brain, any feelings of joy, and any motivation to push on with my life. It made me irritable and cranky and my IBS worse.
I was perpetually exhausted and anxious. I looked forward to the kids bedtime as I knew I would feel better once I opened a bottle of wine. There would never be any left by the time I went to bed.
I felt lost, I would drink until my throat burned and my cheeks stung from all the tears I’d cried. I found myself enjoying not having company in the evenings as it was an opportunity to drink until I ambled back to bed bleary-eyed.
Funnily enough, despite all of the above, I didn’t recognise that alcohol was becoming a problem. It creeped up on me gradually.
I felt wretched by the end of December. I’d developed a large short patch of hair on the back of my head from where I’d been anxiously pulling at it. I’d noticed my hands starting to shake the morning after drinks. My eyes were dark hollows. My gut was so bad that I was nervous to eat at all. The misery of the previous year had physically manifested itself within me. I had no choice but to look after my health.
Dry January it was. So many people do it, why not?
To fully embrace the spirit of Dry January I decided to listen to “The unexpected joy of being sober” by Catherine Gray. I also downloaded the Alcohol Change Charity Dry January app so I could track my success. I didn’t make it until the end of January. I drank on the 26th, 27th, 30th, 31st of January and then 1st, 2nd February.
I couldn’t help but look at those little black squares on the calendar and recognise a problem. I wasn’t drinking in moderation like I had planned to. I could feel my drink cabinet beckoning me on a daily basis again.
When I first started listening to Catherine Gray’s audio book I thought we had little in common. She had a real drinking problem with regular black outs, excessive spirit consumption, the list goes on. However it didn’t take me long to realise, there is no solid definition of an alcoholic/alcohol dependency. Essentially if alcohol is a problem for you, it is a problem. In my case, even one glass feeds the black dog. It needed the boot.
Aside from being depression’s evil accomplice, alcohol was also getting in the way of a proper night sleep. After listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast with Matthew Walker on the science of sleep, I realised not only was alcohol stopping me from sleeping properly, it was also stopping me from emotionally processing/compartmentalising my experience of separation. Even in my sleep I was preventing myself from moving on.
What’s worse, your body needs to catch up on that REM sleep, and it will make sure it does. Hence the terrifying nightmares many people experience as they detox themselves off alcohol. Fortunately it doesn’t last for long, but for about five days I was afraid to go to sleep.
Today I read a tweet by Rob Delaney which really resonated.
“Sobriety allows me to grieve fully, and grief is an expression of love.” Rob Delaney
In his case, grief is an expression of love for his son. In my case, that love is the love I need to show to myself. When I left my ex, I didn’t just leave behind a 9 year relationship, but the place and country I’d called my home for 8 years, my friendship groups, my career. Everything. In many ways, it’s nice to have a fresh start in a new place in a new city – the chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
But still. I left behind a lot. A lot of sadness, but also many happy times and many good friends as well as a career I loved. I also had to abandon the dreams of a happy marriage and a nuclear family. I had never considered my life in any other context. I was a victim to Cinderella syndrome. I really did believe marrying my ex meant I’d have my “happy ever after”.
In my post on anger, I mentioned the importance of sitting with one’s feelings. It’s easy when you’re caught up in the adrenaline of the fight to leave someone, then the fear of the unknown, the need to be strong to support your children – to quash those vulnerable feelings or to forget them all together. Yet the process of grieving is vital to feeling truly happy in yourself again.
One can never move on if we don’t allow space in ourselves and our lives to grieve. Since being sober I have cried a couple of times. It felt so different sober. So raw, so real, ever so slightly terrifying. Yet when I was done, I felt a relief wash over me, which I never did when I was drunk.
One and a half years later, I am finally allowing myself to grieve. It’s not frightening like I imagined it would be, it’s empowering. For every unresolved feeling I find a space for, the more I open myself up for contentment. Being able to leave the past behind means I will be able to fully embrace the present, without fear and sadness tarnishing life’s potential.
Watch this space.