A week of firsts

Last Monday I got up at the glorious time of 4am, packed up the car and set off for a week in sunny Scotland. Yes, sunny! We didn’t have a single drop of rain the entire week! Also we being, me and my parents. It was to be a week of firsts; my first sober holiday, my first sober birthday and my first long distance drive in over a year.

So, how was it? In a word; perfect. I honestly have nothing whatsoever to moan about. I wouldn’t change any of it…well except for maybe the amount of cake I ate. But what’s a birthday week without three kinds of cake hey? Gym workouts will be resuming tomorrow!

Aside from the stunning cottage we stayed in (Boltholecottage – highly recommend) the week was spent in the most beautiful of surroundings. We were literally staying at the top off what I can only describe as a very steep dirt track and there didn’t seem to be anything around us except fields and sheep. We didn’t do much while we were there. Seriously, we really didn’t. We went out for lunch a few times in nearby towns and I went for a walk one of the afternoons. That was it. The rest of the time was sat relaxing in front of the log fire and just enjoying our time together. And you know what? It was perfect.

My birthday lunch was a slightly fancy affair as we dined in the Clubhouse at Gleneagles golf resort. Funnily enough though as lovely as that meal was our other two lunches were just as good if not a bit better and I got to wear my converse and hoody, so you know…comfort over everything. 🤷🏽‍♀️😂

A few years ago I always imagined I’d be on holiday for my 40th. Somewhere sunny, a wine glass next to me for most of the day that mysteriously never found itself empty. With friends or if I couldnt find any friends, on my own. For the last few birthdays I am ashamed to admit that I did whatever I could to not spend too much of my birthday with my parents. Why? So I could drink as much as I wanted to without the glaring eyes of disappointment and judgment. Sad, isn’t it?

It was around April that I knew this time sobriety was not a phase. I thought about my birthday and how I would celebrate the big 4-0. The thought of not being able to drink did not bother me as much as I had thought it would. I had accepted that an alcohol free life was what lay ahead so if I’m honest I didn’t really make any big plans. At the time I did not foresee that the pandemic was still going to be playing such a part in our daily lives so I just thought I would do something low key with my friends or maybe just hang out with my parents.

Then sometime in June we were discussing holidays and how we’d had such a nice week at my friend’s caravan in Abersoch last year. My Dad started talking about how he really enjoyed previous visits to Scotland and had always wanted to go back; only now he didn’t think he was capable of doing such a long drive. So I said to him, ‘why don’t we go and I can drive?’. Nothing was set in stone and the subject just faded into the background for a few weeks until my Mum asked me if I had thought about what I wanted to do for my birthday. With us only just coming out of lockdown I told her I wasn’t too bothered about it and we could do something just the three of us. So she suggested that we look at going to Scotland for it if that was something I would like to do. Well, obviously I loved the idea and wasted no time at all in finding accommodation for us.

After that life just got busy for a few months. I had a lot going on with my business, training courses and voluntary work. And then all of a sudden holiday week came around and we were tootling along the M6 bound for Scotland.

My Dad started the drive but I took over around around Preston and drove the rest of the way. We of course stopped off a couple of time; once for breakfast and then again in Lockerbie. It wasn’t until we were a good 50 odd miles into Scottish roads that I realised I hadn’t driven for more than half an hour in almost a year. Not only that but I hadn’t been on the motorway for even longer than that AND I was now driving my parents new car. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal and to be honest it wasn’t in the general sense. But for me it was about trusting myself behind the wheel, knowing there was no way I was over the limit and for the first time in so long I was just able to enjoy the drive.

So there you have it, my week of sober and hangover free firsts. A holiday, a birthday and a very long drive; survived and unscathed. Next up, Christmas!

Mental illness, medication and me.

Today, a friend posted on Instagram about her recent struggles and how her mental health has deteriorated enough to warrant new medication. She was already taking anti anxiety meds and how now been put on an anti-depressant of sorts; I know this because I’ve been prescribed both in the past. Anyway having only known her a short time I have seen how she’s gone from being quite guarded about her struggles with alcohol and her mental health to opening up and sharing her journey in such a brave and beautiful way.

On the flip side I was talking to another one of my new sober pals this week and she was telling me about how bad her anxiety gets. I have suffered from anxiety in the past but nowhere near as severe as this. It made me sad for her. Knowing that your thoughts can become so intrusive and debilitating that you start to believe the most ridiculous things that then impact your daily life. Anxiety is not just getting stressed and worrying, it can be so much bigger and scarier then that. When I asked her if she had seen her GP about it, she said she was worried they would think she was crazy. I didn’t like that she would even consider using those words but then I remembered how I often used to call myself crazy when I was with friends. It was a way to make light of something that was actually pretty frightening and serious.

Anyway the point of this post is to actually tell you about my experience with mental health and medication. I’ve been on and off medication for about the last 10 years or so. I’ve been on a variety of different things, mostly antidepressants, occasionally meds for my anxiety and once I was even on a lovely cocktail of stuff for my depression, panic attacks and insomnia. Over the years my thoughts on taking medication for my mental health has varied. There are times when I’ve been prescribed something and been reluctant to take it. Times when I’ve been so desperate for some sort of respite for my mind and haven’t given my prescription a second thought. Almost every time though, when I have gotten to the point of stability, when my moods are less turbulent I’ve always slowly come off what ever I was taking. I think the reasons were based on a mix of the physical affects of the medication but also the idea of having to be on them.

I have been on my current meds for a little over 2 years now. I am taking Sertraline and up until last month I was on the maximum dose. Now bearing in mind that they probably weren’t even doing what they should have been doing while I was drinking, I’ve probably only really had the full benefits for the past 6 months. Still, I made the decision last month that I wanted to start decreasing my dose with the hope that eventually I will not need them. That was until a few days ago.

Glennon Doyle was someone I hadn’t heard of until earlier this year when I saw the front cover of her new book, Untamed plastered all over instagram. At first I thought it was just another quit-lit type affair which I’m not against but doesn’t quite float my boat all that much; so I didn’t really think anything of it. But more and more people were declaring it a ‘must read’, so last week I used one of my free credits and got the audible version. The verdict: not quit-lit, but instead a compilation of stories and life lessons which I think most of us would benefit from hearing about. There was a little too much motherhood talk in there; which obviously is no bad thing but just not something I can really relate to. Some people think it’s a bit heavy on religion but that part didn’t bother me, in fact I love learning about people’s faiths because I’m a bit weird like that. Anyway the point I am trying to get to is she talks about her mental health and medication. She made a really good point in that why would we decide to stop using something that is making us feel better. Surely the point is that it’s working and to stop it would leave you at risk of suffering again. This made me think about the times I’d come off my medication after months of feeling better only to relapse and sometimes find myself in even worse of a situation.

One thing I want to make clear is that I’m not someone who would opt for medication if there are other options. The idea of filling my body with chemicals I know very little about doesn’t bode well with me. And don’t worry the irony of that statement isn’t lost on me, I clearly didn’t include alcohol in that category for many years. But I live in different times now and having removed one of the biggest toxins from my life I am much more cautious about the other things that go into my body. So I am very much open to healing of a different nature and undergo regular reiki therapy courtesy of my lovely Dad and I practice meditation. And of course there’s what I believe to be one of the best medicines out there; the art of conversation. Therapy is in my opinion underrated and should be considered by everyone whether they think they need it or not. I think people would be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of talking to someone about their life, even if just to use the other person as a sounding board.

Basically what I think I’m trying to say is that don’t see medication as too much of a big deal when it comes to mental health. If you have tried alternatives and have seen little improvement then just be open to the idea. At least go and talk to the GP about it. They can’t force you to take anything and even I on many occasions have come home with a prescription and never had the medication dispensed because I’ve decided against it. So whilst I don’t think my mental health has ever been this good I have decided that I will stay on my lower dose for the time being…and possibly forever. Because right now, that coupled with the other things I do seems to be working really well. So I see no reason to change it.

Dear alcohol

“If you’re brave enough to say goodbye. Life will reward you with a new hello” ⁃ Paul Coelho

It’s been 164 days since we were last together. Feels longer doesn’t it?

I wasn’t sure whether I should write this letter. I was scared of the feelings it would bring up. They say that there is no benefit in going backwards and digging up the past and I get that now. But with you, for us, there was too much left unresolved. I just woke up one day and I didn’t want you anymore and I think you deserve to know why, so here goes.

I didn’t really even like you at first, but all of my friends did so I just thought there must be something about you. So we hung out more and more, always with other people and I guess you grew on me. In fact we had some bloody good times over the years. But I think things took a turn when we started hanging out just the two of us.

Don’t get me wrong you were there for me when nobody else was, when nobody else understood me. And I am grateful for that. But I think you played on my vulnerability and took advantage when I wasn’t in the best headspace. Maybe you didn’t mean to, I don’t know. I don’t really want to know. But in time, you took control of me in the subtlest of ways.

You see I didn’t need you. I knew that and you knew that. But yet you just kept convincing me otherwise. I was lonely and you were there. I thought I could only be myself around you, but the truth is I wasn’t me at all. With you or without you. You changed me. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. The people in my life were getting further and further away from me and now I know that it was because of you. Im not saying you did it on purpose but maybe I wouldn’t have hurt and upset so many people if we hadn’t have gotten so close.

I’m not blaming you for everything that’s happened. And I’m not even angry with you. I’m angry with me, it was all my fault. BUT you definitely didn’t help. It’s weird because you were so not good for me, you were literally destroying me even though I didn’t want to admit it. But I won’t lie, I miss you a bit. I miss the comfort you brought me. Not enough to want you back though, no way. But like I said. There were some good times.

So I guess this is goodbye. But it’s also a request. If you see me around, please don’t talk to me. Don’t even look in my direction. Because the truth is although I know I’m so much better off without you (I mean, look at me. I’m smashing life…finally! better late then never I guess) I’m not sure I could handle it. You have a way of pulling me back in and I’m not quite ready to test this new found strength of mine. Not yet anyway. So as much as it would have been nice if you could have stuck around; we both know that would just have ended in disaster. Like a HUGE fuck off, end of the world type disaster. So, please, just don’t!

We had 20 years of ups and I’m afraid too many downs. So now my friend, I need to go do the next 20+ on my own.

Thank you for each and every lesson

Shaena

A Sober Education

Who’d have thought? Not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips in 151 days. I am pretty proud of myself but not because of my incredible willpower or determination, because to be honest it’s not really been like that for me. Not this time around anyway. I can’t really explain why but I’ve not really had any cravings, moments of ‘my life is going to be so fucking boring now, why could I not just drink sensibly like all the normal people out there?’ or even felt the need to fill the giant vodka bottle sized gap in my life with alcohol free beverages. It’s actually been pretty smooth sailing….so far. I am under no illusion that this is going to be a doddle and I’m never going to think about alcohol again, because that’s just stupidity at its finest. I am yet to try sober socialising, I have my first sober birthday since I was 17 coming up in a few months (and it’s a big one!) and I’ve just realized that if I ever decide that looking for love is a good idea again I’m going to have to go on a sober date! FML!

Anyway I digress. So, proud. Yes I am. Why? Because it’s given me the opportunity to go back to school. Sober school that is. No, not the online one. The imaginary one I made up so I could be a student again. A student of life! I’ve just said that out loud and I sound like a twat, but stick with me here.

I’ve learned more in the last 5 months than I did at school, university or in any job I’ve had. It’s been an incredible journey so far, so many light bulb moments and epiphanies. When alcohol was my pal, I spent so much of my time confused, lost, misunderstood. In fact I didn’t even really understand myself if I’m honest. I didn’t know who I was and now looking back, I think I spent too much of my time trying to be like other people just to fit in. No bloody wonder I was depressed. Feeling like you don’t belong or unsure of your identity is not a nice place to be. It’s actually incredibly lonely and I think as a society we underestimate the impact loneliness has on people. You don’t have to be elderly to be lonely, in fact I think older people accept loneliness better than most. I know for me watching people in my life; friends, colleagues etc go about there day to day lives with their families, other friends, partners made me feel like shit. It’s not like I didn’t have friends I just didn’t have a regular crowd to hang out with so to speak. So I hung out on my own…well, maybe not completely alone. Had my buddy booze there with me didn’t I?!

So what’s so different now? Well, since me and alcohol parted ways I feel like it took with it the dark cloud that used it hang over me, so I can see so much better now the skies are clear. I can see myself again and as a result I’m more aware and less dismissive of the impact my thoughts and actions have on myself and others. Having this clarity and self awareness gives me a sense of control that I didn’t have before. I always thought I was in control and it was my decision to do the things I did but if I wasn’t myself, how could it have been?

I’ve also done a lot of soul searching since going sober…wait is it going or getting? Anyway I’m talking actual soul searching. The spiritual kind, where you try and connect with your higher self and see the bigger picture. I never thought all that stuff was a bunch of crap, but I also didn’t think it was for me. Turns out I was wrong. Not only is it very much me and has opened up a whole new world for me, but I actually think everyone could do with checking out their spiritual side. You don’t even need to meditate, just google soul vs ego and I promise you, you’ll find out a lot about yourself!

Having found spiritual Shaena my life is so much more peaceful and calm now. I get less irate about things and even if something really annoys me I try not to react, but instead pause and take a breath. I also have way more patience and I find myself enjoying the simplest of things. I can’t even remember the last time I was in a bad mood which is saying something considering my whole life used to be a bad mood.

There’s so much more I could say about sober life and I’m sure you’ll get plenty more snippets in future blog posts but the last thing I want to mention today is people. I have made the most incredible connections via Instagram, I’m honestly blown away. I’m no stranger to making friends online, a few years ago I was following this fitness program and connected with a few girls who were doing it too. I think that was in 2015, since then I’ve been to 2 of their weddings, had 2 weekend cottage breaks with them and there was even a trip to New York! Madness! Anyway the sober community on Instagram is so welcoming and supportive. Obviously you don’t click with every single person but in just a few months I can definitely say I’ve gained at least 5 new friends. It’s funny actually, so many people worry about their friendships changing when they decide to stop drinking. I get it, I was worried too. But it’s true what they say about people all having a different role in your life and not everyone is there to stay. When you make changes to your lifestyle, some people adapt and evolve with you but others, their role in your life comes to an end. And that’s ok, because chances are you new lifestyle choice will bring a whole bunch of new people into your life.

So here’s to 5 months and to my continued education at sober school.

Cheers!