On Friday, I felt a real sense of freedom.
I met up with someone outside my home. Actually not just someone, a new friend living a similar journey to me, Dave (@SoberDave). We had a great afternoon, walked round the woods, took some snaps and shared stories, struggles, joy and sorrow.
Just being with someone in the flesh who you relate and look up to was brilliant. I was on cloud nine.
But when I got in the car to leave, thoughts came into my head. As I watched people lining up at the cafe, chatting, laughing, my mind suddenly flashed to memories of pub gardens and summer drinking.
It was like my brain replaced the folding tables and coffees outside the cafe, with rows of benches filled with pints. Strange, I thought.
This was the first time I’ve ‘socialised’ in twelve weeks, seen someone outside of our house and once I was alone again, my head automatically paired socialising with alcohol.
While this took me by surprise, I now realise it wasn’t just a fleeting thought but a deeper anxiety. It’s the realisation that this current situation we are in will eventually come to an end.
Over these last twelve weeks, I have created a bubble. A safe bubble. I have lived within the four walls of my flat, done minimal shopping trips and interacted, in person, with no one but Emma.
At the start of Lockdown I wrote about how I would need to develop a huge mind shift. I was anxious about how I’d make it work. The change in daily rhythms threw me and I didn’t know how I’d react being left alone with my thoughts.
But I’ve adapted. My rhythms have changed, my mind is at ease and I feel safe in my bubble. I’ve spent time building up this bubble, layers of safety, armed with tools to fight off intruding thoughts.
But that’s just it, no matter how much I build this safe bubble, thoughts have managed to float in.
Deep down my memories of drinking still remain euphoric and almost positive, but the reality is hugely different.
It’s hard to tell you how many times a day thoughts of alcohol come into my head. Unless I’m entirely engaged, they just pop up. Where others heads might wander to food, music, their evening, work, weekend, friends, family, whatever, mine goes to alcohol every time.
You might be thinking “fuck, thats stressful”, and to be fair it is. But, in an odd way, I welcome it. It reminds me that I am an alcoholic and I was mentally and physically dependent on alcohol. But, that’s in the past.
Perhaps so much time alone has made me realise how prominent these thoughts are. In my day-to-day life, I would be distracted by the world around me. But I’m being left to sit with them now, which I guess is why I feel this nervousness about lockdown lifting.
After discussing this with friends, they say “can’t you just stay away from trigger points for a bit?” – but, I’m not triggered at specific times. Thoughts come and go, whenever, wherever, however they please, it’s how we deal with them that matters.
I personally have very few specific places that trigger me. For others, places will make up 90% of their thoughts, flashbacks, feelings, desires. Saying that, there is one place I avoid at all costs… It’s a beautiful walk, but I shudder when I walk past it, I’ve ruined it.
The Old Green Railway Line, Nottingham
Around midday hits, I’m at my mums 2 months before going to rehab. I’ve drunk whatever’s left in the house and am pining to go to the shop, rattling my head for any excuse.
Why not just go earlier?, you ask. Well, despite being a raging alcoholic, there was still a part of me that was ashamed. Didn’t want people to know and if I went to the shop pre-12pm for wine, then they might see my problem…
I venture out, a short walk to Sainsbury’s, feeling sick, dizzy, faint, all the usual.
Through the garage forecourt, looking down with every step, as my vision blurs more and my head pounds. The strong petrol fumes nearly kill me.
Anxiety courses through my veins as I think “will my card work” “What if they ID me” “what if they refuse to serve me” “what if I drop it” “is she looking at me funny”.
I slowly walk over to the wine fridge. To continue my disguise, I carefully browse the bottles reading the labels – you know, to pick the best bottle for dinner this evening with the family…
I picked out the second cheapest white and rose, headed for the till, and prayed my card worked. It did.
I walked around the corner to The Green Line. A long path lined with trees and a few benches at the start. Secluded enough, it was my wine spot.
Only wine here, because that’s all I’d buy from that Sainsbury’s garage. I fear I frequented it too much to buy vodka, then they’d know I was an alcoholic. So the disused train line was the wine stop.
I’d go to the second bench and sit with my rucksack, which in those days never left my side. I reached in to pull out the rose, always Rose first. Why? Because it was a bit easier to gulp than white, so it was my starter.
Fuck. Pushchair. I sit staring at the trees waiting for it to pass. It’s like they are walking at snail-pace… “fucking hell, come on” I thought. If there is one thing worse than not being able to drink, it’s not being able to drink when you’re holding it in your fucking bag.
Finally she’s gone. Before I hear the next pushchair crackle on the gravel, I chug. It burns. My stomach feels like fire. I gasp for a breath, and chug again. I hear a crackle. I stop. Back in the bag.
Although my stomach is trying to turn itself inside out, I feel a wave of warmth and calm come over me. My head suddenly slowed from the 100mph it was, to a manageable 25mph. I just stare into the trees, I feel like I’m melting into the bench and boy it feels good. Relief.
I drink the last of that bottle, rose done. Onto the white…
So yes, while specific places do play a role, I’ll never set foot there again. It’s more the everyday that makes me uneasy, that’s the reason I started this blog.
How I feel now is very relatable to how I felt when I left rehab. I’d been living in a safe environment, where I spent 2 months, then had to navigate the world, all over again.
And, if I could do it 2 months sober then, I certainly can do 18 months sober now.
I do see the positives in what Lockdown has brought, it’s allowed me to be alone with my thoughts, actually feel them instead of bat them away. It has made me very aware of the (still) present pin-prick thoughts of alcohol, which may have previously been distracted. It’s added another layer to my recovery onion, which is continuing to grow.
It’s not going to be easy. But I’m armed with my toolkit, just as I was when I left rehab and when I entered lockdown, I might just have to take it slow, back to square one, while I readjust. And that’s okay.
While living through Lockdown 18 months sober hasn’t been a walk in the park, it’s all part of my journey and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Love Ben xx
PS: While lockdown lifting will be a joyous occasion for many, just take the time to ask someone how they’re feeling about it, as it may bring more uneasiness than joy. Just by giving the time to talk may help that person to start to build their toolkit for coping.