This week I hit 500 days sober.
That’s 1 year 4 months and 14 days.
Around £17,500 saved and 25,106 units not drunk.
But more importantly getting sober has saved my life.
I always look at milestones as a point of reflection. The reality is 500 days ago I was walking into a rehab facility, slurring, malnourished, depressed, totally lost and a skeleton of the young motivated man I once was.
I often question whether I’m honest about my recovery. I mean, yes I’m sober, I’m managing it and I will remain sober.
But when people ask “how’s it going, do you find it hard?” I feel a wave of self consciousness come over me and I often wonder “should I tell the truth, how it really is?” I normally just say something like “Yeah, it’s alright, you know ups and downs. But everyday sober is a good one!”.
But the reality is, 500 days later, it’s still hard, isolated or not.
When I look at this logically; I’ve been sober 500 days, which is 10% of my drinking life (3650 days), or 22% (2190 days) of my active addiction. So, yes it’s still hard, a battle, a struggle, a mental fight. But one that I will continue to work hard to win.
After leaving rehab with my discharge plan in hand, I had no idea what the world would throw at me. You have to adapt, reflect and rewrite what works for you and the Covid-19 situation is a prime example of that.
As a 28-year-old addict, I’ve had to relive and relearn how to do many things. It may sound stupid, but things like; dating, getting the tube, flirting, making friends, sex, confidence, working, ordering a drink and learning to like tea. But, as those that know me will tell you, I used to hate being on my own. Like, hated it.
As an addict, a lot of the drinking you do is on your own. There’s not many mates who will crack open a cider with you and watch Good Morning Britain.
But, despite relieving so many extreme negative feelings – either from the day before, or general emotional pain – it never felt normal. I knew that it wasn’t normal.
The times when you were in a rush, it didn’t matter, you didn’t have time to think. You threw it down your neck and got out the door. But, when you had time, no official drinking plans until after 12pm, it was a lonely place. Because it’s not like you could just plop yourself on the couch beside your housemates with a couple of crumpets and a side of Gin & Orange.
So you drink in secret, behind closed doors, often trying to do something by yourself to normalise it. But deep down it doesn’t normalise anything, because you know at the end of the day, it’s you with a bottle. Which I hated.
This means you take every opportunity to try and normalise drinking, because as long as someone else is drinking, then it’s okay, right?
Weekend routines included planning a very carefully curated playlist of social hangouts, going from one to the next to the next, ending with one I thought was probably going to be a late one. Genius.
Socialising my addiction as much as I could gave me the illusion that what I was doing was normal. I was just having a big old pre-drink before the 12pm party.
So when there were no plans, I hated it, I hated myself.
I’ve had to overcome this in the last few weeks. Isolation has forced me to sit with myself for long periods and, I’m not going to lie, parts of it have been shit.
But, I’m still here, I’m still sober and I’m still writing this.
I’ve used the 500 day milestone as a point to reflect on the past, but also look at how I’ve been handling the Corona situation and more importantly be, for extended periods of time, with myself.
As I write this, I’m almost cringing at some of the things I’m about to write, but it’s this slightly embarrassing, weird, bat-shit stuff that’s keeping me sober, so keep your opinions to yourself!
I find the start of the week the hardest. Despite it being much like any other day at the moment when, compared with the weekend, a sense of uneasiness comes.
Perhaps because before all this, Monday was the day we were most productive. I went to work early, got my shit together and started the week, but now, it’s just another day to fill.
“Drink dreams” are becoming the norm, they’re stronger when I’m anxious so a Sunday night always brings a good old mix of memories or visualisation.
Part of me thinks this is because my mind isn’t used, therefore not tired at bedtime, so it has a chance to run, dig up things I’ve tried to forget. Part of me thinks it’s because alcohol is on my mind far more than it has been in recent months.
Either way, I deal with them. It seems odd to say, while I currently have all this time, but it’s paramount to take time for myself. I don’t mean have a shave or clear out my wardrobe, I mean really take time, focused and uninterrupted.
We’re all guilty of rolling over in the morning, opening Instagram, news apps, Facebook, Snapchat, Reddit and scrolling through the array of content.
I worked out very quickly this can be triggering. Seeing people do the “Drink 5, Donate 5” on Instagram or the many Pub Quizzes with booze in hand that have taken place, honestly just makes me want to take part.
Seeing this on top of my drunk dreams first thing in the morning would be too much to start any day.
I’ve started everyday in lockdown spending 15 mins outside. Usually reflecting on the dreams I had, naming them, pondering on why that memory appeared and putting it to bed. It helps centre me for the day and not compound the ever-growing triggers that surround me during the day.
When anything gets too much, I try to take five. Slow down. Breathe. Relax my head. Think about why my mind is running.
Before lockdown, I was certainly guilty of never taking time for myself. My recovery is very much built on running from one thing to the next which allowed me to build a new life, so this is alien to me and it might be to you too, but give it a go.
I find myself on my living room rug, staring up at the ceiling quite a lot throughout the day.The old me would have said you’re mental but, you know what, it’s damn nice.
Video calls have become our saviour in lockdown. They’ve settled me down many times during this escapade, they allow me to keep up with therapy and connect with people in need. But while a pixelated face is nice, it dawns on me that I miss human interaction a lot.
AA meetings aren’t the same online, half of a meeting for me is feeling people’s emotions and feeling their pain or happiness. I’ve walked into meetings with the sole intention not to share, then someone’s story, strength, sadness or fears hit you and I suddenly find myself blabbing on for five minutes uncontrollably.
Tuesday we sat in the house and we both needed to interact with something else besides each other.
Side note. I realise I am so very lucky to have a wonderful partner who is here every evening (she works long shifts for the NHS). Without her this would be infinitely more difficult and I am truly thankful for everything she does to support me.
It feels like as we sit in the flat looking around for some inspiration, we both miss freedom. The thriving community I’m part of has faded, it feels like it’s us against the world and I start to resent the situation we’re in.
So, what to do from a first floor flat, other than try and attract the local wildlife for a Snow White type scene in our living room? A pack of god awful Rhubarb & Custard biscuits came to our aid, we smashed them up on the windowsill and stood expecting a flock of birds to swoop in like it was their first meal in a week.
We might have been waiting for a good hour, but eventually a little robin landed on a branch opposite and eyed up the pink biscuits. It swooped in, grabbed a bit, then retreated. We both watched in amazement, with huge smiles on our faces, like we’d seen some sort of mythical being.
Some of you may think I’m mad, but this little robin made all the difference.
For that hour I didn’t think about drink, I didn’t battle and I felt happiness. We should all cherish that feeling at times like this. I’m now wondering what treat might attract a squirrel, any tips?
I’ve been actively trying to stop my head racing when it’s triggered, but isolation is making triggers more prominent than ever.
For example; a Mercure Hotels ad took me back to drinking vodka in a hotel every morning on a work trip, a guy drinking a Kronenbourg on the street makes me wish I had a can in the hot sun, a picture on Instagram of Brancott Estate wine flashes my mind back to stashing endless bottles under my pillows.
They’re endless and I can’t control them. But what I can do is control how I interact with them.
I’ve started picking a repetitive, remedial, simple task everyday. A task that can be approached when “I just need a minute”. It provides a focus point, a time to blank your mind, a time away from triggers, another morsel of time to myself.
Wednesday’s task was turning a god awful green box into a lovely oak-stained masterpiece. Throughout the day I applied six coats of stain – that’s six times I needed 10 mins away, six times I could have got into a right struggle.
After reflecting on this I think there is more to it than what it seems. I think it’s a replacement for the times I’d grab a drink. I often reached for the bottle when something triggered me, I was bored or frustrated. My little painting exercise is replacing the booze.
While trying to look after myself in all this, there has been a constant guilt that sits with me. I think about all the other recovering addicts who might not have the support, technology, confidence and strength to do the things I have engaged with.
There are undoubtedly addicts who are struggling, crawling the walls, white-knuckling their way through lockdown. Most likely alone, vulnerable and at risk.
We are all aware of the power the media holds and now, more than ever, the stories it puts out have a greater impact on us. So this week I set out to use media for the greater good.
I wanted to reach out to all those suffering in silence, let them know they are not alone and they will get through this. While also raising awareness of alcoholism outside the recovery community, to encourage people to reach out to those in need. It will change lives.
I sent out my story to many news desks, podcasts and newspapers, through connections I have made at work, and I was interviewed for a slot on Sky News.
I was shit scared, but I told myself by reaching out, swallowing my nerves and getting on with it, I might just help someone in crisis.
It’s my mission with this blog to raise awareness of alcoholism and the struggle it brings, while giving strength and hope to other recovering addicts, and on this particular day I felt like I’d taken one further step in my mission.
The morning fizzled into nothing, I can’t remember what happened but I knew I didn’t want to do much today. I had no motivation or inspiration, just one of those days.
We decided to play The Sims. For those who don’t know, The Sims is a simulation game – you build a character, house, go to work, get a pet, get married, eat, sleep, pee – everything you’d do in real life.
I’ve never been a gamer, my Xbox has been on about 20 times in its seven year life, but I played for nine hours solid.
Nine hours of creating a pretend life. I got a job as a gardener, I got a dog, I started a relationship, got engaged and built myself a deck in the garden.
I got absolutely lost in a world on my screen. There was no Coronavirus there, no isolation, no queues at supermarkets. I loved it.
Me being me, of course I overthought why I was so engrossed. My addictive personality counts for why I couldn’t stop playing. “I like it, I want it, I do it.”
But why did I engage with something that I’ve never engaged with before?
I think I just wanted to live an alternate life for a bit. Where my only worry was if my dog had shit on the deck or my cooker was on fire. It felt great. I’m not going to think any more about it and just embrace the fun, but if you can’t reach me, you’ll know why.
Isolation is a challenge for us all, for many different reasons. But more crucially it’s something that can really help every one of us evaluate what’s important, and taking the time to do this is priceless.
I’ve had to take my recovery back to Step One and I’m now rebuilding it for a lockdown life. I’m facing my biggest fear and relapse triggers head on.
Panic has been replaced with thought, logic and reflection. Anxiety still thrives but for reasons I now understand.
One day at a time, stay safe.
Love, Ben x