Six Years

I’m getting to the point where I forget what this time of year means now – and that’s both a good AND a bad thing because for some time the end of January (specifically the 26th and the 28th) has represented some big annual milestones.

Although I haven’t been particularly prolific with regard to my writing these days I have often blogged about these two anniversaries and laid down thoughts regarding their ongoing impact.

Why should this year be any different? It’s cool to look back at those posts and see who I was at that moment in time. It’s also interesting to see how my perceptions and memories have shifted and changed as the years have passed.

The 26th January 2016 is when I stopped drinking and then two days later on the 28th my mother died.

Given the fact that I’m once again struggling with my weight (and that a lot of old behaviours returned during lockdown) I am pleased to say that when I put down my (metaphorical and physical) glass down six years ago I managed to never pick it up again.

In truth many may be surprised that I remained completely sober throughout the period of arranging my mother’s funeral, as well as the following house clearance. They may also be impressed that I continued to remain on the wagon while I dealt with the months that followed.

The stress and pain of laying someone to rest that loomed very large in my life did not go away quickly – and even now when I see the relationship that my partner has with her mother it boggles my mind.

Firstly I’m in awe of the fact that they love and care about each other so much, and secondly I can’t believe that there’s no animosity, undercurrent of simmering hatred, hidden agendas or lies.

To me that’s all that a mother represented, and sadly – at a knee jerk emotional level – is still what the concept means to me.

Sure, I know deep down that a mother’s love is usually different to the experience I (and the rest of my family) endured.

The problem is that I can’t truly imagine what it would have been like to receive unconditional and nurturing support with no malice or manipulation involved.

When I see it happening (and what’s more enduring) it’s just odd.

I still sit on the outside looking in, often feeling like a casual observer of other people’s family bonds, but never truly ‘getting’ them, or understanding how they’ve formed.

Of course – long term readers will know that whilst I wasn’t sad when my mother passed away – the resulting relief (my overriding emotion at the time) caused its own kinds of problems.

Instead of missing a loved one I was instead left with a hole that hadn’t suddenly appeared, because it had always been there.

I mourned what may have been, rather than the loss of what was.

When I laid my mother to rest at her funeral the coffin did not contain the body of someone I loved. What was cremated instead was the burden of being her son – and in the suite of feelings this provoked heralded the start of a really difficult period of soul searching.

There’s a guilt that never leaves you when you accept that your grief is not because you miss someone – but because you never had something from them and felt cheated.

Furthermore – when you’re glad they’re gone it’s even worse.

I’ve come to accept that these are natural emotions – but it’s hard not to berate yourself for having them or feeling like you’re cold and selfish.

After all society teaches us that you should care and feel sad when your mother dies.

When you don’t – well that’s a whole other set of problems to unpick.

So with that in mind (for the readers that message me to say they still struggle with alcohol related demons and read my posts to find out how and why I stopped) I guess the moment I gave up drinking represented a conscious choice to distance myself from her, before the choice was taken away from me.

It wasn’t so much about the booze – it was a need to not be like her and not throw everything away like she did.

To remain sober back then oddly didn’t seem like a physical problem – but a mental one.

What on earth did you fill your time with? I’d become very used to managing everything with alcohol.

Bored? No problem – have a drink. Time passes pleasingly fast.

Unhappy? No problem – a few drinks will cheer you right up.

Stressed? No problem a glass of wine will calm you down after a difficult day.

Happy? No problem – let’s celebrate your good mood with a few cans.

The list went on and on. Even sleep and pain management had become inextricably linked with alcohol by the time I’d stopped – and it left a huge void to begin with.

The truth was that I didn’t really plan in advance to give up and had no particular strategy to do so but aside from my mother issues I’d also reached another tipping point.

Fundamentally I hated myself and what I’d become so much that for some reason (instead of taking a long walk off a short cliff – which at times I genuinely wanted to do) I just stoped drinking three bottles of wine a night and didn’t start again.

Physically, there were no shakes, no withdrawal, nothing that one may expect to accompany the cessation of drinking huge volumes of alcohol.

Emotionally however I had failed to appreciate just how much I’d used it to manage the feelings surrounding many different kinds of things, and because of this how woven into the fabric of my life it was.

For a start off – what do you do with the yawning chasm of time that’s suddenly present in the evening? What was all the space after work for?

How would I sleep without being drunk in my armchair?

How did I celebrate?

How should I process anger and stress?

It was all a learning curve for sure – and whilst I wasn’t an emotional moron (it has been said I can be quite reflective) what I’d never been very good at was dealing with emotions in the moment that they happened.

These days I’m much better at this than I used to be – although I’d say that from the perspective of stress, I’ve never fully learned to let things flow over me and not take it home to mull and stew over.

I don’t pack it all away and hide it though.

Thankfully these days I have the release valve of a relationship to vent this kind of thing into, and as much as I’m able to turn my partner’s frown upside down she has a rather transformative effect on me too.

Few can crack my grumpy moods when they arrive.

In truth my advice to those expected to endure them in the past has been not to worry. After time they clear up and pissy Davey will magically become shiny happy Davey once more.

All you have to do as an observer is leave him alone to grind his teeth for a while and then he will be as right as rain.

The problem with that approach is essentially when you withdraw to let things blow over you’re not sharing or letting anything out but stewing and not letting anyone in. You’re in essence saying to anyone around you that your pain and frustrations are more complicated and important than theirs and that only you can understand them.

Which is bollocks.

It’s monumentally selfish to expect someone else to cheer up when you speculatively tickle them, or place a well meaning cup of tea nearby with a smile, but then refuse to do so when they try to do the same thing.

Back when I was beginning to learn my ‘post bottle’ coping strategies though my partner wasn’t on the scene. Thankfully I had a lot of friends to talk to, as well my blogging to help me understand myself.

I had to inflict many many introspective posts upon my readers whilst I worked through the process of exorcising feelings that (at least for a long while) seemed like they would never leave.

Much of that is now the subject of conversation at home, and whilst I’ve neglected my writing of late it hasn’t meant that I’ve had no outlet.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Six years on I’m still sober because I’m happy.

Stress is still a thing, but when we experience it we deal with it together – and share lots and lots of cups of coffee and tea whilst we do so.

Whilst this post is fundamentally about alcohol and my mother let me segue temporarily for a moment.

One of the things that’s always made me smile about my other half is that when I met her she seemed amazed that I was happy to ‘let’ her be her ‘geeky, nerdy self’.

Firstly (even if it was possible which I doubt it is) why would I stop it?

Sure – we could be geeky about different things but that’s what made it interesting.

There’s no point trying to make someone be who you want them to be if they aren’t already that person. If you want to breed resentment in a relationship then tell your partner you love them and accept them, before trying to change everything about them bit by bit behind the scenes until they fit the model of your perfect person.

(Hint – they don’t exist.)

In my experience it just leads to one or both of you waking up five years down the line and wondering who the hell you actually are.

I think when we first met what my partner didn’t fully grasp was that I’d have torn my arm off for a woman that was not only capable of sharing this kind of thing with me, but actually enjoyed it as much as I did.

There was nothing to change – and it was her capacity for this – and her tendency for feeling profoundly visible happiness that has recently dealing with pandemic life possible.

Over time I’ve found that you can measure her happiness by limbs and their movement.

  1. No limbs moving excessively. This is contemplation mode and is usually accompanied by Facebook browsing, reading about rocks or crafting little things made out of beads.
  2. 1-2 limbs moving. Usually associated with arms, which begin a rhythmic pumping motion up and down. This signifies excitement at something for the future (a cool movie trailer for instance) or triumph at something accomplished (a particularly tricky beading project or a technical feat in a video game).
  3. 3-4 limbs all animated independently. This is a moment of extreme joy and is usually accompanied by giggles and happiness where the entire facial region is also reserved for a massive grin. Often related to moments of real triumph or celebration, unwrapping presents and the end of movies (Spider-Man – No way home). Causes hopping in a standing orientation, noisily ruffling of the duvet if occurring at bedtime – or fist pumps and leg jiggling if she’s sitting down.

All four limbs‘ is usually how I refer to her in these moments – and when this happens I can see the waves of glee simply radiating around her.

I can’t help but laugh when this happens.

The almost child like capacity that she has to be joyful (particularly how she melts when she’s watching Alsatian puppy videos) just warms every part of me.

That happiness isn’t made by me internally.

It’s no longer my burden to find from it within when I’m low.

Instead it’s suddenly and unexpectedly washing over me in waves – a tsunami caused by a happy little blonde bouncing around on the sofa next to me.

With this going on it’s practically impossible to be grumpy.

No longer do I have to be ‘left alone to let it pass’.

It’s just gone.

So why the segue?

These days I’m less concerned with the question ‘how did sober happen?

From a writing perspective I’ve already covered that topic at length in other blogs and on days like today I’m more preoccupied with ‘why does sober continue?

The truth is that even though she helps even without those four little limbs washing stress away and cheering me up I don’t think that I would go back to who I used to be.

One can never predict the future – but at this moment in time (hangover and guilt free) I can say categorically that not one little bit of me misses being drunk.

Sure there are times that I crave an instant release from feelings – but I know that booze is a false prophet.

It promises much but in reality takes away so much more, and diminishes people under its influence.

There may be those that can have one glass of wine – but I’ve had to accept I’m not one of those people.

I think therefore that this year my twin anniversaries are less about what they used to mean and more about what they mean now.

Over time I’ve let go of a lot of pain.

In the case of motherhood I often remain the same distant, musing man, wondering how someone can speak to their mother on the phone for so long and enjoy it – but it makes me happy to see the strength of those bonds in others.

In the case of alcohol – it’s a distant (even sometimes happy) memory – but it’s in the past.

I’m no longer someone counting the days of sobriety – I’m someone that’s just wondering whose turn it is to make coffee, and what to put together for dinner.

It barely seems possible that six years have passed since I gave up drinkingbut they have.

I continue to struggle with many things, and life is far from perfect in a lot of respects, but it endures.

I find pleasure and happiness in the mundane as well as the magnificent – and I do so with clarity.

So – at this six year point – what is my mother’s legacy and has it changed?

In her own way she’s still around, and helping without realising it. She was a practical person that hoarded for every eventuality and it took me almost four years to use all the washing powder she left behind when she died.

I’m still using her mountains of stamps, bacofoil, cling film, elastic bands, cleaning products of every description – and many many other little things that have proven ‘irritatingly useful’ over time.

I’ve realised though that when I pick these items up and nowadays (instead of being a grim reminder of what we meant to each other) they actually provoke wry smiles.

Whether she wanted to or not she’s helping me in little ways.

If I need a stamp I have lots and if I want to put an elastic band on an opened packet of rice I have a bag full of them that she left behind.

To think that she’s having a tiny but positive daily impact on me is a nice perspective to have when I think about her.

The rest doesn’t matter.

We can never know what will be left behind when someone passes – and feelings change with time. What may be pain and anger one day may be understanding and acceptance further down the line.

It may at some point even become forgiveness.

The point is – you just don’t know where any of it will lead – all you have to do is begin.

Davey

Plug hole

It’s cold.

As I type the sensation of chilly tightness in my fingertips is evident and my laptop is rocking back and forth on a pillow that sits atop a duvet that’s wrapped around my legs. Music is playing in the background and without me choosing a song, YouTube started playing ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO.

Now the the track has flipped to another by Jeff Lynne – and is saying repeatedly ‘Don’t bring me down.’

Maybe this is prophetic. My mood wasn’t particularly sour – but I felt like I needed to write – and this wasn’t because I was filled with joy.

A fellow blogger posted the other day, and she hit a chord with me. I feel the same way she does more often than I’d care to admit and consequently I’ve avoided reading a lot of her and other people’s posts for some time because I didn’t want to confront those emotions.

I’ve deleted practically all of my social media accounts for much the same reason.

I’ve always said that I didn’t want to write unless I was being honest – but YouTube is probably right. I shall try to be positive and not bring you all down.

Maybe there’s a better way of describing what’s going on…

A few weeks ago the drainer in the kitchen sink was blocked. My large rubbery bathroom plunger (usually deployed to shuffle along the clumps of long blonde hair that inexplicably started to block the plug hole around two and half years ago) was just too large to fit in the tiny side sink downstairs.

Irritated by the need for another purchase I had turned to Amazon and procured a couple of (reasonably priced) remedial items.

A large bendy pipe cleaner and a smaller ‘baby plunger’ arrived a few days later, and (as with many things in my life recently) remained in their box completely unopened by the kitchen door for a couple of weeks.

Eventually my irritation with the slowly draining murky soup began to outweigh my unwillingness to fix it.

I finally opened the box and looked at the contents.

Of the two items inside the pipe cleaner initially looked the most likely to have an impact. It was sparkling white, around a foot and a half long and had tough sprouting bristles spanning its entire length.

It clearly meant business and appeared capable of evacuating any stubborn passage with extreme prejudice.

The illustrative picture on the box (with a cutaway of a u-bend filled with easily moved articles) promised much.

However, as I gently fed it down into the hole I was soon became pretty certain that it wouldn’t meet the lofty claims made on its packet.

The network of tiny pipes under my dual kitchen sink seemed to bear more resemblance to spaghetti junction than the gently curving (and suspiciously wide) one in the image on the packet.

As I pushed it further and further down I became more and more certain that nothing could be both bendy and stiff enough both to navigate such a maze of plastic whilst simultaneously clearing a stubborn clot of grease and crap.

Unsurprisingly it stopped dead with around six inches of ‘grapple length’ sticking up in the air.

I turned and twiddled it – but it didn’t seem to be going in any further than it already had.

After some spirited ramming in and out of the plug hole for a minute or two I realised that rather than unblocking the pipe all I seemed to be accomplishing was ripping the plastic bristles off the wire and compacting the clot even more.

Poking the blockage with the tip of a pipe cleaner wasn’t doing a thing.

Rather than fixing the problem I was adding non biodegradable (and very resilient) plastic to the already immovable chunk of ‘whatever the f&&k it was’ in the drain.

I extracted the mangled wire and picked up the plunger, removing its cardboard label. There was no chance it was ever going back to Amazon after I’d shoved it where the sun no longer shined.

First impressions were good.

This new svelte model of plunger fitted the smaller side sink perfectly – and formed what appeared to be a tight seal around the plug hole. I manoeuvred it into place and firmly pushed it down.

Nothing happened.

The water swirled a little in the drainer but the level failed to drop.

I lifted it up again and rammed the wooden handle down once more (this time a bit firmer) squishing the rubber cup rapidly into place.

Nothing moved in the murky soup. It swirled, but once more didn’t go down.

I lifted the plunger and put it back into the sink for another go but it wasn’t working.

After several spirited pumps I was still getting nowhere. I lifted it out, and looked at the underside to make sure there wasn’t a break in the rubber.

It looked fine. I speculatively stuck it to the work surface and it happily formed a seal, then pulled off with a satisfying ‘pop’ when I yanked it away.

I put the plunger back into the sink.

However when I submerged it under the murky water what I hadn’t realised was that I’d failed to align it correctly.

I rammed it down again. This time faster and more energetically.

Without warning a large fountain of murky (and rather old) coffee grounds and grease sprayed directly into my face and all over the front of my top.

I stopped dead, suddenly very pissed off, as well as smelly and dripping.

‘Bollocks.’

“It’s not getting unblocked.’ I called to my partner in the next room.

‘I think we’re going to need a plumber.’ I said, with fetid brown water dripping from my beard.

‘Oh no!’ she replied and came to survey the damp man hunched over a truly disgusting puddle of drain water, brushing little bits of crap from my face.

My recently completed washing up was now covered in clumps of brown ‘something or other’ – and so was I.

‘It’s just not moving.’ I said dejectedly.

‘It ripped all the stuff off that one..’ I said, pointing to the brown, damaged and bent pipe cleaner I’d discarded on the floor by the washing machine. ‘…and this one just sprayed crap in my face.’

I held up the offending plunger and pointed at it to underscore which item was to blame.

It made no attempt to look guilty or accept the gravity of its failure.

She looked at me sympathetically and then slowly moved back to her previous task in the other room.

I sat on my stool looking dejectedly at the sink.

It represented much more than just a drain being blocked. It spoke volumes about my mood and my lack of willingness to face up to problems. Its completely clogged state was a metaphor for everything else that was wrong with me at that moment in time.

Hidden under its murky cold depths there was something far below the surface.

It was possible to visualise what that unholy clump of crap might be, how it might have formed and what its constituent materials might be – but above the surface it just looked clogged and unusable.

At that point it no longer mattered what had caused it. The sink was neglected and just needed attention.

It had been filled with all the wrong things and become progressively more sluggish and slow, until it had completely ceased to function in the way it used to.

My shoulders slumped.

I didn’t want a plumber to come and fix me.

No. I didn’t mean me. I meant the drain. I was thinking about the drain wasn’t I?

I didn’t want a plumber to come and fix the drain. That was what I meant. I’d become lost in thought.

I picked up the plunger again. F&&k you drain. F&&k you.

I repeatedly rammed the plunger up and down. I already smelt of crappy water and had coffee grounds soaking into on my polo top. I couldn’t get wetter and smellier, so I might as well carry on.

Then after several more spirited pumping motions – on the main sink next to the drainer… a bubble!

I stopped and listened.

…..

………

‘Glug.’

Something had moved. A single little bubble popped on the surface of the fetid water in the drainer.

Was it working?

Emboldened I carried on lifting and ramming repeatedly – until all of a sudden THE ENTIRE FETID SINK FULL OF CRAP UNEXPECTEDLY DRAINED AWAY!!!

Practically without warning it was suddenly completely empty!!!

Giggling with glee I called to inform my partner of my triumph (modestly) advising her why we were no longer in need of a tradesman.

Man unblock sink!‘ I proclaimed. ‘Man clever! Man done good!

I put one hand on my chest and looked into the distance, feeling Napoleonic.

‘Yes you have.’ she said, pandering to my fragile male ego – and patted me on the shoulder.

If she was 2 ft taller I’m sure that this would have been a pat on the head, but I was happy either way. I’d unblocked the sink – and for a moment I was a DIY god. Nothing could touch my achievement.

Maybe I could start a plumbing business?

I could get business cards printed and advertise in the local press.

Too far?

Possibly – but my innate talent was clearly evident.

Maybe another day.

I settled instead with cleaning the sink and making the drainer sparkle again – and when when I’d finished it looked lovely.

It was unblocked, free flowing – and (if I do say myself) working better than it had for a very long time.

I also hadn’t called a plumber to fix myself.

I mean the sink – not me. I was talking about the sink wasn’t I?

Or was I…

I needed one too.

I am that sink currently. I filled myself with all the wrong foods again, neglected myself, didn’t handle lockdown, the pandemic or the stress and depression that came with it well and now I have a lot of ground to recover.

Some days I feel stronger than others, and on many I feel weaker than all the rest, but after hitting (what I feel to be) an all time low regarding my self image over Xmas I’ve been on a wagon of sorts for a few weeks now.

I have not eaten any ‘crap’ and each weekend have been block preparing Tupperware boxes full of chopped vegetables as ingredients for meals. I’m hoping that the stresses and strains of the working week will not make me reach for comfort foods if making good things instead seems easier.

Making the right kinds of meals is always easier if you plan ahead – and as my favourite Slimming World consultant used to say, ‘fail to prepare and you prepare to fail’.

I can’t quite face hardcore dieting yet – but I’m several steps closer to being back in the right mindset than I was a few weeks ago. I’m sleeping a bit better, feeling a tiny bit more energetic, and overall a little more upbeat.

All I need to do now is explore the blockages in my head and unpick the reasons why I reverted to so many bad behaviours when faced with the adversities of the last two years.

Maybe if I start writing again and attempt to unravel some of those then I too will start draining – just like my sink.

As if by magic YouTube’s ELO playlist moves on to ‘The lights go down’. I think that it and Jeff Lynn have helped make this post possible. Maybe the universe is still listening…

I’ll try and write more again soon internet. It’s nice to be back.

Davey