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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 3-4 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 drinking – but 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.