In my previous life as a lush, I lurched from crisis to crisis, learning nothing, feeling nothing. In case you were wondering, feeling nothing is the absolute holy grail if you’re an addict. Oblivion is the name of the game. Some people assume I drank because I was an irrepressible party girl, seeking unbridled hedonism and high times. The more prosaic truth is that I wanted to feel nothing at all. Ever.
Now I feel everything all the time, which at the beginning of recovery seemed like a raw deal. "Stop drinking and feel your feelings! Feel worse, if anything!" What the…..? I couldn’t believe how much everyday maintenance goes into being a semi-healthy human person. I’d lost touch with my feelings so profoundly that I was confused and outraged every time I got tired or hungry. Eating three times a day felt like a mammoth chore, so I didn’t bother. Being cold, hot, bloated, anxious, bored, irritated, happy, sad….Christ, it was dull. Being sentient all of the time is a DRAG. When I first sobered up I wondered aloud, in the company of other addicts, whether or not “normal” people went around feeling so much all the time. I think they probably do; but perhaps their reaction to the feelings in question isn’t abject terror. An addict’s response to any given sensation is often one of blind panic. I can only speak for myself, and I know how self obsessed and cowardly this sounds, but my feelings scare the bejesus out of me. They always have, since I was little. When a physical feeling or emotion presents itself, I can feel my brain contract with dismay. I want to know asafp a) what the feeling is b) how long it will last c) how intense it is going to get d) if it will kill me or render me incapable e) whether everyone else experiences this feeling or if it’s just me f) how I can engineer a way to not feel it. The conclusion my brain inevitably draws is that whatever the feeling is, I will not cope with it and therefore must medicate it THIS VERY SECOND. Despite almost seven years off the booze and ample evidence to suggest that I will not die from my feelings, my default setting is yet to change.
Alcohol was a failsafe solution to all of this. When I drank, my whirring brain was muted, a fuzzy warmth enveloped my stomach and oesophagus, and wellbeing abounded. I could get on with things, like a “normal” person, no matter what my feelings were. I didn’t even want to do anything massive. I just wanted to get on buses and go to lectures, eat meals, get dressed, sometimes play the cello in public. I could do all that no problem when I was half cut. Actually, I felt superhuman, like I’d ingested rocket fuel. All my worries melted away and instead of being incapacitated by alcohol, I found I could be more functional than normal. I approached tasks that frightened the life out of me with confidence, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the metallic liquid I’d just imbibed would see me through. Finally, I was free of the gnawing fear that underpinned everything I ever did. The progressive nature of alcoholism meant that it wasn’t long before the booze took away the things I thought it was giving me. It took more and more to feel human and my health and sanity quickly began to suffer. One of the benefits of starting at the bottom of the alchie scale (most people don’t drink vodka for breakfast so soon in their drinking career) was that there wasn’t far for me to fall. Luckily I was frightened of drugs (apart from benzodiazepines. Oh benzos…….) so I didn’t end up in a crack house like so many of my contemporaries. My “rock bottom” happened after a mere four years and luckily, my brain was so addled that I didn’t fully comprehend what I was dealing with until I was off the piss for over a year after that. After roughly 365 days of not drinking, I caught a glimpse of the seething mass of neuroses that led me to drink in the first place. It is that seething mass that keeps me yammering on about addiction and going to 12 step meetings now. It stands to reason that just because I’m no longer drinking it doesn’t mean I’m cured of what made me so susceptible to pissery.
At the moment, I am pregnant. I’ve just made it to the second trimester. Mr C and I decided to stop preventing the baby making process in April. We assumed that it would take ages to get pregnant because many of our friends have struggled to conceive. It actually took about twenty three minutes. Like many newly pregnant people, we are swinging violently between joy and fear, sometimes over the course of an hour. Being pregnant, for someone who intensely dislikes unfamiliar sensations and being out of control of their body, is an absolute BITCH. I seem to be having some kind of uncomfortable symptom every five minutes and I’m slightly mortified to say that the onslaught of hormonal reactions in my body has not made me want to eat healthily, take care of myself and become an Earth mother. If I’m honest, being up the pole has at times, made me want to do the opposite and check out of reality. I had more thoughts about drinking in the first few weeks of my pregnancy than I have in the past five years, because I felt so frightened and out of control. In case you were wondering, this desire to drink has nothing to do with my baby. I’m already in love with him/her. The other week we went nervously along for the twelve week scan, and we saw he or she waving and kicking like a wriggly mentaller. It’s cheesy to say it, but it was magical. I wanted to ask the sonographer and her scanner to move in with us so I can look at the baby all day every day. Over the first few weeks I had a couple of little scares that I might miscarry and I was surprised at the intensity of feeling I had for a seamonkey the size of an olive. Despite all this, I was disappointed to discover that the urge to check out of my body had not left. It has never been more vital than now to look after myself and “stay with the feelings”, and yet, my addict brain still has other ideas.
Luckily, I know what is wrong with me. It took a long time to accept, but now I’m aware that I’m riddled with addiction, I know the drill when I’m going through a difficult patch. I have learnt to sit with the disgusting feelings, even when my skin is crawling and my heart is racing, and know that they are not permanent. They will not kill me. Despite what the addict monkey in my head is saying to me, Smirnoff, temazepam and blacking out until the baby is due is NOT THE ANSWER. I used to feel intense shame whenever the thought of drinking came into my head. I kept wondering when I’d be cured and the “ism” of alcoholism would disappear. I wondered what I was doing wrong to warrant the old urges to get twatted. I have a lot of friends who have not used drugs or drank for twice as long as I have. They have assured me that an addicts’ desire to escape NEVER goes away and the only difference in long term recovery is that we become practised at not acting on it. Lovely things happening in life are lovely, but that’s it. They don’t fix anything. Being married to Mr C, though delightful, will not cure me. Neither will impending motherhood, or any amount of professional success. I have seen many people come into recovery and rebuild their lives only to pull it down again with a relapse. A tragic recent example is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who relapsed and died after twenty three clean and sober years. He got clean, got married, had children, became Hollywood royalty and still ended up dying alone in a one bed apartment with nothing but a cocktail of class As for company. The story of his death sent a shiver of horrified recognition through every addict in recovery. It was a reminder that we’re never really free of addiction and the external landscape of our lives is utterly irrelevant. You can be a family man with academy awards and millions of dollars or street homeless, and suffer the same illness. Addiction doesn’t respect class, age, gender, race or financial status. Just because my life is back on track now, I’m not cured. If anything I’ll have to work harder than ever to stay sane when I’m up all night with a baby and my arse is three times its normal size.
Despite the knowledge that becoming a parent is going to be really hard, I can’t help but look at my fledgling bump and think what a miracle baby C is. His or her parents were once hopeless fuckwits, constantly on the run from reality and responsibility. Now we are the kind of people who fret about paying our bills on time and being good at our jobs. I am a woman with stamps in her purse. The water bottle in my handbag has actual water in it.
Another benefit of recovery is that because I know how different my life used to be, or could have been, I am hyper aware of anything good happening. Even on a day when everything seems to go wrong, I know to be grateful to be alive/not institutionalised/not incapacitated with alcohol. I try not to take any of it for granted. The other week I played at Glastonbury (NOT a "clang". Festivals are the least glamorous gigs EVER, particularly when sober and 8 weeks pregnant). I had chronic indigestion courtesy of the aforementioned sea monkey I’m growing and I’d not slept the night before. When we did our line check in the darkness, a BBC cameraman asked politely, “Could you just move that neon pink bottle of Gaviscon out of shot love? Thanks.” I was stone cold sober, nervous, knackered and bloated. I’d spent the day peeing every hour or so in a horrible end-of-Glasto toilet and wading through treacle-y mud refusing spliffs and bottles of beer. I wondered how I’d fare during the hour long set. I felt like lying on the floor and farting my way through it. (Pregnant women are gassy. Deal with it.) Then the lights went up and the massive Glastonbury crowd made a noise that made all the hairs on my arms stand up. I managed to forget the considerable weirdness going on in my body and play, like I imagine a regular pregnant person would do. For a self obsessed alchie hypochondriac like me, this was a MASSIVE deal. To be honest, it was like a spiritual experience. And no metallic liquid was imbibed, unless you count the sperm-like contents of the neon pink Gaviscon bottle. I floated off stage afterwards on a farty sea of gratitude.
During these last few weeks of battling gross physical symptoms, I’ve sought respite through many things. Netflix, endless cheese on toast and talking to my long suffering mother about every weird ailment have definitely helped. There has been the odd occasion when I’ve managed to forget completely how shitty I feel, and those times have always been when I’ve been playing the cello. This came as a surprise, given my propensity for sphincter-clenchingly bad performance anxiety. As you know, playing has incited utter dread on and off since I was about seventeen. However, since I’ve been up the pole, playing the cello has been a welcome distraction. It’s been a pleasure to feel nervous rather than plain old pregnant. Concentrating on my sound and fitting in with other musicians’ playing has saved my arse when I have felt overwhelmed with hormones and strange sensations. It has forced me out of my head and calmed down my body. I’m hoping I can keep playing right until the end when I’m massive with child, though truthfully I’m already in agony due to resting my cello against my swollen, pregnant norks. Vigorous up-bows have been out of the question for nearly four months now.
In other news, the documentary I wanged on about in my last post is going to be shown on Channel 4 later this month. The Addicts' Symphony will air around the 20th August and I've done a couple of print media interviews to help promote it. I wanted to take this opportunity to apologise in advance for what is bound to be a period of horrible self promotion as I am encouraged by Channel 4 to share all the press and details of transmission. I spent a long time worrying about what the reaction to the documentary would be, until I found out I was pregnant and simply stopped caring. A lovely side effect of growing a human in your body is giving so much less of a shit about well, everything really. However, I know I've been going on about addiction for a while now, and soon I shall be doing it on a national scale. Come September, you may well be sick to the back teeth of me and the quareness in my head. Thank you in advance for your patience.