Pattie Comes Clean…

A sober blog

Not long after starting my blog, I relapsed. I knew I was going to relapse. It was more certain than if I’d seen it in a crystal ball or seen a wine glass in my tea leaves.

I won’t go into too much detail behind my relapse, other than it involved a long lunch, an old friend who has cancer, and I couldn’t bring myself to say no.

The situation offered up the perfect excuse to drink and I started drinking the day before in preparation.

My evil twin shouted in my brain,

Are you sure about this? Yes, nothing surer.

What about your blog? Nobody reads it anyway and it’s anonymous.

Well you go for it girl and make it worthwhile. Roger that evil twin, you’re a push over.

I glided like a ghost or a heavy ladened hover craft into the kitchen and started on a chilled bottle of Chardonnay. Where had the bottle come from? Were my thoughts so powerful that I had performed a miracle and turned water into wine? How could this have sat in my fridge for so long. Such will power. That was mistake number one, as would be outlined in the Beginners Guide to Sobriety – WARNING – do not have stock piles of alcohol in your home.

The following day went as expected. It was a beautiful day with a beautiful friend and my sobriety took a back seat.

However, after my guests departed, my day darkened. After an afternoon of restrained drinking I turned into a sniffer dog at an airport. I sniffed out our cabinets for anything alcoholic. All the wine was gone, so nothing now was off limits – old cooking brandy teamed with a ginger cordial and sweet cooking port. I sat drinking my concoctions next to my tee-totaller mother, who was staying the night, and watched a movie. My next conscious moment was when I woke up dazed by the overhead lights at 5 am. A black out. I resembled a suspension bridge lying over two parts of our couch that had separated during the night. I made my way to bed.

Did I feel guilty the next day? Yes along with a whole spectrum of feelings – shame, horror, disgust, embarrassment.

I pretended to be bright, awake and upbeat as I prepared breakfast. I convinced myself that physically I felt okay.

Much later in the day I took my mother to a doctors appointment. As I waited for her, I started to get waves of sickness. Surely, this can’t be a hangover? I rode the wave as I drove home. As we drove passed our busy local cafe, I weakly told my mother ‘I’m going to be sick’. I leaped out of the car and ran to find some privacy behind a tree.

I had hit my rock bottom.

Vomiting under a tree wearing a brand new shirt, Ray-Bans slipping off my nose , a kindly neighbour offering tissues, and my 75 yr old mother hobbling on crutches trying to administer help.

My rock bottom was humiliation. I was too old for this shit.

I knew in my heart that I had thrown up because of alcohol. My family got the tidy version – it was a tummy bug. I was a good actress. I was too ashamed to tell the truth.

Luckily, the shock of my unchecked behaviour restarted and recalibrated my brain.

I started my day one again.

I forgave myself.

I was kind to myself.

Yes, I drank with a thirst of someone finding a watering hole in a desert. But the good news is that I didn’t drink the following day or the day after that or after that….

I don’t usually keep a daily tab on my sober days. But today I checked my sober days calculator.

1 month tomorrow or 31 days since my recalibration date. But who’s counting.

I feel genuinely proud of myself. That is the biggest reward in itself.

I relapsed and I recovered. Or, should I say… recovering…

This is my fifth post and despite sharing my most intimate secret about alcohol addiction, I haven’t shared much about me (see About Pattie on my blog for a skeleton version). This is a semi-condensed version of how I ended up here. I don’t want to bore people (if you happen to be reading this) and if I could write a haiku this would be even better. So here goes…

To begin with, Pattie isn’t my real name. I assumed this alias from my maternal great grandmother. Nor have I shown you my face (horrors, not ready for that step) but I have shared a picture of my hands pretending to type on my old typewriter. I apologize to the real Pattie, pictured above, for becoming the poster girl for my alcohol addiction. I have used Pattie as my alias as I’ve always had a connection to her as the mother of my most beloved Nana. Pattie was described by Nana as gentle and stoic. She died when my Nana was teenager, we think from high blood pressure. Did she have the anxiety curse that travels in my blood line. Nana thought she died from stress. She died at 52, is that a bad omen?

My childhood was relatively stable, with a mum and dad and older brother. I consider myself to have had a privileged up bringing in NZ- a good education, comfortable family home (my mum still lives there 52 years later), skiing, camping, beach, friends, art classes, hockey… And NZ is a beautiful peaceful country, if you ignore the drinking culture. However, mental health issues – anxiety and depression- runs on both sides of my family. It definitely impacted on my parents’ relationship and the family as a whole. I was used as a confidant by my mother (sorry mum) which exposed me to very adult worries and this really effected me until I was in my mid 40’s.

Alcohol, was consumed in my family home but at very controlled levels. My mother only has to sniff alcohol and is tipsy. She rarely drinks. My father was a very typical Kiwi (a person from NZ) male from his generation and had a beer or two at night. He sometimes went to the local pub, I suspect to get away from the family because he went there alone.

According to mum, my grandfather had a well stocked liquor cabinet. It was a status symbol in the 1950’s. Poppa had a whiskey every night, but nothing out of the ordinary. As far as know I don’t have a family with a known history of alcoholism. My great grandfather lived to 100 years and his death notice records him as a ‘total abstainer‘.

My first taste of alcohol was as a child. I loved sipping dad’s beer froth. Nana and Mum commented at the time that I loved the taste of alcohol…”oh you better watch yourself”. In retrospect, that’s a bit spooky. My mother’s third eye. Maybe I licked my lips a little too enthusiastically.

I was a ‘good girl’ at school, had friends, and it was largely uneventful. I didn’t act out or do anything crazy when I was a teenager or even as a young adult. I tried alcohol but certainly didn’t drink to excess. I recall going to a party in my last year of school and mum buying me a cheap bottle of wine to take (I mean really CHEAP and SWEET). I didn’t grow up in a restrictive environment. I probably nursed a glass and my only recollection was one of embarrassment when I overheard sniggers about ‘someone bringing a cheap bottle of wine’. Uh, if only they knew me now as a wine connoisseur.

After school, I took a year off and travelled. I drank little alcohol. On my return, I went to university, and would go for drinks to the uni bar, or listened to jazz at a city bar nursing a beer. My girlfriend’s boyfriend at the time used to get crazy drunk and I looked down my nose at this out… of… con…trol… be…hav….iour. Shake my finger stuff.

I have been happily married to my husband for 23 years and he enjoys alcohol but could take it or leave it. He can moderate with an occasional binge (but not really to excess). He binged drank as a teenager, common place in those days.

So how did I get from zero to 100%. It happened slowly. Like a frog in hot water who adapts to it. But I think its genesis was when I increasingly suffered from periods of intense anxiety working as a commercial photographer. I felt intense pressure not to f8@k up a job (it was the olden days and I used a film camera and not digital). I also felt like a fish out of water with low self confidence. I never felt cool enough nor was I into schmoozing in the advertising and design scene. However, despite this I did very well early on and got some big jobs . The problem was that the better I did and the more work I did, my anxiety and perfectionism took control. Wine at the end of the day was medicine from stress and intense anxiety. When the clock struck 5 pm it became my off button. It felt good to take the edge off and have a little private party to celebrate making it through the day or it was like a holiday or Friday night (every night).

After several years of feeling overwhelmed I changed direction and did my Masters in Social Work (Applied). Sounds like a fantastic career choice for an anxiety sufferer. I worked as social worker for a short period until I had my first child. My work really didn’t push my buttons and I felt more comfortable.

When trying for a baby, I didn’t drink any alcohol and was paranoid about any alcohol entering my system. For example, I didn’t use any vanilla essence because it contained 0.00000000000000000001% of alcohol. However, once my beautiful baby girl was born, I pumped excess milk all week so my husband could take over on a Friday night and I could drink. I was driven by wine, rather than pumping to get a good nights sleep. I would then pump and dump. After I stopped breastfeeding I slowly increased my wine consumption again.

I was lucky enough to stay at home with my daughter and tried for my next baby. This was fraught with a series of miscarriages. After each loss, drinking wine was my fallback position… “oh well, at least I can drink wine now”. I finally had my second daughter 3 years later. Life went on and I really enjoyed being a mum, but wine became very much part of the mummy culture. I loved it! I embraced it! It was fun and relaxing and rewarding and I got to enjoy it alone and with friends. Note, I always waited to 5 pm. Back then, 18 years ago, I probably shared a bottle with my husband. But any excuse to open a bottle.

Life went on and eventually I returned to full time work. The period of coming out of full time mothering after 10 years brought on intense anxiety. I went into therapy and went on medication because my anxiety was so overwhelming. I was in very very bad space but true to my perfectionism set out to ‘fix myself’. Eventually I found a job in highly demanding area of social work. I continued to drink wine after work most evenings to cope and relax. The use of alcohol was also very prevalent in my team – wine club, parties…hangovers. It was a ‘rah rah’ environment and you were odd if you didn’t drink. I also felt like a fraud and very hypocritical speaking to parents about alcohol addiction.

Over recent years, I have tried moderation, taking time out and trying to ‘fix myself’ in a vacuum without support and any tools. I’d simply stop. No surprise, my drinking continued and got heavier and I felt more and more out of control. I functioned and worked in a job that suited my family more, but my drinking continued. I wasn’t stressed out. I wasn’t anxious. I was addicted. I loved the release, the ritual cooking dinner, the taste, the relaxing effect. But I became sneaky. I would always make sure I drank more wine than my husband. I started buying not one bottle of wine but two (just in case my husband drank more than his share). I would place wine bottles in the fridge with the consideration you’d give to hanging a picture on the wall. “Should I hide the bottle behind the milk or would that arouse suspicion? Lie it on its side so the remains won’t be so obvious?” I also avoided evening activities because it meant I couldn’t drink or what about picking my children up from an activity? It all had to be weighed up and coordinated.

In October 2019, I set out on a new sober attempt with manic purpose. It lasted 65 days until the day I told my husband, “I have this under control, and I’m going to have a glass of wine”. He said, “are you sure about this, you’ve done so well?” After all, I was on my own journey, a catch phrase we both liked to use, me with wine, him with sweeties. But soon, surprise surprise, I returned to my old ways. However, this time my foundations started to crumble a little. I felt my husband’s suspicion on the hairs on the back of my neck. I caught him out of the corner of my eye checking the levels of bottles wine in the fridge. I’m sure I could hear him tutting. Or he would put empties on the bench advertising my lushness like a shop front. He was a frustrated mute because he avoided the topic for the most part. I knew he loved and cared about me, but probably didn’t want to poke the angry bear.

So what changed and why now?

  • I had a light bulb moment. Not a bright spark, but a slow burner like an Ecobulb building intensity. Or put another way, I had a ‘SHIT, THIS HAS TO STOP’ moment.
  • Drinking wine had become my normal, like having a cup of tea or eating dinner or breathing. It had became so ingrained in my life that it just ‘was’, like you have a spine to hold you up, or legs to aid walking or wine to moisten your mouth.
  • I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. All of a sudden youth was not on my side. I looked puffy and fat and blotchy. I didn’t like what I saw.
  • I also moved from my learners wheels to a big girls bike. I took sobriety more seriously and not as a hobby.
  • I restrained my need to race into a new project and took my time to engage in the prospect of sobriety – I listened, read, and processed stories about sobriety.
  • And, I’ve always followed the adage ‘when the time is right, the time is right’. I knew this was different. I had reached my tipping point.

So here I am now, writing a blog to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I intend to go. To connect with others and maybe ignite someone else’s resolve to start or continue a sober journey. It also gives my fingers something to do instead of wrapping my pinkies around a glass.

So to summarize in a not so eloquent haiku –

Child to adult
My path to sobriety 
Wino coming clean 

I liken a cup of tea and a glass of wine to their respective punctuation marks – the full stop and the comma.

For me, a cup of tea is like a full stop. It denotes an ending, cessation, nothing more to add. I savour a cup of tea; refreshing at breakfast and comforting at night. Like the full stop, it is solid and reliable.

On the other hand, a glass of wine is like a comma. It suggests more to come, on-going, never-ending… on and on. Opposite to the full stop, the comma is a run away train.

I think of the semicolon (;) as the ‘moderator’. It is made up of a full stop and comma, acting in balance. The full stop sits on top of the comma, bringing weight down on it, restraining it like a rider taming a wild horse.

Here are some examples of the above punctuation in practical use:

Pattie enjoys a hot cup of Chamomile tea before bed.

Pattie returns home after a long day and drinks the following: a gin and tonic with a slice of lemon, a glass of Chardonnay, a second glass of Chardonnay, a third glass of Chardonnay, a fourth glass of Chardonnay and so on.

Pattie is a moderate drinker and enjoys: a recommended size glass of Chardonnay with dinner twice a week; a glass of Champagne at Christmas (on alternate years as her husband’s side are teetotallers); and a glass of Shiraz at book club, which is only once a month. The rest of the time she drinks tea.

But seriously, the semicolon or moderation is the holy grail. Like other intrepid sober warriors, I have tried moderation many, many times. I have tried limiting drinking wine (my beverage of choice) to the weekend, to special occasions, to Friday nights, to twice a week. Sound familiar? The problem with this state, is that on my OFF days, my ON button is still activated. My brain circuitry sparks with repetitive thoughts of “when, will I, how unfair, how many days until?” Exhausting. The only way to break the circuit and switch my thoughts off is to give into the sulky child. Just like a parent who is wound down by whining and pestering and sticks to their guns for a time, only to succumb and resign themselves to failure (internal dialogue – “whatever, I don’t care, I give in, you get your own way most times, I’m a useless parent…blah blah blah”). The semicolon gives me a smug victory wink and a smile ;)

“Sorry, you’re not eligible for this group”.

So here I am now, staring addiction down the barrel. I can’t semicolon through life anymore. It is a face off, a show down, a war… of the punctuation marks. My semicolon has toppled, like a statue of a dictator. Let the battle begin.

P.S For grammar gurus, this is my best attempt at an interpretation of the punctuation marks. It may not be accurate.

I’m not usually a hypochondriac or overly worried about my health. Clearly not. I’ve self-administered a drug and ignored the recommended dose FOREVER. But since I gave up alcohol, 4 days ago, my body is rebelling. I’m beyond tired and sleeping during the day (which I never do because I’m too restless). I’m pale and haunted looking and genuinely shocked when I see my reflection in the Ipad, let alone my bathroom magnifying mirror. My tummy is particularly distended and I could seriously model a geriatric pregnancy. I also have a sore throat – cancer?

A medical professional would most likely diagnose me with a ‘virus’, but I’m not so convinced.

I looked up ‘symptoms of alcohol withdrawal‘.

Common symptoms include (see www.verywellmind.com/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms):

  • Feeling anxious or nervous (no more than usual)
  • Feeling irritable (definitely)
  • Feeling depressed (no actually, more manic- despite my fatigue)
  • Feeling wiped out and tired (DEFINITELY)
  • Shakiness (check, no, steady hands)
  • Mood swings (quick to anger)
  • Not being able to think clearly (better than normal)
  • Having nightmares (I’ve had some very strange dreams)
  • Dilated pupils (no)
  • Sweating (not sweating as such. I kinda smell like my pores have been unblocked)
  • Headache (no longer)
  • Difficulty sleeping (can’t wake up)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting (yes, I’ve felt sick but not because I drank too much)
  • Appetite loss (healthy appetite)
  • Faster heart rate (no)
  • Pale skin (yes, translucent)
  • Tremor (no not yet. I frequently test this as my mother has Parkinson’s)

To be honest, in my real life, I’m more serious than a joker. So jesting aside, alcohol withdrawal IS very serious and should be managed carefully. And as I’ve read, severe withdrawal effects or delirium tremens may be fatal.

So, please don’t take my glibness as glossing over the reality of alcoholism and that I lack compassion, as I have that in spades. But I find it sad that alcoholism is a serious disease and withdrawal can be dangerous, yet many go it alone. Have I told a soul that I am withdrawing from alcohol? No. Does my loving and supportive husband of 20 years know? No. Do my friends know? No.

If I was a medical professional, I would diagnose this condition as ‘a severe case of shame’. Medication unavailable.

Christmas Past

December 29, 2019

I look at the pictures above,  a 70’s colour scheme oranged with age. There I am in the garden of my family home standing with my brother in our dressing gowns and our haul. Early I bet, eager to pull Santa’s presents from our pantyhose stockings. A tradition from my grandmother and still used today with my own children.  And there I am again, an earlier photo next to the Christmas tree, holding a nib ink pen from Santa, tie dyed balloons, a pottle of violet ink. Cropped out of sight is my uncle holding my unraveled skipping rope, and my aunt and Nana with exhausted complexions. I think I was disappointed with my ink set.

I have another photo of my father and grandfather, but I don’t want to show it and connect their memory to my shame. There is Poppa with a dual of drinks, a glass of whiskey and a glass of beer and a packet of cigarettes. I remember he used to ‘roll his own’, so I put a magnifying glass up to the picture so as not to be mistaken. Does he actually have a glass of coke with ice? Why am I so concerned about this? Next to him, Dad sits, smiling, his hand on his near empty glass of beer.

I reflect back on that young girl in the Christmas settings and think of who she is today. Sitting here now, a few days since Christmas has passed, and writing my way out of a hole.

It seems like a fitting start to make reference to water. After all, my blog is called Pattie Comes Clean. This morning, I woke early knowing I would post my first blog – my declaration of quitting alcohol. What would I say or do to mark this occasion? I pictured myself standing at the beach, my feet waiting for the incoming waves to wash over them. A cleansing ritual, but that sounds over dramatic.

I have been toying with the idea about starting a blog. I need an outlet, a mirror to reflect my feelings back at me about my addiction. I don’t want to bury it, as it is sooooo easy to do, as ground hog day hits again…the day after. By keeping a record, I want to leave a trail, become more accountable, distract and discipline myself. Become monk like. Haha. Starting a blog would be my day one.

In truth, I have been putting this day off. Christmas is a hell of a time to quit drinking. Leading up to the festivities, my brain had been in replay mode, dwelling on ‘should I, shan’t I, today, tomorrow, after?’ My body felt like it was on high alert, tingling, like bugs were crawling under my skin. Thoughts of ‘will I , won’t I’ dominated my pre Christmas planning. Like an evil twin sitting on my shoulder as I shopped, wrapped the presents, dressed the tree, whispering, ‘what a stupid time to give up, you idiot, setting yourself up for failure, dreamer, loser…’ In the end, my addiction won and my drinking became more frenzied. My gut was telling me my last hurrah was imminent.

So here I am, about to dip my feet in the water, take the plunge, no more burying my head in the sand (pardon the puns). The seesaw needs to find its balance.

GettingSoberGal

Just a gal trying to get sober

Untipsyteacher

I am a retired teacher who quit drinking and found happiness! After going deaf, I now have two cochlear implants!

UnPickled

How I Secretly Quit My Secret Habit of Secretly Drinking

unbolt me

the literary asylum

Storm in a Wine Glass

I used to drink and now I don't

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

GettingSoberGal

Just a gal trying to get sober

Untipsyteacher

I am a retired teacher who quit drinking and found happiness! After going deaf, I now have two cochlear implants!

UnPickled

How I Secretly Quit My Secret Habit of Secretly Drinking

unbolt me

the literary asylum

Storm in a Wine Glass

I used to drink and now I don't

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.