My name’s Sid and I’m an alcoholic…

I remember many years ago, when I was in my very early twenties, I standing outside a pub in Middlesbrough chatting to Jimmy Hartnett about this and that as we did when we bumped into one another when we heard laughter and a boisterous shout before we were swept up in a crushing hug by Malcolm Allison for a minute or so before he weaved down the pavement waving at people as he went.

I can see Jimmy’s face as he turned to me and said, “It’s such a shame he’s like that, he’s such a wonderful man.” I can still hear the thought passing through my brain that vowed I would give up drinking long before I got to that  point. I was there a few years later except that Malcolm was a lovely man and I was a savage drunk.

I’m not exactly Miss Sweetness And Light at the best of times. I don’t set out to snap and snarl but you people just aren’t psychic enough to read the signals that scream at you to go away. Drinking irritated my brain to the point that I wanted to pull it out and give it a good scratch. The irritation in my brain was verbalised and, in later years, I lashed out physically at people. I was that person who people were nice to because it wasn’t worth even trying to cross my path. I had a tongue so sharp that I could bite your head off and you wouldn’t know it was missing until you tried to shake it in disbelief.

My star sign was Bass the Brewer and by the time I was in my extremely early 30s I was a complete mess. I had never been exactly on the fat side (though you would never know it now). I was painfully thin and was described by my GP as ‘anorectic’. I was bloody ill, I knew it but I felt as though I couldn’t do anything about it and one visit to AA had me convinced that I couldn’t handle those Holy Joes, none of them even drank FFS.

Anyway there I was drinking half a bottle of whisky a day (My best friends were Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker), I was smoking 40 fags a day and could quite easily get through half a weight a week if I really put my mind to it. I took pills to keep me awake, pills to get me to sleep, pills to stop me shaking and all of them, combined with the booze, a potentially fatal cocktail. Somebody up there likes me enough not to let me die.

My (now ex) husband was dying as a direct result of his alcoholism and when our GP called me in to see him at 11.30 on 23 April 1991 I presumed it was to talk about him. I’d had one or several liveners that morning so I had a bitter shandy so he wouldn’t be able to smell the booze on my breath. I was shocked when his first words were, “I don’t give a fuck about your husband but if you don’t do something about the way you drink you’ve got about two years to live.” I knew that he wasn’t telling me I’d have a two year long party then drop dead out of happiness whilst on a binge, he was telling me I’d have an increasingly painful life as I lost my life against a vicious element that possessed me and held me to ransom constantly. Purple prose you may think but this is how it was.

I went home that day, to the pub I was managing, wrote out my notice and I haven’t drank since the chat with the doctor. People say there are no magic words that will make you stop drinking but for me the words he spoke were magic.

I had no idea of what sobriety would be like. I started drinking when I was 14 to, as all addicts and alcoholics do, to change the way I felt about myself. I didn’t like myself and so I turned myself into a monster. Being that monster kept people at a distance because if people can’t love you then you can’t love them back and that way nobody gets hurt. In theory.

I’ve changed a lot. I don’t get into many fights these days but I’m still a mouthy cow with opinions that are far too strong at times. I like myself these days and understand that if I don’t like myself then I change until I do – there are no problems that can be solved with a bottle of spirits. I love these days – I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve broken hearts and, along the way, I’ve had a lot of very good sex.

I’m sitting here now in my untidy flat (though very clean posh kitchen) listening to music on a tablet. I would have stolen that tablet from someone when I was drinking and sold it when I need money to keep on drinking. I’ve eaten today and I’m no longer dangerously underweight but I’m fatter than I’d like to be.

It’s on this day every year I count my blessings and there are more every year. I love more people each year but still retain my sense of privacy. I’m working on that temper of mine (which is a blessing for everybody, believe me) and I try to be kind and do a kindness for somebody every day.

I think about Jimmy Hartnett and Malcolm Allison every year. Jimmy’s generous heart and the way he didn’t know he’d made me question my own drinking habits and, that ten or so years later, I’d gain sobriety. I wish Malcolm was still here and I wish that I could share this with him and give him a hug, just because – you know.

Lots of people get sober for a few months or a few years. Fewer people make it to five years and even fewer to 10 years. People 26 years sober don’t come along that often and people with who have bipolar disorder and have managed 26 years of sobriety barely exist at all. I am lucky. I am blessed. I am content.

My name’s Sid and I’m an alcoholic…

Decisions, decisions, decisions

I’m not good at doing nothing. I have to be doing something and the art of doing nothing has become about mindfulness – I’ve been practising proper mindfulness for over 10 years not this concentrate on your breathing crap that people sell as mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t doing nothing of course, you’re actually acutely aware of yourself (if you’re doing it properly) and not in a trance.

I don’t get bored and it’s so long since I was bored I can’t remember what it feels like. The decisions I’m facing are what I should stop doing and what I should be doing.

The community work has to go of course, some other fool can chase the non-existent glory but my voluntary work will stay since it’s simple to do though how it will continue is one of the things that has to be decided. Whatever is decided, those changes will take a few weeks to kick in.

How I run my home is going to have to be assessed. If the results of the CT scan are not too good then I’m going to have to consider, and seriously consider, help from an outside source. I don’t do having help and my independence is a very conveniently placed wall that all the idiots in the world can’t climb. It is my saviour and I refuse to be pushed into thinking that it’s a burden.

There will still be trips away and there’s no reason why they should stop. I travel in Britain on a disabled travel cards so I’m still going to be able to go in style with a massive discount. I will have to consider their length and frequency though, that’s massively important.

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I’m also going to have to think about food properly. I can’t go on with the chaos even though it’s incredibly difficult for me to not be chaotic and fractured when I’m in the kitchen on the days that I don’t cope.  I think it’s time to stop telling everybody I know about food and ask to see a dietician. I need to start being sensible.

It’s easy to sit and tell myself these things but they’re much harder to put into practice.The level of chaos in my head varies wildly from day to day or from morning to afternoon to evening so good intentions at breakfast can end up in despair and tears by bedtime.

I think I should start with making lists and if it’s as far as I get and no further then that has to be ok.

On lowering my expectations and learning to take the pressure off

I’m still a bit shell shocked by the news I got on Tuesday. It actually all makes a bit more sense now I’ve learned a little about what executive functions are. I have to talk things through thoroughly with a few people and then I’ll feel more at ease and less dis-eased because right now I feel as though I’m inhabited by an invisible parasite.

The news has focussed me as bad news often does and today I’ve been looking at how I spend my time and why I spend my time the way I do.

This morning I was in a local park with some fellow dog owners and our dogs. None of us really knew each other until just before Christmas but now we’re at the point where we’ve swapped phone numbers and we talk about the big stuff to each other. This doesn’t happen with any of the other groups of dog walkers I see so it feels pretty special. I’ve seen two of them today and they allowed me to talk about what’s been going on and there’s been hugs and tears and that in itself is healing.

I didn’t sleep well last night (I was watching an episode of My Crazy Ex at 3.30 this morning) so when the alarm went off I was in no state to walk Ogden and we were late getting out and getting back.

There was a dog show in one of the parks tonight that I was going to go to but I changed my mind because it was a pressure I didn’t need and Ogden didn’t have a clue what was going on so its not like he’d have a tantrum if we didn’t go.

I live in a city that is permanently on the point of vomiting with excitement because there is so much going on all the time. It’s filled with newcomers who have tiny spans of attention and who seem to be unable to spend time alone or silent or in any kind of isolation which is the opposite of me. So what does this have to do with the pressure I feel?

Well I’ve recently been dipping my toe into community stuff again purely because nobody else round here does and the experience has been as awful as I remember – ungrateful neighbours and resentful officials with few exceptions. So that’s the first thing to go. I’ve got a response to a plan to type up and then that’s it.

I’ve also decided that I need to change Ogden’s routine a little because I’m supposed to be the one in charge and so I get to decide what we do and when. He’ll not be short of walks or love so he won’t mind in the slightest.

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Small changes but they’re the ones that build up until they’re big changes and I recognise that I’ve been giving into pressures that I’ve put on myself but also because of the way other people perceive me – I don’t have to live up to the image that anybody has of me. I was once a very capable and driven person which is why I’ve lived my life the way I have but, and it’s a reasoned but, I’ve changed.

I’m not less capable but I am differently capable and because of that I’ve learned to be adaptable. Adaptable people succeed because they’re willing to bend yet essentially stay the same and it’s a constant process.

I’m going to plan my days a little more but try to work out a way of coping with the small changes that I am no longer able to cope with. I’m going to have to try and plan food that takes into account that some days I can’t work out how to get the raw ingredients onto a plate and safe to eat. Big ambitions but some days you have to aim high.

And today? Today I’m catching up on junk television and doing just enough to get by and it’s been a good day. I’ve missed out on a few things but I don’t have to have every experience that’s on offer – quality not quantity and that’s the way I have to remind myself from here on in.

Today is gratitude day…

Yesterday was the final day of three days of mania. It was extreme irritability day (I was very annoyed with myself even) and it was breaking point day. If I were ever to commit suicide – and I sincerely hope that I never will – it would be on the final day of a manic episode. I want to tape my mouth up, rip my brain and self harm big time.

I contained myself as much as I could and I blogged about it. I think it’s important to  share the manic experience because so few people experience it for themselves but I also think that if I put the experience down on “paper” then I am, in a way, freeing myself from it. I truly believe that staying silent enslaves me.

Most people were wonderful. My family and friends were there with kind words and unspoken support and I felt protected by them. Other people weren’t so nice and one in particular wrote off my feelings of frustration at somebody refusing help and rebutting my offer of help at me being mentally ill. This, at its best, is discrimination but when it comes from someone who claims to have personal experience of mental illness it is damaging and disgustingly spiteful.

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Today was different – the quick chat in the pet shop, bumping into a neighbour in the street and laughing together, the packet of Revels that was cheaper than I thought, the easy talking with the checkout operator as I packed my shopping and the longer talk with another neighbour out in the churchyard that serves as a park which is right on my doorstep.

He and his wife have a rescue dog who is the sweetest if oddest looking dog I’ve seen. He recognises me and runs towards me with that smile that dogs have and today I got the supreme compliment from him – helicopter tail! Dogs don’t do helicopter tail unless they love you immensely.

As I talked to his owner I was really counting my blessings out loud and inside I was tearful as I did it. Counting your blessings in your head doesn’t work unless you say them out loud to somebody else or write them down and it’s always good to remind myself of my privileged life.

  • I have the time and space to be ill – sounds bizarre but I can take time to manage bipolar disorder even if I can’t cope with it;
  • I have lots of animals and there is always at least one that’s awake and ready to be cuddled;
  • I live on my own so if I can’t face the washing up or doing the laundry then I don’t have to;
  • I can nap in the afternoon in a haze of Valium if I need to;
  • I can catch up on television programmes or watch a movie without consulting anybody else;
  • I can eat when I want and what I want (and  yes those are cornettos you can see in my freezer);
  • I can live the life I need to live and not the one that other people think I should.

Tomorrow will be the day I feel as though I’ve lost people and that I’m emotionally detached from them but I’m expecting that and I know it will pass. I may chatter a lot on social media or I may sit quietly at home and read but I will do what is best for me and that’s good enough.

Moving forward with blogging

When I first started blogging four or five years ago it was because I needed both relief from the silent burden of my mental health and because I wanted to let people know that it’s possible to live with mental health. It felt really important to me to show that recovery from severe bouts of mental ill health and that recovery isn’t necessarily about being the same as before but can show progress in attitude, management strategies, coping devices and acceptance.

For quite a while now I’ve been aware that I’ve been blogging less because I’m managing my illness better though not necessarily coping with it and because I’d decided that my blog was to be about mental health that it would be difficult to move it forwards and expand on topics to write about.

Yesterday my next door neighbour died. I’d been talking to him the day before for ages. We had this thing about standing on our mutual door step, leaning on the balcony while looking out over the beautiful park we live in whilst chewing the fat over.

We talked about the small things a lot but we also talked about his families. He was very proud of his son who has worked his way up from being the junior new boy to a manager in his job. He was incredibly proud of his grandson who is a talented footballer and has played in every premier league ground in the country.

We talked about the steps we took to try to remain healthy and particularly about the exercise we took and how I was eating less meat and more fish because he recommended it me. We also mentioned briefly how glad we were to be friends again after a period of estrangement.

After about an hour he went back into his flat and I went back into mine. I saw him yesterday morning as I was taking my dog out for an early morning walk and waved to him across the park. When I came back from the afternoon dog walk his son was on the step and told me he was about to break the safety chain on the door because he couldn’t get a response from his dad by knocking on the door or phoning him He went inside and then within minute I could hear the sirens of the ambulance getting closer.

At first I was hopeful because the big ambulance went away leaving the single paramedic there. I won’t disclose how I knew he was dead before I shouted out to his son to see if he was okay but I knew he was before he told me he was talking to the police as is standard with a sudden death.

I realised that I needed to write about the experience because it hasn’t affected my mental health but I feeling down because a friend has died. I need to write about the everyday things because my life is much more about my illness. In the same way you focus on not drinking when you become sober eventually you have to let people know how you got sober by talking about your life. Thus I will talk about crises and my illness to shine a light on the subject but I’ll also be talking about me and my life however mundane it may seem.