A Sober take on Love, Life and London
By Janna Fox
If like me you have decided to live clean and sober after let’s say twenty years of use it is inevitable that you will live through a certain amount of dark days, battling the want or need to do the things you used to do. I have been experiencing some of these recently. For me it tends to manifest itself as being short with people, focusing on the negative and generally staying in bed and avoiding the world. Every person is different and everyone’s relationship with drugs and alcohol is different too. However it is becoming clear to me that a lot of peoples understanding of this is a bit skewed. Generally I’m finding that many people feel that you have to get to a certain level of ‘bad’ before naming yourself an addict or an alcoholic. Since going ‘sober’ I have been interested by how many people like to challenge this. It often starts with ‘you were never that bad though’ or ‘you don’t have to deprive yourself forever’ and even ‘I bet I was worse than you’. This is interesting and, I think, says more about these peoples relationship with their chosen substances themselves than it does about mine. We all have an image of an ‘alcoholic’ or a ‘drug addict’ and it only starts to get really uncomfortable when that image moves closer and closer to ourselves. Yet also it begs me to question why, as people, we cannot simply say well done and move on. There is almost an invisible ranking system inside everyone else’s heads marking down, ticking the boxes and determining our behaviour as they understand it.
There is a certain level of competition here also from the addict still using and I have had several conversations with people since ‘coming out’ to them about how they want to do the same. Interestingly these conversations can sometimes turn into a dance off of who was the most fucked up where mine and their worst stories clatter and clamber over one another desperate to get some air time and validate that life choice. That’s probably why I don’t really do AA or NA I found them a bit stifling and would normally walk out feeling worse than I went in. But this early admission of addiction is new to me as it’s not something I did. I didn’t vocalise my desire or need to stop until about a month before to one person and I remember the conversation clearly, I didn’t even know the guy but he told me he’d been five years sober and it had a very sudden impact on me and actually made me feel like it would be possible for the first time. I had been mulling it over internally for years and then one day about a month later I just decided to stop. Fortunately I did this while dog and house sitting for one of my closest friends outside of London; my own cheaper version of rehab which in itself was accidental and who knows if I hadn’t agreed to dog sit I may never have made that choice I certainly would have found it harder to do. The months immediately following this were definitely nearly all dark days as my body and mind didn’t know how to cope with stress without smoking, drinking or using something. I felt like my emotional responses had been suddenly magnified and every reaction I had was bigger, louder and more pronounced. However nearing the ten month mark they are hopefully reaching a ‘normal’ level (whatever that is) thanks to a large amount of yoga, meditation and Eckhart Tolle; my new way of dealing with darkness. As most addicts will tell you; the using/drinking is merely a way of avoiding the darkness we already have inside-although that is the human condition and not specific to addicts!
Another interesting one is judgement from people who want to see you in a certain way still because you’re not living up to their own stereotype of who you are. One of the interesting things I found and am still finding is that support comes from surprising places; the people I expected little from have shown me the most and vice versa. Some friends disappear either of their own accord or because I’m too afraid to tell them. With my closest friends it made little to no difference at all which for some reason surprised me probably because a lot of these interactions were in the presence of drugs and alcohol and I had forgotten that they were still real, fortunately they were! Several people will simply refuse to acknowledge it, which is fine I don’t need acknowledgement but the ones that really piss me off are the ones that want you to have a drink to make them feel better and encourage you to ‘just have one’ completely ignoring what you’ve just told them. This is a dangerous game and not one I can get my head around. Why would you do that? Tell someone who’s just told you they’ve voluntarily stopped drinking to take a drink? When people push it, it only does one thing; make the addict want to prove them wrong. When people say to me ‘oh you can have one’ I shouldn’t have to list my reasons why I don’t want to. I know that I don’t want to have one because for twenty years I did it all and I fucked up enough by my own standards in those twenty years for me to know that I don’t want to do it again but just because I didn’t die or worse or feel the need to validate my life choice to you with horrific detail does not mean I need to get myself into several thousand worse states to prove your point. I know within me and that’s what this is all about at the end of the day.
I know how badly I am craving a spliff right now. Just a spliff. Marijuana; the drug everyone wants to be ok. The ‘good’ drug. Not to me. To me it’s crack and it’ll turn me into a crack head in about a week. Some days all I can taste is gin and tonic; that thirst quenching cold, dry, citric taste of bubbles but I know that one is never enough. I can feel the junkie inside me she’s come out to play and eaten into years of my life; dragged me down alleys, into relationships and rabbit holes that I didn’t want to go down. Yes I’ve hidden it well. Yes I’ve been really fucking fortunate. Do I need to prove you wrong? No. Because I’ve got better things to do but if that’s you, if you’re the person telling a self-confessed addict to just have one then STOP IT. You have no idea the amount of mental pressure you’re adding to someone who is already dealing with enough of their own. And let me tell you it’s hard. I grew up feeding that little monster and nurturing her so she’s always inside me and especially when I start to feel sad and angry and fed up with the world or myself that’s when her voice is loudest.
I’ve gone years before not using and somehow found myself back in those dingy flats watching the sunrise from the wrong side, the flats I vowed never to return to at seventeen when I attended the first funeral of a friend who died of an overdose. I’ve thought for years about not drinking and I sustained a near enough two year ban when I was twenty-one having drunk several bars worth of everything during my first three years abroad but when I think about it it wasn’t really two years; more like six months without drinking anything at all and I was high the whole time so…
This is the first time I’ve successfully stopped both and with that comes a considerable amount of darkness; considering, dreaming, remembering, lashing out but also not really knowing the outcome of where to go, what to do, who to meet and how any of that will happen when I’ve previously always followed the same route. That’s not a reason to revert but a part of what is new and exciting. With it comes discovery and for me the light definitely overshadows the dark, the clarity beats the clouds and that feeling releases the fear. On good days. On dark days there is a battle inside but fortunately so far I’m winning.
As people we can all afford to do better at listening to what others actually say instead of immediately measuring them or indeed ourselves up mentally to the standards on the table. It’s a tempting habit to fall into, allowing our thoughts to bombard our brains with judgement when we learn something new about someone or something instead of simply listening. When this happens often our response is our internal response to our own inner voice as opposed to theirs. Allowing for stillness and silence is so very refreshing and enlightening and I’ve found helps dull my own darkness down more than any other vice I’ve tried.
‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Albert Einstein.