A Sober Take on Love, Life and London
By Janna Fox
Yes that’s right folks it’s my birthday. Not my traditional birthday but a birthday I’ve never experienced before.
I HAVE BEEN CLEAN AND SOBER FOR A WHOLE YEAR!!!
As I have since begun this blog it struck me that maybe I should have something to say about it.
First things first it has flown by. I can hardly believe that 365 days have passed and not one of them have I spent drunk, hungover or out of control high. That’s truly never happened since I was 13, maybe younger. It’s been a year of firsts; first sober birthday, Christmas, last drink/smoke/drug use/hangover, first AA meeting, first friend I’ve not got drunk with, first New Years Day I’ve not felt ill.
I’ve been through phases of wondering am I really that different? Is it really worth it? Do I really need to stay clean and sober all the time?
Talking to my mum a few weeks ago on the phone she confirmed my suspicions of ‘absolutely yes’ when she said to me ‘You’re like a different person Janna.’
Well. That’s validation enough. Having spent several years feeling a failure particularly to my parents the pride of doing something right makes me feel real good!
Actually thinking about it one of the biggest changes that’s come about through my sobriety are my relationships with my family. I’m closer and more open with my parents and my sister doesn’t have to counsel me every week about whatever major life drama I’m currently going through. I mean, don’t get me wrong there’s still drama but considerably less and I handle it almost oppositely.
Now we talk about her drama.
How did it come about? I got sober the day after one of my best friends got married in a beautiful country house hotel. It was a glorious day but I found myself feeling sad for most of it. Continuously rolling my liqourice menthol rollies and smoking outside in the cold wind with sore lips and chest, not really feeling like any of the thirty something I smoked that day. The alcohol helped my mind focus on my lack of a partner as opposed to the joy of the fact that my friend had one, and a pretty wonderful one at that. I spent the latter part of the evening at the bar sinking easily seventy quid’s worth of cheap tequila and ended up with a few stragglers at one in the morning when the only person out of the whole wedding that I suspect had some cocaine on him started to try it on with me.
At that moment I knew I was done.
I knew so well what could or would happen next if I was to indulge him. I could write it. So many drunken nights in my life have gone that way and I just felt bored; the predictability of that man singling me out, the inevitability of what would happen and the ease of which it just presented itself to me again. People think they’re living on the edge by getting high and ending up in hotel rooms with strangers when the reality of it is that you spend this time sitting inside, blocking out the daylight and feeling like shit while life happens without you.
So I took myself off to my deluxe suite alone, texted My Mr Big in obligatory post wedding fashion and fell asleep.
The next day I returned with the happy couple and a colossal hangover to their house in Chelmsford that I would be looking after along with their Jack Russel, Flash, while they enjoyed two weeks in Mexico. I had planned to use this opportunity to stop smoking the Q of weed a week (sometimes more) and the odd line I had fallen back into using and just dry out a bit; I had been living above a pub for the last year and once again had got accustomed to some unhealthy drinking habits. I wasn’t very happy. I needed some head space and being out in a more country-side setting with two dog walks a day would definitely help clear my head temporarily if nothing more.
Then it suddenly occurred to me. Why just stop for two weeks? And why just stop smoking weed? None of the habits that I had had off and on now for at least twenty years were any good for me. Why continue to drain my purse, damage my lungs and my voice? Yeah I had been doing pretty well but couldn’t help feel that I had it in me to do a lot better. The more I thought about it the more I realised that smoking had become an obligation I rarely enjoyed (but wasn’t it part of my personality said a voice, I mean I had done it since I was ten or eleven) I could very quickly recall several recent and thousands of past hangovers and come downs that were not worth it (but what about dinners, work, after show wine? My spliff before bed and after work and after dinner and after that….?)
No. My liver, my heart and my mind had had enough and they told me so that day. I had been presented with the perfect opportunity to do this; two weeks out of London, alone with a dog to comfort me.
What could possibly go wrong?
It was hell.
I’ve never felt so ill in my entire life. I got a spot the size of Mount Vesuvius on my chin that didn’t go away for months from which I still have a scar, my stomach was not happy, I was getting night sweats, nightmares, exhaustion followed by an inability to sleep, hot then cold, fevers, stomach cramps, wind, a horrendous cold and cough, you name it I had it. Cold turkey is no joke. That poor little Jack Russel had to house my nightmarish tantrums and frustrations.
Initially I was enthralled by the challenge but daunted at the task and a bit more than worried about my skin and the fact that I wasn’t feeling any better. Also as I had used/smoked/drunk for my entire adult life I was worried that I had no identity without any of it. It’s my guess that this is the number one reason that stops people from stopping no matter how much they want to. Our minds tell us that we need these things to be ourselves when really we were ourselves before these things and will be after.
At the time my mind was full of this. Would it be worth it? The main thing that kept me going over those first few weeks was the fact that it was hard. It was a challenge I had never set myself before and that turned me on. I wanted to achieve this mission. I had lived twenty years of my life constantly using a substance be it nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, codeine, caffeine….I could go on….and I felt that I owed it to myself to give me a chance at the next twenty years without any of these things. Find a form of balance if you will.
After the first two months I was so strung out that I booked myself on a Yoga and Meditation retreat in Norway. I was still clean and sober, I had taken to sucking on a straw in my new ‘air breaks’ at work and hadn’t succumbed to the nicodemon however I was a walking ball of adrenal stress. I was definitely feeling better but when difficulties came I had no capacity of handling them and would freak the fuck out. From an early age I had dealt with stress through smoking, drinking and using, that was how I had learned to relax, have fun, go to sleep, socialise, connect and interact. Everything was scary and much, much harder and for those of you that don’t know me I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve so everybody around me knew about it.
So I went off to Norway to this peaceful paradise and spent five days breathing, meditating, doing yoga, going for long hikes in the beautiful countryside, searching my soul in two days silence and came back to London better equipped with new ways of handling my stress. I moved out of the pub and started to put my new life together.
From around my birthday in October to Christmas things started to go dark. Hitting the six month mark I was questioning whether this whole lifestyle change was for me. Had I overreacted? Was I missing out on everything? Was I really an addict? An alcoholic? Surely I should feel better by now? Who the hell was I? I just didn’t know. I struggled to keep up with my yoga and meditation. I cracked one day, marched to the nearest shop and bought tobacco, defiantly smoked a cigarette that absolutely killed my newly healing chest and I didn’t even enjoy. My skin was worse than it had ever been. I was seeing My Mr Big again seeking the only comfort I could find and started having the odd pull on his spliff when he came round. Drama ensued as is the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder of our relationship and as that intermission ended with a bang I realised that I just needed to give myself a break, keep on going and try a bit harder. This was one of the few times I attended AA and it actually helped. It’s tough when all your surroundings stay the same but you change; I’ve worked in pubs my whole life with other people who work in pubs who normally drink and smoke and use so being the odd one out amongst not only my co-workers but all of my friends was pretty lonely.
I felt like I didn’t fit in anymore.
Ironically when I had been back at the pub one of my co-workers was also clean and sober, he had introduced me to AA so seeing him every weekend had added an extra dimension of support. Now I had moved I didn’t see him anymore either and adjusting to living alone again was proving tougher than imagined. I felt totally screwed.
I had a few words with myself, remembered what I had set out to achieve and kept going. Yes there were distraught phone calls, teary cups of tea and days in bed. But they didn’t get the best of me. I knew I was on the right track and that I was slowly healing. Most importantly I realised that I was still me and I didn’t need a glass of wine after work, seventeen fag breaks or a big bag of weed to prove that. I could just be me, on my own, like this.
As Spring sprung up around me I reached a pinnacle. A new high. Without a craving for months I got to the top of the mountain and could see the view. My skin was better, my body healthier and I’d been happier these last few months than I ever thought possible. Me and My Mr Big seemed to be getting on better than ever I was unsettlingly upbeat, suppressing any form of worry, working constantly, cracking on with my aerial training, eating more….no time for meditation, but keep going you’re just run down, a bit tired…
I suddenly feel like I’ve fallen down a hole. Here I am on the eve of my anniversary that I’ve got all planned out and been looking forward to more than any birthday I’ve ever had and my mind is desperate to find something for me to be unhappy about. Knocking on every mental door to try and find a way in, a lowered defence, a reason to use. It’s funny how it can hit you like that out of nowhere. I was beginning to feel invincible, unbreakable, not a craving for months and then it all came down on me like a ton of bricks about two hours ago.
The demon came out and tried to shake me up. Sneaky little fucker.
It turns out that I still have a few things to work on. That for me not using or drinking is the first step to dealing with all that other shit that sits below the surface; the reasons that I did it all in the first place. It’s ok though. I am going to be ok. I learned an important lesson tonight and asked for help when I needed it from an unlikely hero, another addict who offered me an olive branch a few months ago for this very moment, that showed me yes I still have things to do in order to aid my recovery but that I am totally capable of it.
I didn’t drink, I didn’t pick up and I didn’t smoke any liquorice menthol rollies.
Funny how one small slip can give your mind enough initiative to convince yourself that you failed when you’re on the brink of achieving something amazing, something unprecedented in your life. It’s pretty tricksy; the mind and all the pain we layer up over the years and hold on to believing it adds to our identity when usually it is working against us.
My friends and family have been fantastic this last year and I want to say THANK YOU and I appreciate you all the more now too; I didn’t think I would be me anymore and you’ve supported, shouldered and shown me that I am. When I was seven I probably knew who I was. My parents will have known my personality even then and all that shit that we paint on top; relationships, drugs, work, experience and expectation, all these things are external just adding to the core we already have, you already are, I already am.
Yes it can be really hard. There will always be good days and bad days, heartbreak and heaven, choices and changes but not once in this last year have I woke up thinking ‘God I really wish I was hungover today.’
Seriously though where’s the cake?