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I’m new to blogging so bear with me. I’m a 34 year old Dad to two beautiful little girls, married to a wonderful woman and have a steady enough job. People think I’ve got a good life but in reality I’m far from happy and haven’t been for most of my life. It’s frustrating and upsets me that I can’t work out why I feel the way I feel. I wanted to share my story with you to help me on both my own journey and hopefully you on yours…

Happy Daddy Day

Day 124: It’s not like me to blog as much as I have in the last week but I couldn’t not write a few words on Fathers Day. I’ve had a lovely day with my wife and two young daughters. From waking up this morning after my lie in to the excitement on my little girls’ faces to give me my cards and presents. My wife then made me a bacon bap (ok, I had two) and coffee before we headed off to my parent’s house so I could give my Dad his card and Prezzies. Oh, and I just happened to get my COVID vaccination on the way too. The vaccination centre was ran with military precision. Respect to all of the staff and volunteers involved. We had a lovely afternoon at a local park including ice cream, hot dogs and playing ball – the sun was shining and it was lovely to see so many families out enjoying their time together.

When I was in hospital I made the very difficult decision to not speak or see my children because I decided it was too confusing for them to try and understand why I was in a hospital away from them for so long. My wife told them I was working away and even on the day they picked me up from the reception of the hospital they just thought it was a workplace. Obviously mental health hospitals look a little different to your standard hospitals so even my 5 year old didn’t seem to notice. Anyways, the time I spent away from my daughters and wife was the longest in my life and I had some really hard days. I just wanted to see them, hold them, smell them. It was the best thing I could have done for them and me though because I don’t think my recovery would have been as quick if I didn’t completely disconnect from my family and focus on my own mind and how I was going to bounce back from rock bottom.

Since returning home and starting over I take a lot of pride in the time I spend with my family. I want us to use the time as if it was our last because it’s easy to think back to the time I was away from them and the fact I was wishing myself better off dead so I wasn’t a burden on them. Seeing the three ladies in my life smiling today and enjoying having me around (plus making a fuss of me) is very humbling and it’s probably the first Fathers Day where I can truly say that I fully embraced and felt the emotion of being a Father and what Fatherhood brings to me.

My friends often ask if I think I’ll drink again. Not if I can help it. The thought of alcohol now just reminds me of hospital and the mess I was becoming prior to me being sectioned. I was drinking in secret. I was drinking from the bottle. I was drinking to stop the anxiety. I was drinking to get through the day. Drinking was happening earlier and earlier each day. I actually remember one Friday morning I was off work because the schools were closed due to COVID. I’d been drinking (again in secret) late into the Thursday night and felt rough as hell the next morning. I knew I had a long day ahead with my two daughters and nowhere to go. I was drinking single malt whisky by 9am (swigging it from the bottle) as they had their breakfast and watched TV. In my head I was doing it so I could then function better for the day ahead. I looked at it as a short term fix to get rid of my hangover, anxiety and low mood. Did it work? Yes, for the day ahead I perked up but only because I was topped up again. I drank a full bottle of whisky that day. Just glugs from the bottle every now and again over the space of about 7 hours. When my wife came in I blamed the medication I was on for being a bit ‘slurry’ but all in all I was coherent and I had looked after the girls and had a fun day in the house. They knew no different because I always kept the bottle hidden.

As I write this I now feel disgusted with myself. What if something had happened to the girls that day? I might have felt ‘on it’ but let’s be honest, pissed up people do think they’re fine. What if I’d needed to drive somewhere? Would I have risked it?

It’s in the past now so I’m not going to get too deep into the what ifs. Writing about my past helps me in the present which will help shape my future. It further cements my decision to lead a life of sobriety and give my long term mental health a fighting chance.

Today has been a good day and if my daughters were to ever read this I just want them to know that their existence has helped keep me alive and sober. And my wife is they cherry on top.

So Happy Daddy Day to all you Dads out there. Hope you’ve had a good one!

Saturday

Day 123: It’s Saturday. England laboured to a 0-0 draw against the ‘olde enemy’ Scotland last night and I went to bed in a huff. Euro 2020 (the four yearly football competition between European Nations) is being played 12 months late due to COVID and in the past I used to use these tournaments as an excuse to drink more in the house and make more frequent trips to the pub. I watched the match on my own last night in the living room with my tonic water, England shirt on and sore eyes off my Hayfever. I felt a bit down in the dumps because in a sad kind of way I want to be enjoying sporting events like the one last night with my friends. I was all set to go to a mate’s house and a few of us would have been there. They’d be boozing and I’d be driving which was going to be fine because I need to experience more social occasions after the lockdowns and the mental health problems I’ve encountered. Like so many of us have encountered. However, one of my friends tested positive for COVID and because I’ve been in contact with him recently I had a Coronavirus test yesterday and made the decision to isolate until I got the result (which I got at 7am this morning – Negative).

It’s Fathers Day tomorrow and I’m looking forward to spending time with my girls. I’ve spent many previous Fathers Days hungover or drunk because I prioritised alcohol over anything on a weekend. I just hope I can pull myself out of this little dip I’m having this week. I’ll be sober but sober isn’t fun when the depression and anxiety is knocking on the door. Maybe it’s the heat, the boredom, the fact I didn’t go out last night. I dunno, I need to pull myself out of it and have a positive and productive day.

One thing we’ve been doing each week is making Sundays a ‘family day’ so we try and at least go out for a few hours as a family and do something fun. So far we’ve visited a farm, an open air museum, a soft play and a country park. The weather is expected to be rotten tomorrow so not sure we will get anywhere outdoors but maybe an indoor option will come to mind. It certainly makes my Sundays more positive knowing I’ve made an effort to get my two young daughters out of the house doing something. I would have been previously itching for my first alcoholic drink on a Sunday morning after a heavy session on the Saturday or just because it was Sunday, I was off work and I wanted to perk myself up. Alcohol had a great way of controlling my weekend.

So back to now. I’m sitting in my car waiting outside of my oldest daughter’s weekly dance class. I need to remember to ask the teacher if we can buy a new leotard because this one is already getting holes in it. Money, money, money. We will then be heading off to Costco for my quarterly stock up of nappies, bog roll, coffee and fruit snack bars. It gets better though… I desperately need to motivate myself to finish painting the bathroom.

Let’s enjoy Fathers Day knowing I’ve been a good father on Saturday. No guilt then. No anxiety. He says.

How to solve a problem like AA

Day 121: I’ve been reading a lot about sobriety over the last few weeks along with listening to a new podcast called ‘Sober Dave – One for the Road’. Dave is a recovering alcoholic but doesn’t use and has never used AA for what it’s worth. What I have observed from the various people’s sharing is that AA really splits opinions in the Sober community. When I was in hospital receiving treatment for my mental health breakdown and my dependency on alcohol I saw Alcoholics Anonymous as the only support group you could really turn to if you wanted help back in the community beyond the NHS. I spoke to a very inspirational man called Paul a few days before I was discharged from hospital and he shared the benefits of joining AA – whether that be a fully fledged participant and to live my life with the community central to my recovery or as a ‘drop by’ member where I’d just join online or face to face meetings ad-hoc when I needed that little bit of extra help. I dialled into a couple of online AA meetings in the early days of leaving hospital but I got very little from these meetings largely because I felt I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be engaging with others about my issues or hearing other people’s struggles and subsequent sobriety. I was on the crest of a wave after leaving hospital and I was determined following my detox and plentiful time to think that my future life would be booze free and would be focused primarily on living a good, honest and happy life with my family and friends.

I also understood AA (from a quick google) to be described as followed;

“Alcoholic Anonymous started in the USA over seventy years ago. AA teaches an abstinence-focused approach. Attendees are required to admit ‘powerlessness’ over their addiction to alcohol and that their lives have become ‘unmanageable’ as a result. Attendees are then told to look to a ‘power greater than themselves’ to restore ‘sanity’ in their life. This greater power invariably means God”

May I add at this point I’m very much a fully fledged atheist.

In the early weeks I was walking, running, eating better and most importantly not drinking. The feelings towards alcohol were still there but they were behind a locked door in my mind so it was quite easy to distract myself from those thoughts when they crept in by simply reminding myself of the recent mental health episode and hospital stay before heading off to do something positive like read a book, head outside or pop some music on. By no way was it a walk in the park but I certainly didn’t feel like I needed to be attending AA meetings whilst I was using my own resources. As a long time sufferer of anxiety it was more of a worry for me thinking about going into an unknown environment with people I didn’t know than to keep working on my recovery on my own. I am also fortunate that when I was discharged I went immediately under the care of a community Mental Health team so I was (and still am) engaging and attending sessions to work on my mental health.

So what are the pros and cons of AA based on what I have heard, read and seen so far?

PRO 1: Structured Meetings. A set timetable is presented and followed by the book.

PRO 2: You get to see your disease in an ‘open forum’ when others will talk openly about their addiction. New members learn to drop their natural defences. This environment allows addicts the opportunity to learn from one another in a low pressured environment. Peer learning is very effective in promoting long-term recovery.

PRO 3: Many people in AA gain a powerful motivation to avoid relapse. Many members may not have family and friends to call on if relapse becomes a legitimate threat. AA fills this void and provides members without family and friends a powerful support network if the urge to relapse arises.

PRO 4: Not everybody can afford private alcohol treatment costs. AA gives many people their only real accessible lifeline beyond their GP.

PRO 5: AA meetings are global. This means people are able to access groups when travelling or when on holiday. Being abroad may act as a relapse trigger so the availability of AA in the addict’s country of destination may help him or she avoid relapse.

CON 1: The anonymity of AA has led some members to abuse other members. Many women have come forward to speak of sexual abuse and harassment suffered during of after AA meetings. AA’s policy of anonymity has protected those committing these crimes. Striking up a sexual relationship with others in the groups has been termed the ‘thirteenth step’. ‘Sponsors’ are those who’ve been in recovery for more than a year. Unscrupulous male sponsors have been known to prey on vulnerable female members who are new to the group.

CON 2: Those who’ve committed drink driving offences may attend AA in order to avoid prison. These people therefore may not attend AA for the primary reason of getting into recovery but rather to avoid prison. These people may distract the group due to a lack of motivation to participate.

CON 3: AA meetings may be frequented by ‘bad influences’. This could be addicts who attend infrequently. Young or vulnerable addicts may be taken advantage of by those with bad intentions. Vulnerable addicts may also be introduced to drugs by mixing with these people. If vulnerable group members socially mix with these people outside AA they risk developing an addiction to other substances. Some AA centres may even attract active drug pushers hoping to turn a profit from attending the group.

CON 4: AA meetings take place in addicts’ local communities. This means addicts are not removed from bad influences such as certain places and people whilst help is supplied. This means relapse is more likely than for treatment carried out in residential alcohol rehab centre.

CON 5: AA is educational in it’s approach. Sessions are conducted by AA people. AA is not to be seen as an alternative to treatment provided by a residential rehabilitation clinic. Clinics provide medical treatment supervised by doctors, nurses and therapist. AA does not provide for this level of expertise.

CON 6: AA attendees could memorise the 12 steps in as little as two to three hours. However, AA recommends members ‘work the steps’ and ‘get a sponsor’. This takes considerable commitment on behalf of individual addicts. AA recommends ’90 sessions in 90 days’ where addicts must attend AA sessions every single day for three months. AA members warn newcomers not to get ‘overconfident’ and to ‘work the steps’ by attending AA meeting several times a week over several years. However, some may struggle to invest this amount of time in the process.

CON 7: Those who relapse have reported a lack of support from the rest of the group. Members who relapse have been reprimanded for their relapse rather than supported.

CON 8: AA has non-secular origins. This background very much exists in modern-day AA meetings. Those who identify themselves as agnostic or atheist may struggle to adapt to AA’s religious atmosphere.

So how do you solve a problem like AA? We probably need to take a step back and experience it for ourselves. The organisation is global and the above cons will of course exist in some groups but there will be many more which have never had these issues. I have never ruled out using AA in the longer term but will also be unsurprised if I never use the service. I am open minded and will make my own opinions on things. AA was not right for me so soon after coming out of a very dark place and a clinical environment. I have found my own way to stay sober for 121 days so far which I appreciate is a fantastic achievement for somebody who has never attempted this before. I can’t predict the future, nobody can – I continue to focus on things a day at a time and that is good enough for me.

The Edge

Day 113: I have always been somebody who lived life on the edge. Not so much in a thrill seeking and spontaneous sense – more so in a high stress, anxious and agitated way. Back in school I was a quiet, observant and a well behaved student but in my teenage years I was fed up of the dickheads invading my personal space with verbal or physical attacks. I was not bullied heavily by any means, but I would get the odd wet towel over the back of my legs in the changing room or a pencil flicked at my head in maths. I would get called names because of my hair colour or because of my surname. I would generally absorb all of this and not show I was bothered by it – it was rare that I would get much more attention than that. As I reached about 14 there was a change in me which I hadn’t really expressed previously and it shocked the so called ‘bullies’. I started fighting back, reacting angrily and in most cases getting the upper hand. I punched one lad in the face on the football field and bust his nose. I pushed another kid into a stairwell window and he smashed it. I chased somebody out of the classroom mid-lesson because he threw a coin which hit my ear. I’d had enough of it. My friends and class mates loved me for it – Not many people will stand up to these so called hard men of the school year. They pretty much backed off and left me alone for the final 18 months of secondary school but I do remember on the last day of school in my final year – a real piece of work who had been nothing but a bully and nuisance to so many in the school told me if he saw me in the village he lived in he would stab me. I never did see him again but about 5 years after we left school he died after falling over high on drugs and cracking his head off a kerb. In fact half a dozen lads from my year group have passed in the 18 years since we left secondary school. Alcoholism, drug overdoses, car accidents, etc. When I was younger I shrugged my shoulders at the news and in some cases would say something like “Good, they were an oxygen thief anyways” – thinking back to my interactions with them and the negativity they brought to me.

Even in my more ‘mature’ years throughout my 20s I would be a very reactive person to anything that I didn’t agree with or if I thought fairness had been compromised. I guess that from a young age I was a follower of routine, rules and process. If somebody breaks the rules it has a big reactive impact on me and the agitation and aggression it has brought out of me in the past is worrying. I could list so many examples – some when I was under the influence of alcohol (and more common as booze lowers your tolerance to things) BUT the amount of ‘sober’ incidents have been worrying. I had road rage once when a car overtook me and I followed them back to their home and stared at them as they parked up and went into their home. I reflected afterwards and asked myself what was the point? what was I looking to achieve?

I took exception to somebody calling me lazy and not pulling my weight within my section of Army training. The recruit didn’t appreciate I’d be cleaning all day in the block and I’d only popped outside to call my Mother because I was struggling emotionally. My reaction to be being called out led to a fight between us.

There was even an incident just last year where a group of teenagers were standing next to my car in a Supermarket car park. I got my little girls into the car and as I stepped into the driver’s door one of them made a comment or noise towards me. I got back out of the car and pinned one of them up against the wall. My wife was so angry with me but in my eyes they had crossed the line and they needed to be punished. Reflecting again, they were just immature kids.

Something I have been proud of in the last few months since my dark days and hospital admission is that I have been so much more aware of how I react to others and activity that is happening around me outside of my control. The not drinking alcohol aspect of things is no doubt helping with me controlling my agitation, irritation, depression and anxiety but I still have a duty within myself to make the right moral decisions day to day. I am less annoyed by other drivers, other pedestrians, other shoppers, other people’s comments on social media, etc. By no means am I saying that I am in a constant state of zen but the person I am today is a much more relaxed person than I have ever been during my time on this planet.

I could say its the fact I’m reading more, or because I am running. Maybe it is because I’m eating better and walking more each day. Maybe it is because I don’t have alcohol in my body and head?! I dunno. All I do know is that whilst not everyday is perfect I am finding that I have more better days than not – where the life on the edge feeling is less edgy. I’ve stepped further back from the edge and it is allowing me to look over the edge from a much safer distance. Today marks 113 days sober. Today marks my 113th day of recovery. Today is a good day.