In my previous posts, Why do people drink and How to beat the alcohol illusion, we looked at escapism. To be honest, most people are not living the life they thought they would live. Expectations set in adolescents are very rarely what the reality of adulthood looks like. Therefore a massively important part of maintaining your sobriety is to build a life you DO NOT WANT TO ESCAPE FROM!
This, my friends, is easier said than done!
So, part of my personal story. After I had tackled depression in my early twenties, I was full of positive oomph at having found life again. For a while, in Edinburgh, things were good. I was getting married, I was doing a TEFL course so that we could travel abroad for a while, before settling somewhere and having children. Literally in the last week of my TEFL course I had a positive pregnancy test. I wanted children, so I am pretty sure that I self-sabotaged my plans to travel, due to fear of the unknown, and that I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. Depression set back in and mixed with 9 months of vomiting, it wasn’t a great experience!
But The Bot was so insanely cute, lovely and taciturn that I was OK for a while. Then, we decided that we could still travel and have the life we wanted. So while my ex-husband retrained as a teacher I signed up for a Masters in International Relations – sensible grown up ways of making travel abroad with a child more likely – then BAM, pregnancy No. 2. This time I really had done everything I should have done to not have baby number 2 so HUGE shock. Again I rallied and postponed my Masters for a year, another 9 months of vomiting. The Bear was born on a very snowy January night and I find it very hard to remember the first year with two toddlers. I must have swum rather sunk, as I’m still here and they are lovely boys, but I don’t remember. Somehow in all of this I completed my Masters.
My father made a littler picture for me, which was supposed to be funny but was actually painfully true.
Because actually, with a working husband and two toddlers, what exactly did I think I was going to do? Head off abroad to, become a charity worker, have adventures, with no real skills to offer and children in tow? Or just leave the children at home? I still had a fear of the unknown, my lack of confidence and lack of self-worth – so did I stay put to be a ‘good mother’ or did I stay at home as an excuse not to face my fears? Bit of both I think.
I hated being a stay at home mother. Some people love it but that was not me. I was going completely bonkers. I was stressed (with two toddlers and a by now miserable husband), anxious (with what I believe was badly managed post natal depression), frustrated that life wasn’t working out as planned, afraid of the future and feeling trapped in my life – too name a few.
We moved to Egypt to escape the life that wasn’t working for us here. My ex got a job as a teacher in a private school and we packed up and headed off with the 3 year old Bot and the 18 month old Bear. What I quickly and depressingly realised was that I hadn’t escaped AT ALL!! What I now had was a 3 year old who cried every day going to preschool and was bullied horribly, a husband who was still miserable, a baby that I still had to stay at home with so still couldn’t so all the stuff I had imagined I would do. I had no car, was stuck in a purpose build town in the middle of the desert, no money (despite all the schools promises). I had to take taxis to get anywhere and no taxi driver would take me where I wanted to go because they thought, after the Arab Spring Egyptian Revolution, that it was too dangerous. Other than a trip top Luxor after Christmas, I did not see the Cairo I knew and loved at all.
They were probably right though. In the ‘safe’ purpose built town, despite wearing completely appropriate covering clothes, I was grabbed, groped, chased and masturbated on, all while my children were present. Lovely. No one at the school seemed to have these problems, but they very much kept to their expat bit, going to expat bars in Cairo or to the golf course, and drinking lots – nothing very toddler friendly.
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My anxiety set in, because I could no longer control or escape my life. Then my IBS set in, my stomach swelled up like I was pregnant and I missed periods due to stress, Additional fear of being pregnant stress added then too!
But I also constantly self-sabotaged. Like TEFL, I believed in myself enough to plan and pursue dreams, but when push came to shove, I found a way to back out. I had been talking to a supervisor at Edinburgh University who had said he would be able to take me on as a PhD student. Amazingly, he was going to a conference in Cairo and would I be able to meet him to chat about it. Or course I agreed – amazing! Fate! Exciting! The day arrived, panic, fear, anxiety – that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d be rejected after the meeting, etc etc. So I sabotaged. The taxi journey was too long, too expensive, too hot for The Bear. Would The Bear behave? Would it be too long for him? Then I sent a message with every excuse saying I couldn’t attend the meeting. I was disappointed, frustrated and angry with myself all over again. Needless to add, I did not get another invitation.
I was so hysterical by this point, 6 months in, that I booked flights home with the boys, and said I wasn’t coming back. We arrived back on the Wednesday and by the Saturday we were in hospital and The Bear had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I honestly believe my Bear must have a guardian angel. Going back to Egypt was not an option. My ex did not return until the end of the year.
I had tried to retrain (for my current job) multiple times but things kept falling apart. I was so close at one point. After Egypt, I worked full time shifts in A&E (The Bot and Bear were 2 and 4 years old). I relied on my mother for childcare, as my ex was working, miserable and unhelpful. I would come home from a 12 hour shift and he would say, ‘what’s for supper?’ and then complain that I was going to bed to early (10pm – I was up at 5am) and who was going to keep him company while he planned lessons. More often than not I slept on the sofa. I tried to run the household, work shifts, study and look after children. This was definitely not what I planned! On top of this, working in A&E you see the end result of alcohol for many people. The pancreatitis, the cancer, the pain, the jaundice, the desperation in these poor people who have fallen victim to the horrors of alcohol. Most people brush it off and say, ‘that won’t be me’ but I knew that it could be anyone. I knew I drank too much, I was constantly controlling my intake, but my treat after 3 night shifts was a bottle of prosecco in a short space of time! I knew that this could be me if I didn’t get a grip on things, but this just caused further panic and more drinking to deal with the panic.
This is when I had a breakdown. I had never really believed in breakdowns before. I almost believe that people chose to stop.
One night, I got a phone call from my mother saying a family friend had died of carbon monoxide poisoning while visiting a friend. I had been paranoid about carbon monoxide since The Bot was born. I believe it was undiagnosed post natal depression that fixated on carbon monoxide as the thing that was going to kill us all. This news was the culmination of everything. I woke up in the night with an absolute certainty that I was imminently going to die. I have never been so sure of anything. I woke my ex to tell him and he said ‘go back to sleep you are fine’. I crept into the sitting room, unable to breath, heart pounding, sweating and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. For the next two weeks I couldn’t leave the house. I wanted to, I told myself I could, I told myself I had to leave for the children, but every time I approached the door I started sweating, my heart was pounding and I became lightheaded. My ex did not help me during this time and my mother eventually got me to the doctors for antidepressants and beta-blockers.
After two weeks, I went back to work. But realised it was unsustainable and made the very difficult decision to stop chasing my retraining dream and accept that motherhood in the suburbs was my lot. I read You Can Heal your Life at the is time and started working on healing my life. I soon realised that my ex was not going to be part of healing my life going forward and we divorced soon afterwards.
I have said it before but genuinely believe that all the work I did at that time to heal and help myself, helped me open up to the universe and the universe gave me My Love (my now husband). He is a kindest, gentlest, sweetest most respectful and loving man in the world. He has helped me to fully heal and become the person that I am today, I am so infinitely grateful to him and the universe.
Not that it was quite that easy. My healing was still in the beginning stages so adding divorce, new relationship and failed retraining dreams all together was maybe a bit much. I was still drinking, obviously, and drinking far more than usual to manage the emotions. He hardly drank and although he never criticised, I knew he couldn’t understand why I did.
I had given up on the work I had been doing to heal myself was still a bit lost. Although I loved My Love so much, I was doing the whole lack of self-worth thing, and didn’t believe he really loved me. I wanted to test him, to try it, to push him. He stayed completely solid throughout, I have no idea how! I had said when I first met him that I absolutely did not want more children, but then I worried that, as he didn’t have any children, that he would resent me later on if we didn’t. He said he didn’t mind, but I didn’t believe that. I was completely overwhelmed by anxiety and worry again so pushed him to decide about children. I booked and appointment to be sterilised and said this was the last chance if he wanted to change his mind. This was not the manipulation that it sounds, I really didn’t want more children and thought being sterilised would give me peace of mind. I have subsequently been sterilised and it really has! He did change his mind. We stopped trying not to have children for 9 months and nothing happened. He had always wondered if he would be able to have children so we thought that this was the answer. I guiltily felt relieved that the universe had saved me from myself and I could say we had tried.
Then we did the Whole 30. I hated it, (no alcohol or sugar!) and only lasted 9 miserable days, but My Love lasted the whole 30. So I recommend, anyone struggling to get pregnant, to give it a try, because pregnant I became straight afterwards!
It was the worst time of my life. It ruined my wedding, nearly ruined our relationship and who knows what it did to my poor boys. I had started retraining on the old path again before I got pregnant and so I was working shifts, studying, vomiting constantly and being a mummy and new wife.
I thought history was repeating itself and I sank badly into depression. I also realise that I did nothing to help myself. I wallowed big time. Furious at the world even though I knew I had done this to myself. This was the biggest self-sabotage of all time. I was awful to My Love the whole time, I was angry, kicking and screaming and unable to drink to hide from the pain
I know people reading this will be horrified that I could possibly be so ungrateful for the gift of another baby, but I was. Deeply, hideously ungrateful. I thought that this was the end of my life. I would never achieve anything now, never travel, never enjoy things with the older boys. The feelings and depression went on all through pregnancy and for 10 months afterwards. I refused medication this time and a mindfulness course started to get me back on track. But after the 10 months, it took another year before I stopped drinking and started to heal properly.
Denying my dreams
In the time after the mindfulness course, when I was healing, I took a wrong turning. In trying to learn to be grateful for the present and enjoy the moment, I started trying to be something I wasn’t. I denied my wanderlust, tried to force myself to accept it could never be, bought a caravan for UK holidays, stopped dreaming and tried to accept that my lot, which I had to be happy with, was as a suburban working mother. The antithesis of every dream I had ever had. I believe this wrong turn, is why it took me another year before I stop drinking.
Next post I am going to go into detail, (more detail you say?!), about how we can build the life we want, but to end this post about my journey, I want to say a few things that I learnt.
I learnt that, fight it or not, I did most of it to myself. Whether through a lack of self-worth, a need for validation and lack og confidence and belief, I created and then sabotaged my own situations again and again.
You need to learn to know and love who you actually are, not try to be someone else.
I spent years and years thinking about past missed opportunities or planning and dreaming about future opportunities, but at no point was I living or appreciating the life I had in the present. My mother told me I always made my life difficult. She was right. I could never just be, never just enjoy life, as soon as I was comfortable I was trying to sabotage it in some way in the fear of getting stuck.
Nothing I did was small, realistic or sustainable. Everything was grand, unrealistic and doomed to failure. I read too many novels and believed I could transform my life in an instant.
I believed in myself enough to set dreams and plans but I didn’t believe in myself enough to carry any of it through, to take a chance or to trust.