Friday, 29 May 2015

Muscle Memory

Day 89.

As it's half term I've escaped to my parent's house in the country with #1, #2, #3 and the dog.

By now I'm feeling relatively comfortable with evenings at home sober. I've realised that it's a bit like retraining muscle memory - like learning to drive instinctively on the right hand side of the road when you've always driven on the left. You just need to do it enough times for your new associations to be plentiful enough to battle with the old ones.

That's, at least in part, why they say that you can't rush recovery.

I've done a minimum of 60 evenings at home sober. 60 sober memories to fight with all the drinking ones. But this is only my third stay with the parents since I quit, and I'm noticeably more uncomfortable.

'Firsts' are the worst. Your first sober dinner party. First sober drinks party. First girl's night out. But you have to persevere and dive in, because every subsequent time gets easier, and if you hibernate too much you don't start to build those new sober associations.

I remember when I quit smoking. I thought that I would never feel completely comfortable at a party without smoking. And I'd always had a cigarette after sex. Yet now, not only is the idea of the post coital smoke not at all appealing, but I can't even picture it.

If I force myself to imagine lighting up in bed it looks like a terrible 1970s porn movie. My non smoking associations have completely obliterated the smoking ones to the point that they feel like they belong to somebody else.

One day, I trust, the same will be true of drinking. But for now I'm slightly itchy about the third stay at the parents.

Then I force myself to remember the old days.

I'd always thought that booze was rather plentiful at the parents house. My folks, particularly my Dad, are enthusiastic drinkers. I'd never thought twice about it.

Then, about two or three years ago, that changed. Suddenly it felt like there wasn't quite enough to go round.

It's fairly easy to ignore the wine witch when you can, literally, drown her out whenever she pipes up. But she gets really tough to ignore when you're forced to cut down her regular supply. It was, in part, my visits down here that made me begin to acknowledge that I had 'a problem'.

From about 5pm onwards I'd start looking at my watch surreptitiously, waiting for the hands to reach the magic time of 6pm. I'd then wait impatiently for my Dad to utter those precious words "anyone for a drink?" I'd conciously attempt to reply nonchalantly. To not sound overly enthusiastic.

If the clock ticked much beyond 6pm I'd get increasingly tetchy. I'd wrestle with myself over whether I should wait, or if I should suggest a drink myself. If it got as late as 7pm I'd have to intervene. "Mind if I pour a drink?" I'd ask in strangulated tones.

Then dinner. One bottle of wine sitting on the table between my mother, my father and myself. Small and insignificant you might think, but, in my head, it was a giant elephant, squatting there between us.

My father and I would both look askance at the bottle wondering how we could ensure that we got more than our third share. My mother was also terribly aware of it. Checking that neither of us were drinking too fast (she's been concerned for years about my father's drinking, and for a while about mine).

"Please can you pass the salt?" we'd ask, or "anyone seen the weather forecast for tomorrow?" Totally ignoring the giant mammal belching and farting in front of us.

I remember the empathy I felt with Caroline a Knapp when I read in her memoir (Drinking. A love Story) that she had started packing a bottle of whisky in her bag when she went to stay with her parents so that she could surreptitiously top up. Thank God I never let myself go there.

So even though I'm a bit scratchy, things are way better than they used to be. Someone's tranquilised the elephant and transported him, safely and humanely, back to the wild. No more wild animals on the dinner table.

And that, fellow travellers, is more progress.

Have a great weekend!

Love SM x


  1. SM you are an amazing strong woman, keep going and keep up these wonderful posts. It's interesting hearing you talk about your fathers relationship with alcohol, as my mother is the same. She came to me recently and admitted she had a problem. It makes me wonder if alcoholism runs in the family? My late grandmother was also an alcoholic, she got sober and never touched another drop for 20 years. You are breaking the cycle and for that I think you are amazingly strong, well done you and all of us. X

    1. Hear! Hear! Hurrah for us! As knapp says, alcoholism runs through families like a river....

  2. So good to be reminded of this. I can remember even in my twenties, keeping an eye on the one bottle of wine at family gatherings. I thought I didn't have a problem until much later but even then I would rather have not drunk at all than have one paltry small glass. I would hate to feel like this again.

    1. Too right. Have a fab weekend, Lucy x

  3. when i stay with my parents they have 5 liter boxes of wine -- so i could top off without anyone noticing something missing. no more of that for me, though, because i am at DAY 50 today !!
    advice request: some friends visited 2 nights ago and brought wine and beer, the remains of which are sitting in the kitchen. should i dump it all down the drain, in anticipation of a night when i am NOT feeling so strong ??

    1. Hurrah for 50!!! Well done! Everyone has different attitudes to booze in the house. Personally I'm ok with unopened bottles, but can't handle open ones! If I were you I'd ditch any open ones and hide unopened ones away somewhere. It's always easy to get hold of a bottle if we really wanted one, even if there's none in the house. The trick is to not get to that point... Huge congrats!!!

  4. Your family sounds a bit like mine. My dad didn't drink for many years when I was grouping up. We never discussed why, except he was drinking too much and my mom made him stop. but he happily became my drinking buddy when I was old enough.
    There was always lots of wine and he was always in for another bottle.
    No one drinks really when I go visit now.
    But we also don't talk about it.
    Pretending things are always ok really tired me out growing up. It still does.

    Take care of yourself. When in doubt take the kids for ice cram, etc. I find a change of scenery often shakes old memories .


    1. Your family sound very English Anne!

  5. Another fab post SM. Day 86 for me and apart from the excess tiredness, I am getting very comfortable with not drinking now. I am even getting periods of 'natural' euphoria when I look at my journey and how far I have come. I never really followed the crowd and liked to be a little different, so thats the way I look at sobriety. it is kind of unique because so few people are doing it. I even have a silly grin on my face as I am paying for my non alcoholic pear cider at the tesco checkout. It is a sort of ' look at me', Who's the the clever one now? It makes me feel great!
    It is a positive and helpful mindset to have and one that is almost making this whole experience enjoyable. Have a wonderful weekend SM. x

    1. Great to hear you on such top form Tallaxo! I know what you mean about being ahead of the curve - that's exactly how I felt when I wrote 'rebel without a cause'. Have a top weekend!

  6. Yes this rings a lot of bells for me too. There was always alcohol on the go when I was growing up and in my 20s and 30s I was always there to the bitter end making sure I got my share. I have 3 sisters and we all like our wine but I think, looking back, I like it a bit more than most except perhaps my dad who definitely drinks far too much. It's his birthday party coming up and I'm going to drive so won't have to explain too much why I'm not drinking. Have also been having a few bursts of euphoria about not drinking today like tallaxo) and I was reading back through your blog to see what you'd written at the stage I'm at. There was mention of the wine belly starting to go and I realised mine has also got smaller. You said yours was the size of a wine bottle well I had 3 wine bottles but now there are less than 2. In a moment of hope I quickly tried on some jeans that I've not been able to get into for a while and they fit. Tight but they fit! And that's only after 3 weeks off the booze. Can't quite believe it but that and starting to feel better (lots of multivits) means I've had a really good day. Your blog also reminded me how much I want to break the cycle. I read recently (soberistas I think) that one woman had enjoyed having cups of tea and watching TV with her daughter home from uni and I thought I'd rather do that than sit and get pissed together. Long may these good feeling last. Thank you for your inspiration xxx

    1. That's amazing EH! You're doing brilliantly! X

    2. Have a lovely weekend and here's to lots of new memories x

  7. Love this post. I could write a book about my family and alcohol.

    I am so old I remember smoking in restaurants. Will there come a day when seeing people boozing everywhere will be on its way out? I am currently constantly noticing how so many events are marketed to include booze. Will this era end? I love being part of this AF revolution, although it is far from easy.
    Today I have spent most of the day exhausted and feeling very low. I am also very very disappointed to have not lost any weight. I've got an app called I'm Done Drinking. It tells me that today is day 54, I've (very very conservatively) not had 163 drinks and have saved nearly 20,000 calories. I must have eaten those calories because my weight is exactly the same. I feels too soon to try to cut food back, but that time must come soonish. I know that all this recovery is based on first and foremost taking cRe of myself. The calories are not junk, but they are calories. Maybe that tanker will turn one day soon, but not yet.

  8. I ALWAYS watched the wine bottle, no matter where I was!

  9. "Totally ignoring the giant mammal belching and farting..." That made me laugh so much. God, the anxiety of it all :( So glad that we've replaced that disgusting beast for a bird of freedom. Enjoy it! Bea x

  10. I have been just the same as you at my parents ... waiting for my dad to open his beer so that I had permission to open my wine. If he left it really late I'd get annoyed and in patient, also one of my signs that there might be a problem x

  11. And I go from weeping to laughing hysterically! But, I'm not manic...much!

    That poor elephant with his troublesome lower GI is another perfect analogy...may he never get kryptonite in his pants!

    Thanks again, SM!

  12. Oh my god I could have written this post!! Actually sometimes (actually frequently) I wonder if I'm actually the author of these posts and Will Smith (in mib) has popped along and zapped me with his memory wiper thingy once I've finished so that I don't remember writing it. Having said that, I'm not as eloquent as your good self and I'm quite sure you wouldn't have used the word actually quite so frequently. Still... Oh I hear ya! Got my parents coming to stay tomorrow night and they do exactly this at 6pm on the dot and throughout dinner... I've said no before though so I'm sure I can do it again...I've successfully made it through 3 very temptation filled evenings in my first week on the sobercoaster so I can do it again!!! Much love, Laws