Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw.
"I just wanted to be sure of you."
AA. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
When I first quit drinking, one of the things I was most scared of was losing my friends.
(See my post Will I Lose All My Friends? written back on Day 13)
I was aware that, in my overly enthusiastic drinking days, if any of my friends announced they were going sober I'd have been entirely unsympathetic and, most probably, would have distanced myself from them.
Non drinkers, in my book, were rather po-faced, holier than thou and more than a little dull. They didn't walk on the wild side, like me, grabbing life by the short and curlies. They were not part of my tribe.
Also, if I ever spent any time with a non-drinker, a little voice would start to whisper in my ear do you think maybe you're drinking too much? Do you think, perhaps, you should quit drinking? And that was a place I did not want to go.... I'd hastily stick my fingers in my ears and go la-la-la-la-la.
My cancer diagnosis two weeks ago has taught me an awful lot about friendship.
Oddly, when you get really, really bad news there are very few people you want to talk to. And they're often not the ones you'd expect.
I told two of my oldest girlfriends who were there whenever I needed to talk to someone. One of them even spent hours ringing round to find me a top breast consultant when the two I'd been recommended were away on holiday for a week (which is a very long time in cancer land).
The third person I told was a lady I don't know well at all. She's a Mum from the kid's school, and she lives nearby. I've never had a really good heart to heart with her. But when I got the news I just knew she'd be a good person to tell, so I turned up on her doorstep, sobbing.
This lady - H - has been a rock. She came to meet me in the park whenever I escaped from the children for a dog walk and a sob. She bought me a beautiful book to write down all the medical stuff I had to remember, and to pour out my feelings in. She has texted me several times a day, making me laugh and cry. She will be one of my best friends for ever.
It made me realise that for the last decade, at least, I have not been the friend that anyone has turned to first. I used to be - many years ago, but now I hear about close friends' illnesses, divorces, problems with their children, several weeks or months down the line. I am not a first port of call.
You know why? I'm sure it's because, as a drinker, I was a fair weather friend. Fun to have at parties, to share gossip and to have a laugh with, but not a friend in need.
The truth is that drinkers make rubbish friends. We tend not to listen (after a few drinks we get stuck on 'transmit' rather than 'receive'). We're not trustworthy (anybody's secret makes a good anecdote after a glass or two of vino). We're not reliable (I would often forget the crucial details of a friend's confidences, if not the whole conversation!).
Since I quit drinking I've been a much better friend. Instead of doing all my socialising at drinks parties, spending no more than ten minutes with any one friend, having superficial banter, I've spent hours chatting over coffees, dog walks and lunches.
When I am at a party, I don't try to talk to everyone - I have a few really good conversations with people I haven't seen for a long time. I listen. I remember. I'm thoughtful.
Yes, some of my big drinking friends I feel less close to, but I've realised that I was never that close to them anyway - not in the ways that matter.
And the vast majority of my friendships are way more precious and stronger now than they were a year ago. Plus I've picked up some wonderful new friends, who never knew the drunken me.
Friendships, you see, like flowers, have to be nurtured, cared for, watered. Pour sauvignon blanc over them for long enough and you poison them.
The other thing this experience has taught me about friendship is how much I value all of you.
As you know, confessing to a drink problem, or to going sober, is hard in the real world (see my post: Dear Friend), which is why the sobersphere is such a lifeline.
I may never have met you, or know what you look like, but I've bared my very soul to you and you've accepted me, and that is the most powerful form of friendship there is.
Plus, we all share something. Despite our very many differences we are all very alike.
Here's a wonderful quote from C.S.Lewis:
Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no-one but myself...."
And that is what bought us all here.
Thank you, dear friends.
P.S. I am back from hospital. Sore and tired, but happy.