I've made some wonderful virtual friends through this blog. One of them is an amazing lady called J.
J first mailed me a couple of months ago. She sounds SO like me. She's roughly the same age and had the same sort of full on London media job (with the bar in the office, and obligatory lunchtime boozing).
Like me, she has a handful of young children, and she too had breast cancer. In fact, she spent her fortieth birthday on the radiotherapy machine, sobbing.
When I posted about my ongoing fears of dying, and about my initial nightmares with Tamoxifen, J mailed me straight back and held my hand across the worldwide interwebby. She's just fab.
J said something in one of her e-mails recently which I wanted to share (and she agreed). Here it is:
When I took my very alcoholic friend, the "bon viveur" ex-Odd Bins manager (though let's face it we are all in the same boat) to his alcohol counsellor (yes the irony), I was struck by what he said.
He told my friend about the profound difference between gratification and reward. "Gratification" being the instant fix from alcohol, but ultimately un-rewarding. Then he talked about the real "rewards" of life which you have documented so beautifully in your blogs.
This really struck a chord with me.
I think I've spent my whole life chasing the 'instant fix', or the easy high. And alcohol - at least initially - works a treat. Feel like a boost? Just pop that cork and pour. Voila.
I know now that there are three big issues with living life like this.
One: like any drug, your body and brain become acclimatized to alcohol after a while, and it takes more and more of it to produce the same buzz. In fact, soon enough you get to the stage where you have to drink SO much to feel that high, that by the time you're there you're pretty much comatose.
Two: Because you're drinking more and more to reclaim that feeling, the downsides are getting worse and worse. The hangovers, the insomnia, the self hatred..... Need I go on?
Three: You end up spending so much time looking for instant gratification that you stop doing any of things that would give you proper rewards.
I was thinking about my children and their friends. They don't get their highs from alcohol. But their lives are a constant rollercoaster of massive highs (and, obviously, a few lows).
Their highs come from scoring the winning goal of a football match, doing well in an exam, mastering a skill for the first time, standing up in front of an audience and playing a trumpet.....
.....all the sorts of things that we stop doing in favour of just pouring another drink.
But those things, things you have to work at, things that come with a risk of failure, of humiliation, those are the things that give you a proper high. A real reward.
When I quit drinking, I thought that life would be - forever and ever - flat. Featureless. Devoid of lows maybe, but also of highs.
I realise now that that's nonsense. You still get the rollercoaster, but it's real, not manufactured. You learn to navigate the lows, the fear and anxiety, because it's only through them that you can reach the massive highs.
The highs don't come from drugs, they come from climbing that mountain (real or metaphorical), running that marathon, making those hundred days, giving that speech, helping your friend, finishing that DIY project, decluttering. All those things that you start doing, slowly, slowly, when you quit drinking.
So, my promise to myself for my second year of being sober (tomorrow is the BIG DAY), is that I am going to make sure that I chase every opportunity to do another loop on that rollercoaster. I'm going to take risks, learn new skills and push through that fear barrier.
Because that's where the real highs are, my friends. Not at the bottom of that bottle.
Love SM x