New year views

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?  I haven’t done in years – they always ended up dis-guarded by mid Jan at the earliest and Mid Feb at the latest.  I was reflecting that really why do you need 1st Jan to be the day you do anything you want to change?  14th May 2004 was a Friday – it was a boringly uneventful day – the only two real significant events worldwide on that date ever are that Israel declared independence from Great Britain in 1948 (that’s gone well!) and in 1787 delegates gathered to begin drawing up the USA constitution (possibly went better…).

However for me along with my birthday, the birth of my children, the day Mrs F walked up the aisle to meet me at the alter etc. it was the most significant day in my life.  I lay down after the final bender and cried and cried. Lying there in the foetal position I knew I just had to do something about my drinking.  So I did – the rest of that history is on this blog elsewhere.

But a new year does lead you to look back and look ahead.  2018 – well less said about that the better  for me in many senses.  Dominated by my illness and subsequently leaving the world of work, probably permanently.   I still feel I’m looking back on my career and thinking – I’d really not worked out what I was really doing and now it’s gone!  I’m one of those that sort of bumbles through life – remarkably well for the most part and very luckily with some good results overall.  But I can still think “Did I achieve anything of any real value?”  But then a belated farewell from a colleague over Christmas surprised me with the level of esteem they seem to hold me in.  I’m no doubt my own worst critic.

However 2018 had some really great things too – my daughter getting her MSc with flying colours.  Clearly the reason her thesis was passed requiring no revisions was of course down to the efforts of Mrs F and yours truly as her proof readers … ahem … 😉  My son’s engagement and his confirmation of longer term funding for his position.

I’m hopeful for 2019 to be a better year healthwise.  Whilst not symptom and attack free since I did officially stop attempting to work my condition has overall been better.  I’ve some projects planned – you’ll probably see more of them on the other blog – and time to enjoy doing them at least!

Happy new year to you all and may it be for those that want it a sober one.

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Happy Holidays

Happy holidays to all my readers – well that’s cheered up a handful of folks on the internet!

Now but seriously – happy holidays to the MPs who are off for two full weeks holiday.  Like … SERIOUSLY????!!!!!   For a short while I wrote a blog about Brexit in the lead up to the referendum back in 2016 as I was concerned we’d vote to leave.  I was also amazed at the rubbish campaigns that both leave and remain sides ran.  There were outright lies and mistruths on both sides.  So I had a blog pointing out facts.  As a remainer I still follow some social media with the remain focus and notice a continual stream of facts about how leaving the EU will hurt the UK economy badly – anywhere between 7% – 10% worse off after a decade, that includes the governments own assessment.  I see people pointing out that no country, including North Korea, trades exclusively on WTO rules as it is so detrimental to your own economy.  But I’ve come to realise that facts and figures may repeatedly show this but we voted to leave and that vote for many people was an emotional vote, a heart vote not a head vote.   So trotting all this back out in another referendum debate will do little to sway people.

When we voted to leave I thought that meant that we would simply crash out the EU with no trade arrangements with them or with anyone else and we’d have to renegotiate them over a number of years (decades?).  Again the reason why I voted remain – the EU is far from perfect but much better to be inside and argue reform to allow us to do some form of additional local national trade deals etc. than simply rip up all the agreements and enter into a completely previously untested and untried arrangement.  But then I was told we could have our cake and eat it – remain in someway linked closely to the EU without having to pay into it and to stop free movement (something I’m not against at all btw but seems to annoy a lot of others).

And here we are now.  A deal that can’t get through parliament which is amusing to me.  We’ve established in our own supreme court and the European court that the UK is a sovereign nation which parliament is the sovereign body.  We can leave the EU unilaterally because of that and we could stop the process and remain in the EU with no change of UK rights (we have all the concessions about our own currency, not in the Shengen agreement etc.)  However the deal ties us in this backstop that we can’t unilaterally get out of – I can see my the leavers are so angry.  I’m simply bemused that in “taking back control” we appear to be in a worse position than we were.  However the EU surely wouldn’t tolerate a large country no longer paying in and not accepting free movement (key cornerstones of the EU) whilst actually benefiting from full single market benefits.  Has to be said – that is a far worse deal for them than us and laughable that the stalemate is them refusing to budge on it due to their commitment to Ireland and supporting the the Good Friday agreement.

So a deal we can’t get through parliament.  A PM that has won a vote of confidence in her party and cannot be challenged until Dec 2017.  About 100 days to go until we, most likely now, crash out of the EU with no agreement and we are thrown into chaos.  8% approx of all UK tax income comes from EU financial transactions carried out in the city of London.  Just the loss of that is appalling to contemplate. It is to put no finer point on it a shit show.  I can imagine plenty of employers are now asking various employees to limit their Christmas holidays to a minimum as they plan for the unimaginable position of 30th March – No Deal.  Will planes fly?  Will the ports seize up?  How can they keep their supply and market lines flowing.  How much of the tariffs possibly introduced overnight can they absorb, how much pass on to customers in price hikes etc. etc. etc.  Many will be having a very challenging holiday period – I hope the MPs who could stop all that by having a voting, agreeing a way forward and just for once sticking to it for the good of the country enjoy their roast dinners and two week break.

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No one can deny your feelings

It’s been an odd period of time recently.  Lows of losing my friend Mick, a colleague of my wife’s dying very suddenly really upset her….   But then good stuff – my son got engaged, my daughter got offered a new secondment and also was told she has passed her masters.

I was reflecting on this with some recovery friends last night.  Now I can accept that I can feel both happy and sad simultaneously.  I never did feelings before – that was I believe why I drank.  I liked that alcohol provided the perfect anaesthetic to emotions.  My dear departed friend Mick would have agreed – I use that work “anaesthetic” because it was one he regularly used to describe what alcohol did to him.  That’s why he was one of my best friends in AA because that was like me – I wholly identified with him on that point.

Now however I feel those emotions.  I’ve learnt to identify them initially as Happy, Sad etc. then with my nuance to understand grief’s difference from anguish.  One key point said to me once early in sobriety where as a 40something adult I was struggling with now living with emotions and trying to understand them was “No one can deny your feelings.”  Of course they can’t – only I feel them.  The only person feeling what I feel now is me and only I can identify it, label it (if necessary) and ultimately only I can deal with it.  So if I tell you I’m grieving the loss of my friend but also am elated about my children’s’ good news you can never question that – that is my perceptions of my feelings at this moment – that is my reality.

There is an oft quoted adage in AA – “The good news about recovery is your get your feelings back.  The bad news about recovery is that you get your feelings back”.

Although I’ve had this quoted at me and quoted it to others I can say – I certainly am so much more whole as a human being with my feelings intact and not blunted by alcohol’s effect.

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He was there in the beginning…

In the summer of 2004 I headed off to rehab.  Mind blown, not sure what on earth I was doing.  If I honestly assess it now I was just really trying another attempt at running away from my problems.  Only this time they made me face them right in the eyes!

After a few days in there was a space in the “van” going to the regular AA meeting.  One of the counsellors almost picking people at random pointed me out and so there I was sat in the front on the way to my first ever AA meeting.   I got off the bus and was set up as the “distraction” by those who’d been resident at the rehab longer than I.  They said “They always make a b line for the newcomer.  We’ll wait until the bus driver sees that then he’ll go.  We’ll then go over the chippy”.   Their intention was mostly to buy coke cola, chocolate bars etc. which would be smuggled back in against the strict dietary rules of the house.  Seriously we were like a bunch of naughty schoolkids on a day out, not adults trying to deal with their addictions.

I got welcomed by a guy called Richard.  He showed me to get a coffee and I grabbed some chocolate biscuits – more contraband!  I sat through the first bit of the meeting staring at the floor wondering if I could go get more biscuits.  I never listened to a word.  Then after the speaker the tone changed with many people sharing.  I started to listen.  “I’m like that”, “That was just what we were talking about in group”, “How long did he say he was sober – 16 years!”… etc. I remember it all going around my mind.  There was a huddle of people who all shared who were clearly all together.  A little white haired Irish guy, an Irish lady and another bloke who spoke slowly and clearly and with such earnest passion.  He had white hair, a pot belly and a white beard….  he did look like Father Christmas on his summer holiday frankly.  His name was Mick.

Roll on some weeks – my last meeting the day before I leave rehab.  I thought “I ought to say something if I’m ever going to get this to work once rehab isn’t supporting me.”   I blurted out that I was grateful for the welcomes, coffee and biscuits and that I was leaving rehab the next day and was frankly petrified I’d go back drinking.

Mick came up and shook my hand and wished me well – as did the greeter Richard.  I left the next day.  The day after that I was in trouble, my head going “Go on have a drink.  You aren’t like them.  You’ll be ok”.   I was white knuckling it and climbing the walls.  My wife suggested I visit my Mum.  I talked to her all afternoon about rehab and this and that.  She said “What do you do now?”  I said I should go to AA meetings and that actually there was one at the church at the end of her road that evening.  “Stay here have tea with me and go to it then”.   Seemed a good idea and one that might just stop me going passed the church to the pub.

I arrived there all nervous.  Would this be like the other meeting?  Would they welcome me or ignore me?  I walked in.  Stood there, roll up fag hanging from his lips, was  Mick.  He recognised me said hello, shook my hand offered me a seat and a cup of tea.  I gabbled on and he made some wise crack about I should tell God my plans as he liked a laugh.  Inwardly at that moment I thought he was a bit of an arsehole.  He then talked about other meetings he went to.  He went all over – obviously, the rehab was like 30 odd miles away.  He suggested one meeting in particular on the following Monday night.   He made some joke about the AA mafia – “Once you join us you can never leave”.

Monday night I headed to that meeting and saw him again, Richard and the little Irish guy too.  They were so welcoming to me.  That meeting has been my home group ever since.  I was there this last Monday thanks to a member given me a lift there now I can’t drive.  Mick was there as always.  He did one of the readings.  He shared.  He told me he felt good this week and asked how I was – the last two weeks haven’t been great for me which Mick knew as he’d called the other day to see how I was.

Yesterday my phone went – it was another of the Monday regulars I expected he wanted a favour.  I said hello.  He simply said “It’s bad news mate.  Mick was found dead this morning”.  I just cried and cried.

I just can’t believe it.  He was there in the beginning and has been such a support to me and many many others.  He has done service alongside me admirably over the years at intergroup and region.  I can’t describe the Mick shaped hole that has appeared in my heart right now.

The good thing was – it was quick and he didn’t suffer by the look of it.  Suspicion is a massive heart attack in his sleep.  Next Monday will feel just so odd;  that meeting without Mick at it’s heart seems just unthinkable right now.  But it will continue as it has since the little Irish left and then passed away and Mick’s great friend Dougy passed away too and the lovely French lady we lost so young recently.

Mick – thank you for all the times you shook my hand, asked how I was, answered my phone calls and simply were just an example to me about how to live a life in sobriety.  You will be sadly sadly missed.

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Retired

So it has happened folks on All Hallow’s Eve – hence the video below – I entered the world of the retired.  Still not sure what’s really going on frankly.  I signed all the various clauses in the 20 page legal mumbo jumbo that means I can’t tell you, my wife, my dead budgie or even probably myself what the terms of the deal were.   Really at £215 an hour for the lawyer charges most of the payment could have been lost anyway in him reading out incomprehensible sentences which he then tried to explain in common parlance.  I think I’m quite intelligent but this stuff was just mind bogglingly obfuscated!

I’ve not yet taken the pension – the one from my last employer isn’t fantastic – it actually is a good pension (despite the days of industrial action we had earlier in the year complaining about the changes) it’s just having only worked there 7 years and most of that part time the amount I get is only enough for us to keep the wolf from the door for about 3 months of a year.   Anyway I have some young sharp suited guy looking at my options for me.  Come 2019 I will have to start drawing some pension of find alternative work which will be a challenge.

On my last day – remember I’ve only been in the office on 4 days since the beginning of this year and signed off sick completely since June – I wondered about sending a farewell message.  In the end I sent it to a selected bunch of folks who I’ve worked with closely over the years.  I half expected them to wonder who the hell I was after all this time.  I was more than a little startled, shocked and very pleasantly surprised to get back some nice replies here are just two that particularly touched me.

may I thank you for all the hard work and devotion you have put in

It has been an absolute pleasure and an honour to have worked with you the last few years

Those were from a couple of my major customers so I can say that I did provide some value in the role I did.

Give the song a listen – my favourite halloween song from one of my favourite bands and from a shed – I mean what’s not to love!

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BBC Casualty – portrayal of AA

First I want to applaud the BBC for dealing with alcoholism in a mainstream soap and for dealing with it with a working professional rather than just having that person as a washed up park bench drunk.

For those that haven’t watched here’s a quick catch up.  A doctor in the series has gone through a lot of trauma over the last year.  He has smuggled a refugee boy into the country and tried to hide him.  His ex wife died in an accident.  Anyway – he turned to the bottle for comfort and found himself in trouble.  So he went to AA.  At AA he met Ciara who was struggling too.  They started a relationship.  He found out then that she was married.  She then comes into the department again – he thinks because she is drinking again but she actually has an ectopic pregnancy that needs emergency treatment.  And yes it is Dylan’s baby.  But Ciara says they can’t make a go of their relationship.  So sadly Dylan relapses.

This brings us to this week’s episode where we find Dylan drinking alone on his house boat, ignoring calls from friends and work and in a downward spiral.  His father arrives claiming to be 103 days sober and wanting to have a Step 9 discussion. Dylan wants to go to the pub.  He cajoles his father into drinking with him.  They have a fight – his Dad hit his head and is in a bad way.

So whilst I applaud the BBC there were so many things with this portrayal of AA I thought I should put something on this blog at least.  Firstly whilst many do the steps quickly in AA I think many of us with experience would be surprised with someone 100 days sober trying to carry out  a step 9 with anyone – let alone someone as important as their son.  Step 9 is after Steps 1 to 8 for a reason!  You need to have got yourself ready.  Anyone with a long term of drinking will take some time to get better.   Step 9’s are difficult (see below for explanation of the step).  I made my Step 9 with my daughter who I live with every day when I was 8 years sober.  1 – I needed to be ready.  2 – she was then 16 and able to understand better.  3 – the right moment and timing needed to present itself.

The point where Dylan demands his Dad drinks with him is an example of why doing this early would be a bad idea.  Dylan’s Dad, if more experienced in recovery would have recognised that he needed to work with Dylan to get him off the drink if he could.  Not gone to the pub with him (due to the risk to himself being so newly sober) and waited – the Step 9 can be done when it is better.  This wasn’t a good time.

To rewind a bit earlier in the story – sexual relationships between AA members are not recommended until both are very sober.  In fact any new relationship is considered an unwise thing is the first year – I joke with sponsees that should be actually a decade.  I know some who recommend getting a house plant first…. can you care and look after that?  After success there then consider a pet.   Look after that for some time then maybe you can think about the skills needed to nurture and love another human.

But then we wouldn’t have had the story – so I accept this is all drama and therefore it needed these catalysts to get to the point where we hope Dylan now has the epiphany that he nearly killed his Dad and him with his drinking.

I just want to put it out there that AA does not demand these things to be done, certainly not rushed but not avoided either.  However as AA’s tradition 3 says “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking” you don’t need to even follow the programme if you don’t want to – although I suspect the vast majority of AA members would recommend that you do if you want sustained sobriety.

Steps explanation..

Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  The “such people” are from Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all

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Another one lost – Alcoholism Kills

Sadly my local meetings are feeling sader places the last week or so.  A long term member who has been struggling passed away.  46.  Yes 46 but despite a period of sobreity she’d got back into a cycle of destructive binge drinking and finally she paid the ultimate price and has left us and her young son bereft.

I only want to say this as the only good thing that can come out of this.

Alcoholism is a killer disease.  If you have a problem with alcohol don’t fuck around.  Find a way to stop drinking and stay stopped.  Good luck.

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