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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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!

Posted in Alcoholism, Life, Menieres, Retirement | 7 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Does work define you?

It’s often the ice breaker at some gathering with someone you don’t know you ask them or they ask you “What do you do?”

The course director at my counsellor training centre in one jokey moment gave the following advice that once qualified we could easily get rid of people we didn’t wish to converse with by saying “I’m a psychotherapist”.  He claimed the vast majority moved on from the conversation within less than five minutes and if they didn’t they were a potential client anyway so worth investing the time talking with them!

Well this suddenly has hit me – given my health situation my employer has offered me a voluntary severance package effective the end of this month.  I have a few days in which to say yes to it.  It’s a reasonably generous package actually.  I’m trying to figure out pension issues but I’m more than likely to say yes and figure that all out later.  But from 1st November I’ll have to say when asked “What do you do?”  “I’m retired”.   Now is staring me in the face there are a bunch of emotions, feelings, thoughts etc. that come to mind.

Was my career a success? 

Why does this matter?  Personal pride and ego I suppose.  Well I’ve worked since 1981 and moved through several companies and sectors all of which seemed happy to have me working for them.  I rose to a position with Director somewhere in the title at one point and on a very good salary too.  So from that point of view – yes.  There were a few times where I really felt my work did have some significant contribution to the company and the wider world.  So I have to say it was but I am someone who is inclined to view on the negative side though so I inevitably feel that I should have done more, better, larger etc.

What will I do now?

Well maybe write more blog posts!  (Sorry).  I’ve been off work a number of months now so I ought to be getting used to this but being sick and not working seems different from being retired – that’s dumb possibly but a mind block I have.  One thing I should do is recognise the health issues and take it easy.

What will people think of a 56 year old man who’s retired already?

Why this matters is something I need to question – who cares what others think anyway!  I’m worried though I’ll be thought a failure, or a shirker, lazy, or simply someone who wasn’t good enough to be kept on.  I suppose that all says far more about how I’m not yet comfortable viewing myself as a retired person.

Health Update

To update on my health – the symptoms have been largely the same, some subtle changes but via my GP and specialist we’re trying a new drug – the last week hasn’t been too bad so maybe that is having a good effect we’ll see if it continues, I’ve been lulled into false security before with this thing.  However when I take the drug it is like I’m on another planet for a while – most odd.  Also I’m to have some more tests and a referral to a neurologist in the new year too to review all of my “complex case”.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Just when you need it…

Having blogged about the current health situation and that my daughter has started her full time job to sum up with Mrs F returning to work at school for the beginning of the new school year this week suddenly I’ve been at home on my own a lot.  With all the stuff going on, this week could have been a downer.  So it is interesting that I bumped into a friend from my Monday AA group – now that one I’ve not been getting to since I had to stop driving earlier in the year.  This friend has moved but still attends that meeting and he passes through the town I live to get to the meeting.  It is a little bit of a detour for him to come by my house but he offered to do just that and so Monday I was able to get there.  I was able to catch up with several people I’ve not seen for a while.  One of them as we parted said “Nice to see you where you belong”.  Another friend picked me up last night to go to the Wednesday group I like – he’s been doing that a while for me too.  But to get to two meetings this week, when I’m alone at home, has bolstered my good feelings and was just what I needed just when I needed it….   Funny how things like that work isn’t it?

Posted in Alcoholism, Meetings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Parenting – tick!

The week my daughter has started her first full time job.  She’s worked since she was 15 as a swimming teacher, barista at the local coffee shop, student ambassador etc.  However this the first full time job she’s ever had.  She also handed in her thesis for her masters – thank goodness Mrs F and I became her final proof readers and spent an intense day discussing very grammar points – largely because all of us had a different view on them!

So both my “kids” are adults with “proper” jobs now.  We’ve nurtured them into the world, onto solid food, to walk, ride bikes (ok my mother did that with both of them actually), to school, through clubs (Scouts, Swimming, Drama) to university and now into the world of work.

So that’s it then isn’t it… I’ve done the parenting bit haven’t I?    I know that you never stop being a parent as much as they’ll never stop being our children but it is a significant landmark to have reached and something I can feel proud of – especially as both of them are still very much part of my life and me theirs – not something I was sure would be true 15 years ago.

Posted in Alcoholism, Family, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Health problems

Hello everyone… er… anyone?

I’ve not posted in ages, apologies but I didn’t really feel like it and thought I had nothing to say – Thanks to the blogger who pointed out that wasn’t true.

So… the likelihood is that this blog is going to have a different topic base for a while.  It is going to be about coming to terms (or not) with having a chronic debilitating disease … but not alcoholism.

If you know this blog or have just read back you’ll know that I’ve been suffering since October 2017 with really difficult issues around my Ménière’s Disease.  Briefly it is a disease that affects your inner ear the main symptoms are – loss of hearing, distorted hearing, sensitivity to sounds, feeling or pressure or fullness in the ear, severe and violent vertigo, associated “drop attacks” and tinnitus.

In May I had an operation to help.  It has reduced the pressure feeling and the associated “fullness” and discomfort.  But sadly nothing else, in particular the vertigo attacks which if anything continue to increase in severity and intensity.   Because of this I’ve been signed off work since June.   I had a meeting last week with a doctor at my occupational health department.  To cut to the chase she has written to my department saying there is little chance of me returning to work due to the condition I have.   I await developments on that front and will hopefully feel willing to blog on here about it.

How can I describe the vertigo?   I’ll steal from somebody else who wrote for the UK Ménière‘s society….

Imagine being in the washing machine on the fastest spin speed.
Imagine that washing machine being on the world’s most frightening roller coaster.
Finally imagine that rollercoaster is in the roughest sea imaginable on a small vessel being tossed by the waves.

That’s a reasonable description.  I can feel “off” and know they are coming or they can hit me out of the blue – hence the “drop attacks” where I simply feel the world spin and I’m tossed with it to the floor.   When they start everything feels like I’ve gone to 100mph and am spinning uncontrollably.  I normally try to lie on the floor as sometimes that slows and stops it quickly but if not I’ll end up sitting just staring at the floor.  The floor is rotating really fast – often “flipping” so after say about 200° it just flips back to the start – or at least that is how it feels.   I can’t walk and sometimes even crawling is extremely difficult.  Moving my head makes the whole world turn whilst spinning – which is horrid in the extreme.   I get very nauseous and vomiting isn’t uncommon.  Sweating like crazy is quite common too.

After about an hour or so the spin slows and we move to stage two of an attack.  Now this is where nothing is quite still there is some spin but less violent but largely if you can imagine I look at a carpet with a fleck pattern in it – the fleck will appear to be “floating” over the background.  Any head movement feels like my head will rotate uncontrollably and it feels like that everything visually doesn’t connected with my physical movement.

Again normally another hour or so in that starts to abate and I feel more normal can start to slow walk about and move my head a bit and able to look at distant objects without them moving.  But by then I feel like I was hit by a train at some point I feel really fatigued and confused.  I sometimes I have to reconstruct what day it is and where I am and what’s happened prior to the attack in my head.

So that’s what I’ve been dealing with lately.   I’ll continue, I hope, to post more in the coming days.

 

 

Posted in Menieres | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

One day at a time…

An old AA adage.   “How can I possibly stay sober for the rest of my life?”   “How will I stay sober at Christmas?” “My birthday?”  The classic from  my sponsor in his first weeks sober – “My daughter’s wedding?”  His daughter was 7 at the time!!!  The response to all these fears from those nodding wise old sages that sit around the rooms is more often than not “One day at a time”.  It is how I’ve got to be 14 years sober.  The thought of 14 days, 14 weeks, 14 months to me in those early days was just too great but when people would say “Well stay sober today and see what tomorrow brings” that just made eminent sense.  Of course it’s blindingly obvious that if you approach every day like that you will eventually wake up and find that day you are 14 years sober or like a very good friend around my local fellowship 54 years sober!

It actually is, like much of AA philosophy, something that can be readily applied to life in general and other aspects in particular.  My recovery from the operation is a classic case in point.

The operation went well as I posted before.  I was only under the anaesthetic for about an hour so my reaction to it wasn’t too bad.  Instantly as I lay propped up on my hospital trolley in the surgical recovery ward I could tell that the pressure feeling I had grown so accustomed to in my left ear was gone.  I instinctively went to do two of my little ingrained habits to help relieve it.  A hard swallow and my hand was raising towards my left ear to stick my finger in and “pop it” when I realised the swallow was unnecessary and thought “sticking your finger in the ear you’ve just had surgery in for no good reason other than habit probably isn’t a smart move”.    I’ve caught myself a few times making a similar move but the habit has quickly gone as I don’t need it.  Given that reducing the pressure in the inner ear is the primary objective of the operation you can see it was a clear and instant success on that front.

I have not had any major vertigo attacks since the operation – Hooray!   I have had a few at night or early morning in bed normally when I wake from being asleep on my back.    The room is gently spinning not like the violence of the previous attacks and it stops in a few seconds if I just focus on something.  They are a bit annoying and disorientating but really given where I’ve been with this totally bearable.  I’m consciously trying to sleep on my unaffected side as I think that helps.

Balance has been … interesting!  I’ve had moments when everything just feels wrong as though one of my big attacks is about to whisk me off in a 1000rpm spin and throw me to the floor.  But I just steady myself and in a second or two it passes.   I’d spotted one point when they regularly seemed to happen.  If I went from looking up to looking down – imagine getting a tin off the top shelf.  As I brought my head down to look at the counter I was to put the tin on everything felt off kilter.  I also felt it on some turns whilst walking too.   I think it is actually because I’ve grown so used to a broken balance system I’m adjusting to one that works now and that is causing the issue.  Again the good news is that I’m just coming up to 3 weeks since the operation and those moments are getting less frequent and less intense.  I believe the exercises I’ve been given are clearly helping retrain my brain.

I had my hearing aid fitted last week in the affected ear.  That has helped with being able to hear better although I’m having to get used to the echoey and tinny sound.  The biggest thing though is that after the op I felt that the tinnitus was worse.  I did say to my family I thought it probably wasn’t but that as my hearing was worse it was just more noticeable.  With the hearing aid that has made a significant difference – the tinnitus is still there but nowhere near as intrusive as I’d felt in the week after the op.

So overall – good.  As ever I wish it was all back to perfect (which it will clearly never be) instantly.  So I’m reminded as I see a slow improvement over the time to just take it… one day at a time.

Finally – many thanks for all the best wishes I received from fellow bloggers – it was much appreciated.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments