Today is sober day 352. I imagined that I'd get to this point and quitting the booze would have caused all my problems to melt away. Life would be perfect. Simple. Easy. But it's not that simple is it? Alcohol has helped avoid dealing with my emotions, avoid properly dealing with hard stuff. It's stunted my emotional growth, and now I feel small and vulnerable.
And it's not that I haven't noticed the turmoil and hard times being experienced daily on Living Sober. I've heard Mrs D talk about living life in the raw. But here's the common thread that binds us all. I haven't heard one person who has gotten themselves sober say they want to return to their old lives, no matter how hard things get. I feel lucky and grateful that I'm dealing with the ups and downs of depression and anxiety without also having to factor in alcohol. Quitting alcohol is still the best thing I've ever done for myself. I wouldn't change a single thing.
The antidepressants are slowly restoring me in both mind and body. It's a slow process but I feel a lot better. Everything has slowly improved; my concentration, my general mood, my energy. There are still downs, but nothing has been as bad as that first week after I started medication. I had a setback on Friday night. I had felt little peaks of anxiety throughout what was a frantic day. I did far too much and didn't listen to my body. At about 6pm I had a major panic attack - my breathing got out of control, my hands and back went numb and I burst into tears in front of my children. It was pure fear. But in many ways it wasn't as bad as my first attack last year, because at least this time I knew what it was and that it would pass.
Last night the anxiety returned just before Lotta Dann's book launch in Christchurch. I met some beautiful Living Sober members and talking to them helped me get through it. It was great to see Lotta (Mrs D) again. She asked me if I had seen the depression coming and I told her that in many ways I had seen it coming for most of my adult life. But by the time I was in real trouble it was too late to get myself out of it.
It was about 15 months since I travelled to Wellington to interview Lotta for an article I was asked to write about Living Sober for the New Zealand Drug Foundation (read it here). I had joined Living Sober and was doing moderation at the time, but I hadn't quit alcohol yet. While I was talking with Lotta I knew I was at a major turning point in my life. The energy, the wisdom, and the example Lotta sets for so many people is what makes her special. I returned to Christchurch and read her sober memoir Mrs D is Going Without, and I knew my life without alcohol would be so much richer.
Last weekend my wife saw her new book Mrs D is Going Within and bought me a copy. This book - based on the Mindfulness techniques Lotta has found to deal with hard emotional stuff - was far harder for Lotta to write and she feels unsure about releasing it to the world when she is still so "wobbly" and unformed. But this is the inspiration of it for me. To know that quitting alcohol is just the start and that there is more work to do is golden. Life can be fucking hard, but the fact that we keep moving and working and trying and hoping for better is the generous and wonderful gift of Lotta's book. I hope at some stage Lotta can just bask in a feeling of pure pride at what she's done. She deserves that.
This morning I ran the Christchurch Half Marathon. I wondered how my body would cope after the panic attack on Friday. I even considered pulling out. But I slept well last night and felt relaxed this morning. One of the things I'm trying to do at the moment is not to hold on so tightly to things. Too many times I've failed to reach a certain time and for years I've dreamed of breaking 1 1/2 hours. Today I focussed on soaking up the experience, enjoying it even. Towards the end when my legs were screaming for me to stop, I told myself to keep going. No matter how bad things get, I'm alive, and lucky to be able to do something I love. I didn't run my fastest time but I enjoyed this event probably more than any other, and was truly satisfied with the result (this is really unlike me). My wife and children cheered me on as I crossed the finish line. My girls even made signs for me. I'm a lucky man.
Right now, as I write this, I'm feeling a nice, warm feeling of happiness and I no longer take for granted how good that feels.