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Day 46: Drinking vs. Thinking

Okay, so let's just pause and reflect on one thing for a moment:

46 Days!!!

I'm over half-way through my 90 days without alcohol. How did that happen?

I have to say that I think I've got this. (Don't worry, I've paused to touch wood.) I've made it through a wildly decadent Golden Wedding Anniversary party, a sunny lunch with friends in our garden (i.e. no need to drive home, or even to be able to stand by the end of it all, and carefully selected wines that I knew I'd love) and a catch-up with a Kiwi friend for the first time in about seven or eight years. Last night the shower fell apart and landed on my head, before spraying the entire room and then going cold, and I didn't even drink for that. And, in fact, our car is dead, and the most I did there was have a biscuit or ten with my tea. Honestly, I've flicked that 'no drinking' switch in my brain and it's currently (touch wood again) fine. I'm sure pregnancy and breast-feeding prepared me for life without alcohol, but as I've said before, I felt too sick during pregnancy even to want to drink, and, post-partum, my hands were too full of babies and sick- or poo-soaked washing to hold a glass as well. In the rare moments when my hands weren't full, I was asleep or, on a good day, absent-mindedly drinking water from a sippy cup and eating scraps of food the toddler had rejected.

All of this has made me consider the reasons I drink - or perhaps drank. The reasons are many and varied. Habit, celebration, commiseration, anger, joy, relaxation or just the exquisite taste of the stuff. All the reasons I eat, really, but without the excuse of needing it to live. Somehow I've switched the habit off now, but I'm beginning to wonder what will happen on Day 91. It's a question friends have been asking since Day 1, and I'm much less sure of my answer than I was before. If you'd asked me the day before I started, Day 91 was a firm date with the strawberry gin liqueur that has sat sadly next to the dish-rack for the last 46 days. And I would not be making it up the stairs unaided by the evening's end. Now, however, I'm confused. I'm so confused that I'm going to delay a long-brewing rant about ADHD awareness in order to brain-dump on you all.

I'm a fan of pros and cons, so here comes a list of some things I've noticed since this crazy challenge began:

  • A surprising number of people have said my skin looks better than usual. I must have been a scabby wreck 47 days ago, judging by the comments. Is this my Day 91 future?
  • I am waking up with more energy. I can also, unexpectedly, fall asleep without my evening tipple.
  • We are almost certainly saving money, as there are definitely fewer bottles going out with the recycling every fortnight. Also there's the small matter of 'relaxed' online shopping at midnight. (Don't tell The Cyclist.)
  • I have fewer excuses to stay up. If there's not a glass or two to work through, and then the remnants that aren't worth putting aside for tomorrow, why bother to be awake? I can make the informed choice and get some sleep, instead of 'relaxing' a little too thoroughly downstairs, then entering the guilt cycle of having wasted another evening doing nothing in particular while drinking more than I had intended. If I don't spend twenty minutes berating myself and then concluding that I will only drink water the next day, the evening is suddenly much longer.
  • On the same note, I am watching a lot less rubbish and/or utterly random tv. You know how you need something to look at while having a quiet glass, and it's either tv, the husband or the washing pile? Yes, well, that. Once you're watching the CSI episode you've already seen 25 times, you may as well get to the end. And oh look, my glass is empty, so I'll just have a little top-up to get to the end of the programme.
  • More stuff is getting done. I do have more energy.
  • To go all Mad Self-Helper on you for a moment, I feel - do I really dare say it? - empowered. I've taken on some big challenges in the past, and have felt quite low about not managing to fit more big challenges into my unpredictable and frequently chaotic life as a SEN Mum, so any achievement is magnified in my sad little soul. As I said in my first blog posts, I'm embarrassed to call this little project a challenge, but I was at a point where tiny steps were all I could take, and at least I've given myself a focus for the last six weeks or so.

On the flipside, those glasses of Pimms or wine in the evening were my way to mark the transition from Mum time to my time -- or would have been if I had the sort of children who would sleep. Those glasses felt like an entitlement, to prove I was a grown-up with a life of my own, doing something that wasn't child-centred for at least a few minutes in the evening. They also created a buffer of relaxation between one stressful day where I felt I should have done more or done better, and the next day where I would wake up knowing it would all happen again. That sounds terrrible, when the time with the boys is actually fine and even occasionally fun! I adore them, and we laugh and enjoy ourselves just by being our crazy, quirky family, but the mental toll of juggling their contradictory needs in any situation, trying to predict any issues and preventing the meltdowns that are always bubbling just below the surface hits me really, really hard after the nightly battle to get them to bed. When I've been in a darkened room reading stories and worked really hard to relax them, then walked out, valiantly resisting my own near-irresistible urge to sleep, only to hear them jump up like jack-in-a-boxes to start bed-trampolining and fighting to the death, it's hard to feel that I've ended the day with a win. All I want to do is sleep, but they, the ones who are supposed to be tired, throw it all back in my face by refusing to take advantage of their snuggly beds and hours empty of housework. That's when I start to revisit the day and just feel that I could have done better.

So here's the BUT:

  • Not drinking leads to thinking.

When no day is simple and you attend endless meetings where you are offered 'strategies' to support your kids with ASD and ADHD, you go forth into the world with an unholy pile of 'shoulds'. Remarkably, SEN Mums are not magic, and so we still lose the plot and yell or parent in some other way we don't want to parent, and it all ends in tears. Yes, all parents experience this, but when your child has a condition shared by a large proportion of the prison population or is borderline school-refusing and you can't figure out why, you feel that at any moment things might fall apart for good and it is clearly All Your Fault. You got the support, you went on the training, you know what you 'should' do, so why not just do it? If I escape that particular cycle of doom, my eyes might wander to the laundry pile or the mud marks on the living room wall, or the piece of dried broccoli that I still haven't picked off a picture frame (thrown during a humungous meltdown because the new shoe laces didn't feel the same as the old ones), or I might notice the size of my overdraft or even, heaven forfend, the size of my bum. And you know the easiest way to stop the buzz of panicked thought? A drink. Over 90 days, I'm learning other awesome ways to calm my noisy thoughts, and I'm loving the adventure, but the nagging thought remains that the most efficient way I know to shut my head up is to drink a glass of something-or-other. Efficient, and also yummy. 

On top of that, there's the fact that there are few things as much fun as going out and getting ridiculously drunk* with friends and behaving like twenty-somethings for a night. It's a great big two fingers up to the unfortunate circumstance of being an adult, and particularly to the responsibility of having kids who break your heart and make your heart in equal measure. It's a way to obliterate all thought, and is that really so bad? If you ignore what happens the next morning, is it not occasionally the best thing of all?

These are genuine questions, because 46 days in, I've shocked myself by no longer having answers. I never imagined for a moment that I would question the role of alcohol in my life in the long-term, as I'm a pretty standard Mummy-style evening drinker and a cheap and infrequent drunk, and that has seemed Right and Proper and What Grown-Ups Do for a couple of decades now. Is it possible that I will end up finding a new version of Grown Up - the Post-Grown-Up Adult? - in order to survive a challenging parenting role? And if I do, will I be a boring saddo with no friends?

I feel like I'm a teenager all over again, with absolutely no idea about anything.

(Except maybe ADHD. I have lots of ideas about ADHD, and the time for ranting is near.)

*See how well I resisted the sweary versions of that phrase? I am so sober and controlled! And sensible and uptight.

This self-care challenge is a project in aid of The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust, who have never said a word to me about alcohol in any context, but did open a Pandora's box by suggesting that I needed to look after myself. To support the organisation, the link is:


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