Ramblings about 90 days without alcohol and life with my 3 boys and their Special Needs. Featuring The Big Boy (Dyspraxia, Aspergers) and twins known fondly as The Cat (Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder) and The Dog (ADHD, autistic traits). This is my attempt at maternal self-care, as I am as hopeless as can be in that particular field of endeavour. Sponsorship goes to The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust, who first advised me to look after myself.
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Day 74: The Alcohol Thing
Greetings all, from the survivor of another Big Family Occasion without a drink!
When I started this blog, I imagined I would be posting every day to moan about the difficulties of parenting without Pimms (or gin, or wine, etc.). But you know what? After a few weeks and a major investment in herbal tea, alcohol barely crossed my mind. And the longer I went without it, the less I thought about it. Until 1 November, that is.
With a month to go, the possibility of drinking suddenly seems close again. And indeed, I am having some close friends over on 1 December, and I have planned my first (and possibly only) drink for that night. (Prosecco with a splash of strawberry gin liqueur, if you are interested.) (It's as good as it sounds.) With that image in my mind, suddenly everybody else's glasses of wine seem like something possible for me, rather than just part of my life I've shut down. I've had many people suggest that I 'simply' drink on special occasions or on certain days of the week. I am sure this works for a large chunk of the population, but for me there is nothing 'simple' about self-control. It's all or nothing, and as I enter (okay, continue on through) middle age, I see that this is unlikely to change, at least in the short term. And also, my alcohol tolerance is naturally very low, so if I am going to drink, I need to work at it regularly and with commitment, so that I don't embarrass myself even more than usual at special events. And let's face it, regular and committed drinking it not exactly un-fun. Especially as The Cyclist is a bit of wine buff and nothing un-yummy comes through our door.
BUT. There's always a but. (And a butt, my boys would say. Mine is certainly hard to miss.) Being aware of myself as an actual person rather than a service industry over the last 74 days has been a huge revelation. Every day that I decide not to have a drink, I'm looking after myself. When you have been utterly broken by life at several points over ten or fifteen years, to make that decision for so many days in a row is officially A Big Deal. I go to bed feeling like I've achieved one thing, even if it's 'doing by not doing'. The fact that I'm being sponsored for my self-care efforts also feels like an achievement. And the people who have spoken to me about SEN parenting, my kids or ADD-vance after reading my blog make me feel like my heart might explode.
So here's the thing: I want more. I have had a glimpse of my old life, where I counted as a Real Person, rather than just a Mum, and I realise how very, very far away I am from that now. I didn't realise how broken I'd been, how much I'd neglected myself, and how damaging that self-neglect can be for everyone around me. The other change is that, in the wake of some tragic circumstances involving friends and their families, I have seen that being hard on yourself is utterly, horrifically wrong. Over the last however-many years I've been trapped in a cycle of 'now I'll sort myself out by doing something extreme', followed by 'I just can't do that', then 'now things are even worse so I'd better do something even more extreme' followed by 'I can't do that either, so I'm even more crap than I thought'. From speaking to friends, I know I'm not the only middle-aged woman who has got herself into this spiral. I refuse to let it carry on. I am taking the tiniest of steps every day to dig myself out of my material and mental clutter, but I refuse to expect more of myself than that. Life is hard for everyone, and I see every Mum and every SEN parent around me as superheroes. I live in awe of them. I couldn't care less about household mess (if they have it) or the times they lost the plot with their kids or the fact that they don't do their OT exercises or once served pizza three days in a row; they are all still amazing. So although it would take a century or three of therapy for me ever to admire myself, I'm not going to hate myself, my mess, my losses of equilibrium. Sod it. If I'm still trying, I'm ok. Life will never be as it was before kids, and frankly, I'm delighted by that. But it can be a life with a Me in it.
And so, I declare it publicly: in order to give myself the best chance of finding my new 'ok', I'm going to keep going with this self-care blog after the ninety days. I am going to deny myself the 'F*%k it all' option by setting myself a target not for ninety days, but for a year. Whether that target is alcohol-related is something I have yet to wrap my head around, because 365 days without alcohol sounds extreme, but I can't deny that avoiding the 'lost days' has changed my outlook dramatically. (It probably helps that I can do inappropriate and silly without a drink, and that everyone loves a driver.) I have buried myself down a self-neglect hole over a period of years, so it'll no doubt take more than a year to dig myself out. After a year, though, I hope I'd see progress, and be able to do the smug reflection thing: 'I can't believe that only a year ago...'. I'll have to fight hard not to over-commit or expect too much of myself, but I'll have my blog to keep me focused.
What else can I say, then, except
Watch this space for further adventures in SEN-parent self-care!
This blog began as a sponsored 90-day 'no alcohol' challenge in aid of The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust, a charity that has been a huge support to me since my first child was diagnosed several years ago. If you are able to support them with even a small donation, my fundraising page is:
So last Friday was the 1st of December, marking the end of my 90-day drought, and I may have had a drink or two to celebrate! A few friends from ADD-vance came over, and a lovely lady with a big bag of skincare products. (Laura from Arbonne, if you’re interested! Very lovely indeed and another who has used ADD-vance services.) With my kids duly threatened and bribed, I had the kind of chatty evening-at-home-with-friends-and-make-up-and-wine that I haven’t had since, well, the early 90s. If you take out the girlie pampering bit, I need only track back seventeen years to August 2000, when my husband was away for his Stag Do and a select group of friends came for an all-female slightly tipsy sleepover. Either way, I was overdue a girls’ night at home.
The 90 days of my challenge have flown by, especially the last week. There’s so much still to say about ADD-vance, about self-care and about the mind-shift I’ve experienced just by making one small change to my lifestyle.
And so, having been swallowed by Christmas and poorly kids for a couple of weeks, I find myself at the end of 2017. With that must come the end of this blog, as it has already lasted a month longer than planned.
A few final thoughts, however - because I’m not actually capable of shutting up. Ever.
Firstly, please consider ‘giving back’ in 2018. It makes you feel good, or in Big Words: the positive effects on your mental health are well documented. If you get involved with a charity that has touched your life in some way, you are likely to find a tribe of people Just Like You, whether that’s SEN parents, cancer survivors, anti-suicide campaigners or whatever else is relevant to you or your family and friends. And if this blog has shown you anything, it should show you that you can be sponsored to take on any crazy challenge you can think up. Think of something your friends wouldn’t expect you to do, then do it. Or call your favoured charity and ask if you can help in some practical way…
So, it turns out you readers are a lovely lot and met my previous honest post with honest messages of your own. How is it that we all have so many hidden wounds and carry so much guilt about things that were never our fault -- like, say, postnatal depression? I can only hope we sort ourselves out for the next generation of Mums, and that the difficult conversations become the norm, and that no future parent is turned away or dismissed when they ask for help. I do actually believe that blogging Mums are making headway here, as nobody can shut them (/us) up, and all it takes to share reflections is a click on a facebook page. It's a powerful community.
Which leads me neatly back to ADD-vance, which has become a powerful community for SEN Mums in Hertfordshire, all thanks to one Mum who didn't want anyone to be as alone or unsupported as she was when her son was diagnosed. (That's Anne Ross, who still runs ADD-vance, 21 years on, and who deserves every medal going.) Before t…