Coping With Depression

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written in a while, not because I haven’t wanted to but because I couldn’t. Since my last blog post my moods have been more than fluctuating, they’ve been plunging downward only coming up for air in spikes so steep and fast they’ve made me dizzy, each time I’ve risen to the surface I’ve gulped down the air only to be dragged downward and it feels like I’m drowning. I know I’m not and I know I will be fine and that this will end but that doesn’t make it easy.

With my depression comes panic attacks, paranoia, anxiety and stress. My immune systems plummets, I crave sleep and food, I want the world to leave me alone but, above all else, the thing I want to do most, is lie. I look my loved ones straight in the eye and I laugh, I tell them I had a great day, that dinner tasted great! I dress better, do my make-up better, push harder to be the image of happiness so that people leave me the hell alone. None of that helps when what I actually just need someone to stretch a hand in to the abyss and help pull me up. Only I know what/who will help me but unfortunately, I have a deeply ingrained issue with trust. Asking for help is practice and one day I’ll get there but in the meantime, I have my lists.

I created these lists when I was in a depression bad enough to warrant home care and emergency treatment. With constant thoughts of suicide as my companion I focused on making what I am about to show you. These lists helped me to survive day to day, born from a sign I once had, above my bed, which read, “Your one and only job is to get in the shower”. These lists are tailored to myself and feel free to tailor them to you. I actually make these in to foldable pocket versions that fit in a wallet; if you want one please let me know via email and I’ll be happy to help.

 

Depression Lists

 

Before you read on please take note that I am not a medical professional, under no circumstances should you take my advice over that of your doctor. If you are suicidal or at risk please seek medical attention. I have created these lists as a guide, only to help.

List 1 is more like a day-to-day guide, list 2 is for when you are really struggling and list 3 is when you are at your worst. The final list, I call a filler list and it’s designed to make you pick things to do to aid mental stability. Again, these have been tailored to me so feel free to swap things in and out depending on what works for you.

 

List 1: This is for when you are stable-mildly depressed

1.)           Eat at least 3 square meals. High protein and fibre, minimal sugar

2.)           Drink at least 2L of water

3.)           Try to get approximately 8 hours sleep, not a lot more, not a lot less

4.)           Get some exercise

5.)           Get some fresh air

6.)           Constant self-love, compassion and acceptance – You are enough.

7.)           Learn something new, even if it’s just a word of the day – www.reddit.com/r/mildlyinteresting is pretty good.

8.)           Be grateful for what you have – Grateful alphabets are fab if you’re struggling. Pick something that begins with each letter of the alphabet that you are grateful for.

 

List 2: This is for when you are moderately-severely depressed

1.)           Take a minute to acknowledge that this is depression and that you know what it is; try to accept that this is just how you are right now

2.)           Remind yourself that how you are right now is not how you will be forever

3.)           Show yourself complete love and compassion and self-empathy for what you are going through, congratulate yourself for showing some self-care by doing these steps

4.)           Deep breaths, notice where in your torso your breath is most active (collarbone, rib cage or stomach?)

5.)           Remind yourself that even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are in fact absolutely fine, safe and you’ve got this, believe in yourself

6.)           Get in the shower

7.)           Eat and drink something; the more nutritional the better. Avoid hunger (and junk food) and stay hydrated at all times

 

List 3: This is for when you are suicidal and at risk

1.)           Focus on your breathing. Where in your torso is the breath most active (collarbone, rib cage or stomach?)

2.)           Take a minute to acknowledge that this is depression and that you know what it is; try to accept that this is just how you are right now

3.)           Try to think of anything that could have triggered you, or if this is today’s natural progression of your depression. If it is a trigger, make a note of it, if not, that’s okay, let yourself feel what you are feeling.

4.)           Accept how you are feeling with complete love, compassion and empathy and wait until you have completed these instructions before you act on your feelings

5.)           Remind yourself that feelings come and go, good and bad. Remind yourself that how you feel right now is not how you will feel forever

6.)           Find Sub (Sub is my cat) Feed her, give her some fuss and check her over for any health issues. Remind yourself that she only has you and that she loves you even when you forget to

7.)           Remember how much of a butterfly effect your death/life has/will have on the world around you. If you’ve ever been to a funeral you will know how much it hurts the people you leave behind and you can never really know how many people’s lives you’ve improved just by existing; if you’d tried to guess I guarantee you’d be underestimating

8.)           Remind yourself that even if it doesn’t feel like it you are absolutely fine, safe and you’ve got this. Believe in yourself.

9.)           Get in the shower

10.)        Eat and drink something; go for nutrients over sugar, avoid hunger and stay hydrated all day

11.)        If you still feel the same as you did before call the crisis team (The name of my area’s psychiatric emergency team, It’s useful to keep yours handy) If you feel safer go to the 4th list

 

List 4: This is your “filler list”. Pick 4 or more things and complete them after doing 2nd/3rd lists

1.)           Get to a group therapy meeting

2.)           Reach out to a newcomer in group therapy

3.)           Write a grateful list or go through the grateful alphabet (assign each letter to something you are grateful for…i.e A-nimals videos on Youtube. It can be serious or silly, whatever you prefer)

4.)           Do some Step work

5.)           Talk to your higher power, be honest about how you feel and what you want – if you don’t have a God or HP just talk aloud to yourself about how you feel and what you want, I find it just irons out the creases in your mind about what your next move will be.

6.)           Talk to someone who KNOWS what you are going through and will understand you, be 100% honest – If no one springs to mind there are hundreds of online forums/communities.

7.)           Go for a walk and listen to upbeat music. Make a mental note of the following;

  1. What is the atmosphere/weather like?
  2. What colour is the sky, try to name anything else that is exactly the same shade/colour/texture
  3. What animals you can see – Name them all….seriously. Bonus points if you can make all the names rhyme. If you feel like a 5 year old whilst you’re doing it, even better.

8.)           Meditate (Headspace app is great)

9.)           Do something manual – do the dishes/re-pot some plants/de-weed the garden/change the bed sheets. Do something where you can SEE the achievement and once it’s done, stand back and admire your work

10.)        Engage with another human being. Talk to a stranger/phone a friend. Anything that gets you talking but only talk positively. If this results in travelling to see someone, even better!

11.)        Yoga

12.)        Learn some upbeat music with your guitar or just sing as loudly as you can. Stay standing while you do it! (Tip: Tops of stairs are great for this)

13.)        Go to the Gym/Go for a run – Personally I prefer weight lifting when I’m depressed, I find it REALLY helps

15.)        ONLY If it is after 2PM Watch TV but only one of the following and only one episode at a time; The next episode in a season you’ve been watching weekly (NOT a Netflix binge episode). or The Thick of It/Extras/Louis Theroux Documentary (My favourite shows) – The reason this has rules is because spending a day binge watching TV will not help you, you need to get up and get moving even though you really don’t want to.

16.)        Book a massage/Hair appointment/Treatment

17.)        Experiment with make-up (Guys you can also do facial hair) and whilst you’re doing it make note of the little things you like about yourself and love the things you don’t. There is no such thing as an ugly person. Even if you don’t like how you look right now it’s good to bear in mind all of the weird and wonderful people out there and in those millions there are hundreds, thousands of people and you will match their type. So, make the decision to see what they see and know that you’re amazing.

 

And there you have it, my depression lists. I hope they help should you ever need/want them! If you can think of anything that should go on the filler list or anything that helps you, let me know; nothing is a one size fits all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always be Prepared

It’s 00:26 and I’m en route home from a work event. I’m exhausted, I want to break-down in the same way that a five year old does when they can’t tie their shoelaces; it’s got nothing to do with shoelaces, it’s to do with frustration and it all being just “too much”. A stranger, opposite me, just asked about the next stop, which helpfully jolted me out of choking back tears. Crying is always okay, I’d just rather wait until home than do it on a train that’s packed with drunks.

Tonight was an alcoholic minefield. One which I just wasn’t prepared for. It’s so normal for me nowadays to attend events and “dos” where I decline alcohol and enjoy myself and the whole scenario goes unnoticed. Tonight however, it didn’t go unnoticed. People put their foot in it, I made rookie errors and I nearly got shamed by my boss.

I preach honesty, to the nth degree, however there is one circumstance where I don’t avoid masking the truth. I have been in my job for three months and I love it, they know about my bipolar but they do not know about my alcoholism. It is not to do with shame or denial or anything in that vague vicinity, I just don’t want to jeopardise my career due to wider misconceptions. In a few months when they know me more I will let the cat flee from the bag, but for now it’s on the DL and if anyone asks me why I don’t drink, I say it’s because I’m bipolar, which is not a lie, but is most definitely obscuring 90% of the truth.

I’m going to give you a run-down of what happened tonight and you can judge for yourself exactly how catastrophic it was;

6pm – My colleague (Colleague 1 or C1 for short) and I were fixing our make-up. It was the end of a long event that we had been working at and we had to go, straight on, to an evening award ceremony, with little time to prepare. We were chatting away as usual and she kept referencing times where she/others had got absolutely smashed at the awards and had done XYZ and then said “Oh yes, you don’t drink do you? I’m sure we can convince you to have just one” to which I swiftly replied, on auto-pilot, with, “Oh no, sorry, [light laugh] I won’t be having anything.” I have assertive firmness to a T nowadays but even so, it did, mentally, catch me off guard.

7:30pm – Having made sure everything that I could do, logistically, had been done, I headed upstairs to the delegate area, of the awards ceremony, where clients and colleagues were burning through an abundance of champagne whilst trying not to fall over their floor-length gowns. Everyone had a champagne flute in their hand and I was instantly set upon by server after server extending offerings of potent trays of alcohol. It was everywhere. I could hear the fizz from the flutes, the pop of corks, the chink of glass against glass. I slid to one side and surreptitiously requested one of the waiters find me something non-alcoholic and he arrived at my side, moments later, with an orange juice. It was a relief to have something in hand but even, so I was acutely aware of my surroundings and of how alcohol was permanently overflowing whereas soft drinks weren’t just hard to come by, you had to send out a forager, on your behalf.

7:35pm – “Not drinking?” For all those who are not alcoholics, please avoid this opener, it’s such an inappropriate ice breaker. We know you mean well, but conversations around drinking-abstinence can lead down a multitude of very private avenues. I didn’t miss a beat and replied in the negative which sparking a conversation about drinking with an, already tipsy, colleague (C2). I was surrounded by the focus of my addiction and now I was discussing it! I tried to get away by starting a conversation with a man to my left, only to have C1, who was in the crowd, spill champagne all over his jacket, I swung away as the smell stung my nostrils, only to be re-trapped by my original, oblivious torturer. Someone announced he was going out for a cigarette and I pounced; he was out of menthols and I didn’t even want to smoke (having recently quit) but I needed to get the hell out of there.

8:00pm – Called in to dinner, I sat down and instantly clocked the red wine, white wine and champagne glass to my right. With no water at the table I was scuppered, again. After profusely turning down tinted bottle after bottle a waiter finally came over and filled up a wine glass with water. With a table covered in at least 30 alcohol filled glasses, with people to-ing and fro-ing, I could see that me picking up someone else’s glass was just an accident waiting to happen. I hailed a waiter and requested a normal glass to drink out of and they politely, but slowly, obliged. Watching everyone around me drink, into giddy happiness, lit the envy in my stomach; Not for the drinking but just for the fact that they didn’t have to stay alert like I did, I couldn’t just relax, I had to cover all bases, it felt like a huge weight was just battering my already exhausted mentality.

8:30pm – I bit in to the beetroot laying across my salmon nigiri starter and could taste the wine vinegar it had been marinating in. It stung my tongue as I scolded myself for not checking the menu. I was exhausted and I was slipping. I pushed a lot of my food around my plate and could feel the tension in my shoulders.

10pm – Awards had been announced and mains had arrived. I was famished and I could smell the beef, cooked to rare perfection. I’d been awake since 4am and I couldn’t wait to devour my food and get home to bed. Without thinking I teased off a chunk, dipped it in gravy and bit down eagerly. The unmistakeable twang of reduced wine filled my mouth as the boozy jus became stronger and stronger in taste. FOR FUCK’S SAKE. “Panic and stress will make this worse, what’s done is done, be calm”. My interior mantra kept my exterior in check as I placed my knife and fork either side of my plate and quietly motioned the waiter over to my table, desperately trying not to call attention to myself, unfortunately most of the table had caught the movement in their peripheral. I asked him to find out if there was alcohol in the gravy, already sure of the answer. He motioned to another server for help, drawing yet more attention to the situation. The waiters disappeared off to the kitchen and returned, swiftly removed the offending meal and replacing it with a polished plate, with non-alcoholic gravy. In the meantime nearly everyone in the vicinity was curiously looking over at me; I forced myself to keep a natural smile on my face and roll my eyes in a blazé fashion. A particularly perceptive colleague mouthed “alcohol?” and nodded knowingly, the girl to my right, whom I had never met asked if everything was okay and why I couldn’t eat alcohol, “is it an allergy?” she asked. I told her it was just not worth the risk due to having bipolar. The drunk colleague to my left started sounding off about how people ask her why she never drinks, the reason being? “I just never do it”… The irony was inescapable. The long and short of it was, my drinking was the centre of attention and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.

10:05pm – I started eating the non-alcoholic replacement but I felt uneasy because I was sure I could taste an unwelcome tang. I assured myself it was fine, the waiter had said, specifically, it was non-alcoholic and I was afraid of making a fuss, so I finished the plate. I regret that. I should never have eaten it. Touch wood, nothing bad came of it, but even having the feeling that something’s off is enough to leave a plate of food, regardless of how much fuss is made. Two things can happen when an alcoholic digests alcoholic food; 1.) the taste can set of a chain reaction and kick start a memory and then a craving – something you never want, let alone at a function which is drowning in alcohol. And 2.) if the alcohol content is high enough you are essentially drinking alcohol, which can kick start a neurological process in which you have unwittingly taken your first drink and you lose control over the ability to drink more. In the future I will be choosing mild hunger over alcoholic insanity.

11:30pm – Dinner was over, the night was drawing to a close, I was talking to my boss and the previously mentioned, particularly perceptive colleague. Whilst I had been running around, working, I’d missed the after-dinner chocolates being handed out and I really wanted one but I was trying to be on my best behaviour and so was ignoring the urge to walk up to a table and pinch one. The three of us were chatting away when a server apparated beside us, offering up three post dinner sweets, white chocolate, my favourite. Each of us took one and popped the morsals, whole in to my mouths. I took a bite just as my colleague quickly said “Maddie, there’s alcohol in these” My whole body froze. My, oblivious boss burst out laughing and said, “He’s teasing, ignore him!” With what I am aware was a complete look of horror on my face, I could taste that he was serious, he shook his head, unsure of what to do to help. “I’m not joking, they’re champagne chocolates”. The flavour was strengthening, I felt sick. I had no idea what to do. With my boss in front of me, clients swarming around me I couldn’t spit it out, could I! Or could I? I sure as hell wasn’t going to finish eating it but the bathroom was on the other side of the floor and I’d have to fight through countless lawyers to get there. My boss was laughing at me, saying “calm down!”, “One chocolate won’t get you pissed.”, “Oh for goodness sake, don’t be so stupid”. As I wheeled around in panic, trying desperately to stay calm, I could hear my colleague saying to her “You don’t understand, she sent her food back earlier because of it, she can’t eat it.” My boss was leaning in, pushing her face closer to mine and continued her incredulous commentary. Fuck it. I grabbed a napkin and spat the chocolate out. Nothing is worth my sobriety. I could hear my sponsor’s voice in my head “I don’t care where you are or who you are with if you need to spit it out, just do it”. I grabbed a glass of water and washing it round my mouth, the flavour hanging on to my taste buds for dear life. My boss fell silent, I think the fact that I’d resorted to doing such a thing in the middle of a ballroom, in The Savoy, London filled with clients and colleagues meant I wasn’t dicking about.

Fifteen minutes later and I was in a cab to the station, to get on this train. I wanted and still want to cry out of frustration, anger, indignation, you name it. Tonight was just horrendous, but I didn’t have a drink and for each day that I don’t, my life is a success. For some people reading this, a drink is a way to enjoy yourself or relax and unwind, to me, it is like playing Russian roulette without the empty chamber; no person, job, client or black tie dinner is worth pulling that trigger.

If I had spoken to a fellow alcoholic beforehand, meditated on it, read the menu carefully, requested a non-alcoholic dinner in advance and asked what was in the chocolates, tonight would have been a very different and wonderful experience. The world is about being equipped to take life on life’s terms so that you don’t miss all the wonderful things. This evening, I let myself forget that not every situation will be within my comfort zone but that’s not to say I shouldn’t have ventured out. All I’m saying, is that if you want to stand underneath a rainbow you better buy an umbrella.

 

 

 

The Little, Yellow Cat

The oversized chandelier, ornate bathrooms and servants’ quarters on the third floor didn’t quite match the nicotine stained walls, broken window frames and three write-off cars that lay in the driveway. The house had a tragic beauty to it that, at the time, I adored. I was a 20-a-day smoker and whilst I never really liked using the stuff, I loved the smell of weed, so it made no odds to me that my new housemates, new landlord and even my new walls reeked of the stuff. I’d found the house on a spare room website and had made up my mind, before I even arrived, that I’d take it. The location was great, the room was huge and a large portion of my housemates were musicians; the pièce de résistance was discovering that they actively encouraged me to make as much noise as possible. The Grade II listed property, once a place of un-rivalled charm, had been run down over the last decade; there was subsidence towards the back and missing tiles at the front; the windows had no double glazing and the basement flooded, however, with all its faults and for all the times I and my housemates would moan, we loved the place. The manor pulled you in and had a way of making you fall in love and nothing seemed to be able to stand in its way.

On the day I moved in, I let my bag thump to the floor of the hallway, half of the contents instantly sprawled across the floor. Catching something in my peripheral, I looked up and there, sitting quite majestically, atop the wooden radiator cover, was a little, yellow cat, who I later found out was called Sub. Just like the rest of the house she, too, had been tinted with the smoke that billowed from bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens. I instantly went to say hello. Moving as slowly as I could, with my hand out stretched, I barely got halfway across the distance between us before she bolted for the door. Every day we would follow the same routine; she would set up camp and wait for me to see her, I would try to make contact and she’d run. She only really got on with Jonathan, I know you shouldn’t have favourites but I completely understood why that particular housemate was hers. I quickly grew to be openly jealous of the affection that she showed him; I loved cats and she was terrified of me, I reminded myself not to take it personally, after all, she ran from most people.

She’d been brought to the manor, with her sister, by an ex-tenant, who, upon leaving, had left the pair behind. Her sister had been re-homed, leaving Sub on her own, she was petrified of the next door neighbour’s cat but that didn’t stop her spending most of her life outdoors. It didn’t help that the manor was an abrasive environment. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t an immoral disposition in sight, but there also wasn’t a clean, sober or sensible person among us. With a cocaine dealer in-house and a weed dealer who visited regularly we were a far cry from your perfect neighbours; parties would go on for days, sometimes stretching a week, and the base would shake every pane of glass in the house. Sub, as a result, would disappear for an impossible amount of time and return with a couple of extra ribs showing.  Jonathan would feed her but she never kept the weight on and she had a permanent, unhealthy, greasiness to her coat. Things took a turn for the worse when Jonathon left and not long after, the dog arrived; whilst he was adorable with humans, he would chase her across the garden and back the moment they locked eyes. She was withdrawn, miserable and jumpy; sometimes I felt like she was living the cat version of my life except she got more sleep.

I was still at the manor house when I got sober. My room got cleared of alcohol, it was no longer frequented with strangers lolling on the floor or snorting God-know-what off of my dresser. It became my safe-haven, I filled it with candles, cushions, I cleaned it within an inch of its life and regularly aired it out; I even gave it a lick of paint. It didn’t smell of cigarettes anymore and when I shut the door, bar the vibrations, you could be forgiven for thinking I was the only one home. Sub wanted in. She would appear, mewing at my door, whenever they upped the volume. She’d take refuge on my bed, in the warm, quiet and clean aired space and I would join her. She was my companion in the evenings, before I could trust myself enough to go out. If my boyfriend wasn’t busy, she was happy to third wheel. Over time and with a lot of ice cream-based-bribery she began to let me hold her, pick her up and give her a proper cuddle; as her hard shell softened to me as did mine to the world in general. On days when I was struggling I would think about getting home to her, I would spend money on cat treats instead of booze, if I wanted to go downstairs and join the party I would make myself feel guilty for contemplating leaving her all on her own and if I had a craving for alcohol, I would think how much Sub would lose if I went back out there.

When the time came for me to move I knew I couldn’t leave her. Luckily my Landlord had no problems with a cat-free home. My friend and I picked a house that had a garden, specifically for her, it was surrounded by space and I knew she’d love it. We moved in April and by summer, Sub had lost all the yellow from her coat. She is no longer slick and greasy but white and fluffy and nowadays, she’s capable of inflicting snow-blindness when she lounges in the sunshine. Jonathon has come to visit us in our new home and even he can’t believe it’s the same cat; she’s forgotten all about her outdoor ways just as I have forgotten mine; she couldn’t teach you to hunt any more than I could tell you how much a double at the local costs. Sub epitomises my recovery and how I feel inside; she no longer runs and hides from people, she’s still and calm and happy, if, perhaps, a little spoilt.

When I’m struggling, I think of her, I’ll seek her out, sit, fuss her and give her a quick health check and remind myself that whilst she played a massive part in saving my life I think I might have saved hers.

The Fear of Being Alone

I am scared of being alone. I’m not just scared of the long-term-never-settling-down alone, I’m scared of just spending the night alone. Scared enough to have made a million mistakes and scared enough to make a million more. Now I’m sober, it’s harder to make those mistakes, even though sometimes, in a bizarre way, I wish I could. When I’m in a pub or a club, I look around me and I watch people hooking up, being embarrassingly forward or going home together and I know that they would be hard pushed to do something they couldn’t justify the next day. I was one of those people, I found it so easy to walk straight up to a guy at the bar or to silence someone by leaning in for a kiss. I used to ask people out or make the first move and even if it went catastrophically wrong and they said no or pulled away, I would shake it off because ‘I was drunk’, everyone would laugh about it and life would go on, even though inside I was dying of shame.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my past actions don’t get a carte blanche because I can tether them to a diagnosis. On September 24th, 2014 I had my final drink; I didn’t stop because prohibition hit or someone locked me in a room, I stopped because of voluntary actions which, by default, means I am responsible for everything that has come before this very moment.

There’s one particular memory that springs to mind about four years ago, I don’t particularly want to share this, but what with it being burned in to my retina I think it’s as good a place to start as any. It’s strange, I can feel a pressure and an emptiness in my chest whilst I’m typing. I’m sitting on my bed and I’m fighting the overwhelming urge to bury myself in the duvet, which normally means I should just get on with it… Liam, older, attractive, I barely knew him. We’d had an introduction once when I was struggling with some music and he, not knowing me and not needing to, sat and calmed me down. He had no motive other than plain and simple kindness. I think it was that modest act of compassion that piqued my interest. From a frighteningly young age I was used to both boys and men hanging around and waiting for me to get high or drunk enough to take advantage, a friend once told me how scared she was for me when the “vultures” descended. I’m not saying every guy in my life was like that, far from it, but when a girl gets in to a state as often as I did, they regularly attract the ‘undesirables’. Liam wasn’t a vulture, he wasn’t waiting for a time to strike, he was just there; he was charming, funny, not to mention he knew his way round a guitar and there lay the foundations for quite a significant crush. One evening we were in a bar, I was dangerously drunk and I don’t remember how I’d got there or what we were even talking about, but I was fascinated. I didn’t need the idea to be planted in my head, my brain just acted on impulse. I leant, or rather lurched, in to kiss him and he pulled back. The next few minutes are hazy but I remember him being, unsurprisingly, lovely about it. Instead of doing what I should have done and left, I went in for a kiss again! It was mortifying, only made worse by the calmness with which Liam dealt with the situation. A friend who saw it happen told me the next day that it was like car-crash TV and he couldn’t pull his eyes away. I think the fact that Liam had said no only made me like him more; not in a treat-them-mean-to-keep-them-keen kind of way but more of an obviously-not-just-after-one-thing way. After all, his reaction over the course of that interaction could’ve resulted in a very different outcome. After years of playing it over and wondering what it was about Liam that used to make my stomach somersault when he walked in to a bar, I have come to the conclusion it was because I thought he had all the answers. It wasn’t even deep down that I knew I was a mess. Normal people didn’t have quite so many memories of coming out of blackout at a stranger’s house, kissing someone they didn’t want to or worse, sleeping with them; friends have since told me to report one night, in particular, but the gut-wrenching reality is that I know how I used to be and I could’ve initiated everything and that man could’ve been none the wiser as to how violated and afraid I would feel when I mentally came to, mid act. I couldn’t run away from how messed up my life was and Liam had somehow begun to represent a softness, stability and safety, all things I desperately craved but feared I could never obtain. I felt alone in a self-created poison of circumstance and Liam was the antidote, he never was, of course, but I clung to that thought because it was one of the few hopes I had left.

The morning after the almost-kiss, already drinking, I was discussing how much of an idiot I was with a friend. The only way to ensure things never got spoken of again was to laugh and brand my ever-growing discretion folder with a big red-lettered stamp reading ’OVER THE LIMIT: EXCUSED’. That stamp got destroyed on the day of my last drink; now, every mistake I make, I make with a clear head, mania being the only tenuous exception. There’s a part of me inside, a part that wishes I could claim drunken oblivion and let a date get a too cosy or a first meeting get too friendly, purely because being lonely is scary. It’s an aspect of sobriety that nobody tells you about and one I find surprisingly hard to swallow. I’ve always been one to want that text, those flowers and that perfectly timed kiss, even when I’ve pretended not to care. When I drank I used to just go out and get those things myself but, looking back, none of it was real and I was just as, if not more alone than I am now.

Today I choose reality and even if this current reality is sometimes cold, it’s a much better alternative to the drama, shame and guilt that encompassed my previous existence. I’m happy to say that nowadays my life is soft, stable (enough) and safe. Yes, it would be a lie to say I don’t feel an occasional pang when I watch a cute scene on TV, see someone greet their partner or wake up alone but all of that will come with time. I am only now learning to be on my own and to exist inside my own head; It’s giving me the ability to learn who I actually am, what I like and what I don’t like, for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve just torn my eyes away from the laptop and scanned the walls of my bedroom, on which hang scores of paraphernalia, memories in frames and on scraps of paper. This is a far cry from once sitting on a bench being consoled by a friend, over having nowhere to live. I can handle being alone if being alone means getting to know myself, after all how can you be with someone if you’re incapable of knowing what you like about them?