Quietly springlike

I did a very short-feeling six-mile ‘long run’ this morning…

…and it was a lovely day for it, with bright blue skies and buds on the trees and daffodils everywhere. Spring is most definitely here… not that anyone’s really thinking about it at the moment, understandably. Years ago, Geth and I would probably have celebrated a sunny March Sunday like this with our first beer garden visit of the year. I’ve been avoiding beer gardens for over a year now since getting sober, and anyway they’re all currently closed by government order. Life is very different to what it used to be, especially in the current strange situation.

Instead, we are in the house as usual, working our way through our videogame and boardgame collections. For once, I’m hopeful that I might make a bit of a dent in my gaming backlog this year!

Back to work tomorrow.

Daffodils
Daffodils growing in our garden, looking extra yellow in the sunshine.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Unflinchable Courage’
Duran Duran – ‘I Believe/All I Need To Know’
Take That – ‘The Flood’
Levellers – ‘What A Beautiful Day’

Life without alcohol: one year sober

It’s been a whole year tonight since I had my last drink.

Jesmond Dene in the winter

It’s been such a strange, strange year. It feels like ten days and ten years at the same time. Most days have been difficult in some way. Some have been easy – too easy – and have blindsided me a bit and made me complacent.

I’ve achieved a lot of stuff in my first year of sobriety, though a lot of that was out of sheer manic panic. Some things in my life have become a lot clearer, and others still need a bit of thinking about. I’ve got a plan for the next year ahead, but only a vague one.

I’ve tried a lot of support groups and podcasts and quit lit and meetings and all sorts. Some have been helpful and feel like the right thing for me; others I’m still a bit unsure about. I’m keeping an open mind about everything, though, because this process seems to have so many phases that change all the time.

I’ve also tried a lot of alcohol-free drinks. Some didn’t work for me, but I did find a lot of new favourites that I would never have looked twice at before I quit drinking.

I expected to feel ecstatic at hitting this milestone, but my first sober Christmas period has been a bit rough mentally and so I’m feeling pretty drained at the moment. Still, I remember how nervous I was feeling a year ago, and how impossible sobriety seemed at the time. Things are so much better now. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I (sort of) know where I’m going.

The only thing that has remained constant and strong over the last year is the fact that I never want to drink again. Not ever. Most days I want *a* drink, but I don’t want *to* drink. I want the sweet taste of cider and the ability to forget things for a few hours, but I don’t want to get drunk and out of control, I don’t want to feel suicidal when I’m in a state where I might actually do something about that, and I don’t want to wake up hungover and panicked and full of regret. The two lists go hand-in-hand, and that – so far – has provided me with enough willpower not to pick up.

I won’t be doing monthly sobriety updates anymore, as things have stabilised a bit, but I will keep reviewing booze alternatives and will do another update a year from today. Life is a lot more peaceful than it used to be, and I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve in that respect.

Turn of the decade

Today is the day that we say goodbye to the 2010s and look forward to the 2020s. What will it bring? Hopefully the music will be better (I’ll be doing a whole post about that in a few days’ time).

As such, it was wholly appropriate (I feel anyway) that I spent the day playing with tech from a totally different decade. Dad tested the old five-and-a-half-inch floppies in the drive for the BBC Micro, and they worked! I’ve now identified all the old games on the disk, which was a real blast from the past. There are games on there that I haven’t even thought about for thirty years.

I’m having a quiet evening in with the family for my first sober Hogmanay, and it feels great. I’m looking forward to welcoming in 2020 with alcohol-free fizzy wine and Dad’s traditional Hogmanay pizza, and I’m also very excited about doing my first ever New Year’s Day double parkrun tomorrow morning.

Target Practice, BBC Micro, 1983
Not an OOTD: Target Practice, a Micro game from 1983. I couldn’t quite work out the controls for this one but it looks nice!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Tomohito Nishiura – ‘Searching For Clues’
Kuana Torres Kahele, James Ford Murphy and Napua Greig-Nakasone – ‘Someone To Lava’
Blur – ‘End Of A Century’
Travis – ‘The Last Laugh Of The Laughter’

New Year’s Resolutions 2019: the outcome

So, on the 1st of January 2019, I wrote a post about all my resolutions for the year. Let’s see how those turned out…

February 2019
Some winter snow in February.

1. Finish sorting out the house contents.

Uh… not a good start to the list. I don’t think I got anything done in this area. It’s now a resolution for 2020, and apparently one that I need to prioritise.

2. Write 500,000 words in 2019…

I absolutely smashed this one, writing approximately 875,000 words in 2019.

3. …and edit and pitch all the words I’ve already written.

I pitched my 2011 middle grade/young adult novel to twenty more agents, and none of them bit, though a couple did say they liked it. I also submitted poetry and short stories to a lot of magazines and competitions – again there was no success there. I just have to keep trying in 2020. I’ve already identified the novel project I’m going to be pitching this next year, and it should be in a submittable state by the spring.

4. Take weekends off.

Hahaha! Well, I’ve been slightly more successful than usual in not doing day job work at weekends, but only slightly. Writing and admin is another story – the to-do list just slips and slips and slips throughout the week and it’s never all done by Friday. I’m not really sure if this is something that can ever be changed.

5. Buy fewer clothes.

I was pretty successful in this area! I only bought stuff I actually needed (well, maybe the Duran Duran t-shirts weren’t exactly necessary, but they’re very nice). I don’t even feel the need to go out to every single vintage fair anymore.

6. Run a marathon.

Done and dusted! Of course, circumstances conspired to ensure that I’ll be doing it a second time in 2020…

7. Perform some of my poetry in public.

I was convinced that this one wouldn’t happen, but it did – eight times! I don’t even feel nervous about doing it anymore, which would have seemed totally impossible to me this time last year.

8. Get sober.

I got sober on the 5th of January 2019, and so I am very nearly at my one-year anniversary. While I’m very proud of myself for getting this far, I recognise that sobriety is a lifelong process, and so I can’t get complacent about it or think that the work is done. I’ll continue to utilise the great online and offline support communities that I’ve found, and to take more care of my own mental health.

9. Get back into the habit of music practice.

Rather optimistically, I thought I’d be able to make a multi-instrumentalist of myself in 2019. I’ve only really had time for my ukulele, but I’m really pleased with how it’s gone. I’ve done three terms of classes at the Sage Gateshead, moving from the absolute beginner to the beginner to the intermediate class, and with the intermediate class I really feel that I’ve found my level. Looking forward to class starting again next week! I also love that I can just find tabs online and teach myself new songs.

10. Actually play some videogames.

This didn’t really happen until about September, but I have been able to get some decent videogaming time in during the last few months of the year. It’s something I love, and I have lots of new ones to play, so hopefully there’ll be even more of this in 2020!

Plus some unexpected bonus achievements…

The first unexpected thing I did this year was buying my car in May and properly getting back into driving again! I’d been meaning to buy a car for years, but I’d been hugely procrastinating about it because it seemed so complicated and I’d always been such a nervous driver before. Having a calmer temperament now that I’m sober has really helped with my driving, and I feel much more confident about it now that I’m getting so much practice in.

The second was starting to learn to code in the autumn. It had always been something I was interested in, due to my twin loves of retro stuff and videogames, but it was only this year that I finally got into it thanks to some of the ’80s Twitter accounts I follow discussing the Adventuron system (for creating illustrated ’80s-style text adventure games) in August. I was able to take part in a couple of game jams in the autumn and improve my game development skills, and I even wrote an Adventuron game for NaNoWriMo (or half of one, anyway – I’ll be finishing it in the first part of 2020, along with a few other games I have ideas for). I also started learning to program in BASIC in preparation for getting the BBC Micro up and running again. I have a lot more coding goals for the next year, but I’ll discuss those in detail in my New Year Resolutions 2020 post tomorrow!

Bubbles and cards

It was mine and Geth’s seventh wedding anniversary today. I think we would probably have both liked to spend the whole day in the house chilling out companionably and listening, given that it was REALLY miserable outside! However, I am absolutely determined to hit that 100th parkrun on the 7th of December, so we dragged ourselves out of the house and headed to a very wet Jesmond Dene. It was not a fast run in the slightest, but that’s ninety-eight out of a hundred done. Celebratory cake in two weeks’ time!

We then spent the afternoon in town, as Geth was interviewing pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd in front of an audience for the Books On Tyne book fair. It was a really interesting discussion, and I’ll be reading Dr Shepherd’s book as a result. Lovely to see so many friends in the audience as well!

The evening was all about cards, pizza and nosecco – the last of which has been an absolute lifesaver since I got sober in January, because I think I would have felt really miserable without a celebratory fizzy option on special occasions.

Looking forward to a nice quiet day working on my NaNo tomorrow!

Anniversary selfie
Sort of an OOTD as you can just about see my Sunset Highway jumper: anniversary picture with Geth! Seven years married today.

Today’s earworm playlist:

USA For Africa – ‘We Are The World’
Chris Rea – ‘Driving Home For Christmas’
John Williams – ‘Leaving Hogwarts’
Hitoshi Sakimoto – ‘Opening Movie (FFXII Theme)’

Booze Alternative: Tesco No Added Sugar Ginger Beer

My absolute go-to ginger beer is the Sainsbury’s Fiery Ginger Beer (which is sugar-free and therefore also calorie-free/syn-free), so I was really interested to try the Tesco equivalent when Mum and Dad got some in over the summer.

Tesco No Added Sugar Ginger Beer
Tesco No Added Sugar Ginger Beer.

It’s not as sweet as the Sainsbury’s version, but it’s really nice and spicy! I look forward to having a few more of these when I’m visiting home for Christmas.

Life without alcohol: ten months sober

I’m more than 300 days sober now (304 to be precise), which is very nearly the bulk of a year. So far it’s been one of the strangest years of my life, but I won’t go into that until the year is properly over.

Hallowe'en lantern

Ten months in, I’m sort of newly realising that I’m still actually fairly early on in my journey, and there are still things that are tripping me up, and things that I’m encountering sober for the first time. I haven’t done a music festival this year, and I don’t think I’ll be ready to do one next year either. I still don’t feel fully comfortable in pubs and clubs, and in fact I’m going to them less and less frequently.

I won’t be playing the ‘election drinking game’ this December. This was something that I did for every general election for years and years – I made huge jugs of cocktail with crappy old alcohol from the back of the cupboard to ‘use it up’, and then put food colouring in the jugs to match the political party colours. The game was very simple – ‘sip for a hold, glug for a gain’ – so when Labour held a seat in Newcastle, you’d take a sip of the red cocktail, and when the SNP gained a seat in Scotland, you’d take a big glug of the yellow cocktail (2015 required a LOT of yellow cocktail). Geth and I would be sick for days afterwards, but it was a tradition. I didn’t do it in 2017 because it was too soon after the 2015 election, but this is the first general election for which it’s no longer an option, and strangely, I feel a bit bereft as a result.

(I’ve also realised, in my wiser sober state, that following politics is not actually good for my mental health at the moment, and while I’ll obviously be voting, I will be getting an early night on election day instead of watching the results.)

I’ve also not navigated the Christmas period sober yet. While I will have had nearly a year to prepare for it, I’m still feeling quite a bit of trepidation about the whole thing. I’m already a bit sad that I won’t ever again have mulled wine, or Christmas cake made with whisky, or Christmas pudding with brandy poured over it for the flambé effect. I am, however, excited about doing the extra parkruns over the Christmas period, and Geth has promised to have a quiet Hogmanay with me so that we can do the New Year’s Day double parkrun.

I had a fairly ridiculous moment at the A-ha gig in Leeds on Saturday night when I went to the bar to get drinks for myself and Geth. Because of avoiding bars for the most part over the last few months, as well as the fact that it’s usually Geth who buys the drinks, I hadn’t actually been in a situation since I got sober where I was carrying a pint of beer for someone else. When I was still drinking, if I was collecting a pint for Geth, I would always take a big sip of it before carrying it back to the table so that I wouldn’t spill it while carrying it (the extra beer would be lost either way, so it wasn’t like I was stealing his beer – just preventing the excess from dripping all over my hand and the floor!). It wasn’t until I had the beer in my hand on Saturday night that I realised that was no longer an option.

Cue an extremely slow walk back into the main arena in an attempt not to spill the beer (which was ultimately unsuccessful as there was a door in my way), and then a further realisation that I couldn’t even lick my own hand clean, and…it just all felt a bit ludicrous, really. Maybe I should start carrying protective plastic gloves.

I’ve not reviewed any booze alternatives this month as I’ve been a bit too busy for non-diary blogging most days. I will try and do some over this next month, though, as I’ve got a bit of a backlog.

Mental health improvement plans are still quietly trucking along in the background. Hopefully next month I’ll have a bit more of an update on that.

Life without alcohol: nine months sober

Three-quarters of a year sober today. For most of my life, that would have seemed utterly impossible.

Autumn trees

Every month, it becomes marginally easier, and marginally more normal. I still think about drinking a lot, and every time I plan a night out, my first instinctive thought is that I will be drinking, before I remember that I don’t anymore. It’s just one of the many ways in which I haven’t managed to detach my brain from drinking culture yet – for instance, I still automatically assume that I’ll have to wait a while before I set off if I’m planning to drive in the morning (despite the fact that I only properly got back into driving this year, after I got sober!) and when I’m offered a booze alternative like Nosecco or even ginger beer earlier in the day, my first instinct is that it’s a bit too early to start yet – when in actual fact, it would be perfectly fine to drink Nosecco all day long, as I would still be stone cold sober at midnight!

Drink is also showing up in my dreams a lot, usually in tandem with the strange reappearance of my recurring nightmares about my late cat, José, which have started happening a lot again after a few years of respite. As I expected, they usually take the form of ‘oops I forgot I was sober and had a drink’, similar to the ones I have about vegetarianism. Thankfully I’ve not recently dreamt about actually being drunk, which I always found to be a horrible dream even when I was still drinking.

I’ve reviewed one booze alternative this month:

I’ve got a slight backlog of booze alternatives to review, but hopefully I’ll catch up before the end of the year.

It’s been a very busy month and I’ve not really been looking after myself mental health-wise. I’ve already set a few things in place to make sure this is less of a problem throughout October.

Booze Alternative: Tesco Finest Ginger Ale

Mum and Dad are Tesco shoppers and so the selection of ginger beers and ales that they’ve kindly got in for me when I’ve been visiting this year have mostly been from Tesco. I’ve had this ginger ale a couple of times this year, most recently when I was visiting en route to Shetland last month.

Tesco Finest Ginger Ale
Tesco Finest Ginger Ale.

It’s quite nice, but it’s a little plain-tasting for the calories – I’d rather have a nice flavourful diet ginger beer and not have to syn it!

Still not a bad option, and I expect I’ll be drinking a bit more of this around Christmas time.

Life without alcohol: eight months sober

I didn’t do a seven-month update because things were so busy last month. I think that shows that sobriety is starting to feel more normal to me and I’m not as obsessed with counting the days as I was at the start of the year.

Sky and trees

I suppose my main preoccupation on the subject over the last couple of months has been the double-headed discomfort that (1) drinking is so normalised in society – while I do make use of various sober support groups, I find that in my ‘real life’, I’m the only one who doesn’t drink – and (2) problematic habits around drinking are not taken seriously and seen as a bit of a laugh by a lot of people who still drink. I obviously used to have this attitude too – it’s the way I grew up, because it’s the way we all grow up – and now that I’ve been detached from it for a few months, I find it quite scary how insidious the whole thing is. Whether it’s my Slimming World group endlessly joking about how really we should be called an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or a favourite podcast of mine doing a special episode where the participants are drunk, I find that at the moment I’m just really uncomfortable with alcohol use being treated in such a lighthearted way. Maybe I’ll never be comfortable with it again. I don’t know.

I also ran into a lot of difficulty on the synthwave night out last week. Being stone cold sober when other people there were really, really drunk (too drunk even to stand up or hold a conversation in some cases) was really quite unnerving and a bit upsetting. I didn’t feel comfortable at all – I had been looking forward to enjoying the music, but I found that it wasn’t really a space where I could do that.

I’ve started to encounter things that make me sad and nostalgic about drinking itself. It’s taken longer than expected, but it is occasionally happening now. This week, I’ve been playing pirate video games – pirates are one of my favourite themes, to the extent that the novel I’m querying at the moment (and have been working on since 2011) is set on a pirate island – and of course they’re all full of rum and drinking games, and I’ve just been feeling sad about the fact that I can’t identify with all of that anymore. Maybe I should watch a few recovering alcoholic cop shows for good measure. Bergerac was always a favourite.

Two minutes is my current limit when standing in the alcohol aisle at the supermarket before I have to get out of there. I discovered this today when Geth and I were hunting for Nosecco in Sainsbury’s. Still, it’s an improvement on early sobriety, when I couldn’t go near the place.

I’ve reviewed a grand total of one booze alternative over the last two months:

This is mainly because I’ve been a bit too busy for non-diary blogging lately, but also partly because, as I mentioned in my last update, I know what I like now.

I’ve also been a bit too busy to keep up with my recovery support as much as I would like, but I have been working on it here and there. It needs to be more of a priority over the next month.