Alcohol Free ’till February – Update!

If you read my previous post, Alcohol-free Until February you’ll know that on 1st January I stopped drinking alcohol completely, for a variety of reasons, and committed to being alcohol-free for two months.

Well, I sort of did it, and I sort of didn’t…

I did 48 days straight (excepting that bit of champagne at Jen’s 40th as planned on 4th Jan – but even counting that, 44 days straight!) and I have to say it had gone really, really well. The first two days I really felt deprived but the beginning is easy enough, then every few days I’d get a huge craving and feel grumpy knowing I couldn’t have any but also completely proud to ignore that feeling and plough through. Right from the start I felt better, slept better, looked better. So far so good! Around the end of the month, when all the Dry January folks were looking forward to their first drink and celebrating their successes I was struggling. It felt like I’d done such a long time and still had as long to go again. Part of me wished I hadn’t set myself two months instead of one… But then the better part of me realised that the fact I felt that way meant this thing hadn’t done it’s job yet – this body-mind reset hadn’t been completed and I knew that the second month was there for a reason. Psychologists say it takes 28 days (or is it 21? – I can’t remember, and anyway it’s probably a myth!) to break a habit or set a new one as your new default. But I really felt that, for as many days as I’d found it easy not to drink there were as many again where, without my commitment, I’d have definitely poured myself a drink not out of choice but need, and as long as that programming was still there I was going to carry on… so I ploughed on into February!

A couple of weeks in, a noticeable shift happened. I found myself looking forward to my non-alcoholic sparkly wine and imagined choosing it over a bottle of red once the time was up. Most days I just didn’t think about it at all. I often considered whether I would have a drink if I was free to and gradually, more and more often simply didn’t feel like it! I really, really felt – and feel – that the reset has happened. I really, really like not drinking! I feel better, healthier, and un-beholdened to it.

So with that in mind, when Gabs started getting really tired towards half-term, struggling with school and asking, sometimes in a desperate tone of voice, could we please, please go to Nana Pip and Grandad’s house in Cornwall, I started to feel like I needed a new plan. We were all exhausted and Gabs and I especially really needed a good holiday! But even with my Driving Phobia a little more under control from the daily school-run, driving 270 miles with two kids in the back all by myself wasn’t really my first choice… until the flooding and storms in Cornwall washed the trainline into the sea:

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My Gabs needed this trip so badly, there was nothing for it but to grab myself by the metaphorical balls and get behind the wheel, so off we went. It wasn’t too bad at all, took us five and a half hours with one stop and the boys were unbelievably angelic. I felt so flippin’ proud of myself you’ve got no idea!! This was a big deal for me, coming from a place of having panic attacks before driving a few metres down the road in a straight line, to driving myself and my children all the way to Cornwall, calmly and well.. even enjoying the ride! So I’ll be damned, I was gonna enjoy my half-term to the full once I got there! I also don’t think we’ll get down there for another break until the Summer, something I hadn’t forseen back in December. So I wanted to relax and have the nicest time I could… including a glass of red wine with my chilli-con-carne!

So, I had a glass of wine with dinner each day I was there. Well, actually the first day I could only have two sips and got a headache so my Dad drank it. The next day, half a glass of white. The next, a proper glass of red which I drank, and the last day a pint of guinness with my fish and chips 🙂 The trade off is, I went back on my fast when I got home to London and I’m now doing an extra week into March, finishing on the 8th.

Am I excited about finishing and going back to total freedom to drink what I like? No, not really. I found, predictably, that first glass of wine a massive anti-climax and am actually so glad I didn’t wait it out until the 1st March so, so looking forward to it and then being disappointed. Wine is still my choice of treat over cake, chocolate or whatever… really I couldn’t care less about sweets, although I’ve tried to enjoy them this last two months as they’re pretty much all I’ve had left! But even with alcohol now, I can take it or leave it, and I’m pleased to note that coming off my week of drinking back into the so-called fast (which doesn’t feel like a fast anymore, but just normal) was beyond easy… no, a pleasure. It’s actually nicer not to drink. So why did I drink over half-term at all? I almost didn’t. It nearly went the other way, I spent an hour thinking about it feeling that it made sense to but I felt too irritated to let myself, since I’d said I’d do it! At which point, I realised it’s bloody stupid to do something out of pig-headedness when it no longer holds true for you and you’re only worrying about what other people will think.

Because I wanted to! Because I can. Because I’m an adult who should have the self-control to choose and not have anything hold power over me either in the love or the resistance of it.

So as 8th March approaches and I look back at what I’ve achieved so far this year, I can happily say I kicked two things in the nuts: My driving phobia, and my need to reward myself with a nice drink. Both lost their power over me. So welcome, properly welcome now, to 2014 which can really truly start for me afresh and the new, more Balanced Me 🙂

Mile in Memory of Matilda Mae Walk

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If you read my previous post you’ll know that I managed to overcome my fear of driving in time to make it down to Kent for a very special event, the Mile in Memory of Matilda Mae walk. What a beautiful, beautiful day lay before us, in memory of the best of little girls, Matilda Mae who was found in her cot, lost to SIDS on her nine-month birthday, 2nd February this year. We were there to walk for Matilda Mae, for her amazing blogger mummy Jennie (Edspire – read her heartbreaking but beautiful and inspirational blog here), for her twin big-siblings Esther and William, for her Daddy David, and all of this organised in perfect detail by Jennie, to raise money for the fantastic Lullaby Trust (formerly FSID) to help continue their vital work.

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Beautiful Matilda Mae

(Thank you to Helen from Schryver Photography for letting me download her fantastic photos of the day to use here and on facebook. They do so much better justice to the day than mine, although I’ll post a few of mine at the end just for posterity!)

Of all the things I might have been nervous about that day (driving, playing, controlling two tear-away boys with a violin on my back!) the one thing I wasn’t nervous about was meeting Jennie. I was going to meet a woman I tweeted for the very first time the night she lost her baby, after three months of tweets, emails and blog posts… face to face. I suppose I should have been nervous. But I wasn’t. I was excited. Emotional, but excited. And I worried that that was inappropriate, to be so excited to meet someone I know for such a sad reason…

But then I saw her. In bright purple with a floating silver star balloon above her head, a smile on her face and deep brown, deeply sad eyes. Shockingly brown! So that’s where Tilda got them from, I thought as I gave her a squeezy hug, and I knew I was right to be excited, because the longer I know her the more convinced I am we were meant to meet somehow. Anyway, my detours and extra goes around the roundabouts meant I missed the breakfast where I had been meant to first meet Jennie, so a quick hug was all we had time for but I grabbed a quick bacon buttie and the much appreciated free coffee and headed off to the big marquee. I marvelled at the beautiful set up, with hay-bales, balloons, flowers and starting ribbon. Nothing seemed to have been forgotten and the whole thing was perfectly organised from start to finish, with Jennie’s trademark stamp on it. I was disappointed that Gabs flatly refused to enter into the tent as I’d hoped Lucian could join in with the Funtrain class that was going on inside, with puppets, singing and bubbles. But Gabs, despite being a full-on active, slightly bolshy character can be surprisingly wary of new places and groups of large people so instead we ran around outside and went to see the pigs. (23 mth old Lucian mastered a very convincing new snorting noise.)

Bang on 11am we all gathered at the starting post and Jennie cut the ribbon, with David and the twins looking on and we were off, walking for Matilda Mae and The Lullaby Trust.

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It seemed to me that the mood was lighthearted but poignant. People were having fun and enjoying the beautiful route but there was a quiet air, so I knew we were all thinking of Tilda and wondering if she was around us, in the air, in the bluebells, in the sunlight streaking through the gaps in the trees. Her presence was palpable and at times I felt out of place having to yell at Gabs to stop escaping and ploughing ahead through the crowd. (He’s a fully-fledged Houdini and I really struggle to control him at times. Strong-willed doesn’t cover it!) But the walk was really a happy one. Gabs, a really advanced reader for his age (3 and 3/4) loved reading out the questions stuck to the trees and answering them before I could. I felt a bit sorry for Luci stuck in the buggy but he seemed happy enough gazing at all the nature around him. We don’t have too many bluebells or trees for that matter on the Finchley Road. Every twig, every leaf, every breath of fresh air is a novelty for my kids! I resolved to get out into the country with them more often and hope a few more trips down to Jennie are on the cards. In any case, I was really impressed with all the details of how both the Rarebreeds Centre and the Walk were laid out. I will definitely be back with my boys, despite the long drive. The sweetest surprises of the day were the little packets of ‘forget-me-not’ seeds to plant for Matilda Mae, hidden in the trees and sticking out the tree-stumps and Gabs loved to grab them as we passed. I’ve bought little pots to plant them in.

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I thought one mile would seem like a long way but before I was ready for it to be over we were arriving back at the marquee and were greeted with smiles and bubbles to blow for Matilda Mae. Next year I would like to walk 10 miles for Matilda! It was too short and over too soon, but short little legs probably couldn’t have made it any further. 😉

The marquee was filled with soft play when we arrived back and my boys were only too delighted, especially Lucian who leapt out of the buggy. It was my turn to contribute to the day with a bit of violin playing and I was a bit nervous about taking my eyes off the boys as they’re both prone to making a run for it. But the play area was so absorbing and the lady from Jumping Beans was absolutely fantastic at keeping tabs on the boys while I played and encouraging them on the equipment. And she hadn’t even known they were mine and that I couldn’t watch them while I was playing, she just did it! I was really impressed, and sorry to hear they don’t have classes in London. Lucian was particularly obsessed with the slide.

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I was meant to be performing there representing my Classical Babies concerts (I know Jennie through my @classicalbabyco twitter account, not my personal one, which I hardly use, and I follow lots of mum bloggers on it). But standing next to Jennie with her twins staring up at me, alone with no pianist to accompany me, felt intensely personal and and so, so private. Not a business thing. Not even really a professional music thing. Me, a mum and a friend, whose heart is broken by her heartbreak, needing to do something helpful, anything: the only thing I know how to do, really which is play the violin. It’s quite hard to find pieces that work with just violin alone with no other instruments so I felt a little silly at the beginning but was so proud to be able to do something even if it was small. I wasn’t sure how it would go down though and I was so chuffed to see William hovering nearby gawping at me with a look of fascination on his face! Jennie was worried her voice wouldn’t hold out  from the emotion so she made me announce the bubbles to ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘In the Night Garden’. I took this so seriously it makes me smile in hindsight to see the serious look on my face while I was playing one of the simplest tunes you can play, but it meant so much to me to make it beautiful and I knew from the look on Jennie’s face it was an emotional moment. So happy everyone sang!

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Afterwards, I got my little 1/16th and 1/10th size violins out and let any takers have a go. A gorgeous down’s syndrome girl amazed me by being pretty darn keen and coordinated, having watched me quietly and closely for ages. I wish I could have had longer with her. William had a quick go before several older children dove in, some of them more adept than others. Then teeny, quiet Esther popped up for a go and while I was trying to put her hand in the “baby” easy-hold on the shoulders of the violin, she pulled away from me and quite instinctively, naturally put herself in a perfect left-hand hold on the neck! I was taken by surprise because 2 is really a bit young to play properly. I teach 3 year olds and up and that is younger than most teachers will take on but I’d love to see what I could do with her! I think her grandmother was pretty horrified (“Of all the instruments!” 😉 ) but I’m afraid she might have violinist written all over her… Sorreeeeee!

I had to make a run for it out of the tent a couple of times when I lost the boys, and at one point Gabs got miles away from me down the mile-track and fell and cut his lip quite badly. He had a big cry and I caved in and said, “I told you so!” but it didn’t dent his enthusiasm for long. They ran around the field while people picnicked and David and some of the children blew the biggest bubble-kisses I have ever seen to Tilda in the sky. There is no way she could have missed them! The sky was blue in between the clouds and the light hit the bubbles amazingly as they floated up to their recipient, absent guest-of-honour, the one we were all thinking of all day, little miss Matilda Mae. xx

I have to admit, we didn’t stay to see all the animals after, as I was just absolutely shattered and keen to get back through London before rush-hour hit, but we grabbed the ice-creams Gabs had been begging for since breakfast! I felt a pang of guilt as we climbed into the car when Gabs said, “You forgot to take me to the playground!” We had to walk past the most fun looking climbing/swinging/abseiling equipment on the mile and I’d promised to take him back. But really, I think we were all a bit pooped and sure enough two minutes after setting off both boys were snoring like miniature versions of their Daddy, in the back. What a wonderful day we had for a wonderful family and the most worthwhile cause. I drove home (somewhat badly!) feeling contented that I had finally met someone I feel such a promising bond with and that we had honoured Matilda Mae well and she would be smiling her cheeky, beautiful smile down on us from her place in the Universe. At 4:30pm I parallel parked like a pro’ outside my flat and smiled back at my sleeping boys, feeling a little emotionally and physically exhausted… and so, so lucky.

Driving Phobia & Walking for Tilda

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On Saturday 11th May, I got up at 6:30 and got two sleepy but acquiescent boys dressed and into the car. (Thank you Remus, for getting up to load the double buggy, several bags of spare clothes, snacks and lots of violins while I grabbed a cappuccino!). This sounds simple enough but for me, it was no mean feat: I have suffered for a long time from being massively driving-phobic. Despite having passed my test over two years ago and having some sporadic driving success for one year of that, even short journeys for me can involve delaying tactics, finding excuses to use public transport, and should I get in the car, usually some shaking and crying. Nevertheless, I had put this date in the diary a long time ago and it, being pretty inaccessible without a car, seemed the perfect goal to aim for to overcome my fears. I’ve driven on and off for two years but when even a successful 160 mile stint to Cornwall didn’t cure me I lost all hope of ever being a “real” driver. But finally, I had something to drive to, where the destination was key, where getting there, and showing up on time and in one piece meant more to me than clinging on to my fear. And it seemed to work! My phobia came to a head a few weeks before when I found myself on my sofa, twenty minutes before nursery pick-up time, sobbing into my hands like a baby, unable to get in the car and drive the three minutes down the road to pick up my boys in the pouring rain. My lovely, safe, responsive Audi A4 S line sat right outside my flat. It was dark, windy and thrashing rain and I cried and cried and beat myself up mentally for even considering walking 15 minutes with the buggy out of fear of driving two blocks in a straight line down the road. I couldn’t believe it had come to this! And I knew that in a few short weeks I WAS going to drive to Ashford and be there for Jennie and Matilda Mae. I just didn’t know how. So I sobbed with my face in my hands for maybe twenty minutes, hating myself out-loud. I looked at this for a long time on my pinterest board:

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And then, at 5 minutes to 6pm, I got up, took out my keys and drove to nursery. My knees shook, my heart raced, I fucked up my parking. But I did it. I had got the most afraid I could be and I overrode it. And the next week I drove to Knightsbridge and picked my husband up from Heathrow (I shook a bit, but I didn’t cry 😉 ). And the week after I drove to Watford for work and drove my colleague to Cheltenham for a gig and home again. So I knew I could do it. But the night before the walk, my husband still asked me, “Are you sure you’re OK to do this?” And even I was surprised how confidently I answered, “YES”.

Because I’ve never been more committed to being somewhere I had promised to be, my phobia didn’t stand a chance! I planned my route on google maps. I zoomed in on street-view and obsessed over which lane to take when. I worried about my first toll-booth experience on the Dartford Bridge. But nothing was going to stop me getting in that car and getting me and my kids to The Rare Breeds Centre in Kent for the Mile in Memory of Matilda Mae Walk!

In the end I drove like crap. I went twice round a couple of roundabouts. I got lost once and had to stop and heard a lot of “re-calculating, re-calculating…” from the sat-nav stern-voice lady. But who cares, I made it! And it was so worth it! My next post recounts the day in full, read on….