Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Flu

So I stupidly made some wise crack about "man flu" and getting no sympathy on Facebook on Friday night.  I was feeling "under the weather", sore throat, aching legs etc.  You know the thing.  However this developed into the real deal - temp over 100, total delirium in the night, with the most odd dreams going on in my head, my throat feeling like some instrument of torture with 100 razor blades in it had been inserted and everytime I swallowed it was so painful.

I just couldn't do anything. Honestly I've lost three days of my life.  I'm slowly getting better, not helped by a coughing fit yesterday aggravating a muscle in my back which I've pulled a few times over the years - terrific now I can barely walk as well!

Still this morning I've actually got on line and sorted a few bills and things that needed doing so on the road to recovery.  I'll try to remember not to be so flippant again - I should remember that flu isn't a joking matter really.

So apologies for not being on anyone's blogs as I've just not been able to.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

You can't help yourself can you?

It is a lovely warm sunny April lunchtime in London.  You've had very little time in the last few days to have time to yourself in the busy office.  So you take a walk to look around a local guitar shop.  30 mins later the credit card has significantly less credit head room than it had before and you have to text your darling wife to say "Sorry I seem to have bought a guitar"...

My new love.   Vintage Gordon Giltrap Deluxe edition - only checked over by the distributor on 16th April and now mine!  ALL MINE!!!!!  

A review will follow once I've had her a few days.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

So pleased, happy and proud....

Quick post just to relay a status from my son's Facebook page...

"...Has just officially accepted a funded PhD studentship at the University of Leicester"

*Huge parent grin*

He has worked so hard for this from the moment he changed his plans in the middle of A levels and decided that he wanted to do Physics at uni.  A foundation year was needed to get him onto an undergraduate Physics degree - he was top of the year.  He then switched to an undergraduate masters in Space Science with Physics which he is only a few weeks away from completing and is expecting a first class honours - again having worked extremely hard.  So 5 years hard work the last 6 months in the high Arctic as regular readers will know and now this a great PhD opportunity - studying the magnetosphere of Saturn he tells me... good luck with that!

I'm so pleased for him - he is on course for his ambition to be Dr Son-of-Furtheron.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

AA themes - a personal reflection

In my Monday post about my fear - which has been a lot better since then btw - I mentioned about a set of themes that come out whenever alcoholics gather together.  I should instantly caveat that with, in my experience and with my personal reflection!

The themes are
  • Never felt they fitted in
  • Never given the manual of life
  • Real difficulty with handling emotions
  • Large ego with lost self esteem
  • Preoccupation with self
  • Most love a good cup of tea or coffee!
To expand ...

Never felt they fitted in

In many different ways, either through being into something like "being a punk", "self employed from young age", "traveller", "dropped out" etc. etc. you find many alcoholics were always a little outside the circle - or at least felt that way.  I'll use myself as an example here with a couple of things before I even started to drink alcohol.  In 1974 I headed off to grammar school.  Now around that time, long hair, flares and platform shoes were all they thing... think Marc Bolan or Noddy Holder - that is what 11 year olds wanted to be.  I wore drainpipes, winkle pickers and had a quiff!!  I wanted to be different not fit in, I was a punk for a year a little later then turned from that when it became common place.  Also still to this day I'm more a rugby fan than a football fan and I'm sure part of that was simply I wanted to be in the minority.

Once in sobriety I realise that everybody is in a minority in some way and that just being true to yourself is the thing - by end of my drinking I was a season ticket holder at Gillingham FC, I'll be honest it was simply an excuse for a good drink.  I haven't been in regularly in ages although I'm really chuffed at this season but to be true to myself, I save money and enjoy more by paying £12 a month to watch some live rugby premiership matches on ESPN!

Never Given the Manual to Life

I could never have articulated that but along with the not fitting in I was at a loss on life.  I just didn't really get it, mostly relationships.  I pushed friendships away when younger, good people who did probably simply want to be a friend, but I was always frightened of having to give of myself back into that relationship and be committed to it.  It is very difficult to put into words but there was also jealousy, greed, anger all mixed in there too - "why does he get that girl?"  "His job title is now better than mine!" etc.  I ended up in this always judging myself against everybody else on the basis of job, house, car, income, quality of girlfriend/wife (normally totally superficial judgement too!!), etc. in comparison to mine.  I thought life was a board game like Monopoly!  

Again in sobriety I've learnt all the clich├ęs about "it's a journey not a destination", "happiness is the road" (had to get a Marillion lyric in there, most of my non AA philosophy comes from prog rock lyrics!).  And I see the change, I really don't care about much of this stuff.  I am lucky to have a modern large estate car that suits me that I like driving and is reliable.  It will have the wrong badge and engine to please the Clarkson disciples but as I say it don't bother me.  

Real difficulty with handling emotions.

Now what I really mean is - total aversion to acknowledging emotions at all and bludgeoning them out of my head totally!  That was the issue I now realise, that mixed in all this out-on-edge-never-happy-in-life was this inability to deal constructively with feelings.  My last bender was because my wife texted to say "...tonight we can celebrate".  With phone in left hand and pint of beer in the rights (it was after noon after all!) my head said "My life is shit" and bender ensued!!!   My life wasn't shit but neither did the single piece of good news make it 100% perfect but I couldn't deal in emotions that weren't black or white.   Soon in recovery as I rebuilt my relationship with my wife (or maybe that should say built a new relationship from the start again) she made a comment that made me feel both sad and happy at once.  I sneaked off upstairs as quickly as I could to talk to another AA member to see if this was "normal"... honestly not a clue.  A 41 year old man with the emotional intelligence of a toddler.  

At the bottom of a lot of this is fear as I mentioned in my last post - fear is often at the route of many negative reactions, emotions, resentments etc.

I'm still an emotional child, I think I will be forever, but I can grieve now, I can acknowledge sadness is different from grief and vastly different to depression.  I am probably just getting off the Janet and John ABC of emotional knowledge - I want to learn so much more about it too.  Oh and I can now just "sit with it". If I am sad that is ok if there is a good reason to be - a friends Dad dies, I am sad for my friend - that is understandable, acceptable, right and what can I do about it?  Get involved by helping with the washing up and tea making at the wake - help my friend who is hurting exponentially more than I. 

Large Ego with Low Self-Esteem

Adding all that lot together gives you a lot... but then add in the next bit and oh boy what a potent mix.  The next bit adds to the often no-shades-of-grey (Mr Christian!) black and white characters I identify with in other alcoholics.  Don't you (and the rest of the world!!) realise that I am something really special - utterly brilliant, I could solve the worlds major issues, write the best new symphony since Beethoven and solve the Middle East peace issue before teatime if only you let me!   Honestly that was how I sort of thought - I did nothing to achieve any of that or have the skills etc.   However whenever in a new situation or indeed an old familiar one but one with a touch of stress etc. on it I'd go into "I'm a fraud, they'll find me out, I really know nothing, I have to cover-up  bluster, cheat, bullshit etc. my way out of this again".   Another example of the flip flop nature of my thinking around this stuff. I still really struggle with this, but found like many things this is a normal human condition known as "imposter syndrome" - many highly qualified academics in particular suffer with it.  However of course to an alcoholic the real issue is that listening to this crap in your head and not dealing with it in some sensible manner will eventually cause you to drink to just shut the head up!   

Preoccupation with Self.

Do I need to elaborate if you have even skim read this far - non-alcoholics will be thinking "But most people feel that or this in their life at some point" etc.  I don't deny it, but alcoholics will sit in the craziness rather than dismissing it or constructively doing something active to work through/around/over the issue.  And of course "Nobody understands" - the boring mantra of a drinking alcoholic.  Sadly I now know that most did understand all too well and that actually the only one that didn't understand was me!

Most like a good cup of tea or coffee!

The most important job in any AA group is the tea boy/girl.  They often are the person who welcomes the newcomer, visitor, stranger, returnee, regular person etc.  There is an old saying in AA all you need for an AA meeting is two alcoholics, a coffee pot and resentment!  

Monday, 15 April 2013

Irrational fear

Spend any time around a bunch of recovering alcoholics and there are a series of themes that come out. Within that series of themes (I should write a blog post on my reflections on those themes at some point) one that often comes through is fear.

Fear of being made to look a fool
Fear of economic insecurity
Fear of emotional insecurity - i.e. those you love leaving you.
Fear of being found out as a fraud

One thing though is the irrational fear - the fear of nothing but fear itself.  I woke up this morning fearful.  What of I really have no idea, maybe I had had a dream that was lost to my consciousness that caused this I really don't know.

Now what is the best reaction to this?  Look at the facts.  I can't place what this fear is about, it probably is just a stupid dream I've already forgotten, I was alright last night when I went to bed and nothing has changed ... so put if out of my mind and ignore it.

Not the alcoholic part of me - it spent far too much of my brain power today trying to rationalise the fear with some event.  Hopeless - so I've had to restart the day, try to back off my brain cycles and go back to that basic point... there is nothing to fear but the fear itself.   I'm feeling better already...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Happy birthday Mrs F

Today is Mrs F's birthday, I'll not give her age away but... she'd not as old as me :-)

We had a day out at Rye in East Sussex and the weather gods shone on us as it was overcast and cloudy as we headed there.  On arrival we climbed up into the town, the main old bit being a top a big hill with a castle and big church etc. and found a little tea shop - sadly our favourite one has changed hands and was full but we found another and ordered a light lunch.  When we came out the sun was shining and we had a lovely day pottering about the junk - sorry antique shops.

For the guitar nuts the most ludicrous I found was a bolt on neck Epiphone SG with several scratch plate screws missing, replaced pickups (nothing special) and even one of those was missing a height adjustment screw.  So  a "fixer upper" you'd think.  Yes if it had been £50 - £60 but at £330 frankly purely a rip off.  In the same place a couple of years back I found a clearly totally fake Fender Strat on sale for £500 - don't go there.  It is the one by the river near the town model.  There is a proper music shop back in the town that will do you a use Vintage Les Paul for £115!!!  How people get away with it is beyond me you know.

Monday, 8 April 2013

On this day in history...

Well roughly - in 2006 my Mum passed away on the 6th April.  I still miss her - I'm glad she saw me sober for the last couple of years of her life.

In 2003 on April 7th I signed up to an Alcohol Concern programme - to learn "controlled drinking" - the next year was frankly a total nightmare as I fought the drink on my own, unable to realise why I could stop then start again and think I was all fine and for it to explode in a matter of days again to a point where I was way out of control again... Stop, wait, start, explode. 

Around April 8th 2004 I signed up to the same thing again, but was so despondent that I gave up the next day and resigned myself to a life of utter misery having to drink.  Chapter 12 A Vision for You of Alcoholics Anonymous (aka the big book) sums it up superbly.

"He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end."

I was that person make no mistake.

Early April has a lot of memories for me.  I can't believe that I'm now heading on a day by day basis to 9 years sober.  9 years!  That is 18% of my life!!!   Incredible and I'm so grateful to all who've helped me on my continuing trudge on the Road of Happy Destiny.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Book Review - The 12 step warrior

(Those regular readers with any sort of memory will know that I said "no more book reviews" but I'm breaking that rule... my blog, my rule, I can break it! LOL!  I break it for this book given the subject matter)

The 12 Step Warrior is an alcoholic's autobiography.  Peter Skillen was born into a family that soon went from loving to dysfunctional to totally out of control.  This book describes his loss of innocence as a child, his witnessing his father's fall into alcoholism and his own journey into a life of violence and alcoholic drinking.  At the end of his drinking he was losing it all but with the help of an old girlfriend he got to rehab and has recovered his life.  He is one of the shining lights you meet of the AA programme at work.  I have some friends in AA like Peter, people who really went to hell and back.  I often feel a fraud next to them my rock bottom was frankly so much higher than theirs.

This is a brilliantly written book that anyone who is associated with alcoholism or addiction personally will relate to.  I may not have ended up embroiled in the alcohol fuelled violence he did but so many other aspects of his story could be mine as well.  The fear of failure, the feeling of "less than", never being part of society completely, spending more time with people who frankly weren't worth a few moments of my life rather than with the people I loved and who really needed me there for them, the continual self-sabotage whenever I felt things getting to be better than I truly deserved - etc.

His description of early rehab rang so many bells with me too.  My rehab was similar to the one he attended.  Arriving there and just being shown by others the ropes etc.  The chores we were assigned and the feeling of being really a little kid back at school again is so reminiscent - as is the memory of great food and tea seemingly on tap endlessly.

This isn't a long read and for anyone who wishes to get some inking into how an alcoholic feels and thinks I'd totally recommend this book.  For someone like myself trudging the road to happy destiny already it was a great reminder of where I've come from but also posed some questions as to where I'm going. I'm not sure I'm really living my life as though every minute is my last as Peter urges us to do, maybe I am too trapped into the conventions of having to fit in (or is that disappear?) in a humdrum 9-5 existence.  To ponder on...

Peter also blogs at http://the12stepwarrior.wordpress.com/ as well or can be followed on Twitter at @12stepwarrior

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Commenting on this blog

For a long time I've had a policy of allowing Anonymous comments.  This led to loads of Spam so I switched on comment moderation - still loads of Spam ... so I put on a word verification thing...  Spam stopped.

However I know that sometimes the word verification is stopping people commenting and I find it a real pain at times when reading/commenting on blogs on a mobile phone.

So today I switched off the word verification thing... in less than an hour 5 Spam comments!!!  

I give up the Spammers I'm afraid have beaten me.  So I've switched off Anonymous comments.  Sorry folks I don't want to do that really but what else can I do?  I want people to comment etc. so please do - you can always email me your comment asking me to post it for you - I will respect your anonymity but clearly you'll compromise it emailing me I know but I promise to simply post a comment under my name for you anonymously but you can only take me on trust on that one.

Class wars.

Once again I find myself somewhat bewildered by a new move in the reclassification of current UK society and in particular a new attempt at putting us into a new "class" structure.  This is the BBC having carried out an experiment if you don't click on the link.

So I filled it in the questions.  I'm apparently "Established Middle Class".  What the hell does that mean?  For a start the important thing surely is how you describe yourself.  I'm working class.  I may have a job that might be defined loosely as a profession and be in a management position but to me I'm working class due to my background.  My sister did the test too and came out as "Technical Middle Class" she stated on Facebook that she is "... definitely working class - dockyard born and bred!!"  My son insists we are middle class but he takes this from simply from our financial position which is born of the fact that I was incredibly lucky to have a ridiculously overpaid job for a good few years which ended with a ridiculously overblown redundancy package (I'm not frivolous about it but recognise largely that was not of my direct making and purely luck and circumstances).  So I get promoted up the class structure on the basis of pure luck?  If I'd have won the lottery does that instantly move me to the new "Elite" class?  I really never get this, it is like saying I'm no longer a Caucasian male when clearly I am as that is my genetic makeup.

I don't mean to say that people can't move up the wealth ladder through luck or hard work, they can and they can change their circle of friends etc. should they find the opportunities to do so.  However I really don't see how that changes their intrinsic class.  See I consider class intrinsic to me social mobility is about wealth and where you live and who you live with but doesn't change who you are deep down, your roots. Subsequent generations - maybe. The fact my son has grown up in a household with considerably more wealth than I knew as a child and he has gone onto university (btw the first person ever to do so in my family) possibly mean he has some legitimacy in his feelings that he is middle class.  Starting his working life with impressive letters after his name and possibly if he does get a PhD placement for September a change of honorific give him some legitimacy to his argument.  However his dear old Dad even in his dotage will still consider himself "dockyard born and bred" along with it seems his Aunt as well.  

Finally the real confusing bit for me is in the questionnaire you have to answer questions on your "cultural capital".  Now here I am lost.  How can listening to jazz or attending art galleries move you from one class to another?  This kind of cultural stereotyping I find most disturbing of all in this new class structure - are we saying an appreciation for jazz or art galleries are too good for the working class?  Whatever happened to the late 20th century emancipation of the masses through public libraries, galleries, museums and the efforts of the education system to promote cultural interest?  Is it now all purely in the name of social ladder climbing?  I find that really sad if that is true.  One thing, to me, that is the greatest leveller of all is a love of some art form, when I stand in front of a picture or listen to some music and the person next to me is a lord or a tramp if we both appreciate it for what it is in a shared mutual love of the art form that to me is the best demonstration of true equality at work.  I feel very sad if today someone is in whatever few HMV shops are still open buying Miles Davis CDs purely to convince their friends, and more worryingly themselves, that their cultural capital is greater than they thought they needed it to be yesterday.