Read time: 45-50 minutes. Warning! Potential triggers: contains details of addiction, relapse, cancer, parental abuse, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Relapse/noun – a deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement: “he responded well to treatment, but then suffered a relapse”
Dis-ease: any harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism.
Watching someone you love be devoured by any illness is utterly heartbreaking; especially terminal diseases like dementia, addiction and cancer. The helplessness in being able to stop their decline or offer lasting relief from the pain and confusion. The toll it takes on the both of you mentally, physically and emotionally. The feeling of your own grief and their impending doom creeping up over your shoulders and back of your head. The tiny glimmers of hope, potential of remission or recovery, then finally, that death of hope. The gaping hole in your heart that grows a little bigger every day. Dreading what will happen in the next weeks, months, and years.
In his book titled “Happy”, Darren Brown talks about cancer behaving like unchecked vines, slowly constricting the life out of a person until there’s nothing left. Russell Brand writes about his dear friend’s addiction in his book “Recovery”, describing it was coiled around her neck like a snake. Both vines and snakes can be ripped away and defeated. Sometimes, they can’t. They twist and bite and crush all the light and life out of a person until only darkness remains. Disease can rip your entire life away before finally killing you.
If you stop growing, you start rotting.
I started writing this confession in 2020 but hadn’t really touched it since Summer 2022. For years I felt like it had missing parts that hadn’t been lived or learnt yet, and I was right. I am grateful to have been able to breathe life back into it after all this time, and publish it ready to coincide with my 5.5 years sober milestone. 🥳
“No one said that we have to write, edit, and hit the presses immediately. We might write a piece and then put it to one side so that it can “ripen.” It may be that we want time and memory to grow our perspective.
Many other times, stories come out that have been actively suppressed by perpetrators over victims. Writers who have suffered the evaporation of their true voices and selves at the mercy of people who supposedly “cared” for them, finally get to speak from their guts with liberating and healing results.”Martha Manning, Ph.D.
I had spent the entirety of the 2020 lockdowns either keeping to myself and my self-care routines, or spending a lot of time with someone who drank 1-2 drinks most evenings (2-3+ if it was a sunny day). It didn’t bother me back then, mostly because it wasn’t any of my business. I did wonder if they were in the right headspace to be drinking alcohol at all, let alone in the company of someone who is in recovery from alcohol and painfully aware of the damage it causes. My mum was terminally ill at the time and had been for years, with the disease of both alcohol addiction and cancer. Unfortunately, my own mother’s health had very little space at that table during that time.
It’s now April 2023. it’s been over 4 months since my mother passed away from widespread cancer and complications due to alcohol withdrawal. Surely that means I’m closer to a relapse than ever before, right? In truth, the pain of my mother’s death is nothing compared to the trauma that some bad friendships have left behind. I still don’t feel safe to speak out about the details, but you know it’s bad when watching your mother die in hospital finally gives you all the proof and closure you needed for so many things, finally taking the edge off of that betrayal trauma and replacing it with a more appropriate pain. Realising that the friends you thought you could never live without, had also made you feel like you couldn’t make it anywhere in life without them. Friends that claimed to have gifted you everything you have now, only so that they can take full credit for it. People that convinced you that they understood you better than anyone else, to make sure that you didn’t need to spend time with anyone else. They didn’t want the very best for me, like I did for them. They didn’t love me and the universe of my life, they just loved how I would follow them around and made them feel better about themselves, and how grateful I was for their scraps. I told them they saved me, so now I must serve them? Unfortunately, Star Wars isn’t real and Wookie life debts aren’t a thing.
My mother’s death certificate reads “Decimated Malignancy” (widespread cancer) but it was alcohol abuse too. Not in the sense that she was abusing alcohol (which is how “alcohol abuse” is currently defined) but in the sense that alcohol was abusing her. She was trapped in an abusive relationship with alcohol; and abusive relationships can be very difficult to leave and almost impossible to recover from. Her end was a combination of long-term alcohol abuse, cancer, and finally, alcohol withdrawal in the last 2 weeks of her life. The cancer stopped her ability to consume alcohol, then the alcohol withdrawal stopped her ability of fight off the cancer. I’m still trying to process those 17 hours spent in hospital and being by her side when she died. Biggest thing of all, is processing the fact that I was completely alone emotionally in the best last year of her life, all for the comfort of my friends at the time. I had spent all my energy on their lives, and therefore ran out of steam for my own. The same friends that didn’t believe my mum had cancer at all, and that alcohol addiction is a choice rather than a disease. I also knew deep down that they would never help out when it came to something successful that I could potentially be doing, like working a tattoo convention or hosting an event. Something that couldn’t benefit them in any way or make them look virtuous. Somehow, I could never picture them humbly making teas and coffees at any of my future sobriety events, or carrying cakes and rearranging sandwiches. Not without holding it against me in future arguments or favours, of course. The minute I outgrew them was the minute I outgrew the version of me that allowed their self-serving, reckless behaviour to continue. Decades of not speaking up for myself has left me deeply depressed and incurably sick. Alcohol abuse might not be a choice, but I can make a choice to stay sober every day, and try to keep myself as well as I can in the face of living with complex PTSD and chronic illness every single day. After all, I really don’t want to end up like my mother.
Relapse/verb – (of a sick or injured person) deteriorate after a period of improvement: “two of the patients in remission relapsed after 48 months”.
One of the other times I felt this close to a relapse was during one of the lockdowns. I was coming to terms with the pandemic and losing my main source of self-employment overnight. I was processing and grieving the loss of a dear friend to cancer and getting a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia at the same time. I was worried about my mum and how she was taking care of herself in that flat on her own. Amongst that pile of steaming hot grief, my boiler broke and the landlord did very little to fix it. This went on for over 30 days. No hot water to wash my hands effectively, no hot water to clean my kitchen properly, and no hot water to have a bath in my own home (I was bathing at least once a day back then to ease all sorts of symptoms). I didn’t feel listened to or considered, and my basic rights as a tenant weren’t being honoured. I felt ignored and abandoned, two of my biggest core wounds from childhood. Those triggers lit up my nervous system like a firework display, and I nearly hit the big red FUCK IT button and drank my anger, anxiety, and resentment away. I paused, called out an emergency plumber to fix it that day and took the fees out of the rent and ignored the landlord’s frustration when he found out how much it was. That first bath in my own home after nearly a month, still sober, felt so fucking satisfying.
“When the world tells you that getting fucked up is one of the most fun and therapeutic things you can do, respecting your sobriety and taking care of yourself feels like an act of anarchy.”
October 29th, 2017. 29/10/17.
Autumn 2017. The cusp of Halloween. My lovely little sobriety date. No fancy combination of numbers really. It wasn’t set as intentionally as the date of a wedding; I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. Little did I know back then, it would become infinitely more important than I ever could have imagined.
So yes, I haven’t drunk alcohol in five and a half years. Not a single drop; not even a little gulp or a tiny sip. I accidentally ate a piece of really boozy coffee cake once, but that was it! I didn’t realise it was home made with “half a bottle of Kalua” until after I’d shovelled the first bite into my mouth (I discreetly dropped the piece back into the bowl, rinsed my mouth out in the bathroom and gave the rest to my boyfriend at the time). Even my mouthwash and cough medicines are alcohol and ethanol free (because that feels entirely too much like doing shots to me). I’ve not kept booze in the house all this time, and had to pour a half bottle of red wine down the sink after finding it in a kitchen cupboard the day I moved in. I don’t even search booze on my devices so that it doesn’t affect the algorithm. I spent over 15 years drinking that shit and I don’t need to drink it again if I can help it. Why would I make things harder for myself?! When I was due to undergo a major operation, I researched alternatives for morphine and ketamine. I made sure to request them during the surgical consultation, along with the explanation that where possible, I didn’t want to feel any more “unsober” than was absolutely necessary. When the world tells you that getting fucked up is one of the most fun things you can do, respecting your sobriety and taking care of yourself feels like an act of anarchy.
Boundaries around booze are so important for people who have stopped drinking for the sake of their wellbeing.
“Although tolerance can differ, no human on earth is immune to alcohol and its effects. No human is immune to the damage alcohol causes either.”
Why are boundaries from booze so important? Because it’s almost impossible to moderate alcohol, especially if you’ve identified as someone with whom booze is having a negative impact or unnecessary strain on your life. First of all, alcohol is extremely addictive; more so than heroin (and heroin withdrawal can’t kill you, but alcohol withdrawal can). Second, although tolerance can differ, no human on earth is immune to alcohol and its effects. No human is immune to the damage alcohol causes either. Alcoholism and alcohol dependency can creep up on anyone, regardless of what your childhood was like or what you do for a living. Even if you can’t attend social situations and events without drinking or craving a drink, then you are already alcohol dependant socially. Thirdly, it’s a drug – despite being served at family gatherings and kid’s parties. It’s a carcinogenic depressant, meaning that it’s been proven countless times to cause cancer and sink people into very dark places very quickly. Contrary to what alcohol advertising want you to believe – it won’t make you cooler, sexier, more social or sophisticated. It’ll just make you drunk! I definitely didn’t do any of my best dancing while drunk, or have the best music experiences or my best orgasms. I definitely didn’t do anything productive whilst being drunk; like complete my taxes or create my best tattoos (although I regrettably tattooed hungover a dozen times in the first half of my career, I never ever tattooed clients actively drunk or high, thankfully).
“The holy grail of every drinker who is trying to moderate IS moderation. They want to moderate their drinking so they can drink with none of the nasty consequences. One of the hardest things about moderation is brain chemistry. First thing is, our brains have now been conditioned to a certain amount of alcohol, so when we put that alcohol in our system, our brains know exactly how much our brains want of that. So we’re actually working against our biology already. Second thing is, it doesn’t matter how many promises you’ve made to yourself that you’re only gonna have 2 drinks or you’re only gonna drink twice a week, the whole thing about alcohol is that it lowers your inhibitions. When you drink it, all of your promises and good intentions just go out the window. So it’s a hell of a lot of effort for not a whole lot of reward. But we keep telling ourselves and we keep thinking “this time will be different”.Veronica Valli, author of Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol
When I started writing this, I had found myself in a WhatsApp group of 4 fairly new sober people, whilst I was a couple months away from my 3rd sobriety birthday. The person who created the “Sober Babes Club” WhatsApp group was just over a month sober, and the others were a few months and 1.5 years. The creator of the group had explained that I had inspired her to get sober and want to stay sober, which I was really touched by. I had previously recommended books, shared stories and recommended tips to combat early signs of withdrawal. I should have felt part of a group of people whom I felt safe with and that I could trust my “sober side” with, but I quickly realised that I took my sobriety way more seriously than they did. I felt more like a pseudo sort of sponsor figure, without any of them willing to try a 12-step program. We discussed topics like alcohol-free options, how horrible drinking dreams can be and whether you should restart your sobriety clock if you have a “slip”. They still kept alcohol in the house and didn’t have a problem with alcohol being left in work staff rooms.
Personally, I’ve never called it a slip – it’s a relapse. I understand that there can be a lot of fear and shame surrounding the word “relapse”, like it feels too heavy to hold and too loud to say. A “slip” or “blip” sounds cute and quick, like the way a glass of wine slips down the throat and you can put it back down and say “nope, not again”. But it rarely ever happens like that. It usually ends up in falls down the stairs, broken ribs and fractured skulls, concussions and repercussions, partners sleeping on the sofa and pushing the people away that want nothing but the best for you. They have consequences and require accountability in order to heal. The friends that were silently wishing and waiting for you to break your sobriety loudly rejoice; the friends that were loudly cheering your sobriety on are silently nursing heartbreak and worry for whatever may be coming next. “Relapse” sounds like something only big scary hardcore addicts do, not you of course. You’re definitely not THAT bad. Right?
I quickly realised that my sobriety was different to the other Sober Babes. I tried my best to join in with the group and impart whatever wisdom I could through my experiences in that WhatsApp group, but I always felt like it fell on deaf ears. I received a super cute “Sober Girl Society” pin badge from one of them, and I tried to remind myself that it did feel nice to have sober femme friends I could message regularly. Right..?
I soon woke up to WhatsApp messages like “girls, I fucking relapsed”. My heart sank. Two of them had now relapsed and the third one was okay with not resetting their sobriety clock after a “slip” – so surely that meant I didn’t have anything in common with these 3 “sober” people anymore when it came to recovery? Turns out, I did.
I felt like I had failed my new sober friends. I sat with the discomfort and thought about why those relapses worried and upset me so much. I asked myself if it was something internal that was the cause, rather than external. Suddenly, I remembered:
I tried sobriety nearly 10 years ago.
How could I forget?! I know that generally my twenties were a blur of booze-soaked gigs, festivals, house parties, drunk sex, burnout, and sensory overload laced with heavy notes of anxiety and depression. I spent the majority of that decade either a drunk/hungover art school student living in appalling living conditions or sealing myself inside one toxic relationship to the next, in almost airtight transitions each time.
But how did I forget that I’d tried to live sober before 2017? The first time I stopped wasn’t 2017?
I thought a bit harder, and realised I’d played it down so much that it was so uneventful nobody paid any real attention to it, not even myself. I’d made it such a small feature of my life I threw it away at the first hurdle. It was so small at the time I didn’t even realise the weight of what throwing it away would mean. I had no idea I was even relapsing between then and when I got sober (again) in 2017. Technically, that relapse lasted 4 years and 3 months. I scoured the archives of my social media to find more clues…
August, 1st, 2013. 01/08/13.
My first sobriety date. A bit tidier with the numbers, and it means that I would have been celebrating 10 years sober this year instead of 6. Boo!
The more I searched my social media vault, the more memories kept flooding back…
I was 25 years old. I had moved into a cosy 1 bed flat with my boyfriend at the time. We had recently got a puppy together, we played videogames every night and went for walks in nature regularly. Sounds perfect, right? That’s what happens when you cherry pick a list of truths and omit the rest from the story…
I was a junior tattooer (barely into my second year of tattooing) and a baby bisexual feminist. I had chosen to date this guy quickly after escaping a psychological, verbal and emotionally abusive relationship that ended with a physical attack and becoming homeless overnight. I was comparing this new partner to probably the worst example of my relationship history, which made him seem like he was heaven sent compared to the hell I’d crawled out of. I’d not given myself any time to heal, get comfortable with being single, raise my standards and pick the bar up from the floor. My tattooing career had just started and I was financially vulnerable as well as mentally bruised. After the attack I spent Christmas living in someone else’s empty flat. I then spent the first few months of 2013 working hard to get (somewhat) financially stable again. I found a lovely rented room for myself in a lovely house in a quiet area of Cardiff. I could have kept going with that journey of recovering myself, but then I met him. He was tall, conventionally attractive and masculine looking. He loved anime, nerdy stuff, and Japanese culture even more than I did. I liked that he made me feel protected and safe, and in turn that made him feel more like a man. We moved in together after just a few months dating.
We smoked cannabis together almost every day. We drank most evenings and spent a fortune on snacks, takeaways (and loads of weed). He was obsessed with looking masculine and doing “manly” things – like cooking huge and heavily seasoned steaks and ham hocks for hours and eating nothing but meat all day. He refused to sleep in a bedding set if it had any type of floral pattern on it (despite sleeping next to a woman he had sex with). He would drink mead, toast like a Viking and buy expensive Scottish whiskey from Tesco to “honour his ancestors”. He lived his life with the fervent belief that “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from the original Mulan soundtrack was playing in the background on repeat. I thought it was all so cute and funny, until it wasn’t.
He was paid a modest set monthly salary by his father as part of his company (I assume for tax purposes) to create “the next big mobile game”. This involved lots of research into visuals, themes and game structure. This “research” looked suspiciously like spending most of the weekdays playing Xbox games, smoking weed, watching porn and drinking in his pants while I was tattooing overtime to make sure we could pay the rent, feed our dog and keep up our lifestyle. One day I got a text at work telling me that he had “found £60 in the house” and had spent it on weed, when we were late and short on rent. I tried to ignore their immature behaviour, problem drinking, and look on the bright side – always finding something to be grateful for instead of tell myself exactly how bad it really was.
He would always leave the same porn page open on my desktop computer. I would come home, fire up my Mac and find a tab open with the same Tumblr page: a seemingly endless supply of hundreds of hypnotic gifs of huge bouncing anime tits. Even though I agreed it wasn’t NOT hot, I started to doubt my body and tried to come up with solutions to how I could feel included (minus a boob job). He regularly stalked his ex-girlfriend that he had affectionately named “crazy bitch” on Facebook, I know this because he left that logged in and open on my computer too. She was tall, curvy and had a gorgeous smile (and rocking big boobs). We were out drinking one night and “crazy bitch” was there – it was her birthday, of course. I wonder why he wanted to go here so much, I thought to myself. I pleaded for us to get an early night and he eventually dragged his feet to the taxi rank with me. As soon as we sat down in the back of the cab, he swung the door open and literally RAN back to the club. I went home. He was returned to me 6 hours later blackout drunk, hand delivered by two of his very tired and apologetic friends. I broke up with him in the middle of the night when he was like that a few times, but he would have no memory of this when he woke up. I would furiously remind him, leave for work and he would always buy me a big bunch of flowers while I was working. I would immediately feel disarmed and quickly forgive him each time, filled with hope and pity. No real effort was made to change, and the pattern would repeat itself again and again.
I was a severely self-sacrificing people pleaser back then, and I internalised all of these problems. I tried to hide my seething resentments with toxic positivity and gratitude. I started filling gratitude journals, took up meditating and regularly swimming (my body was weak but maybe if I lost some weight, my boobs would look bigger?). I told myself I wasn’t good enough as a girlfriend and I needed to double down, try harder and be better. Speaking of double, I had an idea – he clearly wasn’t happy with just the one woman (me), so how about we try adding a second woman? I could find someone with huge tits, I bet THAT would make him happy! Mine have always been small (I love my cupcake tits) but if he had huge bouncing anime tits in real life, I would win the best girlfriend trophy for sure(!). I had an experience with a sex worker in my last relationship, and I thought it might be fun. I plucked up the courage to suggest maybe we could get an escort one day, and excitedly described some boob-optimal positions we could try with her. He physically shuddered and shut down the idea immediately. Instead of feeling excited that I was trying to realise some of his fantasies, he felt threatened and shamed by my show of sexual confidence (and knowledge of that Tumblr page). I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I was really excited to potentially sleep with a woman again. I was sick to my stomach of toxic masculinity, and felt starved of soft and sweet femme energy.
He felt emasculated by me and we both knew it, I realised I wanted to be with someone else, but we both didn’t have the energy to pull apart the life we shared and start fresh. I worked more and more on my budding tattooing career, trying to level up as fast as I could for the sake of our unpaid bills and my feelings of self worth.
“Compensatory Masculinity is the phenomenon when men exaggerate their masculinity if they feel that their masculinity is threatened.”
“Patriarchal societal norms have pressured men into fitting masculine ideals. When men don’t feel they fit the standard, they will overcompensate in their behaviour.”
This can look like: rejecting products that seem feminine, avoiding doing activities perceived as feminine, lying about their strength/virility to appear more masculine, and even eating more meat and rejecting a more caring existence through being environmentally conscious.”
“Men who receive a lower income than their female partner are less willing to participate in maintaining the household.”Impact & Environment.
I posted on Facebook 4th August 2013: “Woke up 4 days ago with a complete change of heart: alcohol free, drug free and vegetarian since 1st August. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but let’s try something new! Went out sober last night and had one of the best nights in Clwb Ifor Bach ever. Every food choice I now make is more positive and grateful for a perfect body and health.”
What I REALLY wanted to write on Facebook 4th August 2013: “Woke up 4 days ago with a complete change of heart: I’ve realised I’m not happy. I’m sick of eating meat, I’m sick of the flat smelling like meat, I don’t want to die of a heart attack. Our flat is infested with mould and I’ve been fighting severe bronchitis for nearly 3 months. I’m wasting my evenings and ruining my mould infested lungs smoking weed every day and I’ve realised I’m dating someone who blackout drinks just like my parents did. He’s clearly depressed and I have no idea how to deal with it, because I’ve tried to hide my own depression since I was diagnosed at 19. We’ve had to sleep in our living room for weeks because the cheap extension is damp and covered in mould. I desperately want to be healthier because I don’t know I am immune compromised and have multiple chronic illnesses yet. I am fed up of feeling so shit all the time and have no idea how to speak up for myself. I am in a constant state of sensory overload, AuDHD burnout, chronic fatigue and won’t find any of this out for another 6-8 years. I’ve decided to go alcohol free, drug free and vegetarian since 1st August. I don’t know how long it’ll last, because I have no idea how to set and hold boundaries yet and my self esteem is at rock bottom! I had the courage to go out sober last night and had one of the best nights in Clwb Ifor Bach ever. I wish I could do this every time I go out. I want every food choice I make to be more positive and I desperately want to feel better. I want to be with someone who thinks my body is hot and who doesn’t stalk their boobilicous ex. I desperately want to feel healthy because even though I’m only 25 I feel 65 and I have no idea why. I don’t want to be a people pleaser anymore; I want to start pleasing myself for a change.”
I remember that same month I had my 26th birthday party in Milgi bar in Cardiff (which my sister Esther now owns with her partner David, called Paradise Garden). I drank copious amount of mocktails and was so proud of myself that I was making a healthy change and sticking to it. Sober friendly spaces and tasty alcohol-free options weren’t as common 10 years ago as they are now. However, Paradise Garden remains the same sober friendly space I remember it to be, with plenty of AF drinks and low alcohol options. I remember really wanting to stay like this new version of myself forever, but I didn’t have any tools in place to maintain it.
Low vs. No: When it comes to the debate of low alcohol versus no alcohol: personally, I can’t go low. Why bother? I’m not quite drunk, not even tipsy. I would be breaking my sobriety in the most boring way possible! 97% sober isn’t sober (unfortunately). My boyfriend 10 years ago really wasn’t happy when I knocked our 100% monogamous relationship down to 98% in one night, but I couldn’t have protested “but honey, I’m still 98% faithful to ya! That 2% won’t affect our relationship, you gotta believe me!” What’s done is done.
Maybe it depends on where you’re coming from on the scale. For example, I would LOVE if more people who were drunk 97% of the time (like my mother was most of my life) could safely get themselves down to 3% drunk with the help of professionals. That would transform so many things – not just for the person, but for their families, friends, and the NHS. That would have been something I’d loved for my mum, but her disease was too far gone. Low alcohol options are great for people who drink regularly but want to make sure they don’t get drunk on certain nights (although there’s no guarantee, especially if there’s stronger stuff nearby). Once that “sober seal” is broken, you never know what might come flooding in. In Catherine Gray’s book Sunshine Warm Sober, she lists the evidence surrounding alcohol’s true impact on the NHS and being even more carcinogenic than cigarettes. The true “safe” alcohol amount you could consume being just a small glass of red wine each year. When it comes to me and alcohol, I
don’t can’t mess with it anymore because I really know how much it can fuck people up.
I am ashamed to write this out loud, that my mother hit me right up until I was 28 years old. It would be over something small or for no reason at all, whilst she was more drunk than usual, and I hadn’t been keeping close enough attention to her mood and visual/auditory hallucinations whilst I was visiting her. I suspected she was Schizophrenic most of my life, but she wasn’t formally identified until a few days before her death. I wrote more about this in my last blog post: Don’t Tell Anyone.
She would usually whack me in the side of my face whilst I was wearing glasses and sitting down. It would always stun me and really hurt (it’s not just physical pain, either). I have a ridge on the left side of my nose bone where it fractured slightly and didn’t heal quite right, but you can’t really tell unless you smooth your fingers over it. I like to think of myself as a strong woman, not someone who was beaten and bullied by their own mother until I was in my thirties. I still fucking love and miss her though. That’s complex grief and abuse for you!
During summer 2013, just before I got sober, my mother attacked me (I can’t remember why) and I hid in her bathroom whilst I called the police as it was the only door I could lock from the inside. This was exactly what I did when my ex attacked me at the end of 2011. He came home late and very drunk, and when I voiced my frustration he tried to choke me out in a reverse headlock type thing, lifting me off the ground and throwing me onto the hardwood floor when his arms got tired. After hiding in the bathroom and calling the police, I ran out in the street screaming for help. I frantically knocked on as many doors as I could, begging for someone to please let me in. Not one single person came to help, except for two male police officers a little while later (those people that heard me must have been terrified). Both officers shut me in our bedroom alone while they joked and laughed along with my ex in the next room about the lies he was telling them. Meanwhile, I was screaming crying and destroying that room like a stressed-out rescue Husky. They came in to find me shaking and sobbing on the floor, frantically trying to show them my bruises and swollen parts from the impact, along with his MMA hand wraps and boxing pads (I was trying to prove he knew what he was doing, and that he really did do what he did to me). They both explained that he wasn’t going to press charges (he told them I attacked him) and that I shouldn’t press charges either. I’ll never forget what one of them said next, in the thickest Welsh accent: “face it love, it’s Christmas – you’ll be back with him by Boxing Day.” Boxing Day. Such an unfortunate thing to hear on that particular December 23rd.
I never did get back with him. He’s married with children now, to a woman who reached out to me in a Facebook message 10 years ago with the words: “you were right about him”. I refused to get involved, it wasn’t my job to save her. Why did it have to be me? There are incredible charities that can help, like Refuge and Women’s Aid.
Back then, I didn’t know that the abuse from my parents would cause me to relive the same scenes over and over. When I was waiting for the police in my mother’s bathroom, I realised that I’d been in this situation a hundred times before. The police officers arrived. They finally subdued and carried my screaming mother down the stairs from her flat and into the police van. My boyfriend happened to be there at the time, who watched her go into the van at the bottom of the stairs. I must have called him as well as the police. I explained at the police station that this has happened before and it’s nothing new, but I am ashamed to still be involved in stuff like this with my own mother in my mid-twenties. The kindly police officer who took my statement that day told me that I should press charges this time “not just for today, but for all the other days in your life that you couldn’t. She needs to know that how she’s treated you is very wrong”. My mother was given her first formal warning from the police, and I was given vindication from the whole ordeal. The last time she ever hit me was 3 years later, when I hit her back for the first time as a fully grown adult. She promised me she’d never hit me again, and I did too. We both kept our word on that, for 7 years until the end.
Phew. I’ve never published these events before. I have so many more lived experiences that have been pushed down and locked away for years, soaked in my bones and scrawled in notebooks. No wonder I wanted to fuck myself up!
The day after I fled my home after the police told me I’d be back with him by Boxing Day was 24th December. I had eluded on Facebook that some shit had gone down and that I needed somewhere to live for a bit, and someone I knew reached out and said “spend the evening here La, we’re all having a white Christmas”. I genuinely thought that meant that they were having a snowy themed Christmas movie marathon, and not that they were just sitting around drinking and doing cocaine.
So yeah, there I was: a homeless refugee of domestic violence, drunk and trying cocaine for the first time on Christmas Eve.
In the same way I ended up in someone’s house drunk and trying coke during one of the most vulnerable points of my life, I ended up breaking my first sober streak of just over 4 months with a “wine tasting party” of all things. Turns out that wine tasting was just wine drinking. Oops! Who knew? While everyone else was getting subtle hints of floral and fruit notes with oak tannins, I was getting wasted. “White Christmas” and “Wine Tasting” sound so harmless, don’t they?! I woke up hungover and full of regret. But it was fun, right?
I wish I’d been stronger in telling them I wasn’t drinking, and yes that included wine tasting. I shouldn’t have been spending so much time in a bar whilst I was in the first few months of sobriety. I wish I’d surrounded myself with friends who wanted me to stay sober because that’s what was best for me, and not wanted me to get drunk for their own entertainment and excitement.
I felt like a shiny new toy at that bar. Everyone wanted to talk to me, and I felt like lots of people were flirting with me (they probably just wanted free tattoos!). I felt eyes on me and it was really exciting. There were lots of older people that frequented that bar that I considered successful, attractive and funny. Their confidence was intoxicating. I started making more of an effort with my appearance and kept going back. Then came the parties. The lock-ins, the straight from work drinks, afterparties in Cardiff town, hot tub parties. I even had a cocktail named after me. Looking back now it was literally just a Cosmopolitan named a “Latini” (which I now make a delicious AF version of if I’m feeling fancy). By then I had emotionally checked out of my relationship with my “manly” boyfriend, and it was really starting to show. I started having feelings for a few people at once, which was made worse by regular drinking and flirting. I had no idea what was happening, but it felt good at the time. Fast forward to a party that I had brought my boyfriend too, and I felt a hand on my thigh. It wasn’t his, but the partner of someone else. I was so fucked up on MDMA, coke and booze I thought it would be a brilliant idea to kiss her immediately (so THIS is how I can finally get that threesome! I cheered) and time just seemed to… Stop. In that timeless, drug induced blur, I thought was something awesome was happening. Turns out, my boyfriend had walked off and was getting a cab home outside. He was as drunk and high as I was, so what was the problem? Before I could figure out why, I felt a hand grabbing the back of my head that wasn’t hers; it was her partner. Oops. Let’s cool this down and fast forward to the next morning – I shuffled back to the flat feeling horrendous with no idea how I was going to explain or ask about what happened. I told him everything, because unlike his late night blackout escapades, I could remember most of last night. I told him everything as accurately and as calmly as I could before asking “where did you go?” I thought maybe he was watching the 3 of us at some point, or at least doing something with someone else that I hadn’t noticed. Turns out, he went home. It was the first time I’d stayed out later than him on one of our nights out, and it was to have a threesome which I’d hoped would improve our relationship, but without him in it. Oops! I really fucked up. I was relapsing hard. But it was fun, right?!
Our breakup was nasty. That same day, my (now ex) boyfriend posted on Facebook (using my computer that he watched porn and stalked his ex-girlfriend on) about how much of a “slut” and a “whore” I was. “Snake with tits” was mentioned somewhere, and I genuinely felt giddy that he’d given my tits such pride of place in a description of me! He called up all his friends to sit in the flat and stare me down whenever I tried to go in. I couldn’t enter my home and eat or sleep there and was being treated like someone who was a threat to others. He moved out because I asked: his friends were stressing me out, the flat was in my name, and he owed me a few hundred or so for rent and bills. He took our dog, but not before saying I could never see him ever again (I never did). He took all the gifts he had given me during our relationship, along with all the ones I had given him. He flat out refused to pay back the money he owned me. Fortunately, he’d left his cards saved on my computer. I worked out how much money he owed me and made sure to order as close as I could to that exact amount (minus a few quid) and treated myself some new clothes from Disturbia.
In the months after we broke up, he accused me of having an affair with someone called Ian, and even to this day I have never fucked someone with that name. I barely had enough time and energy to get my tattoo designs drawn on time or hang out with my own friends during our relationship, let alone engage in a physical relationship with someone else. A fucked-up threesome on a weekend fuelled by months of resentments though? No problem!
I felt disgusting and so very ashamed. I deserved to feel as horrible as I did. I didn’t want to talk about the breakup with anyone. My drinking got heavier and started taking drugs more often and working less. I still wasn’t speaking to my mum after pressing charges with the police. It became harder and harder to pay for the flat by myself and moved out to live somewhere smaller and closer to work. It’s taken over 10 years to process and speak out about what happened. I wish I’d had the strength to leave him completely when I had broken up with him those times before and saved us both the misery and grief of letting it rot to pieces. Maybe my trauma was an explanation, but it wasn’t an excuse.
I changed the narrative from “sober” to “detox”. I told myself and others that I just took a break from alcohol for my health. I never said relapse. I got really into fitness and started doing the Insanity Workout at home most days. I wanted to look more health conscious to hide how much of a mess I was on the inside.
I was regrettably used, abused and confused by many people during that relapse. I stopped being the shiny new toy. I don’t hang out with anyone I used to hang out with back then. I made bad choices in business, love, and friendships. I was taken advantage of financially, my email and website accounts were broken into online by someone I trusted and considered a friend, who also broke into my home and damaged my property. I had nudes leaked without my consent and revenge porn made of me that I wasn’t aware of. I was sexually assaulted and raped on more than one occasion, both by strangers in public and people I considered close friends.
Even if I hadn’t relapsed and stayed sober, some things still wouldn’t have changed. I would have broken up with my boyfriend sooner rather than later, but maybe it could have been more respectful and compassionate for the both of us. He stayed exactly the same whilst I was sober for those 4 months, and he didn’t exactly support my sobriety. He didn’t want to stop blackout drinking and smoking weed and I couldn’t date someone like that anymore. He would have kept playing video games instead of working and tidying the flat while I was tattooing, and why should he have to change that? He liked that I was making money, just not in a creative job which was doing better than his was. Maybe I would have spoken up about how I felt about the excessive porn and his ex-girlfriend, or maybe I just would have just left and left it unsaid (until 10 years later, in my confessional writing!). He also didn’t want to ever get married and I (secretly) did. I probably would have still explored my sexuality and tastes in people in a similar way, because after all, isn’t that what your twenties are for?!
That first relapse was filled with lots of self-serving, reckless behaviour and chaotic life choices. It was also filled with lots of selfless kindness, moderation, self-care and balanced choices too. I spent 14 months of my relapse living alone in Cheltenham and cycling around the Cotswolds, for fuck’s sake. I loved waking up early to hike up to the Devil’s Chimney on Leckhampton Hill to watch the sun rise, and I did it sober/not hungover every time. Maybe I needed those 4 years to figure out what works and what doesn’t. To learn about my brain and how the things that have happened to me in the past affect how I respond and react in the present. Explore how I relate to people and the ways that they trigger me. Take time to be single and live independently. To spend time successfully moderating my alcohol and drug use, to see how much I craved more. To spend time unsuccessfully moderating my alcohol and drug use, to see how little control I actually had once I started. Explore my sexuality, to figure out what kind of relationship I wanted moving forward. Spoiler alert: gender is completely irrelevant! Being seduced and later rejected by a beautiful blond woman hurts so much more(!) and that soft and sweet femme energy can still laugh at how your body looks and make you feel shit about yourself. A great set of tits is fun, but it doesn’t make being cheated on and ghosted by that woman any easier! Humans are humans, and they can be mean (myself included). Maybe I just missed my mum, and craved a consistently kind, compassionate and loving mother: full of soft and sweet, caring parental energy. That wasn’t an invitation for someone to mother me by the way. Autistic people struggle with infantilisation from others enough as it is, and I’ve collected more parental figures than rocks on the beach.
I’ve made some pretty shitty choices in sobriety too. I was with someone for 3 months in early sobriety: I’d had a crush on him for years on and off during my relapse. We’d spent so much time as close friends and co-workers, and back then I felt like he knew me better than anyone else. We fought a lot during my relapse. I met up for dinner with him to start making amends. He gave me his ex-fiancée’s custom engagement ring before we slept together, and I honestly thought it was the most romantic thing ever. I thought it meant that he proposed to the wrong person?! His friends noticed I was proudly (stupidly) wearing her undead engagement ring on the middle finger of my right hand and must have said something. He asked for it back a few weeks later explaining “it was never yours to wear”. I realised I’d made a huge mistake. He drank the same as I remembered. He constantly reminisced about his exes and complained about women he’d previously slept with that were annoying or ignoring him. I realised that he hadn’t changed as much as I’d hoped, and I had changed too much. A text he was sending his ex-girlfriend accidentally went to me one day, and I was done. After I finally dumped him, he slept with almost everyone he complained about to me when we were dating and later married one of them. I should have just sold the ring; I really needed the money at the time. Serves me right for trying to make amends too early in sobriety when I was horny!
I’m writing these things for you as a collection of cautionary tales, ones I wish I’d read when I knew far less than what I do now. It’s also a collection of celebratory tales: anecdotes of victory over violence and misogyny, along with some wisdom of long-term teetotalism. It does get better, I promise. It’ll be worth it – “nothing worth doing in life is easy” and all that. It’ll be awkward and embarrassing and humbling and horrifying, and most importantly it’ll be human.
- Here’s a small list(!) of the things I’ve achieved in sobriety:
- Modelled for a photoshoot that got me on the front cover of a tattoo magazine (even though the photographer was doing Jägerbombs at 9am)
- Learnt about boundaries and how to set them
- 7 sober birthdays and 7 sober Christmases
- Modelled both nude and clothed for life and portrait drawing/painting
- Been published in tattoo/art magazines online and offline, and in galleries and exhibitions
- Found out that I am AuDHD/Neurodivergent and discovered that I have multiple conditions and disabilities
- Became a podcaster and public speaker
- Realised that I am someone living with childhood and adult complex PTSD
- Survived losing ALL of my old friends that didn’t like how much I’d changed
- Thrived after getting kicked out of a drug and alcohol heavy studio for getting sober
- Identified as a survivor and started speaking out about the abuse I’ve endured
- Committed to over 4 years of consistent therapy with a brilliant CBT/ND/Trauma counsellor
- Built and opened 4 tattoo studios
- 2 years of regular Osteopathy and medical Acupuncture at an amazing Osteopathic clinic
- Ate apples backstage at music gigs and drank cranberry juice at theatre afterparties
- Danced on tables and been the first (and last) one the dance floor
- Thrived after being evicted when my dear friend and business partner relapsed
- Read hundreds of self-improvement and self-development books
- Furthered my ongoing education as an intersectional feminist and anti-racist
- Bought hundreds of plant babies (and didn’t kill most of them)
- Adopted my cat Sid (who later became my emotional support animal)
- Woke up at 4am most mornings for 6 months to train my body for major knee surgery
- Became a deadlifter and smashed a personal best of 80kg
- Underwent a knee reconstruction after breaking it hungover and exhausted during a skiing holiday
- Recovered from major surgery whilst living on my own with hardly any assistance
- Escaped a “manipulationship” with someone from my drinking days who was married
- Hiked up 2 different mountains just 3 months post knee surgery
- Got back into deadlifting and smashed a new personal best of 88kg
- Got into kickboxing to release years of built-up stress
- Underwent an endoscopy alone when my best friends “forgot” the hospital location they were driving me to and stayed home
- Survived a cancer scare and got diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
- Carried a washing machine up 2 flights of stairs and plumbed it in by myself when I couldn’t get help
- Survived a global pandemic without drinking
- Launched an art subscription service from my sofa in lockdown to pay the bills
- Hosted my first booth at a convention: the South Wales Comi-Con
- Became a runner 2 years post knee surgery
- Launched an online merch store with hundreds of items
- Became a confessional blog writer then a successful freelance writer
- Embarked on my dream of having Invisalign braces
- Got through multiple sober dates
- Survived being cheated on lied to by someone who claimed to be single (and sober)
- Embarked on months of investigative meditation with my therapist to discover repressed memories of abuse I’d survived as a child
- Spent 7 months celery/juice cleansing to help my health and chronic conditions
- Thrived after 2 relationship breakups and 2 “situationship” breakups
- Got clear about what I was looking for in a partner
- Raised my standards for my relationships and friendships
- Became a wild swimmer and cold water dipper
- Survived multiple breakdowns
- Became comfortable with being a disabled, neurodivergent person with new limits and strengths
- Met someone wonderful who is sober, AuDHD and a tattooer like me and we got engaged
- Reconnected with my mother in her final days and survived her funeral without drinking
- Became a successful business partner and studio owner with my fiancé
- Created a fundraiser for the hospital ward that took care of my mother in her final days
- Hired one of my best friends as my apprentice and studio manager
- Finished writing this fucking blog post after starting it in 2020!
- Smashed the stereotype that sobriety is boring!
I had ALMOST forgotten what a hangover felt like until last month. After losing nearly a stone in 5 days due to chronic illness, I finally recovered thanks to strong anti-sickness meds from my GP and lots of rehydration packets! Safe to say, I don’t miss that feeling of being sick and dehydrated and my body feeling “wrong” after a night of drinking and “having fun”. Fun shouldn’t have to have an expiry date or be replaced with gross and guilty feelings. Alcohol drags people into emotional debt: drinking to feel better, feeling bad from drinking, drinking to feel better again etc… I drank to “take the pressure off” from my high stress job as an AuDHD self-employed tattoo artist and also to “take the edge off” my chronic illness symptoms and chronic pain from Fibromyalgia, Hypermobility, Scoliosis and other conditions. I didn’t really have any reason to stop, and no one else considered me to be a “problem drinker”. I knew full well what drinking problems looked like, and didn’t want to go there. I was just sick and tired of being more sick and tired than I needed to be!
I wanted to quit when it was MY choice to do so, not at the request of anyone else. Identifying as a sober person alongside stopping drinking in 2017 was the first (second?) step of many, and I’m so glad I took it (and kept going this time).
I am so grateful for the thousands of hours of self-care, fun, therapy, rest, and creative work I’ve been able to do instead (like writing this blog for you to read, thanks for making it to the end!).
5.5 years sober today. Sobriety has given me everything that alcohol promised me.
I drank for solutions and ended up with more problems. I drank to relieve pain and it made me ache. I drank for sophistication and became obnoxious. I drank to relieve stress and became panicked. I drank to make conversations easier and slurred my speech. I drank for fun and injured myself. I drank to relieve depression and sank even deeper. I drank for confidence and became doubtful. I drank for an easy time and became anxious. I drank for sociability and became argumentative. I drank to feel cool and became cruel. I drank for courage and became afraid. I drank to feel sexy and it made me easy prey. I drank for friendship and made enemies. I drank to calm my nerves and got the shakes. I drank to feel smooth and became rough. I drank for sleep and woke up tired. I drank for joy and became miserable. I drank for strength and felt weak. I drank for happiness and became unhappy.
I don’t regret a single hangover I’ve missed.