It’s dusk and I am standing at the edge of a beautiful tarn, behind me rolling hills in front of me expansive forest. I am in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, in one of my most favourite places in the world, standing with one of my best friends, ponies grazing nearby, trees surrounding us, the evening bird song becoming louder, the tall trees of the pine forest reflecting perfectly in the clear, still water of the tarn. I am looking out across the water and am surprised when I realise that far from the still, calm, peace I was expecting to feel, all I feel is nauseous uncomfortable and deeply sad.
I used to think I was incredibly in tune with my emotions until a therapist and then a friend asked me how I was feeling and pushed me to answer in detail. Nothing came, I had no idea how to put into words how I was feeling or even to begin to decode my emotions. I discover later that one of the side effects of addiction is that our emotions have been so warped and suppressed with the substance, that we are left with an inability to express or even understand how we’re feeling. So when my friend asks me that evening how I am feeling, at first I struggle, squirming as usual but then something gives; I give in, let go and suddenly find myself crying desperate sobbing tears. Then a stream of words pour out. I am bereft, distraught, grief stricken and full of gut wrenching sadness. The tears have no name, no known root but they transport me to a different place. As the tears subside I am left lighter, more connected and still. In the stillness and without distractions, I had begun excavating deeply repressed layers of emotion and as i opened my raw grief out to the open air for the first time, I let out tears like a pressure valve, like the gaseous release of disturbed soil after many years of compression.
‘Addicts’ emotional responses have been warped and suppressed by substances and it is importance for us to regain an understanding of our state of mind and what those feelings made us do.’ – Amy Liptrot, The Outrun
Two days of total immersion into simplicity and I was finally allowing myself to process and it felt as though I were batch processing every emotion I had ever suppressed to date. Though this is not the first time this has happened (many, many yoga classes, meditation sessions and Yoga Nidras have ended in tears), this time took me by surprise. So confusing to be so distraught in such a beautiful place.
"Nobody tells you that quitting is the easy part!"
Like almost all of us, my life is absolutely packed to the brim. I wake up and immediately the jobs begin; emails to be replied to, places to go, work to be done; promoting, planning, teaching, writing, admin, practicing for shows, playing shows, hosting events, social media, socialising, eating, cooking, cleaning, trying to hold down a relationship, trying to pay the bills, trying to get outside as much as possible. Life is fuelled by coffee and adrenaline, to do lists and inboxes. I spend half of the month planning to take over the world and half the month trying to run away from life. There are brief moments of respite – savasana, meditation, reading, sleeping – but really, when am I processing? What did I expect?
Distracting ourselves with busyness is an incredibly difficult habit to let go of and one that will ALWAYS catch up with us. Every single time. I keep having to relearn this over and over and over. Tiny pockets of rest between mountainous lists of jobs is not enough. Meditating and then cleaning your teeth whilst making a coffee and checking emails at the same time is not enough. We need to let ourselves feel, we need to let our emotions in, even when it’s not convenient, so that they can make their way out again. Emotions don’t go away and no amount of suppression will ever work, they just build under the surface, building in pressure until eventually something will give and it will explosively release at a much more inconvenient time than right now. Like at a wedding where you’re expected to talk to your partner’s boss and dance and behave like a normal human being...
Parties will always be hard for an addict. How much easier to get through a night with the sharp edges slightly dulled, how easy to give in to total escapism. So close yet so far. We arrive at the reception and I head to the bar to get a coffee, my one remaining way of staying sane in difficult social situations. When the bar tender tells me the machine is off, I try to act like that’s ok but inside I am entering into panic. I am tired after a whole day of socialising and I just wanted something to get me through. I fill up my water bottle and head outside. Immediately everyone I meet is asking questions about my water; ‘Have you never drunk or did you quit?’ ‘Do you not like alcohol?’ ‘Did you have a problem?’. I am usually totally fine with the questions but tonight, fragile, anxious, tired and feeling completely unable to socialise, I am thrown. I make my excuses and head to the bar, where I plead for the coffee machine to be turned on and finally get my fix. As I head outside with my coffee I expect things to improve but instead, I freeze. I start to feel as though I might internally combust. I can’t move or talk or explain anything, all I can do is look at the sky and grip onto my coffee cup. I spend the rest of the night desperately avoiding eye contact, trying to remember constellations and find the North Star.
I have been sober for 5 years and I have been to countless parties without any trouble since then so I wasn’t expecting this side swipe but this is what happens when we don’t process and when we can’t express. Nobody tells you that quitting is the easy part! Nobody tells you that sometimes it can take 5 years or more before you begin to feel the emotions and remember the things that caused you to become an addict in the first place.
‘My body detoxified and recovered a long time ago now but the emotional side – the obsession – is still there.’ – Amy Liptrot, The Outrun
The final straw was a book. A friend bought me a book a while back about a woman who had a rural upbringing but moved to London and the descent of her life as she became an alcoholic. I picked it up not expecting where it would take me. The following three nights in a row I was left in sobs of tears and I even considered not finishing it. It was too close to the bone and forced me to confront repressed memories of quite how bad things got back then. I quit drinking without any outside help; I just went cold turkey and used my stubborn nature to my advantage. I am my father’s daughter. over 30 years ago he checked himself into a centre midway through a bender and never looked back. Without any formal structure to follow, I didn’t acknowledge how I had ended up here or how I was feeling, I just knew that I needed to stop and that was all that mattered and since then I have replaced drinking with incessant busyness and coffee.
I have begun to see now that quitting drinking was just the first step; just not drinking is not enough in the long term. I needed to actively admit that things were bad. So I sat down and cried and talked it all out to my ever-patient boy. I was sick and I realise now that I have been carrying around so much guilt and so much shame, instead of allowing myself to be incredibly proud of where I am today and who I have become. I have always been happy to tell the rock and roll stories of touring, 2 day long raves, Hells Angels and dancing on tables but less willing to share the starker, darker stories. Less willing to share the dank, depressing truth of what it really is to be an alcoholic and what that looks like in the cold, harsh light of day. So I start here, I tell him stories of not caring how I would get home because I always ended up somewhere (and it didn’t matter where) or when I crawled around on the floor in the street trying to make up 99p to buy White Ace cider to drink alone in my tiny bedsit or when I ended up crying and shouting outside a newsagents at 11am after drunkenly dropping and smashing the bottle of white wine I bought with my last £5 to drink alone at home or how I ended up nearly dying by cycling drunk and crashing or falling asleep in the street on more occasions than I like to remember.