I could barely run to the end of the road! I have never been a runner…in fact at school I was so slow that on sports day at primary school I had to sub for someone else at the very last minute and I came in a good lap behind everyone else ( all the parents clapped me on in some kind of enthusiastic but patronising way as I came panting across the finish line!) I never again wanted to repeat that humiliating experience! I can barely remember why I decided to go and run again …I think it must have released some kind of tension in me…. And so I kept going out. The time of year was very cold and not at all conducive to outdoor sport but somehow this felt even more satisfying. I live at the top of a steep hill and not far from the Ipswich waterfront. So I set myself the challenge of being able to run to the beginning of the waterfront. At the time, it seemed an extremely unlikely goal. So I was amazed when I was able to do it! All the way, without stopping! I kept on running in this way …just extending the goals, very gradually It was like a game…. And it felt very much like it was mirroring my sober journey. I kept seeing the improvements and could feel the sense of achievement. I would imagine all my emotions running out of my body and eventually I would slow down. Then I would start up again. My head would feel so much lighter. My brain felt back on track and I could face my life again. So on repeat- I would manage a few sober days but I would feel awful. I’d go out running and return with a renewed sense of vitality and hope. In comparison my struggles to remain sober and deal with my swirling emotions was immense. I remember writing in an email to belle just how relieved I felt to be enjoying something when everything else in my life felt like hard work and I had no means of releasing my emotions. It was around this time, a few days after Christmas, that I had my third from the last dive into the abyss of booze….I started drinking during the afternoon whilst in the kitchen cooking. I remember feeling angry about something or another. I was feeling abandoned because the usual daily replies to emails had been sporadic ( I realised with horror that I was beginning to depend on the support and to me, that felt even worse than being addicted to alcohol). I couldn’t see any other solution other than to drink. So drink I did…..I remember the initial sense of relief and exhilaration and rebellion. This was soon replaced by tears and frustration and confusion. Why had I done this to myself yet again? I was hopeless

Useless and pathetic. I have little memory of how this ended other than in the familiar gap in memory and time. I had binged on a combination of Baileys and whisky and ginger wine….It was revolting; a complete letdown and so disappointing. I had spent the entire Christmas period pining after some kind of romantic experience, and just feeling deprived and very sorry for myself. I had to accept that the reality of my drinking was ( in belles very apt words ) a complete “shit show”. The comedown afterwards was completely humiliating. I was consumed by shame and aware of a shroud of despair and darkness over my soul. Combined with the shame of missing my regular emails and hatred for allowing myself to become needy and dependent on someone who I hardly knew and was just paying for support. I had always observed people who needed someone and ended up in bits when they were let down. I had internalised this mantra of never ever allowing myself to get attached to anyone because I knew they would ultimately hurt me and let me down. Even in my marriage I always kept my husband at arm's length (metaphorically speaking- never displaying my vulnerability or showing him that I needed him) How had I allowed this to happen? I was in a dark pit of despair as I wrestled with the need to get sober but knowing that somehow I needed help to do this. Maybe because nothing else had worked, I felt trapped in the only support that had. I must be clear here that all of these feelings and fears were not a result of the actions of my pen pal. She remained and has remained very professional and steady. Her ‘boundaries’ are very solid and at no point did she take advantage of my vulnerability and sense of need. I continued to wrestle with these issues throughout my time as a pen pal with Belle. I was continually ashamed of the depth of my need for reassurance. Not only in my sober journey but also in my need for reassurance as a human. The only consolation I had was that I had observed this happening to many of my own clients (I worked and still do, as a counsellor). I knew it had something to do with attachment but to actually experience this for myself and feel the vulnerability of it was completely new and very humbling. As an aside, I am now more aware of this happening with people whom I work with and have so much more respect and compassion for them.

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