07 March 2019: I retreated slightly sideways up the stairs, reciting “for whom the bell tolls” in my head. I was proving to myself that I was still present, somehow, and therefore, would not tempt fate nor circumstance by questioning whether it would toll for me come sunrise. My life paralleled this beautiful, yet haunting litirical work of art; death and suicide, as an alternative to suffering dry fire, were my primary theme. I was on a mission, climbing a vertical edge, anchored by a death triangle of my own illogical threading, no longer afraid of exposure. My comrade in arms was no longer diamox, but alcohol. I became willing to sacrifice my life, almost glad of it, in order to restore peace, a sight of serenity, and a sense of solace to my few remaining fellows, although sworn not to be by my hand alone. I had already become fully captured, and subsequently continuously tortured, to which there seemed no end.
08 March, 2019: Divine intervention.
We all hear a bell ringing somewhere from time to time. The tolling of a single bell is different; it is rung slowly and continually, an announcement of mourning for the recently dead. On the morning of eighth March 2019, a bell tolled for me. The me who used alcohol to numb the sting of death as it took my only son. The me who forgot the feeling of incredible awe and accomplishment of ascending mountains, the me who lived for the exhilaration of free-fall, diving out of perfectly good aeroplanes, the gentle me who embraced the silence and peace of walking barefoot along beaches, and most importantly, the me who turned my face from my Creator. The me who forgot all such joy existed. It is the irony of life that this chapter begins and ends with a bell, just of a different kind.
There is no other explanation sufficient. I awoke on that morning with something changed in my soul. There were no loud declarations, no exclamations of bravado, no one day at a time which, in my mind, equated to semi-commitment. Instead, there was no conscious commitment, but rather a stillness, a quiet acceptance of finality. I caught my eyes in the mirror, they spoke what my lost voice could not utter- I am finished.
During my years of higher education, I learned the science of habit formation. The continuation of behaviour that sustains a habit will only reinforce it, this is fact. Therefore, the barrier must be removed in order for change to occur. Removing the medium feeding the habit that carves its virulent path through the brain is the only option. I had no desire to become a statistical rat of the many theories that have been and are still currently sold to desperate individuals in this quick fix society we live in. Theories are ideas of great minds; however they are also the ideas of dreamers and schemers. I resolved to not line the pockets of those selling packaged unicorn tears sobriety in the name of science. The bottom of a test tube looks the same as the bottom of a bottle to me; and, in my opinion, sooner or later, those unicorn tears will indeed magically transform into real ones. Although this is not the path I chose to tread, I have listened to and have read success stories of those who have. We are all uniquely different, therefore, what suits one may not necessarily accommodate the needs of another. We all must find solutions of which to equip ourselves with for all aspects of life, not just for living alcohol free. If you have found your right path through your journey, you are well blessed. Bottoms up, quids in. Just sayin’. I was born an original, I will not die a copy. There is no room for moderation within me.
There also exists a programme that has helped and continues to help countless others in their efforts to live a sustainable, alcohol free life. If this is your chosen and right path, you are also well blessed, and I pray you continue to trudge down your road to your happy destiny, and having the fulfilled promise of no longer having to search for your lost shaker of salt. However, it was not meant for me.
I was not broken. Therefore, climbing stairs to remove and fix supposed defective parts of me was never going to lead me to an alcohol free life by the time I arrived at the top. I believe human beings eventually become what they speak. Just for a moment, I imagined myself walking up to a stranger, sweaty and trembling hand outstretched, and introducing myself: “Hi there, I’m Heather and I’m a victim”. Sooner or later, I would start to believe that I am a victim and I would walk through the rest of my life in the belief that I am a victim and always will be. No change to be seen. I did try the programme for a short time, between the period of two and four months living alcohol free. I found it to be a gloomy playground of sickly sheep pedalling an overpriced blue book and overbearing men invading my personal space. The same faces crying out the same woes week after week, the war raging within evident by broken and bleeding fingernails, no solutions nor joy forthcoming. I recognised quite early on in this short term relationship that misery loves company, and we parted ways in a less than amicable way, the shouts that this path was the only way to ascend to freedom echoed in my mind. As an aside, my life manual is black, not blue, thousands of years old. I often ponder on how different the world might be today if the black book was memorised and highlighted to the degree of the blue, given its base instructions are a direct derivative. Just sayin’. I am not broken. I am not a victim.
Mankind is known to be its own worst enemy. We all have an inner-dialogue, whether we’re aware of it or not. This fact was amongst the many I took for granted as I began my quest to be alcohol free. I was on auto-pilot long enough that my sensible voice of reasoning was all but a tiny whisper. The war within my mind was growing ever increasingly louder; I needed living, real life examples of how this newfound alcohol free life worked. I needed to know if there was anyone else who felt, thought and behaved in the manner I did before toying with the notion that I was indeed certifiable (again). On the tenth of March, I began searching for answers outside of myself, having done all things through Him that strengthened me. Where else, but online? There, I happened on a book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, written by Catherine Gray. The title caught my eye first – I realised no unexpected joy had been forthcoming in my hazy and bitter self-built world, and I missed my daily moments of unexpected joy I had experienced before my self-quarantine. I read the synopsis but in all honesty, I purchased the book for the simple fact I really liked the cover. Some of her story resonated with me; I did once wake up in a small town in another country, having no recollection of how I arrived there, and yes, the coat and hat walk; however, the bulk of it did not. No one except my immediate people knew anything was amiss, and in all fairness, were awaiting the final drink that would end their suffering. The blaze of glory ending that had once encompassed my life, recognised by those few I held close, including myself; was no longer entirely promising at all. Indeed, the entire ethos of “we are all brothers and sisters in humanity and what harm comes to one person trickles down to all others”, applies to every single one of us. Purposefully, I did not over drink in pubs nor festivals, musical concerts or operas. My charismatic personality was still in place, both in public and, sadly, in private. I became frustrated, searching for answers quicker than I could read. I picked the book up and opened it to a random page. There, at the top of page 81, printed in italics were the exact words I had spoken to myself for far too long. I was tired of thinking about drinking.
Human beings have an intuitive sense of themselves. We have the ability to recognise what drives us, what lends us courage, and each of us will push through varying degrees of adversity in order to achieve our aspirations. I know myself very well. I am armed with my inner knowledge that in order to make any permanent change in my life, I must take the most challenging path. Although I was offered a far less effortless avenue, again, it was not meant for me. I had already become aware within the first few days of my quest that my objective would be amongst the hardest tasks I’d have to perform thus far in my life. It was not my strength that carried me, nor my willpower, nor my determination. It was purely and unequivocally Grace. There is glory in suffering: Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
THIS. I sat staring at the first sentence. There was one other person somewhere, somehow, out in the vast space of the ethereal world wide web who not only thought, but gave voice to the very same sentence that had been swirling in my mind for what seemed to me an eternity. Enter stage left: Belle Robertson.
I read the opening sentences on her website. I was struck by one in particular: You are not alone, I’m here. She did not offer a wondrous cure-all-ailments tonic branded in the “it’s good for you” category, she did not offer encouragement, shouting my most dreaded phrase “you got this!”, she did not proclaim to have all the answers to the questions terrorising my mind, nor was she selling quick U-turn permits to this headwall I had encountered. What she did offer was a glimpse of an exit, a tiny ray of understanding; a beacon of hope shining through my darkness to greet me at the place where I stood, in that very moment. I recall being bemused by her name, it was quite ironic, this belle tolling for me. Not in mourning; rather, tolling for the possibility of a new and improved, ever-evolving model of myself.
Belle re-introduced practicality where it had ceased to exist. Her emails and audios confirmed that I did indeed have a war raging within, suggesting ideas to silence that voice without using alcohol, ideas I should have in so many ways forethought. I continued to read her emails and listen to her audios and my most favourite, live radio, especially when I had no desire to. I continued to steer my sober car in the right direction, its tank filled with Green E15, albeit, at times I wanted to drive it over her. In between prayer, yoga, climbing mountains once again, and finally completing my deferred MA, I made pledges and clicked links, posted and liked on blogs and Medium, procured paintings, and a most poignant rock. I rediscovered my voice, recovered my joy, re-honed my muscles, and most exigently, my Faith.
For me, the hand of God had swept me up and led me, protecting me, like belle’s little chick. The uncanny arrival of emails or messages containing precisely what I needed is of no coincidence. At the beginning of my journey to an alcohol free life, I desperately wanted someone, anyone, but most especially belle, to say “I’m proud of you”. There may be the those that will hear this affirmation from their loved ones, or perhaps it will be spoken from the lips of people residing within their circle of trust. If you, my reader, being akin to me at certain points along this trail, are awaiting belle to speak those words to you, you are well mistaken; they will never be forthcoming. However, if you continue on your journey, you will ultimately understand why, and will eventually send her a note of gratitude instead.
Amongst thousands of blogs, the posts on a single, solitary website recanting a tale of struggle, hope and joy are just a small segment of the much larger picture of a woman who was brave enough to expose her thoughts and tribulations to a world of predominately unknown territories. A woman of courage, who, by penning her struggles with the whys in life, and completely unbeknown to her, created and unfolded a pathway to affect real change in the lives of countless others. I will continue to read her emails, silently overlooking the lack of capital letters and correcting grammar, enjoying the swearing and occasional rants, the audios with the ever present siren in the background no matter what time or day, and listen carefully to the in between the lines voice of true empathy, honesty and humility.
Thank you Belle, for tolling for me.