Nine months in – return of The List

2014-09-21 15.17.55Wednesday 1st October marks the 9 month point of my booze free experiment, and so it’s time for the regular tri-monthly debrief!

Previous installments:

When the idea for this project first began to ovulate in my brain, in between the bouts of dry retching and wishing I was dead, it seemed like the best idea I had ever had literally in the whole entire history of time ever. Of course, at that time I was both still drunk and horrendously hungover all at the same time. We all know that we make poor decisions while drunk (and sometimes have to make those decisions leave in the morning before they realise we don’t remember making them) and we make poor decisions hungover (pizza topped with paneer tikka masala, BRILLIANT) so decisions made under the influence of both at the same time must be SO terrible that they go past the point of ridiculous and cancel each other out and make some sort of sense. Right?

A week in and I had stated my intentions to the world. I am quitting drinking. And once I’d said it, I had to stick to it. I am far far too stubborn to be derailed when I’ve not only made a decision but told everyone I know, and some complete strangers I randomly met, about that decision. It becomes not only a personal journey and meaningful mission but an act of bloody mindedness. No one thought I could do it. *I* didn’t think I could do it. So I was bloody well going to prove everyone wrong.

The first three months were a struggle. The following three were a revelation. Now we’re nine months in, the changes in my life have been almost unbelievable.

It almost seems a backward step to go back to the list given all the other unexpected outcomes of my 9 month gestation of the twins of sobriety and blog writing, but that is where I began so back to it we go. It’s a somewhat longer than where we began – and perhaps that’s as it should be. I am sure I am not alone in making a huge list of unrealistic New  Year’s Resolutions and breaking them all within the space of 2 weeks. Making a short list at the start of the year and expanding it as you achieve the smaller successes is much more sensible, and less terrifying, and less setting yourself up to fail. So…

The (ever expanding) List

Learn to sew. Start with cushions, end up with dresses

Result:  EPIC FAIL. The sewing machine is still in my friend’s house. But there’s still 3 more months of the year. I doubt a dress will be an achievable goal within that time but there’s still wiggle room for me to at the very least get over my sewing machine phobia.

Unexpected consequences: None. Still scared of sewing machines. The fact that every time I tell someone that the reason I am scared of sewing machines is that people always tell me stories of people putting a needle trough their own finger, that person tells me a story about the time they/their mum/their best friend/sewing teacher put a needle trough their own finger. Yeah. NOT HELPING GUYS.

Learn Sign language

Result: A clear win. I found out a few weeks ago that I had passed my BSL level one with flying colours, and was encouraged to continue to level 2. I have paid the deposit and start in November. I appear to have a natural flair for the expressive quality of the language, being naturally given to flail and gesticulate and make faces a lot.

Unexpected consequences: Learning more about deaf culture, and realising more aspects where I have hidden privilege. Despite what some quarters of the internet would have you believe, checking your privilege is not a bad thing. We should all do it more often.

Start writing again – and document my attempts to do all of the above

Result: Well, I am still writing – and hopefully you are still reading!

Unexpected consequences: I have had some amazing responses to my writing, both in comments, on twitter/facebook and in person. Every time someone connects with something I’ve written, or shares it, or tells me how much they enjoy my blog, it makes me feel fantastic. I don’t always enjoy writing or find it easy – and some Sundays (particularly today, when I got back from a night out at gone 6am…) I really don’t want to spend hours staring at a screen making my brain do words. But my promise to myself to write every week is inextricably linked to my promise to give up drinking, and the two must go together. In that way, they both support each other, and make my resolution stronger. And in the long run, this is improving me and making me healthier.

Get back into volunteer work in children’s theatre

Result: The school term started last week – and I joined the local branch of Chicken Shed. I used to volunteer at a different branch BRD (before Roller Derby) and left because I couldn’t do both. I had forgotten how much I enjoy working with young people, and helping children experience and learn through theatre and performance.

Unexpected consequences: I was much less confident when I volunteered previously, 9 years ago. I hadn’t realised how much I’ve grown and changed as a person until I joined the first session last week – I almost felt like a different person. 9 years ago I remember looking at some of the other practitioners and wondering at their confidence and their easy manner with the children. Now I’m one of those confident people. I am not entirely sure how that happened. But I like it.

Keep writing about feminism – do not give in!

Result: I am still writing, I  haven’t given in.

Unexpected consequences: I have learned to never, ever, EVER, read the comments on a Guardian article about feminism. Nothing good is below that line. Which is a shame, as most other subjects have very interesting comments sections from which I learn a lot. Articles about Feminism however tend to re-establish Lewis’s Law over and over and over (repeat to fade…)

Get singing again

Result: I am working on this. I have no music writing ability and very much need collaborators to achieve this one. I  haven’t really sung live, apart from the odd drunken karaoke, for nearly 10 years. Rather than waiting for someone to over hear me singing and go hey, you’ve got an ok voice and seem like you’d have reasonably good stage presence, owing to you being naturally given to flail and gesticulate and make faces a lot. Would you like to do some singing with me?” I’ve actually started approaching some of the music people I know and asking them if they know of anyone interested. Putting myself forwards like this doesn’t come naturally, and I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to do this pre-sobriety. I simply wouldn’t have had the self-confidence.

Unexpected consequences: Too early to tell. But you can bet I’ll report back…

No drinking for 3 months – re-evaluate in 3 months time whether to go another 3

Result: Given that this is what started it all, and how difficult it was in the first few months, it’s amazing how this has become one of the easiest and most straightforward aspects of my life. I don’t worry about wanting a drink any more. I don’t worry about what people will think of me – it hardly ever comes up in conversation any more. I know that I made the right decision, thus proving that most decisions made while both drunk and hungover at the same time are actually good ones. I survived an all night club night with absolutely zero alcohol. Ok, there may have been a couple of cheeky Monster Rehabs, but I’ll take being somewhat overly wired on caffeine over falling-down-drunk and a crushing hangover any day (although tomorrow when the sleep deprivation kicks in perhaps I’ll have changed my mind.) I am sure this goes without saying, but I am going to go for one more round  of three months to make it a full year with no alcohol.

Unexpected consequences: Where do I even begin? If I hadn’t quit drinking, I’d never have come to terms with my actually rather serious sugar habit. The cold turkey sugar blitz was so successful that even though I do now enjoy the occasional sweet treat, it’s occasional. I genuinely can have one biscuit and not need another. I no longer eat milk chocolate or cheap chocolate. I make better choices when eating out. As a result I feel healthier, happier, sleep better, look better, and the weight fell off me without any effort at all.  I look better now after a few months controlling my sugar intake and cycling to work more often than  after over a decade of diets and gym routines that bored me.

My increasing confidence in my body has made me re-evaluate how I even see my body, which has made me so much happier and more at peace with myself and my body shape than I ever dreamed it would be possible to be. It led to me going swimming  which not only made me fitter, but has added to my confidence of my body shape – just as it is –  being visible. I went out to the club last night wearing a spandex hotpant playsuit and felt amazing. I’ve never had so many people  – both acquaintances and complete strangers – complimenting me on my body. I’ve never been able to even accept when a compliment about my body might even have some truth to it. To have someone say “I hope this is ok, and I don’t expect anything from you, but I’d like to tell you that you have a really banging body” is weird to someone who’s spent their entire life beating herself up for being curvy. (Just to forestall any accusations of double standards – this wasn’t random street harassment. This was in a club full of people all wearing clubby outfits, and it was a guy I’d been bumping into at the club on and off and with whom I had already established a mild flirtation. Context is important, yo.)

I’d never been able to accept a compliment before, especially about my body, as I’d always felt that if someone offers personal compliments  you have to immediately point to something that’s wrong with you. But as I learned from Stella Creasy, it’s perfectly fine to discuss – hell, even shout about – your own achievements.

It’s ok to be proud of yourself. It’s ok to think good things about yourself. Nothing bad will happen if you feel good about yourself – quite the opposite. The better you think about yourself, the better you’ll feel. It’s a beautiful circle of body positivity. Give it a try. Stop buying beauty magazines and watching shows that reinforce the idea we should be constantly criticising ourselves and each other. They do that so we will buy  more things. Give yourself some compliments in the mirror. Don’t make a face or pick a negative to balance it out. Do it every day. I bet you’ll feel the difference.


Posted in Drinking, feminism, Me Me Me, Sewing, Sign Language, Sugar, The List | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Single girl, who would want to be a single girl

I have now been single for one month. It’s gone by in a flash, and even though it was the right decision it still feels surreal, as if it’s not really sunken in. As if I’ve just pressed ‘pause’ somehow, and am spending the frozen time doing something else until I get back to my life.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around staring at the wall, or moping. I’ve got right back to doing things I do when I’ve been single before – paying slightly more attention to my single friends, volunteer work, cycling the long way around to things just because, going to the cinema on my own (holy crap you guys Guardians of the Galaxy! It’s really good, right?) I am filling my days with activities I enjoy, trying new things, saying ‘yes’ to adventures even if I am a little nervous. People ask me how I am doing with that sympathetic head tilt and it feels kind of wrong to say that, actually, I am pretty good. I am really enjoying having my own space, my own time and not having to compromise or share things. I grew up an only child of single mum who is basically me but older so never really got very good at having to negotiate, where negotiate means not doing exactly what I want and other people  going along with it.

I’ve always enjoyed being single and have never seriously looked for relationships – I’ve usually just ended up in them by accident after a drunken night. The Dinosaur formerly known as Mr RDP was one of the exceptions where we actually went on dates before we started a relationship after a drunken night. Not to say I don’t like being in a relationship too – I do; but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as doing my own thing.

This weekend I was honoured to be part of my friends S and P’s 10 year anniversary celebration, where they renewed their vows at a big old fun party. It was pure joy to see how happy they still are together, and how if anything they are stronger now after 10 years than at their ‘real’ wedding. I haven’t stuck at anything for longer than 10 years. Not a home. Or a school. Not even a hair colour. My longest relationship remains 4 years – less time than I have been at my current workplace. My relationships have ended for all different reasons, including, but not limited to,

  • Falling out of love
  • Realising we love each other but not in that way and actually can be we be just best friends and that way we can stop pretending we want to have sex
  • Living too far away from each other
  • The relationship just fizzling out until we were essentially just flatmates

Not long after The Former Mr RDP and I broke up I read a wonderful article about how sometimes ‘love’ in of itself isn’t enough to make a relationship work. This was certainly true in the  case of Mr RDP. As much as we cared about each other, and as much as we wanted it to work, that simply wasn’t enough to compensate for the other problems we had. In a relationship like that you have to either accept that you’ve tried your best and set each other free or get married to try and fix it. And I have seen the latter fail too many times to want to try it myself.

And yet, even knowing all of that, and knowing that all of my relationships in the past have ended for very good and sensible reasons, and knowing that I like being on my own, and knowing that my life is full of things I enjoy doing and is pretty full and well lived; EVEN WITH ALL THAT, I still have moments when I look at myself in the mirror, and say look at you. Thirty*mumble* and single. What are you doing with your life? Where are you going wrong?

But am I going wrong? Really? Why do I, a relatively successful and relatively happy young(ish) woman with a place to live and a job and lots of fulfilling hobbies and fabulous friends, feel like in some way I have ‘failed’, simply because I haven’t coupled up with someone and ‘settled down’ and got cats and dogs and babies and one of those steamer things that cleans ovens? Especially when I am really not entirely sure that’s even what I want out of life? Although apparently those steam cleaners are really good.

It’s a powerful message – that there is ‘someone’ out there for you. That when you find ‘the right’ person you will be complete. And that completeness should last for always. And that the older you get, if you don’t have this, you are failing. That you MUST want to be with someone. That *the entire point of your existence* is to find one other person and that’s it, well done.  You win. The rest is epilogue.

I am not saying I don’t want that ever. Just that right now I am struggling to separate what I really want from what I think is expected I should be wanting. Am I pottering around with my life on ‘pause’ until I am ready to carry on, or is the pottering around what I really want to do?

Facing this at my age, after having so many changes and emotional lessons this year, and alcohol free to boot, feels both terrifying and exciting. Like going on a new roller coaster for the first time – you don’t know what it will be like, where the twists and turns are, where the drops and shocks are, whether you’ll love it or hate it or both at the same time. It’s almost so nerve wracking that the temptation to not ride at all, stick to familiar ground, is incredibly strong. But you have to ride, or you’ll never know.

I don’t know were the next few months will take me. I don’t know what I really want out of my life. But maybe, as long as I am honest with myself over the coming months, maybe I can unpick the societal expectations of what drives a thirty*mumble* years woman from  what actually drives me, and what really makes me feel content and complete.

And I really really like roller coasters.

Posted in Drinking, Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged | 3 Comments

Mirror Image

A few weeks ago I wrote about body positivity. Since then I have been making a concentrated effort to filter out the negative messages about size, weight, and shape that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I’ve been trying to pick clothes to wear based on what I feel like wearing, not on what I think I look like in them, or whether they show parts of me I’ve historically been unhappy with. I  have been making an attempt, when looking in the mirror, to look at *all* of me. To not just look at my stomach or legs, to not just look at parts, but to look at my whole body. To look myself in the eye in the mirror and say “do you feel good? Ok. Let’s leave the house”.

It’s been really hard work. But something weird has been happening. Emboldened by my leotard experience, and after failing to be talked out of the purchase by my friends, who are a bunch of total enablers (that’s what friends are for, right?)  I bought something for an upcoming club night that I wouldn’t even have looked twice at a couple of months ago. Well, ok, I would have looked twice because the material is covered with UNICORNS, but I wouldn’t have even thought *once* about buying it. It’s tight. Really tight. It’s short. Really short. It’s entirely figure revealing. There is no way to hide thighs. No way to hide a stomach. You can see it all in glorious unicorn technicolour.

I tried it on yesterday morning. I looked at myself in the mirror from every angle. I tried some experimental dance moves. I tried a comedy twerk. I tried some Tyra Banks style ridiculous poses. I did that thing where you try to slump and breathe all the way out and then try to stand normally and then try to catch a glance at yourself sideways so you know you aren’t cheating yourself by secretly breathing in. And I found myself confused. Because I was happy with what I saw. 

The same weird phenomenon happened later that same evening, when getting ready to go to a gig at a pub. I put on a top and a skirt I hadn’t worn for ages because they were so tight.  I say ‘a skirt’ so casually. It’s better than a skirt. It’s a fucking BATMAN SKIRT. It’s awesome. I bought it because BATMAN SKIRT. But then felt totally unable to wear it, ever. After my experience of the morning looking in the mirror and not hating every thing I could see, I figured I’d give it a go. And once again, despite them being tight, and my body being there, in the mirror, all of it, I was still happy with what I saw.

How could this be? There are all the parts I’ve spent my whole self-aware lifetime hating, and trying to exercise and diet out of existence. They are all still there. I’ve lost a bit of weight recently, what with the no sugar and the no alcohol and the swimming, sure, but not *that* much. I am still ‘technically’ overweight. But despite all this, I was perfectly happy with what was in the mirror. What was this aberration? Am I delirious because I haven’t had breakfast yet? Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes. Perhaps I am not actually seeing what’s really there. Perhaps my eyes have some weird issue where they are warping my body shape.

Or perhaps that’s what’s happened in the past, and now I am finally able to see what’s really in front of me, now that I have worked really hard on crowding out those voices that are telling me to slim down, take up less space, diet to be a size 10, don’t wear that because you’re too big, you’re not ‘the right shape’. Maybe, now that I’ve stopped looking at the tiny range of body shapes shown to us by the mass media and accepting them as ‘the norm’, and started to deliberately seek out representations of bodies of all sizes and shapes, I am no longer comparing myself to some random idea of the ‘ideal’ body, and just accepting that what is in the mirror is me, and that me is perfectly ok. 

The really crazy thing is, I am not even that fat. I am ‘technically’ overweight, and have a decent about of body fat, but I have to acknowledge that in terms of ‘size privilege‘ I totally pass. I have a slim face, narrow shoulders, a small rib cage and a defined waist. If I wear something flared under the bust, no one would ever even think of me as large. In any conversation about weight, most people are shocked at how much I weigh. At health appointments even the doctors are usually surprised at my weight and rarely make more than a cursory poke at the idea that my BMI makes me obese, because I just don’t look it. Unless I wear something revealing, or tight, and you can see my larger bottom half. But even then, I rarely get abuse in the street for being fat. If I do, it’s usually a guy that has “oi darlinged” me, been rejected, and then said something along the lines of “I am not interested in you anyway you fat bitch.” But in the past in those situations I’ve also been called “frigid cow”, “ugly crack whore”, “dirty slut”; so they are hardly giving me an honest critique.

I am, and have been for most of my life apart from about 6 months where I got lots of compliments but fainted on a nearly daily basis, an ‘in between’ sized person. Slightly too large for your average high street clothing store, slightly too small for plus size places. But I have always accepted the label ‘overweight’ and ‘fat’ and applied it to myself and beat myself up about it. Perhaps more so, being in-betweeny and thus feeling that somehow it would be easy to be thin if only I could just stop eating so much damn cake. It’s kind of screwed up that as someone with what is actually a perfectly average sized body that I should have spent so much of my adult life beating myself up for being ‘fat’ – as if ‘fat’ is some kind of horrific thing that no one in their right mind wants to be.

So what weird phenomenon has happened to me in the last few weeks? I am pretty sure I haven’t suddenly dropped  four dress sizes. For one thing, my clothes all still fit. For another, I am not fainting all the time. I am eating less cake, it is true, but I do still treat myself. I’ve not been to the gym in months (swimming in ponds, it turns out, is cheaper and significantly  more fun.)

I think what has happened is that the layers built up over the years of messages from every conceivable corner telling me that women should and must be as tiny as possible no longer penetrate my confidence. The concept of ‘fat’ as something bad and wrong has dissolved away, leaving me with a greater appreciation for bodies of all sizes and shapes. I now care more about whether I am healthy, and being kind to my body. The idea that my body is somehow separate to me, and is made up of different parts which are wrong or unacceptable has been firmly rejected in favour of me seeing myself as a composite whole, with beautiful flaws which tell the story of me.

I’ve not changed the skin I am in. I have changed how I think about the skin I am in. I accept the skin I am in. And that one change is more revolutionary than any diet could ever be.

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Assaulted Caramel

I don’t usually do this – but I’ve gone to a place in my past here that might be hard for people to read. So please consider this a trigger warning for sexual assault and violence. 

I am writing this post from my new houseshare. I am mostly unpacked, to the astonishment of my new housemates who didn’t believe that I’d be able to fit my 2 bed flat’s worth and 30+ years accumulation of STUFF into one double bedroom. But I have moved many times in my life and I am skilled at Making Things Fit – and one person’s ‘cluttered’ is another’s ‘cosy’. I am definitely in the ‘cosy’ camp. Having this much STUFF though does mean it takes forever to pack, and by the time I’d reached moving-day-eve I was a total mess. I was curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas in a zombified state crying because I’d told the neighbour (the one who’d let me watch Kung Fu Panda with her son when I got locked out) I was moving and she got upset and hugged me. I needed ice cream.

I really, really REALLY needed ice cream.  Specifically, Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Chew Chew. I operate on a strict IIWIIGGI policy when it comes to this sort of thing – If I wanted It I’d Go Get It. This tends to prevent me from eating ice cream ALL THE TIME, because if I can’t be bothered to walk to the shop to get it, I obviously don’t want it.

The shop was 5 minutes walk away. Just 5 minutes. But it was dark outside, and 15 seconds of that 5 minute walk is a narrow passageway between two streets. If it had been #yessallwomenday time, I would have just chucked shoes on and a sweater over my pyjamas and headed out. But it was dark outside. So I got completely dressed, in clothes as figure-hiding as possible. I got my bike keys and held them so the tines poked out through my fist. I made sure I told a few friends where I was going, and when I’d be back. And I walked to the shop as briskly as possible.

At this point, some women reading are nodding and going  yup. And some men are probably going “what the HELL? it’s only 5 minutes away”. And yet, this is something I feel I have to do – even for a 5 minute walk to the shop. Isn’t that crazy? I am just going to buy ice cream.

The thing is, the really fucked up thing, is that I don’t just do this in case I get attacked. I know that if I *do* get attacked, there’s little I’ll be able to do. I am pretty strong and tough and self-aware, but if some guy decides he’s going to attack me then all the ugly clothes and self awareness in the world are not going to stop him. The reason I do all of this is so that afterwards no one can say that I was “asking for it”. I do it so that there will be nothing anyone can use to “blame me” for my own attack, other than “why was she walking after dark” which is tenuous at best. Does this sound like a hysterical reaction to you? For me to go through a list of things I’d better do before I leave the house? “I’d better get dressed, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it as I was wearing pyjamas and no underwear”. “I’d better wear trainers so I can run, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it because I was wearing slippers”. “I’d better make sure I have my keys in my hand, I don’t want them to say I didn’t put up a fight so must have wanted it”.

I was attacked by a stranger from behind 14 years ago. I was lucky. His first punch  – to the back of my head – didn’t knock me out entirely, so I was able to scream (and you bet I can fucking scream) and the spot he attacked me was right outside a housing block where I knew a lot of people. Once he was on top of me and punching me in the face I lost consciousness, but my early screams had been enough to bring people out to see what was happening. I have a dim recollection of a punk friend of mine legging it after this guy shouting at others to come with him. I was carried into someone’s living room. Someone put tea in my hand but I couldn’t drink it (later I would find out my jaw was fractured).  Someone went to my flat to get me some clothes, as mine were torn where the guy had tried to pull them off. The police arrived. I was still quite out of it at this point due to shock and being repeatedly hit around the head. And thus began the questions, that would be asked repeatedly. By the police on the scene. By the ambulance driver. By the hospital admittance staff. By the triage nurse. By the doctor. In fact, the only person that didn’t ask these questions was the x-ray technician, who had to work around the fact that my face was so swollen my piercings couldn’t be removed.

The questions were:

Have you been drinking? What were you wearing? Did you know him? Had you seen him before? Did you do anything that might have provoked him? Do you usually walk this route alone at night? Where had you been before?

The answers (not that it should matter): No. black trousers and a Cure t-shirt. No. No. No. Yes, because it’s WHERE I LIVE. ) Shopping for a suit for a job interview.

Even after answering these ad infinitum I was treated with suspicion by hospital staff and police alike. I was left waiting in the hospital waiting room for 8 hours. I was discharged alone with no way to get home, and no idea what hospital I was in. Despite trying to follow up with the police after I never received any answers. To this day I don’t know if he was caught by police, if he was never found and attacked again, or if my punk friend and his mates caught up with him and he’s buried in a shallow grave somewhere in East London. In my fantasy revisionist history version of this, where what helps me deal is more important than the truth, it’s the latter.

In the aftermath I was bruised, scared, I had flashbacks and nightmares, concussion and a fractured jaw. But not only that. I was shocked at my treatment by those I had always seen as there to help – the nursing staff and the police – who treated this as nothing more than a girl out late at night (it was 10.30pm) who must have done something to deserve it. Even *friends* who found out about it suggested that I perhaps shouldn’t walk back from the bus stop alone.

14 years later I am still reading articles where women are blamed for their own attack. For wearing tight jeans. For wearing control underwear. For looking older than they really are. Because she was just so pretty, the guy couldn’t resist. There are so many more out there.

And it’s not isolated cases – there is a widespread lack of understanding, despite many campaigns – over who is to blame for rape; when in fact it is very simple. RAPISTS are to blame for rape. A society which is bogged down in rape myths is to blame for this widespread lack of understanding.

A society that doesn’t understand how to deal with rapists comes up with ‘anti-rape underwear’ and ‘anti-rape nail varnish‘. And while on one level it’s great that people are trying to innovate over this it doesn’t make it any more bullshit that the potential victims are meant to take part in the prevention of their own assault. And the danger in such ‘anti-rape’ devices is that when we already exist in a culture that blames victims for their own assault, if a woman *DOESN’T* take these ‘preventative’ steps, will she then be further blamed for not doing enough? Ok, you were conscious, sober, you know self-defence, you were alert, clothed, covered up, wearing sensible shoes, BUT WERE YOU WEARING ANTI-RAPE NAIL VARNISH? No?  Then you didn’t do enough.

When this argument comes up, some (perhaps) well meaning people say but why wouldn’t you take these precautions? You wouldn’t leave your bike unlocked would you? If you do that, you are asking for your bike to be stolen.To which I say, no. I wouldn’t leave my bike unlocked. In fact, I have 4 locks (as you can see from my ‘popping to the shop’ picture). But I know, from bitter experience, that if someone really wants to steal your bike they will. No bike lock is unbreakable. That’s why I have insurance. And the reason I have good locks is so that the insurance company will pay up if/when the bike is stolen. Because if someone is going to steal your bike, they are going to. And with insurance, you can replace it.

And you know what is not a bike? A WOMAN’S BODY. A woman’s body is NOT an object. It’s a person’s body. It’s a living person, who is trying to live their life. To suggest that a woman not taking precautions to prevent rape is like someone not locking up a bike is so offensive, I can’t even envisage what is going on in the minds of people that make that comparison. You can’t ‘insure’ a body against rape. An insurance company can’t replace your unraped body or compensate for sucha  violation done to you. But if you really want to go there, and suggest that in order to prevent our bodies being violated that we need to ‘lock them up’ like a bicycle, how do we go about it? Do we never drink ever? Never go anywhere after dark? Never talk to strangers? Or be in a place with strangers? Never leave the house? Not that the last one will help you as in the UK 90% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. So actually, to ‘prevent’ rape, a women needs to never go anywhere or talk to anyone ever.

Maybe I am being overdramatic and paranoid with my ugly clothes wearing, key carrying, sensible shoe wearing 5 minute after-dark trip to the shop. But with attitudes like this still so prevalent, is it any wonder that so many women still feel that they have to take action like this not just to *prevent* rape, but to make sure we are believed if the worst really happens?




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Body Proof Positive

This weekend I did two things that I haven’t done since I was a child.

1 – went to a fancy dress party without alcohol

2 – went out in public wearing a leotard

I love fancy dress parties. I LOVE them. I love to dress up, do different makeup, hair, be someone else for a few hours. Halloween is hands down my favourite celebration day of the year and has been since my first attempts to trick or treat aged 8 dressed as a bat in a costume made out of my gym kit, a couple of bin bags and a cat mask. Back then Halloween wasn’t really A Thing in England so most of the neighbours were rather bemused, but I insisted on having a Halloween party every year nonetheless.

In the past I’ve dressed up as, amongst other things, a  Weeping Angel, Stormer from Jem and the Holograms, Dazzler, The Cheshire Cat, A Thesaurus, I will dress like a pirate at the drop of a fucking tricorn hat.  I have an entire suitcase so big that I can actually get into it and zip it shut with me still inside full to bursting with fancy dress costumes, accessories, wigs and make up. You get the picture. I like to play dress up. I usually pick a character where I can make the costume as flattering to my figure as possible, because for as long as I’ve been self aware, I’ve had issues with my body. Costumes would be carefully constructed so no one would see my round belly, my wobbly arms, my thunderous thighs, and my monstrously disproportionate hips. All of these parts of me must be hidden at all costs, lest people shrink from me in horror and faint at the sight of my vast wobblyness. Where I couldn’t make the costume flattering enough, I just  made sure I was so drunk I didn’t care what the hell I looked like. Of course, that often had the knock on effect that I couldn’t really remember the party.

The thing is, my body parts, while perhaps a bit wobbly, they are *not* disgusting or monstrous. Really, at a UK size 12-16 (depending on area you’re measuring) they aren’t even that big. They are the component parts of my body which comprise *me*. Why do I pick apart myself in this cruel way, in a manner I would never consider doing to anyone else? I look at everyone else around me and see their beauty – see their composite whole, their person, and their completeness. I don’t look at my friends and separate out their body parts into “perfect” and “wrong”. This is of course a rhetorical question – the answer lies all around us  in the every day messages telling women that the most important thing about us is our appearance. Everything else is secondary.

I learned the hard way that, seriously, that’s complete bullshit. And even knowing that it is bullshit, it’s really REALLY hard to get out of your own head when all you can see is that your body is a collection of parts which are ‘Too XXX’. Too small. Too big. Too thin. Too wobbly. Too uneven. Too frizzy.

Too COMPARED TO WHAT? Too compared to a teeny tiny totally unrepresentative sample of women in the media who  are held up as having the ‘right’ shape. And what is the ‘right’ shape? Because this shit isn’t inbuilt you know. We don’t have a hardwired image in all of our brains of the ‘perfect shape’. The ‘right’ shape is entirely socially constructed and perceptions of ‘beauty’ differ massively across cultures.

One project trying to undo some of this ‘too’ damage is Jes M Baker and Liora K‘s awe inspiring ‘Expose‘. I first saw this a couple of weeks ago and have revisited the site many times to gaze at the wonderful bodies. The experience of seeing bodies that *look like yours* presented in such a sensitive and beautiful way is potentially transformative. I’ve since been thinking a great deal about my body and how I can accept it and bring it back into being part of ‘me’ again instead of a lump of muscle and skin and fat that I walk around within, which is somehow a separate entity with which I am in constant battle.

So. When I was invited to a party with the theme of “Rubbish Wrestling Gimmicks” and my friend suggested “crazy cat ladies” and I googled “80s female wrestlers” and realised that they basically wore leotards and tights instead of going OH GOD NO I CAN’T BECAUSE MY BODY IS TOO XXX AND THE DRINKS AND EVERYTHING IS TOO XXX, I decided to go and buy a damn leotard and some leopard print leggings and wear those mofos with a pair of damn cat ears and I WILL FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT because this is MY DAMN BODY and as much as we may fall out over things like headaches and muscle pains and joint issues it is MINE and it is the only one I will ever have and LET’S JUST DO THIS THING. (I suspect I might have said some of this out loud in the shop’s changing room judging by the odd look I got from the lady working there when I left the cubicle.)

I went to the party, in my leotard and leopard print leggings and ears, me and my big thighs and my round tummy and my curvy old hips. I stuck to the soda water (ok, I fess up, I also had a can of Monster Rehab. Don’t judge me – I have to have *something*. And it has TEA in it.) and I had a brilliant time. I felt like Bettie Page. Somehow something ticked over in my brain to turn what I’d aways seen as chub and flub to soft  and delicious curves. I felt sexy and beautiful and surprisingly at ease. I won’t say I felt entirely comfortable *all*night, but considering that I put on a swimming costume for the first time a month ago, I’d say feeling attractive in a leotard while totally sober is a massive step.

It helps that I’ve kept up the swimming twice weekly, that I’ve kept up the cycling to work even though the weather is getting crapper, and that I’ve kept up (mostly) with the massive sugar cull. All of that has combined to helping me to feel that much happier with what I see in the mirror and feeling more comfortable in my own skin. So it wasn’t all down to the Expose project – but it was a final step for me in realising that my body isn’t abnormal. If you think about it, all bodies are ‘abnormal’. Because what *is* normal when we’re all so different? I won’t ever be a size 10 – I am just not built that way. And thanks to the last few weeks I now know that I am comfortable with that. I don’t need to bully myself and berate myself for not fitting into an unrealistic mold. I just need to carry on learning to love my body, and remember that it’s not just my body – it’s me.

As Liora K puts so beautifully:

…their bodies deserved to be seen, that what they perceive as faults are simply THEM, and are neither right nor wrong.  That showing their bodies won’t innately cause them harm.  That their breasts won’t cause damage to those around them, or their bellies or thighs either.  That their nudity, while making them vulnerable, does not make them at fault.  And that lastly, their bodies are their vehicles through life, and to treat them with kindness.

I kind of want to get “your body is your vehicle through life, treat it with kindness” tattooed somewhere on me, as a constant reminder to keep hold of my new-found body positivity, because feeling good about myself as I am feels a million times better than feeling bad because of something I’m not.

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The Shouter – a poem

“Nice bum” he shouts. He can’t be older than 10.

I cycle on, to ignore as usual, but then

I stop. I turn. “What did you shout at me for?”

No reply, shifting eyes, shifting feet, mumbling, looking at the floor

a group shrug. The answer comes “dunno”

Another replies, bolder than the shouter “you know

girls like it when you shout at them innit.”

“I’m a girl, and I don’t like it.”

Surprise on their faces, disbelief,

I turn to go, to their visible relief

but the exchange follows me home in my head;

the sense of shame, concern, dread.

Who taught them that a women grown

knows less of her own

mind than they? I pay my rent, have a degree,

a group of kids barely three

feet high telling me “but you like it really”

after I’ve said that I don’t very clearly.

What are we teaching the boys of our world?

That it’s ok to shout at women and girls

because “they like it” even if they say they don’t

they say no but they mean yes even if they won’t

say it aloud.

Are we proud

of this nation of youths with a twisted and bent

understanding of the meaning of ‘consent’?

I want to ask these future men -

who shout at women and then

say it’s ok we want it that way -

Who taught them this was the way things are?

who told them that women are things?

Who told him that girls say no and mean yes

that girls are different, that a short dress

says more about her than the words

that she says?

In what ways

are our kids are learning  ‘facts of life’

in which women are sister, mother, wife

before they are people deserving respect

for who they are? Shouldn’t we expect

and want better?









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When you can’t sink another drink to give you time to think

Copyright Jeff Krouwel 2014It’s been a difficult week this week for the Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate. Difficult conversations have been had, and there are many changes ahead. There is no longer a Mr RDP. Well, there is, but he’s not Mr RDP any more. While this blog was always by definition very personal, being about my year of giving up alcohol and trying to change my life, it was never meant to bare to all the private lives of those close to me, so we’ll just leave it with this; that it is sad, that we are sad about it, but that it is the right decision for both of us.

I’ve done all the usual things one does when one goes through a breakup. I’ve updated my relationship status on Facebook and made a heartfelt public statement to all of our friends. I’ve had a bit of a cry. I’ve scoured gumtree for places to live and rightmove for places to buy and despaired over the cost of property in London. I’ve broken the news to my disappointed family. I’ve deconstructed all the problems with my little sister and with my best friend. I’ve eaten my entire bodyweight in ice cream and ordered takeaway for myself. I’ve made a break up playlist on Spotify and starting seeing hidden meanings in unlikely songs. I’ve listened to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” on repeat. I’ve poured my heart out to the cat. The one standard break up thing I haven’t done is go out and get shitfaced.

It feels strange to be facing upheaval and change without being able to resort to getting drunk in order to have a few hours of oblivion, away from the reality of the situation. I don’t think I’ve ever been through a break up which hasn’t led to several bottles of wine and large numbers of cocktails and shots. Often all on the same night. Such importance is alcohol in our relationships that the pirate formerly known as Mr RDP has received huge numbers of offers to get him drunk in consolation, whereas I have received many commiserating that I can’t get hammered. A few even asked if I would abandon  my alcohol free pledge, or have suggested that if I were to go out and get trolleyed that it would be ok because it ‘wouldn’t count’ on this occasion.

I actually feel like facing this alcohol free is more of a blessing than a curse. I won’t have any mornings where I wake up with not only a skull crushing hangover but also the knowledge that I am a lonely single loser with no one to make me tea or stroke my head. I won’t have the horrible mind bending mood swings of a night out on the piss when one isn’t entirely emotionally stable. A night out drinking when you’re in a fragile state is not a reliable way to cheer you, or anyone else for that matter, up. You *might* get into a giggly state were everything is funny. You *might* dance like a complete banana to Generation X’s Dancing With Myself and feel pumped for the future. You *might* start dancing to Robyn’s Dancing On My Own and end up in  hysterical tears in the middle of the dancefloor. You *might* end up totally maudlin, crying all over your friends and ruining everyone’s night. That’s the thing with alcohol, it’s not a predictable panacea for your emotional ills. It’s ultimately a depressant; and while it enhances your mood in small doses if your mood is low to changeable in the first place all it’s going to do is make you feel lower and more unstable. You then either face a hangover of apocalyptic proportions or you just keep drinking.

Whenever I look back over my old personal blog, particularly during the days when I was at my most mentally unwell, I am often struck by how important alcohol was to me, and how little insight I had into how it was trapping me in a cycle. So many posts about getting drunk and being hungover, interspersed with posts about my ongoing struggle with depression. I wonder now whether if I’d been able to escape the drunken high/hungover low cycle back then I would have faced my mental health demons sooner. I suspect not. I may have used alcohol as an escape from the relentless grind of my clinical depression, but my recovery was more down to a lot of therapy (most successfully CBT and then a few years later CAT) and several rounds of anti-depressants. Maybe some of my depressive episodes would have been less severe without the drinking, but my agoraphobia would have been worse as sometimes it was only the alcohol allowing me to leave the house. And yet it is pretty clear that on many occasions I dealt with hard times by trying to drown them. Breakups, fall outs, unhappy work situations and bereavements – all were propped up with drink. Whether that made them harder to deal with in the long run, or meant that I just avoided dealing with them at all, is a moot point. Drinking the problems away is not an option I have now.

To be in a position where even if I wanted to I couldn’t go out and drink until I fall on my face is actually very freeing. It means I have to face up to my situation fully present, fully mindful. Yes it means I have to face all of the difficult feelings this is going to bring up head on, but surely that can only  be a good thing in the long run.

I no longer need alcohol to leave the house, or to have a good time. I’ve learned how to have fun without it. Now I need to learn to weather the hard times without it. I suspect that this will prove much easier.


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