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a painful reminder

hangover

hangover2I haven’t written about alcohol for some time. I think this could probably be viewed as a positive – alcohol has ceased to be of an importance in my life to the point that I even need to write about it. People are generally used to the idea that I don’t drink much. There’s rarely any surprise when I ask for a soda and lime. Some people have even come to me for advice on how to have a dry month, or for tips on staying away from booze, which is pretty awesome.

All I ever wanted was to be able to enjoy A Drink without reference to Being Drunk. I wanted to able to have a good time without needing to be drunk, and to have a drink without wanting to have a hundred more drinks. While the former has been hard work, largely due to social anxiety, I am definitely able to achieve the latter.

My guidelines for drinking are simple:

  1. If I want a specific drink, I can have one.
  2. If I need a drink, I can’t have one.
  3. If I have one and it makes me want another, I can’t have it
  4. If there’s nothing alcoholic I particularly want to drink, I have a soft drink
  5. NO SHOTS
  6. If I start feeling drunk, I stop drinking.

These guidelines have worked brilliantly, for the most part.

There was one occasion on holiday with the new Mr RDPP where everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and we ended up stuck in the only bar open in a tiny town in Sicily, the two of us against the world, drinking exciting coloured drinks with umbrellas in and shouting animatedly about politics. I felt fine the next day, probably in part because the drinks were mainly fruit and sugar and in part because the most pressing thing we had to do that day was eat ice cream and swim in the sea.  I suspect this made me a little too blasé about being as mindful as usual of moderation. The guidelines? Well, maybe they kinda slipped a bit.

A few weeks ago I had a weird FUCK IT moment while at a music festival and decided to Get Drunk. I bought a locally made bottle of wine and went at it in a way that would have made 15 year old me proud – swigging out of the bottle and sharing it around and hiding it in a bush while going into a venue to avoid the bag search. It felt like going on hangover1holiday to a past version of myself. It felt seedy and transgressive and fun. Unfortunately the trouble with throwing caution to the wind when you’ve stopped paying attention to the wind direction is that caution can end up blowing right back in your face.

The Hangover started at about 1am. I’d forgotten all about The Hangover. The pounding, stabbing jabbing pain right down though the top of the head straight into the eye socket. The rolling nausea which goes away for just long enough for you to think you’re spared the worst so you do something daring like move or speak and it rushes back in going “HAH”. The way the light burns through your closed eyelids, the way the duvet isn’t even a comfort as it rustles just so damn loudly as you work out whether you’re too hot or too cold, The tiredness, the taste in your mouth like you’ve been licking the floor of a petrol station, the vague sense of dread, the way the inside of your skin feels sort of greasy, and the thin layer of gritty sweat that builds up as you try to go about your day pretending everything is normal.

I used to feel like this all the time. HOW? How did I do it?  I have regular migraines, related to hormones, and they have a similar type of headache/nausea combo, and I can’t do anything at all to prevent those, so why on earth did I voluntarily do something which made me feel this why? It was fun, sure, but had it been fun enough? Probably not. I crawled to the nearest painkiller, swallowed as many as were safe and crawled back into bed again, making pitiful mewling sounds and cursing my horrible decision making skills.

It was a good learning experience though – it was my first hangover in 19 months, and I fully intend it to be my last. I’ve already done the hard work of making sure I can happily enjoy myself without drinking, so the only revision I am making to my guidelines is that they are no longer merely guidance – they are rules.

 

Just anxious

Just Anxious - Rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com

It’s an irony that when I am not having a bout of anxiety, it’s hard to recall and write about exactly how anxiety affects me (in a similar way to how you can remember that a tattoo hurts but you can’t recall the exact pain itself) but when I am in the midst of an episode I can barely string two sentences together. Thus it’s taken me several weeks to write this post, in between bouts feeling fine (occasionally even awesome) and feeling like flinging my laptop into the Thames and watching it sink. Then jumping in myself.  I need to grab those “fine” moments and write in those, because when I am feeling awesome the last thing I want to do is pick up my laptop and write about the times I felt like crawling under my bed and staying there for ever, but when I am in my “fine” moments it’s hard to explain what having an anxiety episode feels like.

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Not Not Drinking, just not drinking

notnotdrinking

231386085552BarneyWe’re now in May, so it’s now been 16 (and a half) months since I gave up drinking for, er, three months. While the initial 12 months of Not Drinking were trickier, the last 4 (and a half) months of just not drinking hasn’t actually been difficult at all – there’s definitely a huge difference between Not Drinking and I Could Have A Drink If I Wanted But I’m Not Going To.

I have had a few small sips of a beautiful hazelnut liqueur, a birthday present last year from Mummy Dinosaur Pirate, and I have tasted some organic Cider that my flatmate was drinking. That’s it. I’ve not had an entire alcoholic drink at all – and I am still not missing it much.

I recall six months in saying I wanted to get to the point with my attitude to drinking where I could walk into a bar, see an interesting looking drink that I wanted to taste, or liked the taste of, and would drink it because I wanted that drink and not because I wanted to get drunk, or needed to be drunk. While there have been a few moments where I’ve been out a pub with some friends and thought “I’d really quite like a drink actually” – most often when there’s been a nice looking rosé available or my favourite beer – there’smongozo_cocunut been two clear occasions where I’ve felt that I wanted to drink for the taste, for the experience – and not for the alcohol. It was a powerful sensation – to know that I  had the power to make that choice, to know that I could just  have one and that would be the end of it. To know that i could just as easily not have it, and have just as good a night. On both occasions I chose not to have one – mainly because I’d cycled to the pub and figured cycling home after the first alcoholic drink in 16 months would be, on the list of Stupidest Things I’ve Done, quite high up the chart.

My social life has definitely changed – whether this is due to the not drinking or circumstance (it’s been a crazy few months on Dinosaur Planet) I don’t know; but I go out dancing and to clubs, well, certain clubs, a lot less. There are some places which just aren’t really fun when you aren’t in an altered state. Where you are acutely aware of the state of the toilets, of the floor  being sticky, of a general sense of grottiness. A few clubs I’ve been to I’ve found the behaviour of other drunk people just a little hard to deal with. You start to recognise this unfocused look in people’s eyes, the way they stumble around the club and just sort of barge around or push through you like you aren’t there. I assume this happened before, when I went to these places as a heavy drinker, but that as I was one of them I never really noticed. Being around seriously drunk people does start to get harder, and so my social life has in the main shifted away from late night clubs and more into early evening pub trips with a pack of cards or a game of Fluxx or Love Letter.

The change to my social life pattern as also brought an interesting shift to many of my friendships. I have drifted apart from some of my old party buddies, and grown much closer to other friends. The quality of conversation, and your ability to really listen to people (and remember the conversation the next day) is considerably better, and some nights out have brought me closer to people I thought I knew, people I’ve known for years. There’s been many moments where I’ve been next to a friend in a bar, when previously our conversation would have been “LOL LET’S GET SHOTS OMG DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME WHEN WE OH GOD WE WERE SO WASTED” and I’ve said to them ” you know, I’ve known you for 10 years and don’t actually know what you do for a living?”

I’ve had marvellous conversations which have brought me closer to people I care about, and have learned how to tell these friends I care about them with full mindfulness and sobriety – i don’t have to be drunk to take a friend in my arms and say “mate, I love you. You know that?” and they know I mean it, and that makes it so much more meaningful. Even if they do get a little embarrassed and punch me on the arm and call me a knobhead. That’s just their way of saying “mate, I love you too.”

If I do go clubbing, I fortify myself beforehand with borderline unwise amounts of caffeine so I can survive the night; but usually once I am there and dancing alcohol just doesn’t seem important any more. My flatmate, a long time drinking buddy, has also discovered the joys of drinking considerably less of a night out. You still feel rubbish in the morning – today is no exception, as last night was in fact one of these rare clubbing adventures – but that’s mainly a combination of too much caffeine/sugar and too little sleep. It’s rather fun to feel a little wrecked occasionally, I do like the excuse to stay curled up in a blanket and watch terrible films and order pizza over the internet. And feeling a little wrecked due to overstimulation and fatigue is considerably more fun than feeling like if you move you might die.

16 (and a half) months without hangovers – and I cannot emphasize this enough – is FUCKING GREAT. I never want a hangover ever again. My time off from hangovers has given me a clarity that as much fun as drinking can be, it’s absolutely not worth the hangover.  Weekends are longer. You get so much more done with your life. The thing I miss least of all is that horrible sense of anxious foreboding and vague unspecified shame; where you are quite sure that you did something horribly embarrassing and that you are a terrible awful person who can never show her face again in public. I really don’t miss that. I hadn’t even realised that was a drinking/hangover thing. It took some time before I realised I wasn’t feeling like that every morning after a night before when the night before was a sober one. That waking up with waves of shame and fear wasn’t just part of waking up after a night out. I now wake up after a night out feeling like I probably should have drunk more water, less Cola and slept more, but that I had an awesome night and that my friends are awesome people and that as a person I am pretty ok actually.

tumblr_mkp8zkiay11s1txd3o1_500People  have asked if I miss drinking. My answer 6 months ago would probably have been that I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the sense of going on a shared journey with friends who are drinking. Now, I don’t even miss that, and am generally able to tap into that sense of fun an adventure without it. It helps that because I barely even mention it these days (it’s not new and exciting and a Big Experiment any more. I’m not a Not Drinker, I just don’t really drink. It’s a subtle difference, but a meaningful one) that often people don’t even really notice or pick up on it. Half the time I am clumsy and dorky enough for people to think I am drunk anyway. I am not entirely sure whether that’s meant as a compliment, but I am going to take it as one anyway.

What is most exciting is that at no point have I felt like I need a drink. Well, apart from briefly when I woke up on the 8th May and discovered the result of the UK general election, and had the fleeting notion that I needed to drown my sorrows – but I am pretty sure I am not alone in feeling that way and that for any lefty social justice warrior type finding out you’ve another 5 years of a right wing austerity mad government is perfectly justified in wanting to drink themselves into oblivion for a little while. But anyway, apart from that, I haven’t needed a drink, or felt like I had to have one. I’ve looked at drinks in the supermarket or at the bar and wanted a soft drink. I never dreamed when I embarked on this experiment 16 (and a alf) months ago. It’s rather wonderful and surprising.

I am fairly sure that at some point this summer I will have one of those coconut beers. It will be a momentous occasion.  My friends will probably take the piss. I will almost certainly selfie the moment for posterity. And it’s exciting that I am absolutely confident that I will be able to have one. Which is all I ever really wanted to achieve.

Big Fat Body Acceptance

For the second week in a row, I have been diverted from my intention to muse on my drinking (or lack of it) by Things Happening That Are Making Me Want To Smash Other Things. This weeks’ OH FOR THE LOVE OF JUST FUCK THE FUCK OFFness comes courtesy of body shaming.

First Jamelia, vaguely-successful-pop-star-turned-panel-show-opinion-haver opinioned that having clothes available in sizes under 6 or over 20 just encouraged people to have unhealthy body shapes and that ‘they’ (‘they’ being people of a size Jamelia considers ‘not normal’) just shouldn’t be allowed nice things.

Then a company (whose name I am not going to mention, because they’ve had quite enough publicity enough thank you very much, and therefore will be referred to from now on as “Proper Wazzock”) responded to complaints about their (fucking awful) adverts for their (fucking awful) product by revealing themselves to be apparently staffed by the sort of people that say ‘bants’ without irony and run by White Goodman; engaging in a PR campaign based on name calling and bullying. Classy.

globogymgif

Jamelia did a half arsed #sorrynotsorry kind of apology where she basically said “I didn’t say what I said, and what I didn’t say wasn’t right, but I actually do kind of think what I didn’t say that I said.” I would have had considerably more respect for her if she’d said “I was on live TV, I said something without thinking it through, and I apologise”. We’ve all said shitty things and hurt people; when people call us on it it’s far better to use it as a learning experience than to go YOU’RE LISTENING WRONG.

Proper Wazzock haven’t issued any sort of apology and are absolutely revelling in the notoriety. Seeing as their entire business and product is based on capitalising on people’s insecurities as far as they are concerned this is the best thing ever; and if they can keep on making people feel insecure they obviously think this will help them sell even more. It might even work, sadly.

The thing is, ‘fatties’, as Proper Wazzock put it, don’t need to be ‘made to feel uncomfortable’, as Jamelia put it, by lack of nice clothes or a poster telling us our bodies aren’t ready for the beach.  Our society is very good at making them feel uncomfortable anyway. There are myriad ways in which our culture polices and enforced a very narrow range of ‘acceptable’ bodies.

We’re fighting against some really ingrained ideas that people are just not willing to let go of. NONE of these ideas actually hold up to proper scrutiny.

Fat = Unhealthy? MYTH.

Thin = healthy? MYTH.

You can predict someone’s health & fitness from BMI? MYTH.

Shaming fat people will help them lose weight? MYTH.

I played an amateur contact sport for 6 years. I went to the gym 3-4 times a week. I cycled every day. And I was still ‘fat’ because that’s what my body does. That’s my natural body shape. I was always over my ‘healthy’ BMI because I am short, and have a lot of muscle. When I was regularly training I had even more muscle, so my BMI was even higher. In fact, at my peak fitness, my BMI put me at ‘clinically obese’. I was, it’s safe to say, fitter than most of my ‘thin’ friends who just had a naturally slim figure and never worked out – some of whom smoked to stay slim. I no longer compete because playing sport destroyed my knees. Playing a sport, and exercising at the level I was, impacted on my physical health to the extent that a specialist assumed from an MRI of my knees that I was a runner in my mid 40s. I was 34.

Over a decade ago I went on a calorie controlled diet. I lost loads of weight. I started getting a body which the sort of person that thinks fat = unhealthy thin = healthy might look at and go She’s healthy. She’s acceptable. She’s allowed nice clothes. She might even be acceptable enough for a bikini. And I was SO ILL. My body couldn’t function at that size/shape. I was miserable. I kept fainting. My skin suffered. I was constantly ill with colds and infections as my immune system couldn’t cope. Everyone kept telling me how good I looked except my close friends who were seriously worried. I couldn’t maintain it without basically starving myself. I still thought I wasn’t good enough and I ended up having a major mental health breakdown, and I am not the only person to have discovered that despite what society tells us, becoming Not Fat isn’t the magical unicorn answer to everything.

Nowadays I am now relatively healthy. I eat what I like, try to avoid too much sugar and cycle and swim when I can be bothered. I am happy.  In the process of accepting my body something magical happened – many of my mental insecurities and anxieties melted away. In fact, learning to love the body I have now actually led me to eating more healthily. globogymBecause I loved my body I wanted to keep it well and treat it right. I started working with its needs, instead of against them. When I hated my body, I punished myself by starving it or resorted to comfort eating and ended up stuck in a cycle of self-loathing and unhealthy eating. I feel better now than I have in decades – and all because I have given up the idea that I need to force my body to look a certain way to be ‘acceptable’ and instead accept what I have.

In short, accepting my body the way it is actually made my body better.

When you go around on the internet telling fat people they look bad, or that they are unhealthy, or that they need to change their look to please you, you know what you are doing? You are making it worse. You are part of the cycle of self-hatred and fatphobia and insecurity. You are part of the problem.

Size is no indicator of health. You CANNOT tell the health of someone from what they look like or how big/small they are.  You especially cannot tell the health of someone from what they write on Twitter.

So will all the ‘concern trolls’ please DROP this ‘healthy’ shit. You can be thin and healthy, thin and unhealthy, fat and healthy, fat and unhealthy. And if someone is fat and unhealthy, guess what? THEY MIGHT STILL BE HAPPY and do you know what? It’s absolutely none of your business either way.

When I first saw Proper Wazzock’s advert I said “fuck off” at it, felt a bit cross and wondered – as I often do – why this sort of thing is still acceptable. But then it became clearer that actually tens of thousands of people were equally pissed off about it.  The wonderful #wearethethey hashtag appeared in response to Jamelia’s comments and it was beautiful to behold.

One of Proper Wazzock’s responses to the criticism was that “Getting ‘beach ready’ is not a new concept[…]It’s a fashion that is followed by millions  around the world when they look forward to their summer holiday.” They are right, it’s not a ‘new concept’. It’s an old one. The fact that so many people are no longer willing to buy into it shows that there is a clear cultural shift against sexist objectification, cultural body shaming bullshit and unethical advertising, and a rejection of big fat myths and restrictive standards of beauty. There’s a growing sense, particularly among young people, that this shit is actually not ok, and up with it we will not put.

so tell me who are you?

2014-09-21 15.17.55How do you recognise your loved ones? That probably seems like a daft question to many of you. Obviously you recognise them because they are them. They, you know, look like them. That’s how you know that they are them. You recognise them by their face, right?

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I realised that I don’t recognise my loved ones by their face, and that I’d never been able to really recognise people by their faces.

I’ve always found faces difficult. As a child I used to panic if I lost sight of my mum out shopping in case I couldn’t find her again. I could easily walk right past her, especially if she was trying something on and therefore wasn’t wearing the same thing as she had been earlier.

When people would say “ohhh, look at this baby. He looks JUST like his father” I’d be like “yeahhh, just like him” but my inside voice is going (it looks like a baby seriously. It looks like all babies. You’re making this up to make the parents feel better.)  When people exclaim “oh, I knew this was your sister/brother/aunt/mother, there’s SUCH a strong family resemblance” I nod and agree and say “yeah wow” but my inside voice is going (Really? But they have different hair colour. How can you TELL??) When people I haven’t seen for decades come up to me and go “OMG it’s YOU! How brilliant! You haven’t changed a bit” I go “oh wow, yeah! Haha, nice to see you! How are you?” And my inside voice is going (seriously who are you please give me some sort of cue or tell me who you are and what do you mean I haven’t changed if you know me from school my hair wasn’t purple then WHO ARE YOU). When people say hi to me in the street,  or look at me with that distinctive “I know you and you know me hello” facial expression and they aren’t people  I know really well there’s usually several minutes of winging it where on the outside I am going “oh HIIIIIIIII! How ARE you? What are you up to today?” while my inside voice is frantically flicking through my internal rolodex of People I Don’t Know Well That Might Be In This Sort Of Place, in the sections marked Work People, People From My Local Community, Friends Of Friends and trying to put together the clues from what they’re saying as to who they might be.

As far as I am concerned, people being able to recognise other people’s faces is pretty much WITCHCRAFT and I could never work out how they managed it. I assumed everyone else saw faces the way I did, but were just much better at remembering them than me.

About 10 years ago I was at a wonderful production called “The Masque of the Red Death” by  Punchdrunk Theatre company. It was a beautiful immersive theatre experience, where the stories happen around you as you wander around the performance space. All the audience members are handed, and instructed to wear, a full face covering mask as you enter the performance space, and large groups are deliberately split up upon entry.  It was attending this performance with a group of about 15 friends where I had the revelation. As I moved through the space I kept encountering my friends. I knew who they were immediately. My friend C, because she has this way of standing just so, with her ankles crossed and her head on one side. My friend T, who has this habit of sort of rocking his shoulders when concentrating. My friend A, with her pale skin and habit of hunching her shoulders inwards a little when she doesn’t feel quite comfortable. With their faces covered, all of these gestures were so much clearer. And it struck me – for the first time in my life – that this is how I recognise people. Their faces are meaningless to me – as distinctive and recognisable as individual pebbles on a beach. It was physical cues, posture, gesture and style that I was picking up on, and deducing that that person was C, or T or A.

After this experience we all hit the bar for a few drinks and I studied their faces, now the masks were removed. I noted how distinctive their facial expressions where when talking, or listening. How unique their hand gestures were, how they held their bodies when they spoke. This was how I was recognising my loved ones.

The penny, however, didn’t really drop at this point. I just accepted at the time that I had a problem with faces, and got on with my life.

In the early days of my relationship with the former Mr RDP I told him I had a problem with faces, after an incredibly embarrassing experience where a good friend of his said hello to me and I blanked him – not knowing who he was and thinking he was some random dude talking to me. The ExMrRDP was really upset with me, and his friend was quite hurt. I explained that I really struggled with faces and had genuinely no idea who he was and apologised profusely. I don’t think either of them really believed me. Whenever we went anywhere that would involve meeting his friends, he was hugely frustrated that I wouldn’t enter the room/pub/club etc. without him. I explained that I was anxious that I wouldn’t know who his friends were, even though I’d met them. I think he thought I was just being a bit daft. A few years into our relationship he decided on a whim to shave his head. He went into the bathroom someone I knew, and came out a complete stranger. I knew it was him, of course it was. When he spoke, that was his voice. And those were his facial expressions. But they were coming out of a face I didn’t know, and it was genuinely terrifying. For months, until his hair started to grow back, I walked right past him in the street. I flinched when he went to kiss or hug me. I had a few panic attacks when I woke up in the night and in that moment of existential uncertainty you have upon waking saw a complete stranger in my bed. I had no idea that a mere haircut would produce such a profound effect on me; and I think he was very hurt by my reaction too – understandably so.

But again, the penny didn’t drop then either. I waited for his hair to grow back, encouraged him to wear hats as often as possible, and got on with my life.

When I gave up drinking, and my relationship with Mr RDP ended, I experienced Walking Into Places Alone And Sober. This brought home to me with a shock how much anxiety I had over not recognising groups of friends in public places. I realised that pre-heavy-drinking-days I had always made sure I arrived at the meeting place early, with a book, so that I wouldn’t have to find my friends; I’d already be there so they would see me and come to me. It occurred to me – genuinely for the first time – that a big chunk of my social anxiety was tied up in this fear of walking straight past my friends, of not knowing who they were, of looking foolish or thoughtless. That one of the reasons for my ‘power drinking’ before going out was so that I would have a drunkscuse for not recognising people. (LOL I walked RIGHT PAST you OMG I have been drinking ALL DAY).

Even then, the penny didn’t drop. Although by that point I had firmly grasped the idea that I Can’t Do Faces and Other People Can, I still hadn’t put it all together. Until earlier this year, when J, one of my oldest Internet Friends, who I’ve never actually met in person, shared a ‘face blindness test’ online, revealing that she’d got one of the lowest scores possible, and that she was mildly freaking out that most people could actually pass this test. I did the test too, and scored the same as her. We shared some of our embarrassing facial recognition fails. We shared our astonishment that other people genuinely could tell each other apart just from looking at their faces. And we discovered at the same time that there’s a very high likelihood that we both have a genuine condition called Prosopagnosia.

A million pennies, unknowingly stored up over my >3 decades on this planet, dropped all at once with an almighty CLANG. J and I scoured the internet for more information,  and going OMG YES THIS IS MY LIFE and feeling a weird mixture of elation and fear (there IS something wrong with me! YAY!/There IS something wrong with me, OH SHIT).

We read that it was often hereditary, so I got in touch with Mummy RDP who immediately responded OMG YES THIS IS MY LIFE TOO. We both admitted that whenever anyone tells us how alike we look (I am informed that it’s a rather uncanny resemblance) that we just nod and go “yes, I know, amazing isn’t it” but actually neither of us are able to see it – unless we are wearing the exact same clothes and have the same hairstyle.

Now I know it’s there, I am able to spot all the little ways in which it affects things which perhaps ‘normal’ people take for granted. For example, as much as I enjoyed Orphan Black (spoiler ahead if you’ve not seen it. WHY HAVEN’T YOU SEEN IT? Go and watch it right now. NOW. Then come back and finish reading this. Ok. Are you done? Good isn’t it! Now carry on…) it took me most of the first episode to work out that the whole thing at the beginning was Sarah looks at the woman jumping in front of the train and recognises her own face.  This was meaningless to me. As far as I was concerned they were completely different people. As I watched more of the showI had to work really hard to identify who were meant to be the clones. To me, they all have different hairstyles, different facial expressions and gestures (and this is a testament to how superb lead actor Tatiana Maslany is – WHERE ARE HER AWARDS) and therefore as far as I am concerned they don’t look alike.  It makes sense of why I can pretty much never follow Thrillers, or James Bond Movies, or any movie which relies on someone turning out to actually have been working for the bad guys all along, or any movie with a really big cast. I can’t tell who all these people ARE. It explains my preference for Superhero movies, friends with coloured hair and piercings and tattoos. It explains why I tend to be attracted to people with unusual or striking faces. It explains why I can’t see myself in photos, why I prefer to have unnatural coloured hair (I have failed to recognise my own reflection on more than one occasion) and, of course, it explains much of my social anxiety.

While the initial revelation made me feel like everyone else had been walking around with a superpower (the power to recognise people) that I didn’t have, I am also realising what the benefits are of my brain compensating for my lack of magical recognition ability. I can read facial expressions, micro-expressions, emotional states and body language LIKE A BOSS. I often know how people are thinking or feeling before they even express it. (Which, I am told, is also really annoying sometimes.) It maybe makes me poor at initial meetings, but it’s helped me be a great communicator. It also helps me to be nicer to complete strangers. You never know, that person pissing you off on the tube might actually be the person who interviewed you for a job, so let’s maybe NOT call them a shitweasel.

Since the dropping-of-all-the pennies I’ve been much more upfront with people about my problems. Apologising immediately when someone says ‘’hi”, rather than making awkward conversation until I can work out who the hell they are and saying “sorry, I have face blindness and don’t recognise people well…” If anything, it’s a good conversation starter. If going on internet dates I message them before the date and ask them to come up to me and introduce themselves, because chances are I won’t be able to recognise them at all. It’s become an entertaining game to some of my friends – showing me pictures of people and going WHO IS THIS and watching me try to work it out.

I am learning that I am not a rubbish friend, or a bad person, for not knowing who people are, and my loved ones are getting used to the fact that I might walk past them in the street, and learning that it doesn’t make them any less loved.

Dancing with myself

For a blog which began to document my attempts to not drink alcohol for a year, it strikes me that I’ve not posted much about the new year when technically I could drink if I wanted. And well, that’s because I haven’t actually wanted a drink yet. There’s been no lack of opportunity. I’ve been to several pub lunches, a couple of post-work dinners, some colleagues’ leaving drinks and several club nights. Not only have I not drunk alcohol at any of them, but it didn’t even occur to me to do so. Not drinking has just sort of naturally segued from “look at me, I am not drinking for a year, I am crazy badass” via “Meh. Alcohol is a rubbish drug. I can’t be bothered” to “Lime and soda please. Oh, no thanks, I don’t drink” without me even noticing.

ICE BITCHES

As I’ve set out to each of these events the thought of having a drink there has been oddly secondary. Occasionally tertiary. I went out dancing last night, and on my way I vaguely considered having some sort of energy drink for larks, but I was still on a sustained endorphin high from a particularly cold swim earlier that day and thus decided I was probably wired enough already.  The music was fantastic, but the dancefloor a little slow to get going. After failing to get anyone to dance to Daisy Chainsaw with me so I just went “fuck it” and danced by myself. Stone cold sober. Would I have done that before last year? Sure, I’d have danced by myself; but I would have wanted to have been drunk first so that if anyone was like “look at that saddo dancing by herself” I would have a drunkscuse. Not for the first time I pondered how strangely freeing it is to do something because you want to and not to feel the need to be hammered to justify it.

After my energetic solo dancing I found myself thirsty and headed to the bar, offering to buy a drink for my friend celebrating his birthday at the club. “Brilliant, yes! I’ll come to the bar with you because you’re drinking again now, aren’t you? We can have a drink together!” Um. Well, technically, we could. Because I am not not drinking. Technically. But, well, I don’t want one. He shrugged and said “Fair enough. Seems reasonable.” And, well, it does, doesn’t it? 

As I sipped my ginger beer I wondered about this sense of just not really wanting a drink. Put like that, it clearly makes reasonable sense to not start drinking again just for the sake of it – just because my year of abstinence is up. Why would you have an alcoholic drink if you don’t really feel like having one? Put like that, it does actually seem perfectly reasonable to say “I’ll have one when I want one”. But save for that one mulled wine on New Year’s Day, I haven’t actually wanted one

I didn’t even want a drink when I hit my favourite  bar (and according to the proprietor my “second home”) which sells home-made liqueurs; somewhere I’d planned to have drinks at some point when I was drinking again, since my first visit while half way through my no-alcohol 2014. It was odd to look through their cocktail list and know that there was nothing actually stopping me from ordering, and drinking, any of the delicious looking options other than, well, I didn’t want one.

What is it I don’t want?  Is it that I don’t want to spend the money? I’ve got so used to spending no more than £5 total on an average night on limes and sodas or the occasional ginger beer or a pot of tea. Perhaps part of me is rebelling at spending more than that on one drink. Is it that I don’t want to be drunk? Perhaps. I’ve spent a whole year being more or less in total control of myself of a night out (a few nights with one too many Monster Rehabs notwithstanding), and an entire year without hangovers has been enough to make me reticent to every have one ever again. Or is it that being a Not Drinker became a powerful symbol of change; became part of who I am in an undefinable way? Is it that I am enjoying being that girl who doesn’t drink but is still fun, and I don’t want to – am not ready to – give that up just yet?

It’s strange for me to have been a binge drinker since the age of (if I am honest here, and sorry Mum) 15 to have been able to so completely remove something from my life that I considered absolutely pivotal to my enjoyment of my social life. It makes me question so much about my past – all of those amazing hilarious drunken nights with friends; would they – could they – have been just as awesome without the ‘drunk’ if my own self esteem and confidence were better? If I’d been able at the age of 15 or 19 or  25 or even 30 to just go and dance on my own like I didn’t actually give a shit what people thought? What about my friends, I wonder. How many of them sometimes really want to do something but feel they need to be drunk to do it? Is this just me, and my own long term anxiety issues, or have we sort of built up a culture around what sort of behaviour is ‘ok when you’re drunk but a bit weird when you’re sober’?

I don’t have any answers to any of the questions I am raising here. The only thing I  know for sure is that I don’t want a drink. And more importantly, I don’t need one. Not to get myself revved up to go out. Not to quell going-out-anxiety demons. Not to be the only one on the dancefloor. And until I want one, I am not going to have one. If I find myself needing one, then I am definitely not going to have one.

Journey's end?

drawn by a 35 year old
dreams of a 5 year old

I can’t quite believe it’s been 364 days ago that I decided to see if I could give up drinking for 3 months. Maybe, if i could do 3 months, I’d go for another 3. And here we are, 31st December and I haven’t had an alcoholic drink – not even a taste of one  – in the entire year.

Some people might say, so what? Lots of people don’t drink. Or, so what? If you want to stop drinking just do it without making a fuss or going on about it. Or, why bother? Just cut down if you’re drinking too much. Or why  bother? Life will be devoid of meaning or fun without it. Well, I say people “might” say this. Actually, they did say all these things. In the early days I had people offer to spike my drink so I could get drunk without breaking my resolution. I had people angry with me for even daring to suggest that perhaps my drinking habits weren’t healthy. I had people be personally offended by my decision, as if my choice, and determination, to do this reflected badly on them. I had people nearly shouting at me they were so offended. I was told “don’t be so ridiculous. You can’t not drink. What’s the point?”.  I was told my social life was over. I wondered if it was.

364 days later and honestly? With no hyperbole, no exaggeration, my year of sobriety  has been one of the best things I have ever done.

I’ve lost weight and feel healthier. I’ve done more with my life – weekends are so long when you don’t waste hours being hungover and while I’ve not saved any money I’ve got loads more cool stuff, taken part in more things, taken evening classes and not had to worry at the end of every month like I always used to. I’ve worked through my issues with self-esteem and discovered how to have fun, be confident and make mistakes while sober.

What I haven’t done, as I look back over my blog documenting my journey, is come fully clean over the extent of my drinking before. And if I am going to move forward in 2015 with a healthier attitude to drinking, I am going to need to address this. And I can’t address it without explaining a little more about my issues with anxiety.

I have always had problems with anxiety and panic attacks, as long as I can remember. The earliest panic attack I can remember that I can  clearly identify as  a panic attack was when I was around 11 years old. I can’t remember what upset me in the first place – something very minor I am sure, but I remember crying – screaming even – in bed, desperate for comfort and desperate for someone to tell me it would go away and that I wasn’t dying. I remember my Dad and Stepmum at a complete loss as to what to do – perceiving it as a tantrum from a child old enough to know better and chosing to not give me any attention. I understand why they did this, and in their situation I may well have done the same. But I also remember the all-consuming terror and being totally out of control, unable to calm myself down. I think I screamed until I fell asleep of exhaustion.

It wasn’t for many many years – almost 2 decades in fact – that I understood this as a panic attack and began to learn ways of managing them. I now recognise that I manage anxiety in a rather backwards way. I cope with  big problems, like being stranded, or a family member going into hospital, really well. I turn into this calm practical person who looks for solutions and just Gets On With Things and Is Supportive To Other People and says things like “well, getting angry isn’t going to help” and  “we’re all in this situation together”. But if I have a small problem, like, I can’t find my keys or my Oystercard or my glasses, I go into absolute meltdown. It’s the end of the world. I am become a puddle of tentacle waving rage, accusing inanimate objects of conspiring against me to ruin my life. To try to prevent such meltdowns I have 3 sets of bike keys, 4 spare Oystercards and several pairs of glasses kept in different places around the house, just in case.  I still have the occasional panic attack, but now that it’s been diagnosed I  have learned to recognise them, learned how to calm myself and have medication for it which helps enormously.

But at one point in my 20s, anxiety nearly destroyed me. I couldn’t leave the house for long periods of time. It affected my job, my relationships, and of course my social life. Most of my social life was conducted online, via LiveJournal, where I struck a balance between honesty about my depression and yet a carefully constructed image of myself as the fun-loving and outgoing person I knew myself to be, were it not for the waves of anxiety that prevented me from being that person all the time. I was a fun person, a party girl. People were often saying “you seem too bouncy to be depressed”. I needed to be that person. I needed people to see that person, and experience that person, so that I could experience her too, even if I didn’t always feel that way. Enter, from left, possibly pursued by bears, Vodka. And Rum. My props on the days when I needed to be fun. When I needed an excuse to be an insane mess, dancing on the dance floor like I didn’t care. Sure, I might end up a sobbing mess later but that’s the ALCOHOL. Not ME.

Although I dealt with the depression, and the agoraphobia, and to some extent the anxiety, the reliance on alcohol to be Fun Party Person  (TM) never really went away. It took the best part of this year off alcohol  for it to click that I don’t remotely need it. Maybe I did once, but it’s a habit I fell into I didn’t need. And it was a habit that few people knew the true extent of. For every big social occasion, I would need to be drunk before I got there. I would usually polish off the best part of half a bottle of vodka, or an entire bottle of cheap wine (or worse, Lambrini…) while getting ready. I would have empty water or cola bottles in the house so that I could take a drink with me on the way to the event. If I had any left on arrival I’d down it before going in. I told myself I was doing this to save money, so I wouldn’t need to buy drinks out; but once I was there I just wanted to keep being as drunk as possible and by that point you’re also not making wise decisions, so I’d not only keep drinking but buying drinks for other people all over the place. I’m relatively lucky how few times I’ve been at serious risk, but there are enough occasions that I look back on and feel sick at some of the situations I got myself into.

Why was I drinking like this? Was I really trying to cover up anxiety? Was it habit? Or was this just what I thought was normal? Probably a lethal cocktail of the three.

It was certainly this cocktail that led to the incidents of New Year’s Eve 2013. I can’t detail them in their entirety as I don’t remember all of it. The facts I know, either from dim memory or from being informed about them afterwards (occasionally while holding my hands over my ears going please, please don’t tell me)

  • I tried to fight someone. I took off my (borrowed) coat, threw it on the ground and said “come down here and say that to my face”. I don’t know why I was so angry with this person.
  • I somehow threw my makeup out into the road and ran out in front of a  car to get it
  • I got a little bit too into character – I was dressed as Cruella De Ville and at some point would not stop being Cruella De Ville. I was being her all night. Apparently this stopped being funny really quite early on to everyone but me.
  • I tried to drink some really expensive bottle that didn’t belong to me (it was rescued at the last minute)
  • I drank something random offered to me by a stranger in the street
  • I was vile to the then Mr RDP, who at one point looked at how long it would take him to walk back to London (at 200 miles, approximately 65 hours).

The thing that saddens me most, more than my awful behaviour, is how little I remember of the good things. I don’t remember the fireworks. I don’t remember my Dad opening his briefcase at midnight to reveal it was full of confetti, which we then all threw over ourselves. I see my family so rarely, and I wasted this wonderful opportunity because of my mission to be as drunk as possible.

My resolution to not drink for 2014 – well, for the first 3 months of it and more if possible – came entirely from this night. Out of a desire to prove how sorry I was to the then Mr RDP and my family for my behaviour, and out of  a desire to not ever feel that hungover again. It wasn’t until the year started to tick by that I started to realise my problem with alcohol was bigger than this one night, and how big a change this really could be.

I can’t claim my anxiety is gone as that’s something I have struggled with from long before I discovered alcohol  (although in the interests of full disclosure I had already been drunk, and hungover, once, before I was 11 and had that panic attack; I and another small child climbed up to the first aid cabinet and drank all the banana flavoured children’s medicine and then danced naked around the garden singing “we’ve drunk the mesydin we’ve drink they mesydin”. On being told the next day the headache I had was how grown ups feel when they’ve had too much beer and wine I replied that I was “NEVER going to drink beer or wine EVER”) but the aspect of anxiety that prevents me from participating in a social life without a boozy safety bubble? That is a demon which has been well and truly sent packing, with no forwarding address and a permanent restraining order. I won’t ever feel the need to be drunk to enjoy myself, to be drunk to go to a social occasion or to be drunk to be a fun person.

The next stage, is, I guess, to see whether or not I am able to approach alcohol in a moderate manner. As someone who has only ever seen alcohol as a means to a drunken end, am I able to go out and have one drink? It used to be the case that if I wasn’t going to get drunk, I wouldn’t bother drinking at all (and therefore not bother going out.) Have I been able to reset my relationship with alcohol to the extent that I will be able to enjoy one drink for the taste, for the relaxation? Do I want to?

At midday tomorrow I will be standing on the bank of a freezing pond in my swimming costume, cup of mulled wine in hand, contemplating all that has been in 2014, and all that could be in 2015.

With less than 12 hours to go I still don’t know whether I want that to be my first drink, or my last.

 

Facehooked

Image from Mashable - http://mashable.com/2014/04/01/facebook-privacy-dinosaur/As the year draws to an end I am starting to think about what my next challenge could be. Something new I can take up, perhaps. Or something old I can give up. The giving up alcohol has gone excellently – 355 days with no alcohol (so far). The giving up sugar less well; I am very much back on the sugar train but I am not eating anywhere near the level of sugar as before, and am making significantly better choices about my diet. Apart from today where I had two slices of cake. Or Friday when I pretty much ate Cadbury’s Roses all day. But it’s Christmas and everyone knows things like this don’t matter at Christmas, right?

When a large number of my friends suddenly started disappearing from Facebook, and people whose names I didn’t recognise started popping up, all victims of Facebook’s sudden and strict enforcement of their ‘real name’ policy, I got annoyed. Many of my friends don’t use their ‘real’/’given’/’birth’ name on Facebook. Some because they are social workers and don’t want to be found by families they work with. Some because they are teachers and don’t want to be found by the children they teach.  A few have different names because they have obsessive and/or violent ex partners or family members from whom they are hiding. Many just have ordinary jobs and no particular need to hide but want to keep their personal and professional life entirely separate, because, you know, that’s a perfectly normal thing that lots of people like to do.

I suspect though that the  main reason for most of my friends having a different name is because they’ve all been on the internet since the early days of the world wide web. Handles were chosen on IRC and usenet. The same handles transferred over to LiveJournal and MySpace. The names stuck. We’d all already been using the internet as our social glue for years before Facebook came along and made being friends on the internet a mass mainstream thing. My friends being mainly a big bunch of geeky goths, the internet gave us a way to make friends and social connections like never before. The vast majority of the friendships I have now were forged via the net – perhaps we met in person but the relationship largely developed and deepened online. LiveJournal was, for me, at times, quite literally a lifeline between me and the world – when I was stricken with agoraphobia and unable to leave the house it was a connection to friends – real friends – and a connection to feeling like I could live a normal life. Developing friendships in this way meant that in my friendship group a person’s internet name was in fact their real name. I have friends I have known for 20 years that I couldn’t tell you their surname. Some I couldn’t even tell you their first name.

So one by one all members of my little alternative corner (all people vanishing appear to be linked by at some point being part of the London goth scene) disappear from the internet and reappear as strangers. Angry strangers, being forced to use a name that they don’t identify with – a name they might only ever use on their passport or bank account. A name that none of their friends know them by.  But Facebook has decided that the name that everyone knows them by isn’t good enough. It’s not a ‘real’ name.

Facebook’s policy states

“The name you use should be your authentic identity; as your friends call you in real life and as our acceptable identification forms would show.”

And here lies the key problem. For many of my friends, what their friends call them in real life is not the name on these “acceptable identification forms”. Not because they have a “lack of integrity”, as believed by the creator of Facebook, but simply because that’s how things are; for people in alternative cultures, for those of us who formed our friendships in the early days of the  net, for people who just like to have professional and personal separate.

I was upset and frustrated at seeing my friends have their identities taken away from them by a social network – but the deeper anger came from what I consider to be the transparent and abhorrent reason behind it: commerce. There’s no secret that Facebook is not the product. WE are the product. That’s why Facebook is free for us to use. We are a delicious data seam, rich for mining and selling to the highest bidder. Our tasty data, however, is flawed when they can’t sell real and identifiable people. We’re worth more when the buyer can be absolutely sure that they are going to be able to use the data to sell other stuff back to us, or track our every move. With everyone called Ian Spartacus, FairyFairy QuiteContrary and Cucumber Skimblepatch the data is worth less and therefore less profitable.

It made me so angry that people’s identies are being restricted in the name of profit that I thought perhaps for 2015, I will give up Facebook.

And as soon as I had the thought, I started to panic. Alcohol? Fine, I’ve gone 355 days without it and actually am not sure I want to drink it again anyway. Sugar? It’s tasty sure but I know if I just go for a few weeks without it I will stop wanting it so much. And there’s lots of other tasty stuff I can eat instead. But Facebook? Give up Facebook? Social suicide. I have one close friend who has no Facebook – she’s never had one – and I have to actually remember to invite her to things. I don’t always. My mum is on Facebook, and she lives 938423980328 miles away, it’s our primary means of communication. She told me in strict terms that under no circumstances am I allowed to give up Facebook. She even did the “I am your Mother and I am telling you…” thing.  I’ll never get invited to anything ever again. I’ll never know what’s going on. No one will come to anything I ever organise because they will all forget it’s happening. I’ll never see any nice pictures of me. Or, more likely, people will put up awful photos of me and I’ll never see them to say GOD TAKE THAT DOWN JESUS I LOOK LIKE A MANATEE TRYING TO CLIMB A TREE. I am more likely to chat to friends on Facebook than on the phone or by email. If I am feeling wobbly, I can just go “meep” and I’ll get cat pictures. If my other friends are feeling wobbly I can send them videos of dogs falling over.

I am sure it’s not just me that feels this way. Studies suggest that social media is potentially more addictive than booze or cigarettes, and Facebook is the social network that we’re all on. I was at the pub earlier today surrounded by friends and every single person around the table (including me) at some point got their phone out and checked Facebook. After my alarm goes off in the morning the first thing I do is check Facebook. The last thing I do when I go to bed is check Facebook. I have alt+tabbed at least 6 times to check Facebook while writing this blog.

Of course, there are alternatives. Ello tried, but with a vague future business model. There was a brief moment when it looked like it might have a future – I can’t speak for everyone but the largest part of my acquaintance went there to get their own username – you know, the one they’ve all been known as forever by all of their friends. Google Plus occasionally has a spike, but it still has a bit of an interface problem and hasn’t yet hit the critical mass of social circles to draw people away from Facebook.

You may think I am going a bit far with my conspiracy business at this point – but I don’t think the current aggressive ‘real’ name enforcement is a coincidence, or a tightening up of an accidentally overlooked policy. I think Facebook knows full well we’re addicted. And I think it knows how we are addicted, and how to keep us addicted. It knows full well that we loathe them and what they stand for, but that we need the service they provide in exchange for our crunchy delicious data sauce. I suspect that Facebook has spent years tweaking and twerking their systems to be just as addictive as possible. They’ve certainly not seen a problem in using us as guinea pigs without explicit consent. Facebook has us all hooked. Hooked lined and sinkered. We have Internet Stockholm Syndrome. We couldn’t leave even if we want to because they don’t just have us, they have all our friends hostage too.

Sew the end is near

As December draws close I’ve become more and more proud of what I have achieved this year.  I swim. I ‘ve lost weight and gained body confidence I never knew I could have. I’ve been writing regularly and one of my blogs reached an audience of over 2000. I’ve become single, explored my life as a single women in her late 30s, coped and survived and soberly comedy interpretive danced my way though the year. It’s actually jaw dropping to me how much in my life has changed – so much more than simply the three big resolutions: Learn BSL, give up alcohol, learn to sew.

It’s been 10 months now since this adventure started and I’ve faced most of the biggest challenges. Wedding season is over, birthday has been and gone and now my favourite ‘holiday’ of all – Halloween – has passed by totally alcohol free. Although it ended up not even being a challenge in the end, due to becoming striken with a lurgy which struck at pretty much dead on 2.30pm on the afternoon of Halloween itself. It  made itself known by a dry irritating tickle at the back of my throat, and by midnight it had developed into a full blown razor wire down the throat hacking cough lost voice monster of a lurgy. I was unable to speak at all for 5 days, and even now am able to make little more than a husky croak. Monsters and croaky voices – all so suitable for Halloween and yet so completely not fun.

Given the lurgy, you might think that the Halloween party was no true test of my alcohol free ways. However, in previous years where an eagerly anticipated occasion has arrived at along last and I find myself coming down with some sort of snot-plague, I have embraced the TOTALLY SCIENTIFIC rationalisation that:

  1. illness is caused by germs
  2. alcohol kills germs
  3. therefore alcohol cures illness

I’ve used that hypothesis for many years, and am clearly an excellent scientist because I kept repeating the experiment just to ensure that the results were to be trusted. I honestly wouldn’t recommend you try it to see if you can replicate the results as the results every time are:

  1. get really drunk
  2. get sick anyway
  3. therefore you’re hungover AND sick

Having resigned myself to being too ill to enjoy Halloween fully, I stayed out long enough so that I’d been at the party for at least 5 minutes longer than it took to get ready and headed home, rather disappointed to have missed out on the spooky fun I usually have, and somewhat annoyed that the one Halloween of my adult life where I could reasonably expect to be feeling well the following day was instead spent in bed, cancelling all my weekend plans and feeling rather hard done by.

I did have fun at the party, for the 4 hours and 5 minutes that I was there (it was a complicated costume, ok?) despite the sore throat and impending lurginess, so it still in a way achieved its aim: to prove to myself that I don’t need to drink to enjoy a celebration which is – for me at least – synonymous with epic drunkenness. I shall have to hold on to this thought for my next – and final –  big challenges: Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

As for the other two – as you know if you were here earlier I’d had rather more success with the sign language than the sewing, having passed BSL level 1 and starting level 2 in the next week. The BSL would have come in entirely handy in the week I lost my voice for 5 days, if only anyone else I knew spoke it. It certainly gave me a new perspective on how frustrating it is to communicate when you can’t just say words.

But just as I was feeling the pressure of the end of the year approaching, the pointy finger of fate jabbed me in the ribs and pointed at a sewing shop crossed with a community project hub more or less a stone’s throw from my current home which runs ‘Introduction to Sewing Machine’ courses.

I have always been a bit scared of sewing machines. From the first ever Home Economics (HE) class at school when we were encouraged to have a healthy respect for the danger of pissing about with the machines via horror stories of thumbs and fingers impaled on needles I have been wary of them. I am massively clumsy and when people say “oh, that’s very rare” what I hear is “it does happen to some people”  which is significant because *I* am the ‘some people’  to which shit  like this usually happens. I remained behind in HE for the rest of my school years due to my point-blank refusal to use one. I am the only person I know who got an ‘E’  grade for HE and had to do remedial sewing as detention as a result.

To learn to sew, properly sew, not just hand stitch the holes in my leggings that my thighs create (the only way I achieve a thigh gap is doing the splits), I have to get over this fear and use a sewing machine.

Our first task was to draw the sewing machine, to get us to really observe the20141108_155117 machine and try to note the detail, and to get our creativity flowing. An artist I am not, but I was always good at the observation round in Krypton Factor; according to the tutor  I am the first person ever in her class to have not only drawn the on switch but the power cable and foot pedal cable too.

Once we’d been given a tour of the machine and had learned how to thread it (the bobbin winding bit is, as far as I am concerned, WITCHCRAFT) she gave us all some material, showed us a drawstring bag she’d made earlier, gave us a small hint that we needed to leave a hole to thread a ribbon through and let us get on with working out how to make our bags.

Having got over the initial OMG FEAR of driving the actual machine I actually rather enjoyed it. I managed to make an entire little bag (which is now keeping all my medication nice and neat, instead of swimming around the bottom of my bag like a ransacked pharmacy) without any impaling incidents whatsoever.

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At the end of the class I proudly announced that I had got through the entire class without impaling any part of my body with a needle but because I am extraordinarily gifted when it comes to being a complete twonk it was at this exact moment I managed to stab myself on the needle hard enough to break the skin. The teacher shrugged. “It takes more than one accident to make a confident crafter”.

Ok, it’s not a dress. And I don’t think I will be whipping up my own outfits for a while yet. But as far as The List goes, it’s 2 down, 2 months to go.

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?