The Football Beast

Day 450: As you may know, I stopped counting days a while back but I do still have the counter on my phone so had a look and couldn’t resist posting it with it being a round number!

My football team Sunderland (don’t hate me football fans of opposing teams!) are playing at Wembley in London next Saturday (21 May) in what is a huge game for the Club and fans. It’s a bit like a Cup Final but the reward for winning the game will be promotion to the league above. Somewhere we haven’t been for four seasons.

See you soon Wembley Stadium

I’m a regular at the home games at Sunderland as I live in Durham so it’s only about 20 miles away. It means I was guaranteed a ticket for this huge match in London but on this occasion I’m approaching it differently to my last three trips to Wembley (2014 and twice in 2019).

On those occasions it was a drink fuelled weekend on each occasion and despite driving down on all three occasions (about a four hour drive) it didn’t stop me binge drinking once I was there. In 2014 I drank a bottle of champagne to myself after an afternoon of ale. The first time in 2019 was a day of drinking cans of strong lager from 10am once we arrived in London. The second time I didn’t go with my mates but with a 65 year old who I go to the regular games with (my mate’s Dad) but that didn’t stop me. We were drinking whisky from a hip flask during the game that we smuggled in. He’s an ex-policeman too!

I won’t bore you all with the footy side of things or detailed accounts of those boozy trips to London but in summary, all three trips should have been primarily about watching my team at the ‘home of football’ but really it was about being away from home on the piss from dawn to dusk with a football match in the middle of it.

With me in recovery and my ex policeman chaperone unable to attend the match I’ve made the decision to travel on my own for the first time. I’m going to drive down to London early Saturday and get parked up at the same hotel 6 miles away from Wembley that I’ve stayed in the previous three times. I know loads of people who are going to the match but they will largely be enjoying a good drink, as I did previously, and that for me will be an unhealthy environment. It’ll remind me of the good times I had with alcohol – carefree and merry with friends and fellow fans taking the edge off the social anxiety I often get in crowds.

Even my ‘beast’ has been hard at work since Monday night when we beat Sheffield Wednesday football club to book our place at Wembley.

“No harm having a few drinks to take the edge off. Travelling on your own will be nerve racking. You don’t need to drink at the match or in the packed pubs, have a few in the hotel.”

“It’s a big day. A final. Enjoy yourself. Raise a toast to your recovery and your team. A drink won’t hurt will it. Nobody even needs to know.”

It’s just another test. The beast will try and derail me but I know that alcohol doesn’t give me the joy that sobriety does. I have been to Sunderland matches on 16 occasions this season and not drank once. I’ve been on holidays, stag doos and weddings since I started recovery and not drank once. The beast can do one.

Pecking Away

After the initial high of being clean our addiction starts to peck away looking for a way back in. Focus on some self care and positive reflection from your success so far and I promise you it’ll pass! I’ve been there a few times and now I’m over a year in. The beast hasn’t won yet.

It’s not always easy to throw all your weaponry at the addiction when you feel like shit so I normally accept it’s going to be a bad day unless I go for a sleep. Reset by getting some shut eye whether that is a nap mid-afternoon or an early night. Thankfully I sleep much better now that I’m clean from alcohol so nodding off isn’t so difficult. I appreciate it isn’t easy for some people and I really do sympathise but there are not many people in long term recovery who still struggle to sleep if they’re not abusing their body with poisons. Sleep is so important to our mental and physical health. I never appreciated it in the past – arrogantly thinking I could drink late into the night and survive the next day on 4 hours, a full day at work and a hangover. I don’t miss those days.

Photo by Kristin Vogt on Pexels.com

Don’t ever think that I’m boasting or trying to show off my ‘success’ so far in my journey. It isn’t a competition and I take no joy in seeing others struggling. I’ve had a few negative messages lately from people taking exception to certain things I have shared because it doesn’t align with their recovery values or because they are struggling more than me and I may be triggering them. That in itself is an unhealthy way to live, attacking others and making their success seem worthless because you don’t feel good about yourself. We need to take ownership of our own mental health and focus on what we can control. Ourselves.

So, Mental Health Awareness week launched today and we will see so much more online at work, in the media, on the radio, etc and that is great – we need more people talking about mental health but I’m also a little cynical of these days or weeks where we highlight something, promise big change and then go on with our lives until the following year. I’m not saying don’t do Mental Health Awareness week but I would like to see more tangible outputs delivered in the Country from Government, Business and society. I’m British, I can only speak for the UK but I’m sure its just as bad in the US, Canada, Australia, etc (I just know I have readers from these Countries!)

We all have mental health but it just happens that some people have poor mental health. We are doing so much in the UK now regarding physical health (fighting obesity, teaching our children to be active and eat well, reducing meat and sugar in our diets, etc) but other than ‘talk to somebody’ what do we really see in the mainstream that screams to us that we are getting a strong hold of the mental health crisis that plagues society?

The disproportionate system we have across the UK is another issue. I was fortunate enough to access excellent NHS mental health care both in hospital and then in the community following my breakdown. It was immediate, it was to a high standard and most importantly I haven’t relapsed or needed their services since I finished my treatment. I know of two others within the company I work for (similar backgrounds, job roles, home lives, etc) who had very similar scenarios to me in terms of their illness but due to where they live their experience was completely different. I won’t go into the details but one of the ladies I am talking about was sent home from the hospital the same night she had attempted to take her own life and when she called the Crisis team after returning home to say she still felt suicidal she was told to try going to sleep and see how she felt in the morning. Later that night she took an overdose. Thankfully she survived. Another was told there were no beds in any local hospitals so she would need to go to a hospital over 100 miles away. She has young children. Her partner doesn’t drive. It just isn’t good enough.

Is a human life not an important enough reason to fix and improve this system? A mother. A father. A son. A daughter. A brother. A sister.

To conclude, a special mention to the wonderful little community we have going on Twitter (using the #RecoveryPosse hashtag). For all the services and treatments out there both privately and through the state which naturally cost a lot of money, I can honestly say one of the best things about my recovery has been the support network I’ve built up with strangers (although I now consider them friends despite never meeting them!) on a free to use social media platform and those like-minded people in various stages of their own recovery will never realise how much of a positive impact they have had on my life.