How sobriety has helped me cope with the tragic loss of my son and why I am grateful for my sobriety in a time of emotional turmoil and indescribable pain.
Suicide and sobriety, a blog which is extremely difficult to share but one, I feel is necessary. I have not shared anything new with you for two months because I’ve been in a very difficult place, trying to cope with the unimaginable loss of my son. As the title suggests, this is a podcast about loss and love, suicide and sobriety, extremely hard things to talk about, but I feel that it is my duty to talk about them.
If you feel triggered by the subject or it affects you then please get support. I don’t want to burden anyone with this or cause pain. However, I do feel like I am being blocked somehow by this and need to get it out in order to move through and forward. In fact my friend and best-selling author of ‘Drink, The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol,’ Ann Dowsett Johnston, asked me if I was still doing the podcast. “Yes, I’m still doing it,” I said. But apart from the interviews that were recorded before Joshua, I haven’t done a solo podcast since February. I just haven’t been able to get on with the business of podcasting without tackling the issues of suicide and sobriety, things I never thought I would ever be writing about together.
This won’t be a neat and tidy blog, with helpful hints for you take away, it’s not that kind of blog or podcast, but I do hope that by sharing my experiences it will help you to see that there is another way, various ways in fact, to deal with life, to cope with tragic, heartbreaking events, tend to our emotions and find tiny moments of comfort in what is otherwise and impossible situation. Alcohol is not the way, not the way at all and I am extremely grateful for my sobriety, without which I would not be here now, there’s no way I would be still upright if I was drinking.
Strength in sobriety
While I do believe that there is magic in sobriety, it doesn’t stop the pain and the anger, the grief or the utter hopelessness of loss and emptiness. Being sober does not mean that I am coping well, it does not stop meltdowns. Sobriety will not fix this or make it okay, There is nothing okay about this at all.
But sobriety does bring strength and clarity. I am very clear that alcohol will not help me and I am grateful that I do not to want to, or need to drink at this. Thanks to my sobriety and the work I’ve done to get here I have tools that I can lean on, faith to draw upon, a deeper understanding of myself and what I can handle, and a support network that is holding me up.
This is not the place to go into all the details of what happened, I have written a more in depth piece in Medium about what happened which you can read if you want but because this is a blog and podcast about sobriety, I do want to share with you this side of what’s been happening in my life over the past two months. But to explain..
Our world fell apart
So it was that on March 16th 2023 our world fell apart and my heart crumbled into a thousand pieces when we got the news that Joshua, our eldest son had taken his own life. He was 21.
Josh moved out a year ago, which was fine but then for the last eight months of his life, he broke all contact with us. I don’t know why and I will never know. I think the worst aspect of suicide is the not knowing, the trying to wrap my head around what little information I do have and try and make sense of it. I just can’t.
After the mayor told us the devastating news, we began our journey through a nightmare whirlwind of activity ending with me being handed my son’s ashes on Saturday afternoon, just 48 hours later. In between I had to tell family and friends in the UK, to choose flowers, sign paperwork, so much paperwork, identify him twice, and then watch as they tipped him into the incinerator right before our eyes. My brother, who came over from the UK for three days, my closest friends and a handful of local people were, and have been, just brilliant. I don’t know how we got through those days without their support.
But many of the local people have been anything but supportive. Out of the hundreds of people who passed through the funeral home on the Friday, the behaviour of the majority was absolutely disgraceful and they should be ashamed of themselves.
We were there from 12 until 10pm. It was brutal. I had no idea people could be so cruel as to treat a mother and father who had just lost a child, the way they did. We didn’t even feel welcome at our son’s side. I know that grief affects people in different ways and a young person dying like this is too shocking to comprehend, but even so. Maybe I was expecting too much, but instead of kindness and support we received something else entirely.
Some people completely ignored us. Instead of casseroles and cakes, I was expecting people to turn up with pitchforks. Oh and just a few days later a woman who has not spoken to us for at least ten years asked me for some of Joshua’s ashes, via WhatsApp – can you imagine!
I spent the first few weeks asking myself just that. WTAF? I should add here that I generally do not swear. I’ve nothing against swearing it’s just I’m not very good at it. However, sometimes only the F word will do because the whole situation is just unimaginable, there are literally no words to adequately describe this so the f word has been used many times lately and I find it very therapeutic.
I am clinging to what I can right now, swear words included.
I have lost my son, I miss him so much and can’t quite believe it is true. There is some part of me that thinks I’ll wake up in a minute and it would have all been a bad dream, a cruel nightmare. The situation surrounding his death, that he wasn’t speaking to us, that I will never really know what was going on in his mind, and the blatant cruelty of local people here, never mind the fact that we still haven’t received his death certificate, means there is a lot to cope with.
I use the term cope loosely because sometimes I haven’t been coping very well at all. I have been getting up every day and getting on with things which worked for a while. But, because I have been trying to just ‘push through’ it all got too much and ended up in a meltdown of tears, screams and peeing my pants. “I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before”, said one lovely friend and these wise words from another, “I am about to say something I have never said before: I am SO GLAD YOU PEED YOUR PANTS!!! You NEEDED that outburst!”
Placing my mind elsewhere
They are right of course I have been avoiding and placing my mind elsewhere. I have been obsessing about other people, planning our escape, writing my book, organising the shopping, cooking, talking to people and using a whole range of strategies and tactics to get me through. Drinking though, has not been one of them.
I am incredibly blessed to have such wonderful friends, friends I didn’t even know I had
I would like to share some of the ways I have been managing to hold on in the hope that it will help you to see that there are other ways to cope, that you don’t need alcohol for this, for anything. Yes the pain is unbearable at times. I am exhausted. I feel an actual physical pain in my heart space and a hollow, never ending type of hunger in my belly that just won’t be filled. But I have a husband, we have another son and I have to keep going so every day I dig deep and try.
How I remain upright
Of course we are holding each other up. It is just the three of us as my brother is great but he’s not here and my Mother-in-Law has Alzheimer’s and is not coping very well herself. We are trying to give each other space and to be kind. It’s hard for our 13 year old and we’re trying to protect him by not having big conversations while he’s around but at the same time being as open and honest as we can be. I am spoiling him and perhaps letting him get away with things I would not have done in the past, but what to do?
We’ve had pizza nights, days away and a recent camping trip to try and make life at home a little less dark. My husband and I lean on each other like we did when we quit drinking and I am trying to ask for help a bit more and not keep my feelings to myself. I thought that by struggling alone it was protecting him but it’s not, not really. I am also trying to be there, to listen and not take things personally. This is difficult for me as I absorb everything and try to carry it myself, but I am learning that an ear is all that is needed sometimes, not necessarily an answer or a solution just a place to share.
I am incredibly blessed to have such wonderful friends, friends I didn’t even know I had, and people I had lost touch with have all been there, and still are here for me. My friends have sat there while I cried in front of them, offered words of comfort and support and allowed me to vent without judgement.
“I feel so fortunate to know you and wish I could pop round and have a cup of tea and look after you a bit”
I have received the kindest, most loving messages of support, cards, flowers, poetry and a black tourmaline necklace (to protect me from the village energy) from fabulous friends. I’ve even been gifted a weekend in a yurt from one lovely friend. Friends here are doing shopping for me, taking me out and one friend sat with us for 6 hours on that awful day at the funeral home, I will be forever grateful for that. I really don’t know how I would have coped without regular Zoom chats, phone conversations and kind words from my friends.
As well as my friends I am so very grateful for my community including my clients and subscribers who have been absolutely amazing, I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to be in my life. I have also found comfort in the brilliant Hola Sober where I can go to be virtually held, to cry, to check in and listen to the other ladies in the room, and have the most healing conversations with the wonderful people who help make it the empowering and supportive space it is.
The first piece of advice I received was to go to the doctor and get sleeping pills. I wasn’t comfortable with that and in fact sleeping was not a problem for me at first. I would crawl into bed early as the day just got too heavy to carry. Lately I have been having trouble sleeping but do try and have naps.
There’s nothing more nourishing than a yoga nidra nap after lunch and to be honest, I need it. Grief and dealing with pain is so exhausting that I wouldn’t make it through the day without checking out halfway through. Sleep is one of the most important tools I have, and proper sleep has been a priority for me since I quit drinking. I generally wake up early though, around 3.30 or 4 but that is when I get my alone time which is something else I cannot do without.
Alone time in the morning
Those still moments before the rest of the world wakes have always been sacred to me even more so right now. For a few days I couldn’t do anything with those moments except make a cup of tea and go back to bed where I would lie awake, thoughts running wild in my head. Some days I still do that. But I am trying to get up when I wake up. Usually I will sit on the sofa with my tea and journal. Sometimes I meditate or pull a card, other days I just light a candle and sit. I’ve made bread a few times, pottered around the kitchen or walked the dog in the dark. If I don’t allow myself this space to gently ease into the day and gather myself for what lies ahead, I have a hard time.
Nature is my medicine and just like when I first quit drinking and when my husband and I walked his way to recovery from stroke, walking in nature has been the thing that is always there. My husband and I walk in the local woods at least three times a day, we spend whole afternoons out there just sitting or drinking tea together.
My wonderful friend Nicki, a psychologist and life coach, does amazing work coaching people outdoors among the trees. This connection with the natural world, that is deepened by Nicki’s coaching, is so powerful in supporting our own self-discovery. She has helped me really lean into nature in ways that are meaningful and therapeutic, more healing than just taking the dog for a walk, I feel I am much better off for this and am extremely grateful to her.
“Have you taken time off work?” is a question I have been asked a lot. As I am self employed and don’t get paid if I don’t work (regular passive income streams suddenly seem really important) I have not taken that much time off, maybe a week.
What can I say. I have drunk exactly 842 cups of tea in the past two months and I don’t care
I am blessed though to have the most wonderful coaching clients, and the people I had at the time, were incredibly gracious and understanding. I also needed to work, to have something else to focus on, to put aside my own pain even for a few hours a week and be there for others, has helped so much and it still does.
I know I have not been consistent with newsletters and this is the first proper thing I have written in months. But I feel that until I get this out I can’t move onto other things for some reason, I’m not sure why but it seems crazy for me to pick up with my podcasting and blogging topics without talking to you about my current reality of suicied and sibriety, first.
It’s like how can I just carry on as normal? Nothing is normal. I have been writing in my journal and picked up the practice of morning pages and often what I write is the same thing over and over, but at least it’s not in my head. The big thing I am writing though, is my book.
I am finally putting the finishing touches to it which might seem an odd time to be writing a book. However, like my coaching, my book is a focus, somewhere I can be which is not in my head. I have been sitting on it for 3 years, waiting for, well I’m not sure really. My business coach suggested I just get it out there so I am, at last.
Tea & Chocolate and comfort food
What can I say. I have drunk exactly 842 cups of tea in the past two months and I don’t care. I could have shares in Tetley and Yorkshire Tea thanks to the amount I’ve put away. Honestly I wouldn’t be without it, nothing else soothes the soul and wraps me up like a cup of tea can.
I have also been allowing myself chocolate in the evenings and favouring comforting foods like chilli, rice with vegetables and nourishing, wholesome stews and bakes. Thankfully we have had a mix of weather lately so it is still cool enough to use the oven. I don’t think I would feel as comforted by salad as I do with chicken casserole.
Walking has been my main form of exercise, sometimes yoga and lately pilates. I have just completed week one of the NHS Choices Couch to 5K Plan (again) I feel like I want to push myself now, to feel more. I want sore muscles and an aching body. It feels wrong somehow to be gentle all the time. I guess I’m trying to say I want to feel alive, to occupy my body, to prove that I am still here.
Feeling the feelings
This is hard. When I first quit drinking, I was surprised at the depth of my feelings, how I could be riding the wave of pure joy one minute and find myself in a puddle of tears the next. I worried how I would be able to cope with the intensity if anything ‘big’ happened and in fact I was asked once what would have to happen to make me drink again, ‘like something bad happening to your husband or one of your kids.’ Let’s be clear. There is absolutely nothing that could happen that would have me return to alcohol. The worst is already happening and I am not drinking.
I learned early on in sobriety that actually, feelings are important and should be listened to no matter how uncomfortable or painful they are. I am learning now how to tend to my feelings rather than run away from them.
I could be riding the wave of pure joy one minute and find myself in a puddle of tears the next
That said, I have been finding it extremely difficult to face the enormity of the feelings, they are just too big and painful and raw. My therapist said that some of the things I had been doing was my brain taking me somewhere else and protecting me from the full force of what has happened. I agree, and have often found myself outside of myself to get through a conversation or do some sort of task, like writing this blog.
I am here, but not actually here. Right now, I feel like I am a surreal in-between place, where life is still going on around me but I’m not part of it. I feel like I am wading through treacle like I am on the outside looking in, that it is not really me that this is happening to. Because it happens to other people, right?
I realise that I haven’t been doing enough of this. At first it was easy, I couldn’t stop but then there came a point where I felt I had to stop crying and just get on with things which I did. After all, there are people relying on me, I can’t afford to sit around crying all day. But holding it in led to my meltdown, but strangely I’ve become more scared that if I cry I won’t be able to stop.
I know deep down that just letting go and crying as much as is necessary will help. I feel that happening when I do cry, but I am still scared of it. A beautiful friend gifted me some Donna Ashworth poetry books and I’ve been reading a poem a day and just letting the tears flow, sometimes just opening the book or reading the title of the poem is enough to help me release.
Again, not something I have been doing very well but I am trying. It is just too big and unbearably painful to completely let go and sit with the feelings sometimes, so I am managing in small doses. This might make me sound like some kind of cold hearted control freak, only letting my emotions out when it is convenient, but it’s not that. It just hurts too much to do it any other way and I am scared that I will completely fall apart if I open the tap and let it out.
Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don’t. I often have to pull many things together at once in order to get through five minutes. On their own, these things can’t fix this and I don’t think it is something to be fixed, rather, worked through with love and compassion. And the tools I’ve shared with you, when used in combination with each other, they are soothing and grounding, they provide stability, safety and comfort and a basis for living. Living, at the moment is messy, it hurts and I want to uproot everything, to get rid of it all, and purge all the feelings of despair, pain and guilt and anger.
I honestly don’t know what that looks like, but I know I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. If it wasn’t for my husband and son, I could quite easily just give up, but we have to be there for each other. As a family, we are learning to let joy and grief exist side by side. We must focus on ourselves, be kind and rest when it gets too much. There is football and camping but there are also tears and pain.
Life is about change, sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful, but most of the time it’s both.Lana Lang – Smallville
I am woefully ill-informed about suicide and I want to learn more for my own healing and to perhaps support others in the future. We think our son was depressed, going by what little news has come to light about his last few months and I had no idea. I don’t think anybody did. There were signs but they were missed. Spain only introduced its suicide helpline in May of 2022 and there is still so much shame and secrecy surrounding mental health and depression, especially in young men. I have been reading a few books on the subject and have been talking to people who have lived through similar experiences which is helping so much.
Sobriety as a life tool
My sober tools have become my life tools. Sobriety isn’t just about not drinking its living a life that feels good, one that is full of joy, support, and nourishment even when life is as hard as it is for me right now. It is trying to live in alignment to feel whole and fulfilled. It is about building strong foundations and putting things in place that support us through our day-to-day so we can embrace every aspect of life, the good and the bad. Living alcohol-free means living in truth, harmony, pain, and joy. It is about knowing ourselves and learning to be with what is. It is about being kind and gentle and truly present in all we do.
That’s what I will try to do, to keep living, and living to the full and to the best of my ability because, life is far too precious to be numbed out. I want to feel it all, the pain and the joy, the loss and the love for my son, for myself.
I think I am trying to say that despite it all, I am grateful to be living this alcohol-free life. It took me a long time to get here and I won’t give it up, there is nothing, and I mean nothing that would change this. This is almost unexplainable in its power and it is why I do what I do.
As always I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below. If you need help to quit drinking, then do get in touch and If you have experienced your own heartache, I am right there with you sending love and support your way.
Resources I’ve been using
- Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser
- Understanding Suicide by Paula Fontenelle
- Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison
- Its Okay That You’re Not Okay by Megan Devine
I am so sorry for your loss, and just want you to know I am thinking of you, and praying for your entire family, at this really sad time. I am speechless, and had no idea this had happened. Seeing your son, Joshua, in the picture with you and your younger son was so nice; what a sweet child. I can imagine he did so much good in his life while he was with us; and it has given you so much to celebrate about his life and memory. I hope that somehow you and your family can find peace. Sending all my love from MN, USA.
Hello Hope. Thank you so much for your lovely message and such kind words, it really means a lot to receive them and I appreciate you taking the time to share them with me. Thank you xx
Dear Gayle, I am so sorry for your loss! Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and pain with us. 🙏🏽I’m praying for you and yours every day sending you strength, love & light. Envisioning you supported and on a path to healing. With deep love & gratitude. 🌸🌼❤️
Thank you so much Paola, I really appreciate your message. Your prayers and words are a real comfort, they mean a lot, thank you.