Sober October

Sober October seemed like a really good idea at the time. I love a challenge and if I’m raising money for one of my faveourite charities, (Macmillan Cancer Support), along the way, then everyone’s a winner. I knew it’d be tough. I like a drink. Nope, actually, I LOVE a drink. I hadn’t realised to what extent alcohol has played a massive part in my life until this point, now that it’s temporarily prohibited.

Let me just pause to address something before I go on. I realise that not drinking alcohol for a month to some people sounds ridiculous. To some, it’s not a problem, it’s not a challenge as it’s not a part of their life, or if it is, it’s on a take it or leave it basis. Also, to all the Mums out there who have given up alcohol and lots of other things, for 9 months (or longer in some cases) yeah, I get why you might think I’m harping on about nothing. However, I’ve never grown a tiny human inside me and so that immense motivation to stop has never been there. I hope the rest of the blog will put into context why this is a big thing for me. 

It was on a 6 hour road trip with a friend that I started talking for the first time about alcohol and the part it has played in my life. I started drinking at a young age. By the time I was 15, my Dad was buying me Archers on the weekend and I would drink a liter of the stuff, with lemonade, over the Friday and Saturday nights. My Dad, who is a big drinker, believed that by giving me access to alcohol, in a safe environment, took the mystery out of it and therefore I wouldn’t end up rebelling and getting off my head in a field with a bunch of pubescent boys. (Little did he know, that actually happened too, despite drinking at home with my parents…sorry Dad).

When I hit the legal drinking age of 18, I went straight to University where I spent 3 years drunk. I was always the main instigator of drinking to excess, earning me the title “Alcohol Pimp”. After Uni, I moved to Dublin which has even more of a drinking culture than England. At 26, my Mum died and the drinking increased. It’s never really been an issue, or at least not one that I recognised. I loved a boy once who is the only person who has ever called it out as a problem. I just put it down to him being a boring bastard and carried on getting shit faced. The drinking and my behaviour as a result, massively contributed to the breakdown of our relationship. That is something I have only just realised and it makes me sad.

I never felt like I was good at much, but consuming alcohol has always been something I’m excellent at. I’m 5 foot 3 inches and I can put it away with the big boys. I’m fun when I drink and I’m fantastic at holding it together and in British culture, a girl who can drink and stay relatively classy is generally a hot commodity. Or at least it was when I was younger, now…. I’m not so sure.

This week, I’ve had good and bad days. On the bad day, I wanted to drink, to take the sting out of it. On the good day, I wanted to drink to celebrate. When I’m lonely, I go to the pub, when I’m socialising with friends, I go to the pub. When I’m bored at home on my own, I drink. When it’s a birthday or christmas, someone’s work leaving do, a wedding, a funeral, a christening, a Friday, a Monday, a fucking god awful Tuesday, there is always an occasion to drink, always a reason. I asked my friend, (tongue in cheek but with an undertone of concern) “Do you think I’m an alcoholic?” She didn’t even look up before responding without hesitation “Nah, you’re just British.”

I can’t remember the last time I saw my Dad and we didn’t drink. In fact, I’m not sure it’s ever happened. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Is it normal? Well yeah, for me it’s completely normal. I guess the question that has emerged through this experience is if my relationship with alcohol is healthy or not? Clearly it hasn’t been if it led me to lose a love. How, when and why I drink is going to be a much more conscious decision in the future. I know I have more reflection to do about the part it plays in my relationships with people too.

What started as an opportunity to raise money for a charity that does amazing work supporting people facing cancer has turned into a personal journey of self reflection and discovery. That may sound a bit pretentious but it’s true.

If you’d like to sponsor me, I’d be eternally grateful:

https://www.gosober.org.uk/users/laura-graham-2

 

Humans

I’ve always been happy in my own company. As a kid, my next door neighbour would knock for me to come out and play and I’d often say no because I was happy enough dicking about on my own. At uni, some of the girls in my halls of residence thought I was odd because I’d take myself off to watch TV on my own while they were all in a room together watching the same show. I just liked the space.

Recently though, after quite a lot of isolation, I realised I’m lonely. It’s a new experience for me and one I’m not massively comfortable with. I wrote The L Word thinking that everyone would think I’m a complete weirdo and so I was shocked by the response. It turns out that LOTS of people feel the same way and people aren’t just lonely because they are physically alone, they are lonely in marriages, in families, in groups of friends, in jobs, in life in general. Loneliness is a very real thing which seems ridiculous on paper given that we live in an age where we are “connected” 24/7 via that little square thing we carry around with us.

So what have I been doing about my loneliness? Well, quite a lot actually:

Work – I mentioned I travel a lot for work. Well, travel has slowed down which means I’m working from home. I love my flat but I get cabin fever. To combat that, I’ve been leaving the house (shock horror) and working from cafes/bars. My neighbour also works from home so sometimes the two of us will go and sit in a coffee shop and work together. She’s hilarious and it’s nice to have such fun energy around. Also, while working alone in a bar one lunch time I ended up talking to a lad who is opening a co working space for people exactly like me which is 5 minutes from my house. So, long term, the work isolation problem is pretty much solved.

Volunteering – You all know I am (in the words of my sister), “a fucking do-gooder” and LOVE volunteering…. well I’ve been doing more of that. As well as all the normal Lewis Foundation and Age UK stuff, I recently stumbled across a fantastic website, Nene Collective, who were looking for writers. Oh Hey! I’m over here! So I met a bunch of cool as fuck women and I’ve hung out with them a couple of times. Also, the lad from the co work space was looking for people to help out with the building project in preparation for opening. Given I’m doing Sober October, (which is a whole other blog post), it’s been a bloody godsend to don the painting gear and be distracted in the evenings. Turns out the co work lad also knows lots of lovely people – winner.

Saying Yes – I’m up for anything (steady!) and I’m pretty good at making the effort to see people and go places but there are times when I might over think situations and end up not doing something. For example with the Nene Collective group – I was anxious to meet new people and almost completely cancelled. But, I put my big girl pants on and did something that was a little scary. Within seconds the anxiety disappeared as I realised they were all just like me.

I arranged a street party back in August for my road and in September some of the neighbours wanted to do drinks. It was a Friday, I was tired and I was going to be out with three couples. I wasn’t sure if it’d be fun 7th wheeling and again, almost bailed. It was loads of fun, in fact too much fun. The kind of fun that ends up with me hugging the toilet bowl all night. Despite the hangover, it was worth it.

I went out one evening to have a quiet drink (on my own) and to write letters for From Me to You Letters. I like a pub setting, having humans around me as well as a glass of wine on the go is perfect. A couple of lads walked in who I know of on a surface level from a different pub in the town (yes, I do go to pubs a lot and no, I’m not sure if it’s a problem…) Anyway, normally I would say hi and go back to what I was doing. Instead I was brave and asked if they wanted to sit with me. One pub led to another and it was 3:00am by the time I got home.

So yeah, I’ve been putting myself out there and things are slowly but surely shifting. It’s amazing how one action creates another and it snowballs. I’m not saying I don’t still feel lonely, of course I do.  BUT I definitely feel less so because I’m building up a network of people, of meaningful connections with humans that I like, in the town that I live. You can’t say fairer than that.

How old are you?

“Excuse me! How old are you?” This simple question sparks fierce debate and involves 5 or 6 of the Venton Wellbeing Centre’s clients. I invite guesses and I’m pretty fucking delighted with the answers that range from 16 to 23. I’ll take that all day long! It’s a Friday and I’m volunteering for Age UK. I haven’t met this group of 25 clients before and I’m assuming they are being kind (or possibly in need of new glasses). “I’m 33” I announce. The gasps and comments of disbelief make me smile. Then the roles reverse and we place bets on the various ages of the people in the room. I’m genuinely surprised at the responses, everyone looks so young for their age.

My company offer community days each year where we can volunteer and be paid at the same time. This is my second visit to the centre and I’m in no doubt that it is much harder work than my paid job. The day consists of making lots of tea and coffee, acting as compere for two games of flower bingo (most I’ve never heard of or can actually pronounce), setting up and serving lunch, offering an arm to lean on as clients move round the centre and talking to people. Not hard work on paper but being on my feet all day is new.

The staff at the centre, who do this every day, are absolutely brilliant and I have soooo much admiration for them. They are literally non-stop and provide a well organised, welcoming and inclusive service. The clients are able to visit the onsite hair dresser, take a bath, play games, enjoy entertainment and have a 2 course hot lunch. The staff know the clients well and have real affection for them. “Watch out for these three.” one of the staff members tells me. “They’re trouble!” she says loud enough for the three ladies to hear. They giggle and play up to their naughty label. The exchanges between the staff and clients and between the clients themselves are easy and friendly. It feels like a family.

After lunch most of the clients watch a singer perform in the other room. A few people stay behind to continue working on a jig saw or to read the newspaper. I sit next to a Jamaican couple affectionately referred to as Helen and Mr Helen. They are smartly dressed. Mr Helen wears a shirt, slacks and braces. I discover they have been married 20 years. “What’s the secret?” I ask. They look at me like I’ve asked them the hardest question in the world (I guess I have). “Work together” Helen answers. Mutually satisfied by the answer we talk about our families, my job, Helen’s health. They are warm and engaging. I sit with another lady who is busily crocheting. “I’m making blankets for the old people” she explains with a chuckle. I ask her what she enjoys about coming to the centre and she explains she likes the company and listening to people. We agree on a love of people watching and I let her continue in peace.

The day goes fast and it’s soon time for the buses to collect the clients and take them home. I walk back to my flat and wonder what the older people would have done today if they hadn’t attended the centre. Watch TV? Maybe a neighbour would visit? They say loneliness is one of the biggest problems facing older people. I’ve mentioned before I know the feeling well and I’m out and about a lot more than the Venton Centre clients are….. The services Age UK are providing definitely lengthening lives, I’ve no doubt of that and I’m proud to be a tiny part of it.

The L Word

Right, I’ve got a confession to make, I’ve been a bit naughty. So you know how I’m this self proclaimed “positivity blogger” and life is fucking amazing and we should all be grateful for every second, even the shit times? Well, that’s not all true. Not right now anyway. Life isn’t always amazing and sometimes I want the shit times to just fuck right off.

I went to the seaside for bank holiday weekend with my sister and my two nieces. The weather was amazing, I got tan lines and swam in the sea. For the end of summer in notoriously rainy Blighty, that was an out and out win. I did have a lovely time, don’t get me wrong, what’s not to love about ice cream and sand between your toes? I posted photos on my blog and personal instagram accounts of what a great time we were having but what I didn’t post was the melt down I had where I sobbed and snotted on my sister’s shoulder. In fact I haven’t posted about the last 4 meltdowns I’ve had. Why is that? Why am I so quick to tell everyone about what I’ve come through and not so quick to explain what I’m going through? Well, I guess I’m just human after all. No one really wants to admit when things are difficult.

I’m not even really that sure what I’m miserable about. On paper, life is perfect. I have a decent job, my own house and car, no debts (except my mortgage), I travel the world, I write, I volunteer, I have amazing friends and family, I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want. I have so many things to be grateful for. I literally feel like a brat for even writing this post. That’s the thing about mental ill health, there is no rhyme and reason to it.

The main thing I can think of which is causing this melancholy is loneliness.

I just deleted that line twice. Literally admitting I feel lonely is giving me anxiety, like I’m the biggest loser ever. I’m 34, how can I be lonely? No one my age is lonely. Loneliness is only a thing for old people, right? I guess not if I feel it.

I’ve lived alone for 3 years in a town I didn’t go to school/college in. I have no family here and just a couple of good friends in the town who I hardly see because I travel for work so much. The rest of my friends are spread across the UK and abroad. 95% of them are married with children and I’m single so I travel alone, I come home to an empty house, I eat dinner alone, I watch TV alone, I wake up alone (well….not always, wink wink!)

A lot of my time is spent in my own head. One of my married-with-two-kids friends commented on how she wants my life, like it’s somehow easier or better than hers. It probably is easier to some extent, I can’t imagine how hard being a Mum is, but it’s not easier in a lot of ways. When I have bad news, I have no one to give me a hug and tell me it’ll be ok. When I have a problem, I have no one to talk it out with. When I’m sat in a hotel room in Norwich on a Thursday evening, bored out of my brain, I have no one to laugh with about how scabby the room is. Yes, I could pick up the phone but it’s not the same as an actual human being being there. And this isn’t about having a partner or not, this is just general social isolation.

***Takes a little break to demolish bag of popcorn in hopes of immediate cure***

Right, so moany self pity part done, I guess I should talk about how to fix the problem before I well and truly lose my positivity label. Well, writing this post has helped. Acknowledging and working through to the realization of loneliness as “a thing” is a good start. The next thing is to probably leave the house seeing as I’ve been on my own all day. Ugh can’t be bothered to do that. After that, I’m not sure and actually, that’s ok.

Blog-iversary

A year ago I fucked up an entire wall in my spare room, brainstorming what I could do to make the world a slightly better place. The only thing I could think of (that I might be any good at) was writing. So, I took a punt. I just figured that even if one person, out of the 7.5 billion people on this planet, could be positively impacted by something I wrote, then it’d be worth doing. So a year ago TODAY I posted my introduction and I set my stall out: About – Why am I even here?

I didn’t know what I was doing (I still don’t). I didn’t know if anyone would read what I wrote or even if I had anything worth saying. With the encouragement of two wonderful friends, Pia and Mark, I set about posting my thoughts for the world to see.

I’ve been reflecting on what’s happened over the last year and where that brainstorm has taken me and it’s pretty cool:

25th August 16

  • Introductory blog posted

September 16

December 16

  • Interview for Age UK Annual Review and Your Time magazine published about my experience volunteering

January 17

  • Contacted The Lewis Foundation about volunteering opportunities (I now regularly volunteer for them)
  • Contacted Macmillan about writing a guest blog (I’m now working on blog number 6)

February 17

March 17

  • Travelled to India for 3 weeks (I am now writing a book about my experience)

April 17

  • Nominated for a Spirit of Age Award for the volunteering I do for Age UK (I didn’t win but to be nominated was ridiculously amazing)

May 17

  • Contacted The Happy Newspaper about writing an article for them
  • Attended Eden Project’s Community Camp
  • Sent initial letters to neighbours about a street party
  • Helped create a Wonderwall of messages of support in Manchester with Emily Coxhead following the Manchester terrorist attacks

June 17

July 17

August 17

  • Street party takes place and is filmed by Eden Project
  • Facebook Live interview with Ife Thomas about coping with grief and depression

Aside from the above, in the past year, I’ve written 32 blog posts for my website, volunteered, built up an online community, travelled to 8 countries and countless cities across the UK and managed (somehow) to hold down a full time job and maintain friendships. When I look at it like that, it’s no wonder I’m tired all the time!

The things listed above might all seem very small in isolation but it’s really proven to me how every action, no matter how small, can have a ripple effect that spreads far and wide. For example, If I hadn’t contacted the Lewis Foundation, I wouldn’t have learnt about and attended Eden’s community camp, where I wouldn’t have been inspired to arrange a “Big Lunch” (which bought 60 of my neighbours together). I wouldn’t have met my neighbour, Ife, who then invited me to talk on her facebook live broadcast about grief (which 500 people have now seen). That one action, wanting to volunteer for The Lewis Foundation, has had a positive impact on my life and other people’s, and that’s just based on what I can quantify. There are loads of connections and threads that have linked everything I’ve done with It’s Character Building. Some of which, I can clearly see the impact of, some of which, I may never know about.

Now I’m not writing this as a “Look at me, aren’t I a fucking hero” post. It’s more just as proof that we CAN all make a difference to the world. So much has been happening lately that makes us feel like the world has gone crazy but I want you to know that you aren’t helpless. Everything you’re doing is important and is shaping your life and the lives of those around you. It’s having profound and far reaching ripple effect that you may never know about.

It’s also reminded me to step back and take stock every now and then. I can’t believe what I’ve achieved in the last year. My words have reached thousands of people across 32 countries. I would never have believed that was possible 12 months ago. Have a think about what you’ve achieved this last year. It will be extraordinary, I promise you.

I’m not sure where the next 12 months will take me but I’m glad I started this positivity journey and I want to thank everyone who has been involved. Thank you for the lovely messages, the support, the likes, the shares, the inspiration, the motivation, all of it. While it’s not always been easy, it’s definitely been worth it. Here’s to Year 2 🙂

Be Bothered

The first blog I ever posted was about being bisexual (or more accurately, pan sexual) and since then, I haven’t really addressed the subject of sexuality. Not because I don’t want to, more because it hasn’t been something I’ve been particularly compelled to speak about. Well, I’m compelled now.

Good old cunt flaps in America has decided you can’t be a transgender person and serve in the armed forces because of “medical costs and disruption”. This is despite the US military spending a reported $42m a year on erectile dysfunction medication (viagra) – several times more than the total estimated cost of transgender medical support, according to the Washington Post. Last time I checked, having a hard on didn’t win a war, so I’m not sure how certain costs can be justified and others not. It’s been difficult to find a definitive answer to the number of trans people currently serving in the US forces. I’ve read numbers between 1320 – 6630 right up to 15,000. Presumably if trans people are costly and disruptive, someone would be able to quantify the current numbers? #justsayin

Recently, I was asked by one of my friends why there isn’t straight pride. He didn’t ask in a nasty way, he’s not homophobic, it was a genuine question, I guess because he’d never thought about it before. I asked him what he thought Pride was, “It’s like carnival isn’t it?” Kinda. It started as a protest against oppression and that’s what it still is but it’s also a celebration of the progress that’s been made in Queer rights. You see, 50 years ago, sex between men was illegal in the UK. (Interestingly, sex between women has never been illegal. Presumably because it’s not real sex if it doesn’t involve a penis. Christ there it is again, that penis thing). 10 minutes on Google and you can find out a lot about the struggles that the Queer community has faced and still face. But I guess, why would you unless you really needed to? Unless Queerness actually affected your world? I know 14 year old me wouldn’t have given a fuck – see When did you know you were gay?

But the thing is, if you’re the President of the Free World, you kinda, sorta should know what the fuck you’re talking about. I genuinely believe that DT would introduce straight pride if he could, and white pride, and male pride because he has no idea what it’s all about. I went to London Pride a few weeks ago. It was my first ever Pride event and I went with a group of bad ass women. We had the best time, we watched the parade from Trafalgar Square, drank in the sunshine, partied in the streets and ended up in a Gay club in Soho. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages. People were having a good time, dressed how they want, being their authentic selves, not hurting anyone.

I wasn’t born homophobic but as I’ve discussed previously, there was definitely a time when I was. Maybe that was because I was scared of my own sexuality but I think it was more because that was what society taught me. I’ve been trying to understand how some sections of society still find people simply wanting to be true to themselves, so abhorrent. Queer people aren’t trying to turn anyone. There is no gay agenda. There is only a desire for equality.

So maybe you’re heterosexual and you don’t know any gay people, it’s just not a thing in your world. Well, I’m sorry but it’s 2017. It IS a thing in your world. If you’re a decent human being, you should try to understand others. For example, I don’t agree with capitalism but I understand why people do. I’m an atheist but I have a basic understanding of most religions and have respect for people with faith. I’m against right wing politics but I understand it and I know why people believe in it. I’ll admit I do try and keep these topics off the dinner party chat list but it’s not anything I would want to persecute anyone for. I don’t view Christians or Hindus or Tories or Company Directors as not deserving of human rights, why would I? It would make no sense.

We live in a time where we can access the answer to pretty much any question within 2 seconds flat. Educate yourselves. Don’t know why there isn’t straight Pride? Ask Google or Siri or Me! Not bothered about DT’s decision about trans people because you aren’t American or Trans? Bullshit. Be bothered. If you’re in America, and I know a lot of you reading this are, lobby your local politicians, support your Queer community, march, resist, be heard. Equality and human rights mean your daughter can vote and go to university. It means your son can choose if he serves in the army or not. It means you aren’t oppressed. We start letting things go because they don’t affect us and soon we will be affected, but by that point it’ll be too late.

 

I Don’t Have Time

Hello lovely people! I’ve been a bit quiet lately because I’ve literally been all over the place… 3 countries and over 1000 miles travelled in the last week for work and fun. That said, I’ve been too tired to write. *sad face However, I did write a little something for do-it.org which is the most fantastic website […]

The Right Words

What is it they say? “The pen is mightier than the sword” I mean yeah, there’s got to be something in that. Words are our communication, they are our thoughts, our intentions. They show our beliefs, who we are as people. If they didn’t matter, people wouldn’t die protecting them.  I mean, obviously I rate […]