Don’t wait. Just write.

I didn’t write for years after I got sober; in fact, I actively steered away from any desire I had to write about my drinking days (and the urge was strong). Whenever I had the desire to do anything creative with my experiences, I quickly talked myself down. I worried it would be a slippery slope towards drinking again, as if by vicariously reliving some of the more exciting and troublesome times in my life, I might accidentally (or not so accidentally) fall off the wagon. It took a long time in sobriety to even entertain the idea of writing down those stories from my drunken past.

Ironically, when I really started listening properly to that voice inside that was getting louder and louder, I discovered to my shame that I couldn’t write. There was something physically stopping me from putting pen to paper.

It was fear. Fear of rejection, fear of being laughed at, fear that nobody would want to hear my story. Fear in all its glory, but mostly fear of being me.

Part of the problem was that I had too much time on my hands. I was working part-time and studying part-time, but this was pre-kids so I still had time to read and watch TV, and drive into York on my days off to wander through the snickleways, stopping off occasionally for a cup of tea somewhere, and a browse in the book shops and make-up departments, on my endless search for the perfect shade of red lipstick that I never found, and classic literature I’d probably never read. All of this meant that I could put off writing until tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I decided. Tomorrow would be the day that something big would happen that would give me the push to start writing again. I was always waiting for that one big message from the universe to give me the go-ahead to write the story of my drinking. The message never arrived.

Life carried on. I finished my degree, I took on another job to earn some extra money so that we could save for a bigger deposit on our first house, so that we could afford to start a family. A short time later, I was pregnant, and we were house-hunting. We finally moved into our first owned house when our baby boy was about eight weeks old.

Then suddenly, life became real. I looked around me – this was the life I’d always dreamed of when I was younger. Yet something was missing.

It was me.

It’s hard enough for most women to rediscover themselves after having children, but for me it was more than that. It wasn’t so much that I’d lost the person I’d been just weeks and months previously – I knew I’d find her again, albeit in a slightly different guise. What I’d lost was that sense of who I’d been when I was younger – that flighty, messed-up, overly-dramatic drunk girl. I didn’t want to be her again, I knew that. But suddenly, I was protective of her, a little bit proud even, because despite everything that had happened since I’d got sober, she was always there inside me, waiting for the older me to dust her down and write her story.

And now that I had increasingly little time to write, it also became vitally important that I start. So that’s what I did. There was no big sign from the universe, no big fanfare, no other person who knew or loved the old me enough to keep egging me on. I was on my own, just me and a laptop during nap-times, frantically piecing together scenes of the story of my youth.

The moral of the story: Don’t wait for big signs from the universe. Just write.

Welcome to my blog

This is the post excerpt.

Hello, my name’s Jessie and I’m an alcoholic (Jessie’s not my real name, by the way). I’m forty years old, and I live in East Anglia, with my partner and our two small children.

I’m also a writer. I’ve always been a writer – even during those years when the only stories I ‘wrote’ were the ones I told myself in my head.

As a child, I wrote the usual kind of funny stories that all children write. As a teenager, I kept those awful, cringeworthy diaries that lots of teenage girls write – pages and pages of world-ending angst – some of it trivial, some of it funny, and some of it about things nobody should have to experience at any stage of life. But amongst the day-to-day realities of life as a teenager in the early 1990s, those diaries contained the kernels of stories that I would re-write many years later, and form the pretext of my memoir.

As a student and young adult in the mid-90s, I was too busy drinking and messing up my life under the guise of fun to write much, and I’m always amazed at how intact my memories of this period in my life are. University was my oasis after the trauma of high school, and I am forever thankful to the people who made it so, and who make up a large chunk of my book.

After I left university (without a degree), I drank a whole lot more for a year or two. Then, at the age of twenty-four, after a minor incident with the police when I was arrested for being drunk and incapable, and an even more minor incident involving a chipped tooth, I got sober. (Strangely, it was the little things that brought me to my rock bottom, rather than the life-alteringly big things.)

In sobriety, the rest of my life happened, including the following:

  • I got a job (in a library)
  • I met my partner, and we moved up north
  • I completed a degree in psychology and sociology with the Open University
  • I had a baby
  • I wrote a memoir

It was during those early days when I was on maternity leave with our eldest son that I began to think about my old student days, and in particular, a close friendship I had with three girls I shared a flat with.

I’d always known since those friends walked away from me and my drinking that I wanted to write our story. The story of our friendship was also the story of my alcoholism, the story of how I tried to regain my life after the horrors of high school. So I started typing up all my memories, and I began to shape them into a book.

My life’s moved on a bit since then. My partner and I moved back down south, and had another baby boy. Then I got long-listed for the Mslexia Memoir Competition 2014, and I started to take my writing seriously. I’ve got a long road to publication ahead of me, but there’s no turning back now.

Life’s pretty busy at the moment, what with my writing, and my family. I’m also nearing the end of studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Person-Centred Counselling, and I’ve applied to do an MSc in Psychology next, so that should keep me busy.

And this blog will be the place where I can dump all of this stuff. I want to blog about my writing journey, and some of the things that inspired me or that I found useful in the early days of first drafts and night feeds.

I also want to blog about some of the issues I’ve written about in the memoir, like bullying in high school, teenage binge-drinking, and date rape (I hate that term). But mostly, I want to blog about the everyday things that crop up in the life of a memoir writer – competitions (lack of), finding beta readers (tricky), and my current task – subbing to agents (Welcome to Rejectionville. Population: You). Oh, and how to balance the writing life with raising a family, too.

As much as anything, this blog is a way for me to focus on my writing, to make myself write, and to connect with other people, who are just trying to make their mark on the world in whatever way they can.

I was reading a book recently for my counselling course. The book is called ‘Dibs: In Search of Self’, and it’s by Virginia Axline. It’s about a boy who was having play therapy. In the book, Axline says about children in play: “They can build themselves a mountain and climb safely to the top and cry out for all the world to hear. I can build a mountain, or I can flatten it out. In here, I am big.”

I feel like this about my writing. In the pages of my life story, I am big.