Thursday, 26 March 2015

The sober garden

I set myself on this sober path last autumn. And co-incidentally, I started an overhaul in the garden around the same time. It was scheduled to start around then, but the timing with becoming sober couldn't have been better. Its now, in my head, my 'sober garden'.  Now I should qualify this by saying, I like gardening. In fact, I don't just like it, I'm obsessive about it. Its also what I do for a part of my work. So its not a chore, its a joy. But, as my drinking got worse and worse, I began to loathe my garden. It stopped me drinking. Each blade of grass needing cut, each chore kept me away from my drinking time. Eventually I despised my garden. I even did those tests to see if I had a problem with drink, which said, have you given up your hobbies. I answered no to those. By the stage I stopped drinking I hated my garden and my life. I had no passion left for anything but wine.

So when I finally got sober and got myself out of bed after that first month, I thought it was time to try and reconnect with my favourite pastime, my passion, that I'd neglected through drinking. I'd like to tell you its been an idyllic, calm and peaceful process. Serenity at its heart. But, I'd be lying. Its been a hair pulling, painful, slow process, with some bits that I've no idea still how to make work together. Its frustrating, hard work, slow, painful and rewarding all at the same time. Its real and its messy and its not pretty.

Sounds like getting sober to me. 

Its not that the garden didn't work perfectly well before. It did. Just like me or so I thought. So, I've basically taken a perfectly practical garden and ripped it apart to make it my own and work for me. I've carved it up into spaces to be productive and grow food, to be quiet, to move in, to work in and to be peaceful in. But, in order to do that its been ripped apart, redesigned and like my sober self, its been a slow process. In some cases, taking the bricks away, putting them to 'rest' and wait whilst I redesign and nurture an area into the new shape/space I want. And, then, I've put the bricks back, almost in the same place, more solidly and better aligned this time.

Then I've started the slow process of laying foundations, making sure the new bits are properly supported, not cutting corners. Trying to figure out what it is that I want, before diving in. Trying to figure out what I need, before compromising for others. I've also been waiting for the right things to appear rather than just make do.

For the first time in my life, I've stood back and thought to myself, what do I want. Whilst my life was always about compromise (not a martyr, just a normal girl), I've had to think, in this sober space, what do I want. Me, what do I want. Just me.

This sober garden isn't about making other people happy. Its about making me happy. So where I've felt like it, I've been bold. Where I've felt like quiet, I'm creating quiet. Where I'm feeling like splashes of colour and vibrancy, I'm creating it. Where I want more practical elements, I'm creating them too. Its for me. Its my garden. My sober space to recharge in. My sober garden, no one else's.

Probably sounds a bit selfish doesn't it? Creating a whole space, a whole ambiance of sober-ness (not a real word I know). Well, I don't think it is, and here's why.

As I've slowly got sober, I've experienced many emotions. A lot of them anger. I'm not proud of that, but its there. I've been very angry and had such rage.

It was at this stage, I thought, wouldn't it be good to create some rather large raised beds with huge railway sleepers. So I dug (in a temper) and I hauled (in a mood) and I placed (in the wrong place) and that made me mad too. So I started again and moved everything to the 'right' place. It was exhausting and challenging and it was just what I needed. My anger at being sober, at having to be sober, at not being able to moderate has been taken out on my garden. I've found the sheer exhausting physical work of it, something I needed at the time, in fits and bursts.

On more contemplative days, I've sat [I never sit] and listened to the birds, looked at the shapes and spaces in my sober garden and slowly seen the lines and form of each bed appear. I've thought about the plants I want and the shapes I want to create. I've bought plants with 'sober treat money' and I've told myself quite firmly, this is MY sober space. Others can visit, but its been created from my sober time, a lot of thinking happens when I'm gardening and a lot of reflection. Its nice to see something evolving from this part of my sober journey.

Whilst I've a 'sort of' plan in my head, I've no fixed design ideas and I'm working largely fluidly to see where it takes me.  As its my garden, I have given myself the luxury of free flowing thinking, rather than berate myself for not having fixed ideas and firm plans.  [This is new for me, I always have a firm plan, always.]

So the sober garden is evolving, like the living entity that it is. Just like me, in my sober journey.  

I've also no real idea where its going to end up, but that's OK for both of us. 

I have to say, I'm enjoying the process of working slowly and methodically, in my own time frame, as life allows. Its not frantic on the whole, its not a quick fix job and make it pretty for the summer, its a real journey.

Now, making a sober garden I know isn't for everyone. Its just been where I am in my life right now too and its nicely slotted in with my sober journey. But, even the process of allowing myself to choose plants I like, thinking about where I'd like things, has been really rewarding for me. Watching the form of the garden developing at its own pace and evolving has been very cathartic. I'm normally so matter of fact, million miles an hour, just get the job done and move on in the garden. 

So as I sat on my hands and knees, last week, thinking about finishing the bed with the bricks. Thinking about how to properly lay them to let me cut the grass to a neat finish. I caught myself thinking about how different this experience is sober. Previously they were hastily laid on top of the soil, quickly mid hangover, to just 'make do', meaning the lawn was never nicely finished and it always irked me. So this time, its done slowly, carefully and its right. Its taken a long time, I've left it as I've not felt like finishing it and then slowly worked away at it. Finally its taking shape. The lines aren't rigid, its quite fluid and shaped, and its beautiful.

Well as beautiful as a line of bricks can be right?

So my sober garden has taught me a thing or two. Its taught me about patience and taking time to make sure things are right. Change them or relook at them when they're wrong. Its helped me to vent my anger and work through those feelings. Its allowing me to think about one part of my life where I can indulge me, please myself and follow it through. My garden is teaching me patience to take time to work through my thoughts and feelings and putting ideas into action. 

As I pick the plants I want for the newly shaped beds, I'm thinking of how they'll work together. I'm thinking of the insects and butterflies they'll also bring to our lives. I'm listening to the bird song and stopping to watch their happy chatter as they flit about the trees. And as I do all of this I'm planning benches and wee nooks to sit. [This is very new.] I'm actually planning how I might enjoy the garden once its growing. Not just rushing around hastily doing chores. I'm planning how I can make the most of the sober space I'm creating to nurture me.

Where will I sit? Where will I lie and read my book, or just lay and nap listening to the chatter of the world around me. Where will I recharge my sober self. Where will I just sit and think.

So whilst I'm creating something beautiful from the turmoil of my early sober days, each moment, I'm learning and building on these experiences.

But, like me, its still a work in progress. The structure and bones of it all are beginning to take form. Just like my new sober life.

And, its a happy, strong place, when once it was angry and messy ruled by chaos, now its calmer and has the potential to be breathtaking.

The sober garden, I'm looking forward to being in it. Maybe it will never be finished, but that's also OK. I'm good with that. After all, we're all a work in process aren't we? Sometimes knowing that its OK to be unfinished, is the permission we need to just live.

As for the garden, you'd like to see some photos? Yes well, once it stops looking like a glorious mud bath, with bricks planted in its guts, I might just do that.

One day at a time people!


  1. Dear Daisy,
    Awesome post.
    Creating something is a messy process, yet so rewarding.
    As I am creating a new life for myself I must remember that!
    I am on day 204!

  2. A great post. Can't wait to see the garden.

  3. I love this post so much that my head is nearly falling off. on both sobriety and gardening levels, and for the bliss of your words. you are a very talented writer, my dear - thank you for sharing your gift with us.

    do you know Kipling's poem 'The Glory of the Garden'? it's an exhortation to unstinting (unthinking?) efforts in the service of one's country, and includes these lines,

    'Our England is a garden, and gardens are not made
    By saying, "Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade.'

    the making of a garden - or of sobriety - takes enormous effort and emotion (love your furious hauling of railway sleepers!). I particularly appreciate however that in your making you are factoring in the butterflies and the sitting in the shade. that's a very fine thing. keep at it! Prim xxx

  4. I echo Prim's words in that this post was breathtakingly beautiful, and so appropriate vis-a-vis our sober recovery journey, much like your garden will be when you have finished all your hard work :) Can you come and work on my garden for me? ;) xx

  5. Beautifull! I absolutely love this post. I feel like I am ready for a sober project and the garden (or lack of one) is now at the top of the list. Thank you!

  6. I love this post too! I can relate to your feelings of contempt for your garden, how date it take away from your drinking time?! I felt the same way, this year as the days get warmer and longer I will think of my garden as a clean slate! Lori K. xx

  7. I love your posts, you have inspired my to try sober instead of moderation. And you've also pointed me in the direction of Belle, thank you so much.

    Where my garden is concerned I've been on a bit of pink cloud of plans the last few days. One of my sober treats has been a nice parcel of Sarah Raven seeds. But my garden is really showing the ravages of the winter weather and my lack of attention. I really need to concentrate on the basics, the unglamorous stuff. And I'm going to have to ask of help too. There are so many so sober metaphors there! I'll never look at my garden the same way again.

    Looking forward to your garden pics.


  8. I LOVE this. Can't wait to see pictures :)