A Thousand Splendid Sober Suns

Finding the right words to explain our sobriety journeys is never easy. Our very own Kathryn writes from the heart.

A Thousand Splendid Sober Suns
A Thousand Splendid Sober Suns

And so it transpired that November 7th 2018 was my one thousandth day sober.

It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for some time, but have lost myself tripping over words, events and the general overwhelm of the period.

One thing I have concluded over the last one thousand days is how shit I am at keeping a blog! Looking back I can see I left any readers hanging midway through writing about my journey to the London Marathon. (Sorry about that; my dear Mum was quite poorly at the time and passed away mid blog entries, but more on that later).

I’ve also observed that there is inevitably an ‘angle’ writers adopt when blogging. Reading my previous musings, it’s hard to deny that the predominant ‘angle’ I have presented to the world has been in the form of physical fitness wins, when in reality my one thousand splendid sober suns has had a whole lot more going on. I’ve now made the decision to put it all out there and to share the bigger picture issues that were going on behind the scenes of all the #tri_sobriety #swimbikerun and #trilife excitement.

I’ve been as honest as I can be and it’s sometimes raw, so please read carefully if you feel you might be triggered by references to domestic abuse, bereavement, family estrangements and/or financial issues.

In the meantime, grab popcorn, strap yourself in and let me take you on the five-part journey!  

Part One: Victim to survivor; slaying demons and finding peace

When I moved my family and my life from Shropshire to Yorkshire in the summer of 2015, I was a victim. It was a role I had pretty much perfected and a role offering me daily excuses not to change. My wholehearted commitment to the shift from victim to survivor is pretty well documented (social media; love it or hate it), but in the background I was yearning to give my ‘victim’ a different story. The reactive, drunken, angry, hysterical voice needed to be silenced and I set about finding an authentic place from where to move forward.
I could no longer hide from the fact that I had been in a toxic and abusive relationship, that there were potential  irrevocable harms resulting from years living in that environment and I had to learn to accept that no amount of ‘sorry’ would give my children the chance to have those years back. The damage was done.

If you are wondering how I moved from victim to survivor, faced and buried those demons during my one thousand sober days, I sadly have no definitive answer; there was was no magic self-help book, no wonder pill, no world-class therapist and no one particularly inspiring individual. However, it would be remiss of me not to credit the Freedom Programme for opening my eyes to the subtleties of emotional, psychological abuse and coercive control. At the same time the programme woke me up to the reality that there would be no healing for myself or my family, if I remained living within a half mile radius of my ex-partner.

I did read; I read a lot about emotional abuse and coercive control. I found it fascinated and it certainly spun me a very different light on the relationship I’d been in with ‘that charming man’. Facing the truth of that past was excruciatingly painful and whilst I would never claim innocence from my part to play in the drama that unfolded as our relationship fell off the rails, I needed a whole year of no contact with my ex in order to re-build healthy boundaries and to draw a line in the sand on any future toxic communication. The lack of contact meant attempting arrangements for him to see our son via a solicitor broke down repeatedly. That brought with it regular emotional meltdowns from one confused little boy who required a lot of his own intensive support. I cannot thank our local primary school enough for what they did for him.

I did take part in intensive counselling and I did spend a period of time on medication. I also started to gravitate towards many, many different inspiring individuals and towards those who would bring out the best of what the newly sober me had to offer the world.

Part Two: Family is nothing and yet family is everything?

Within only a few weeks of me quitting the booze my Mum was hospitalised. That period marked the beginning of the end of what had been a long, slow and tragic decline in her health and which would ultimately lead to her passing in March this year.
I wasn’t drinking, but my father was and he was drinking a lot. As Mum’s live-in Carer, this really wasn’t on and the safeguarding implications plagued me daily. A few weeks later, in a very difficult move that most likely led to my later conscious decision to cut down my relationship with him, I called in Adult Social Services. Despite seeing a green bin half full of empty lager cans, they did not pursue my concerns and I was left to suck up the fall out.

I have no regrets that I took this stand, but in addition to trying to deal with a painful estrangement from my brother, it was an emotionally challenging and stressful time. I have much to thank my brother for and I’m unsure where life may have led me had he not been instrumental in getting me through the doors of alcohol support services in February 2016. Sadly though, it wasn’t long before the wheels started to fall off our sibling connection and we have had little, to no contact for almost two years.

Over time, I have been given to understand that it is not unusual for estrangements to result when people embark on making huge life changes.

‘You don’t know this new me; I put back my pieces differently’.  

Nevertheless, it was a period when I felt very alone battling red tape in an attempt to protect my Mum.

There followed more dark days in the year leading up to and following her death; days when I could barely tolerate being in the company of my father or my brother. At times my resilience was desperately compromised and coping mechanisms questionable. I would brave the unavoidable contact necessary whilst my mother’s health continued to fail and whilst a nursing home needed to be arranged. I then carved out my own routine for visiting her and in order to avoid them, generally leaving them to do what they felt they needed to do to maintain their desired control of the situation.

I’d like to say I was a tower of strength, but sadly the months did not pass without my own private, ugly and painful meltdowns; times when all I wished for was some available method of climbing inside my own body and scraping out the pain.

There were similarly days when every fibre of my being screamed for the one thing that had been my only comfort; that ‘one drink’ to blur out the edges of the troubled times and eventually black out reality. But for every day the voice screamed at me to take that one drink, I screamed back louder how I wanted sobriety far more. Very few people in my life at that time were aware of, or understood any of these struggles. Families can indeed be fraught with complicated dynamics, but there were certain things I still struggle to come to terms with; not least that I was not with Mum when she passed away, when I could have been.

It so often felt to me that I meant nothing to my family; the very people I desperately needed to care about me either didn’t, or didn’t have the capacity to show it.  I would repeatedly navigate the same circles hoping for a different outcome, but invariably be the one left alone and hurting.  In reality of course, I did recognise that I was blessed with family who meant everything, family who gave without condition and who loved without judgement.
In the background my Mum’s sister was a constant. She let me scream, shout and cry down the phone whilst remaining a source of support, never judging and simply allowing a safe place for irrational, emotionally charged ramblings before calm would be restored when she would offer measured, genuine advice. It was my closest cousin who came immediately and without question, sitting with me whilst I sobbed broken hearted by my mother’s graveside after finding her headstone had been ordered, designed and erected without my having any knowledge of it.

And from my three children I have learnt more about the capacity for forgiveness than I would have ever thought possible. Whilst I know there are really not enough ‘sorrys’ to change the past, I also know that it is every ‘next’ day I spend sober and offer them back the Mum I was always meant to be, that fuels their continued love, forgiveness and support. It is these three incredible individuals who are my #why. Every. Single. Day.

Part Three: Hitting 50 and still partying like it’s 1999

I was knocking on 50 by the time I was dragged into this period of sobriety, but had spent almost 4 years sober in the past. I didn’t really start drinking again thinking it was ‘ok’; I may have thought I could keep it in check, but it wasn’t long before it was more out of control than it had ever been.

A decade earlier, my sobriety had been spent committed to 12 steps, working a programme and attending meetings, but this time around that way of life neither appealed nor matched my priorities. I needed to focus on saving my relationship with my children, to find some way to thank my liver for not packing up on me and for being around for Mum. I did go to one AA meeting, attended SMART groups, kept every appointment made with treatment services and engaged in supported aftercare. At the same time I drew a lot of strength from the growing  library of ‘quit-lit’, on-line resources, the ‘bad-ass’ female recovery movement in the US and a commitment to the wellbeing of my mind, body and spirit.

Overwhelmingly I realised that I do actually like to have fun! It was a revelation to me that I liked having fun, even if I wasn’t drunk. Having always been the drunken life and soul of the party, even having had a level of drunken-ness named after me, it was deeply rooted that I could only have fun under the influence of alcohol.

I quickly learned that I still like to dance sober too (ok, maybe badly), I like to laugh sober and I love being sociable sober.  It was also glaringly apparent that society doesn’t fully embrace fun sober people. I offer you the example of the end of my joint 50th birthday party when I was pulled up by a guest for looking for my car keys to drive people home. The guest was genuinely perplexed that I could possibly have had so much fun; he had presumed I must be drunk.
Luckily for me hitting 50 has marked a period in my life when zero fucks are being given and so I’ve worked at carving a life which includes doing all the things I love and that includes parties, dancing, meals out, concerts and all the other ‘normal’ stuff that ‘normal’ people do. I just do it sober.

Part Four: Breadline to finish line?

As if my thousand splendid, sober suns hadn’t given me enough to work with (they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger after all), I was also fighting a continued losing battle to keep my bank account out of the red.
I had not only left my marbles, but all financial security in the hands of my ex-partner and walked out of the property we jointly owned. The lack of a marriage certificate to show for my devotion to the ‘cause’ left me in the civil court system trying to get it sold. Not much has been on my side during this particular struggle and it’s one that rages on. In the meantime, I had debts which were a hangover of that previous life and eventually had no choice but to put them in the hands of a debt management charity.

Taking an active role in supporting Mum’s day to day routine meant that initially a limited income came in the form of various benefits. I would not swap the time spent supporting Mum’s care and often ponder how life contrived for me to be exactly where I needed to be when her health further deteriorated. The period served to put to rest an on/off history of difficulties that had existed between us; ours had not always been an easy mother/daughter bond, but towards the end, when she wasn’t always ‘with us’, I know that she was proud of the changes I had made. I will forever remain grateful that she was around to share my London Marathon journey and that I ran for her beloved charity, Guide Dogs for the Blind. She passed away within a few weeks of my second recovery anniversary and her smile beamed out of her sadly emaciated face as my daughter shared the news. I miss you Mum.

Everything changed financially when she was admitted to hospital for the last time as she was moved from there into a nursing home. At the grand old age of 50 and for the first time in my life, I found myself at the mercy of the Job Centre. Finally ready to return to the profession I loved, but had naively left ten years earlier, I had taken advantage of opportunities offered via my aftercare support and undertaken a three month course in peer mentoring. I was already volunteering weekly and with hindsight recognise that I was extremely lucky to have been in the right place at the right time when the right job came up. I secured myself full time employment relatively quickly, needing to claim only a few weeks Job Seeker’s Allowance before starting a salaried post. I could not love my job more and nor could I wish to work with a more amazing bunch of people. You know who you are and you all rock my world.

It would, of course, have been hard for me to plead complete breadline poverty if you knew I had developed a healthy obsession with running and triathlon. There’s no doubt the money I drank quickly found a way into race entry fees, gear and coaching. No matter how far the chips were down during those thousand suns, it was a very rare occasion for me not to train or not to race and I even made it work so that I could spend a week in Majorca on a triathlon training camp. For sure, there were sacrifices and my social life continues to be mostly non-existent.

In my experience being around people who find themselves on this recovery journey, I have observed that those who meet it with the greatest of success are those who find their ‘thing’. Your ‘thing’ won’t be the same as my ‘thing’. I know some who’s ‘thing’ is art and crafts or jewellery making, painting or drawing, writing or cooking, flower arranging and gardening. Your ‘thing’ can be any ‘thing’, but I’d really encourage anyone struggling to get out there and find their ‘thing’.

My ‘thing’ wasn’t really new to me. I had ‘flirted’ around the edges of the health and fitness industry for decades; I’m a level 2 qualified instructor for various activities and have taught fitness classes on and off over that time. What was new to me was sticking at it and being consistent with training. Previously the amount I was drinking had naturally impaired any real progress I might make and so it was achieving consistency that motivated me forwards in those early days.
I’d never considered myself a runner and never particularly aspired to be one, but the couch to 5km app was free and I could use the local sports centre gym on certain days for free when I wanted to hide behind the treadmill rather than be seen outside! Running offered me uncomplicated freedom, head space to think, to process the truly shitty days, time to digest inspiring the audio books and podcasts needed to strengthen my recovery resolve.

I completed that first 5km on the treadmill in April 2016, two months after getting sober and soon started to venture outside to do ‘real’ running! Once I discovered the local canal route and bird reserve area there was no going back. Running these routes became my therapy and I can’t really put into words the healing that took place pounding those trails, save to say that one of my highlight events was to complete a half marathon around my very own happy place a few weeks ago.

I excitedly signed up to complete my first 10km race in the summer of 2016, but by then was already eyeing up the ultimate big running prize! In a moment of what can only be described as temporary insanity, I had applied and successfully secured a place to run the London Marathon. On 23rd April 2017 I completed the 26.2 miles in 4hrs 37 minutes, just 12 months after completing that C25K and raised over £2,500 for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I’m really not entirely sure when I became this person, but within three years and I appear to have managed to cross the finish line of a few more 10kms, half marathons, two marathons, a few triathlons and on July 29th 2018 fulfilled my somewhat insane desire to become an iron distance triathlete. What’s scarier is that I think I’ve only just begun!

I’m often asked why I do what I do and it’s not something I find it easy to answer. Is it simply because I am here and I can? There was a time when I just wanted to drink myself to death and then there was a time when I believed blood tests would reveal irreversible liver damage that would seriously compromise my health. Being that neither of these things came to pass, I just owe it to myself and to my children to stay as strong as I can, to be as healthy as I can and most of all just live my fucking best life.

‘You are allowed five emotional minutes in the day, then you gotta be gangsta’

Sorry. Not Sorry.


Special thanks to:

My kids for not completely giving up on me, for continuing to conquer their own little worlds and for being the forces that drive me forward every day.
My Aunty Joan and my cousin Emma for being all the family I really ever needed.
My partner Andy, for being there always, for sometimes knowing me better than I know myself, for showing me that it’s safe to love again and for being the very best partner in crime.
The few friends closest to me; old faces and some very new, but who know who they are, who always have my back and make me laugh until my sides split.
Simon de Burgh at Tri Force Endurance for having way more belief in my ‘aspiring athlete’ fantasies than I ever had and for becoming a more important person in my life than I think he realises!
All at #teamtriforce for being in the background inspiring me to keep going on the really bad days when I would question what on earth I was thinking and wanted to throw the towel in.
For the local, UK and world wide #recoverypossse, of whom there are just too many to name, but who know who they are and who keep me grounded every day.
My Mum, for demonstrating a level of inner strength that defied her disabilities. If I’ve been lucky enough to inherit only a fraction of that strength then I can move forward in life safe in the knowledge that I I know I will be ok.


Kathryn Blackburn

Kathryn Blackburn

Alcohol Coach and Legend

I'm an experienced coach offering a well-balanced combination of relevant education, training, skills and over six years lived experience of recovery.