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It’s 4:30 a.m. and I am awake because my son has gone away for the week on a school trip.
Having waved Bertie (my son) off, I thought I would return to bed, but there was something strange hanging in the air. A sense of things unfinished. I stood in my pyjamas and looked out at the first signs of daylight skimming the garden and it occurred to me that I haven’t been up at this time since I gave up drinking.
So now, instead of getting more shut-eye, I am drinking coffee and writing this post. Something healing will come from this morning. I’m just not sure what it is yet.
I gave up alcohol a year ago, and up until that point, 4:30 a.m. was a very familiar space. Having partied all night, I would often still be up at this time (often later) willing myself to bed, fighting with the urge to carry on the party, as if somehow, by just wishing it, I could pause the natural progress of the sun and morning would be cancelled due to lack of interest. “The puckered arse of dawn,” as my friend Duncan calls it.
Some people claim to love toasting the sunrise with a gin and tonic, like survivors of the darkness, greeting the day. Me? F*cking hated it! And then I hated myself for still being there. Wandering around the garden, aimlessly, perhaps searching for an escape hatch. Or marching home from a party, trying to look normal in case the neighbours saw. Trying to get to my bed before the kids got out of theirs.
Whether it was just alcohol or something more that still had me fighting on when everyone else slept, it didn’t matter. Even the birdsong taunted me. They seemed to be saying, “Her again! Will she never learn?”
These “all-nighters” were probably a monthly occurrence (more, latterly) and they always filled me with deep self-loathing because I knew I wasn’t sucking the nectar out of life and getting every last molecule of joy from it. (Even though that was what I told myself I was doing.) Rather, alcohol was sucking the joy out of me and I was running away from life. I was running from normality. And there was the sun, like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” axing its way through the door that separated me from the real world…“Iiiiiit’s Johnny!”
In the winter, I am often up long before sunrise because the winter days are so short here in England. But 8:30 in the winter is a very different morning than 4 a.m. in the summer. It’s this summer dawn that holds the magic. And it’s those summer nights that most often lasted well into the dawn.
So, this morning I said goodbye to Bertie and went back inside, planning to get myself upstairs but then decided not to. I needed to go and greet my old nemesis face-to-face.
I donned wellies and a big, puffy coat, and out I went. It felt weird and nasty, derelict and sad. I leaned against a fence and looked at the cows, not yet on their feet, and forced a smile, thinking I could manifest the good feeling I wanted. But I couldn’t. I realised then and there that I have ruined the dawn.
My husband returned from dropping Bertie at school and when the car came up the drive my heart raced as another sign of normality charged toward me. I felt sort of drunk on this weird reminiscence. My chest felt tight and my breathing shallow. Goddammit, I really have ruined the dawn and I need to reclaim it!
Back inside, I am sitting at the kitchen table. I look out of the window and I see the long shadows the sun casts across the grass. In the distance, the fields are muted by a glowing haze. There is a gentle breeze that tickles the treetops and buffeted blackbirds flying here and there. The clouds are light, peachy wisps that float into the blue beyond.
Simply put, it is an absolutely glorious morning.
I have to make dawn a positive place again: productive, life-affirming, empowering. I used to hope that the sunrise would wash away my sins and let me start anew. Maybe this time she will grant my wish.
So, I think I’ll go back out and stand in the long rays. Ask for forgiveness and acceptance. I’ll close my eyes and think of my boy on his way to Normandy on a coach-load of excited kids. I’ll picture my other son asleep in his bed upstairs, safe and warm. My husband, so strong, reliable, and constant.
Hope, life, energy, and salvation. I’ll see those all-nighters in my dim past and know the commitment I have made to my family never to go back there again.
Maybe this time the opening of the day will finally bring some closure.