Coming Out (and crawling back in again)

There’s no point denying it – it’s not great holding your hands up and admit you have a drinking problem, are an alcoholic or whatever term you use to identify the issue. I find it incredibly hard to speak the words out loud, probably because I don’t want to hear them, much less be the person to say them. Just like my reluctance to have anything added to my medical records, I’m terrified of coming out to everyone I know. I’ve been a complete coward when it comes to this and thus far only told two people: my husband and my childhood bestie.
My childhood bestie said she knows both sober alcoholics and has friends who drink too much but are still in the “laugh it off stage”. That’s so, so true! I think I’ve been in the “laugh it off stage” for several years – because I know I drink too much and know other people know I drink too much, I make jokes of it. References to six glasses of wine or posting drink related memes on Facebook. The last one I put on there was something about the good thing about water is you can drink it at work and the good thing about vodka is that it looks like water. Or in the pub with my partner and he asks if I want another one – I no longer say “yes please” but instead “always!”. A friend (who like me drinks like a sailor on leave) and I always joke how the worst business idea in the world would be for us to run a bar because we’d always be out of alcohol. I’m not sure those jokes are funny to anyone.
My partner doesn’t judge, nor does he make me feel bad and my bestie in Sweden only told me she thinks I’m brave to deal with it and it’s the right thing to do “if [I] feel it’s become a problem”. Isn’t that the loveliest thing. She is so good at putting things in a fantastic way. She could have said “about time!” but she didn’t. She only told me that if I felt it was an issue, then OK. I have no idea if she has ever considered my drinking to be excessive but I’d be surprised if anyone around me has failed to spot it, even those who live in Sweden and only witness me on holiday.
“When I have a drink, something in me ignites,” my dad told me somberly and quite randomly when we were last in Sweden, “I get this desire.”
“Oh, really?” I replied nonchalantly.
“Yeah. I have to check myself.”
We were sitting at the kitchen table at his little farm house where we always stay when we’re in Sweden. It’s dad’s paradise and where he feels most at peace and because I adore my father, the place is incredibly special to me too and I love that we get to borrow it those weeks we are there. My dad may act the jester but he is no fool. I know that he knows I drink too much. And I think this was his way of serving me the perfect opportunity to open up and talk about it. What a shame I wasn’t ready, because perhaps my father would have proved to be my most valuable ally yet.
It seemed random at the time, but I no longer think it was. I think he deliberately chose a moment when it was me and him and went about it that way in the hope that I’d come clean and tell him what was going on. I can only imagine how painful it must be for those poor souls who love me to witness my drinking. How awful it must be for a father to see his daughter fall short of everything she could have been – SHOULD have been – and achieved. Hell, I’m not saying I could have been the next Nobel Prize winner but even doing what I do today better than I have been able to would have been good enough. I could have been better than this.
When dad tried to reach me I shut him out, pretended I had no idea what he was talking about, that any desire being awakened by drink was something I didn’t understand. I may even have taken offense, I can’t remember, but now when I look back on it I feel so sad. Dad reached out to me, I’m sure of it. Or maybe he didn’t, but it would have been a fantastic moment to bring it up.
Now, my father isn’t an alcoholic but perhaps he’s managed to steer clear because he has this incredible strength. He is a hard working man and the straightest arrow, he won’t do anything that isn’t within the rules and he – as opinionated as he is – would never bend his morals even slightly. But I do know he likes a drink and I do suspect that if he were to let go he might just be the same as me and just not stop. But he does. Sure, my stepmum got mad with him at times because he and his mates might have a little too much on the odd weekend, but I’ve never known him to drink during the week or in any setting that wouldn’t be considered ‘normal’ or socially acceptable. So I do wonder, and especially after that comment. Maybe he knows what I’m going through and could have helped in some way because he knows how to withstand the beast when it comes after you.
As a man who never puts a foot wrong, my father is for me when it comes to my drinking a difficult person to open up to. I have a strained relationship (OK, these days it’s non-existent) with his wife and beyond that Pa Dear is quite a harsh person at times. There are no excuses with him. If you smoke you’re stupid because you’re paying money to get cancer. This is true of course – smokers pay for cigarettes and cigarettes are proved to cause cancer, but it’s not quite as simple as that. He does not see grey areas, the world is very black and white to him. There is right and there is wrong, nothing in between, simple as that. So to go to this man I have idolised since I was a little girl and tell him what’s become of me isn’t something I feel able to do.
Because I look up to my father, I want him to be proud of me and I want him to look at me and feel joy. My whole life I’ve wanted to impress him but don’t think I ever have. As I said, I’m almost 100% certain dad knows and that he sees more than I want to believe, he’s smarter than anyone else I know.
And so, just over a year ago, around the time I went to see Maggie at the rehab centre, as scary as it was, I picked up the phone. I was on my own and I also knew dad’s wife was away so chances were it’d be a good moment with no distractions or time restraints. I’m not sure what I expected but the pessimist in me that I never usually listen to would have told me she told me so.
What are you telling me, Sophie?” dad demanded and I immediately realised I’d dug myself a pit I wouldn’t be able to scramble out of in a hurry.
I’m not saying I’m an alcoholic, I’m saying I’ve at times disliked that I end up drinking too much so I’m making some changes,” I stuttered.
That’s right – as soon as I’d gingerly broached the subject I realised it was a terrible decision and immediately tried to wriggle my way out of it. Black and white, right? In this case it meant zero understanding, not a scrap of sympathy and that desire he’d talked about I had completely misconstrued, it wasn’t at all what he’d meant. Usually it’s dad who seems anxious to get off the phone but now I couldn’t wait to end the call, or even better make it undone which of course was just like when I cork up a wine bottle, there is no uncorking it.
We did notice that there was a lot of wine drinking when we were visiting, every day and in the evening after we went to bed you continued. It’s always wine! You should be careful with wine! You see those alkies on the park benches, they’re always drinking some bad wine. It’s never a fine scotch, is it?
What a fuck-up. I should never have brought it up. Big, big mistake. And for the record, I do not drink bad wine. I drink fine wine. It’s not much of an argument though as it doesn’t make me a better drunk. I kept schtum. Dad, however, was on a roll.
If you are telling me that you find it hard to stop drinking when you get started, then you’re far gone and it’s very serious,” he told me, his voice stern and unforgiving, “then you have to seek help, nothing else to do and you can never touch a drop of alcohol again.
I’m not saying it’s as serious as that, dad, please don’t take this to mean something it doesn’t,” I pleaded.
Now, dad had only taken it to mean exactly what it all DOES mean and he was absolutely spot on of course. No, I can’t seem to stop. Yes, I am seeking help. And yes, there is a very real possibility that I just have to stay off the vino forever. Doesn’t Johnny Depp have a tattoo that says that? ‘Vino Forever’. I think it originally read Winona Forever. How I wished it could have been tattoos dad and I had talked about. He hates them and as with everything he is vocal about it. I have one now, but when we had this conversation I didn’t and I remember wishing it had been about tattoos – because I then didn’t have any, any time he ranted about how terrible tattoos are and the awful people who get them I felt like I was in his good books. I know, desperate isn’t it?
I’ve seen it so many times,” dad went on and recounted acquaintances who had developed alcohol problems over the years, “no alcoholic wants to admit they’re an alcoholic, not a single one.
Here I could have interjected and told him how wrong he was, that there are countless alcoholics who are brave enough to face their demons and stand up and admit it, but felt silence was a better alternative given I’d gone from telling him the truth to denying all of it. And let’s face it – I just wasn’t there yet. A year ago, I couldn’t say the a-word out loud. Not about myself.
My father went on preaching, now very comfortable in the saddle of his high horse and I cursed myself for having been so stupid. As much as I love and adore my dad, after all he is the father my brother was too scared to tell his girlfriend was pregnant despite it being good news – I made that call so that my brother could be spared the furious rant about social services and doomsday prophecies. They were young and didn’t have everything my dad considered mandatory before having sproglets: permanent jobs, a big house, savings and all affairs in order. So I took the brunt of what was underneath slightly unkind words probably just concern. When my brother did call, dad had vented to me and had composed himself enough to say congratulations.
You have to accept that you can’t drink, Sophie, you have to promise me now that you have not half a year but a whole year of not drinking and then at the end of it you probably have to stay off it too, end of discussion you hear me, END OF DISCUSSION.
I hear you,” I whispered and could no longer hold back the tears, “I hear you and I take on board what you are saying, I will continue to think all of this over.
There is nothing to think over! You can’t drink! What’s there to think over? Sophie?
I stood by the livingroom window and stared out into the dark November evening, just wanting to hang up the phone. How wrong I had been. Or was I still being a coward? After all, what dad said was absolutely spot on.
So that initial step I took to acknowledge my drinking problem only meant coming out to a very small circle of the people I’d trust with my life, the people who welcomed my attempt to correct things and who applauded that I wanted to try. But the fact remains, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to accept that I’m alcoholic and I still wanted to drink. I knew deep down I’d never be able to drink like a normal person, but I still clung on.

That One Friend

I wonder if all us alkies – and addicts in general for that matter – have that one friend we point to when we’re telling ourselves we’re not that bad. As a smoker I’ve often cited the old lady I met when I was doing work experience at the local hospital at the age of 14. Martha, her name was and she was in her nineties. Thin as a rake and with skin five sizes too big for her frame, she would head over to the smoking room along the corridor at the ward. Oh yes, even in my native country Sensible Sweden, there was once upon a time smoking rooms in hospitals. I’m also old enough to remember when you could smoke on an airplane but that’s a story I might write about if I ever decide to conquer my fear of flying. Let’s focus on alcohol and addiction for now.
So back to Martha. She’d smoked all her life, told me in her scratchy, wheezy voice that she started at 13. In Martha’s case, that meant she’d taken up smoking before World War One. So I have at times referred to Martha when I’ve felt defensive and pointed out that oohhh well look at Martha who started smoking when Hitler hadn’t caused any atrocities but was just a mediocre, struggling artist on the streets of Vienna, she’s fiiiiiiiiine. Isn’t there always someone like that, who we can point to only so we can look a little better ourselves? Someone who has the same addiction but is a bit further down the line. Or a lot further down the line, even better as that gives us hope that perhaps we can just keep going too and be fine. Like Martha.
There are two people like that in my life when it comes to alcohol – let’s call them Elaine and Linda.
Elaine and I can have so much fun together. We met via work and she’s a little older than I am. We’re quite different in some ways but click anyway. I can visibly see the harm she is doing to herself these days. She’s rather accident prone due to a dodgy leg, but the bruises and injuries she has amassed over the years I’ve known her makes my own look like I’ve just been to a girl scout meeting. Elaine does all the stuff I do too – embarrassing posts on Facebook or other social media, and I’m sure she starts cooking or other random stuff too. In addition to those things, she does go further – one incident involved going for a swim in the sea after finishing off a box of wine at home. Downright dangerous and perhaps that’s why Elaine is one of the two people I point at whenever I need to reassure myself or others that I’m not so bad. I’ve also never ended up falling flat on my face acquiring a black eye drunk or otherwise.
Then again, I don’t live by the sea like Elaine does and I did bang my head the other night. All it is, is that I need someone like Elaine to be worse than I am. I need her to drink more and do worse things in order for me to keep on going without having to take responsibility. And for someone with a serious problem myself, I’m incredibly good at spotting it in others. Elaine definitely has a problem but I’m sure she’s just like me and knows it deep down too. Also what makes it a little worse in Elaine’s case is that she is suffering from depression and on medication. Adding alcohol, which is a depressant, just cannot be good. She’s a tough cookie, has been through a lot, but I genuinely worry about her drinking.
Still, Elaine’s drinking makes it easy – or at the very least easier – for me to cling on to I’m-not-so-bad. The thing is though, no matter how hard I try not to see it when Elaine and I drink together, that I put away more than she does. This is hardly surprising – she is tiny, shorter than I am and skinny. I’m much taller and bigger than she is physically so that I can hold more than Elaine isn’t so strange. I also smoke more than she does. What I don’t know is what happens with Elaine when she is alone, if she is the same as I am or if she does have some level of control or is able to stop.
She’s looking frail at the moment. She’s gone through more crap recently and from her already slight frame she’s lost even more weight. I know her depression is her biggest worry, but I do want to shake her and yell STOP DRINKING! But I don’t think it’s Elaine I need to shake – it’s myself.
And then there’s Linda.
Linda and I only met in real life the once. Before then we were both members of a network for Swedes living abroad, a forum for discussions ranging from where to get hold of fresh yeast in Zimbabwe to how to renew your Swedish passport in Sydney. Linda lived in the south of Spain with her rich Spanish husband and she was always quite feisty in the discussion threads, sometimes even aggressive but I thought she was fun and although sometimes a little offensive I enjoyed her brutal honesty and strong opinions. There were times when I’d click on something she’d posted and hold my breath in anticipation, she really did go to war at times but I always felt there was a golden soul and genuine heart in Linda. Still do.
On this network it wasn’t unusual for people to meet up if anyone of us happened to travel somewhere. “Hey, I’m going to Paris for the weekend, any Swedes around?” That sort of thing. Linda was going to come to London with her husband and wanted to see who of the London-Swedes in the network might want to meet up for a drink. Because I liked the spirit Linda showed in the discussion threads, I just knew she would be a complete hoot and that we’d have endless interesting conversations so I immediately replied saying I’d be up for it.
Great!” Linda’s message read, “you’re just the person I’d hoped for!
I arrived early, like I always do, at the hotel where Linda would be staying. We had agreed to meet there as it had a lovely bar and a beautiful outdoor area. It was a warm June evening, so a garden bar seemed the perfect choice. Half an hour after we were supposed to meet, there was still no sign of her and when I’d waited nearly an hour, she finally appeared. She looked disoriented, her hair was a bit of a mess and she gave a very confused impression. Still the great lady I’d “seen” in the discussion threads, but messy.
My husband had to go straight to meetings and I ended up going to the wrong hotel, they have another one in Clerkenwell,” Linda rattled off after giving me a hug, “Can you help me get my bags up to my room and then we’ll find somewhere.
Linda’s thoughts were on something else, that much was clear. I seemed to be something peripheral, as did everything else around us. She was fidgety and seemed unable to focus when the receptionist was checking her in and her attention span was too short to keep any one line of conversation going as we went up the lift and walked down hotel corridors to her room. When we got in through the door, Linda immediately got her suitcase on to the bed, opened it and fished out a bottle of Jack Daniels. Then she looked around, still distracted and in a rush, then found what she was looking for.
Go get ice,” she told me, handing me an ice bucket.
It was abrupt, almost unfriendly and I inside I did think how I wasn’t used to being ordered around like that, but I thought what the hell and just went in search of ice. When I got back to the room Linda had poured two huge glasses of whiskey. When I say ‘huge’ I’m talking about a standard size hotel glass, the ones you find in the bathroom. There were two, one for each of us, and she’d filled them three quarters full.
Oh God, not for me, I can’t stand strong liquor neat,” I laughed.
Do you want some coke?” Linda asked.
Nah, I’ll wait, I’m more of a wine person.
It took Linda less than 15 minutes to polish off a glass that at a glance must have been the equivalent of five or six shots. And with each sip, she became more and more present – suddenly she was no longer distracted or fidgety, but instead relaxed and engaged. And it’s only now that I can draw the parallel – that is exactly me, and the plumber’s visit is a glorious example, how I was getting restless and irritated because I just wanted to drink.
From that one time I met her it was pretty obvious that she was a heavy drinker and everything unraveled from there. Now some of her outbursts online made more sense – they were drunken outbursts, at least some of them. Linda ended up in a spot of bother and in connection with this also “came out” as an alcoholic. Because I cared about her, I ended up being the one she could always call. Now I can see that I probably made it easier for her to drink, but I also knew that if I’d told her to only contact me when sober, she’d stop contacting me full stop. It’s an impossible balance. And Linda called me quite often. I don’t think we had a single conversation when she was sober. I only knew she was drunk because she’d tell me – I was the one from whom she didn’t have to hide anything, so when she lied to the rest of the world about getting sober (with her husband backing up her story publicly on the likes of Facebook) it was me who listened to all the horrifying detail. On the same day as Linda put as her status that she had been dry for a year, I spoke with her just after breakfast. She was drinking wine.
There was absolutely no doubt that Linda was worse than I was and to my addict’s mind it was very reassuring to witness someone drink so much more than I do and seemingly still be fine. Linda was a lovely looking lady, didn’t look older than her 48 years, always looked well put together in all Facebook photos, and with her husband ran a successful online business. She’d seemed in disarray that one time I met her, but that was only until she’d got hold of a drink. Their life looked fantastic, the front they displayed a lovely one. I knew the other side of it but even I thought she managed to function, even thought I by this point knew that she’d sometimes have sunk a bottle of whiskey by lunchtime.
Linda also told me of having fits on occasions when she hadn’t been able to get hold of alcohol to ease her withdrawal the next morning. In March 2014 she told me about two serious incidents, terrible relapses one during which she’d ended up forcibly admitted to a psych ward for three days and another when her husband had ended up calling the police on her. I really don’t know what one might get up to that’s so bad one’s hubby decides he needs police back-up.
Oh yes, Linda was worse and she was solid affirmation that I was JUST FINE. Even after I admitted to myself I had a problem, Linda was so much further down the line and I could always take comfort in that. Except you can’t go on drinking like she did and be fine. Linda wasn’t fine at all and on her 48th birthday in April that year, just a few weeks after those awful incidents, she drank herself to death.
So I don’t have anyone to point to anymore because I no longer know anyone who drinks more or is a “worse” alkie than I am.

Waking the Beast

The drink monster is a curious creature and most of all a rather unpredictable one. When I’d left Maggie and the rehab centre, it was perching right there on my shoulder, squeezing its little arms around my neck and sinking its claws into my burning throat in a deadly little hug. Despite feeling so ready (like many times before) to deal with my drinking problem and a huge part of me wanted to commit to never again every bit as sincerely as all the other times previously that I’d felt similar resolve, I also felt really good about things and for taking action. Feeling good is my biggest trigger to drink. Sometimes I wish I was a miserable cow because then I might just keep sober – I never feel like drinking on the very rare occasions when I feel down.
Then again, I’m sure that’s not true and perhaps it’s the nature of addiction. It’s certainly true for smoking – I smoke to relax and de-stress, just like I’ll light up when I need to focus. I doubt any drug could have opposite effects. My belief is that we (ab)use the drugs because we’re addicted to them, end of. A non-smoker doesn’t need to light a cigarette to focus, do they? Nor to relax. So that’s bullshit and I wonder if my I-drink-when-I-feel-happy idea is bullshit too, something I tell myself. Do other people want to have a drink to celebrate something? I’m sure they do. A promotion, an anniversary, the weekend. Then there’s me who will celebrate that it’s Tuesday. If I weren’t happy, I know my drinking problem would be a problem still and it’d only be my triggers that’d look different – heck, that’s how I developed a serious problem in the first place. Sauvignon Blanc became a crutch during a tough period of my life and then when things got better again I kept on drinking, not to soothe pain but to enhance joy. I just found a new excuse.
So back again, to November 2016, and I decided to keep a drunkard’s log. I just read it again and what can I say, I’m cringing. But here it is in all its uncut glory…
Hah! Perhaps now that I am in its grip I can try to explain what it feels like? Because it’s scratching away at me relentlessly I may not succeed and my typing will soon become unintelligible but I’ll give it a shot whilst I’m “still here” – soon I may be too drunk to type out coherent thoughts, but here goes. 
Typical day at the day job: I wasn’t hungover so was fairly productive. Had a nice little chat with my employers, worked through the tasks at hand and ended the day on a high like I do most days, or at least the ones I don’t spend fighting a crippling hangover. Even then, when my mind is muddled, I seem to get on OK – my job isn’t rocket science and I can perform most of it even when fuzzy headed and dizzy. My job suits an alcoholic, shall we say. 
Today I had to hurry home as we had a plumber coming out, but the drink monster had appeared on my shoulder half way through the morning and once the thought of drinking had put down roots there was little I could do to fight it. So I rushed out bang on time and raced home, stopping at the local supermarket where I bought two bottles of wine and a smaller one. I can just about function the following day if I have two bottles “and a bit” so this is a very calculated move on my part. The plumber had already arrived when I drove into the driveway but he hadn’t been there long so my rush to get wine had paid off. He went to work but kept talking to me, wanting to show me stuff and explain what was wrong with our boiler – this pissed me off as I was trying to pour a huge glass of wine in order to get on with my drinking. 
Yes, that’s right, that’s how powerful the drinking monster is – never mind hearing about our boiler and gas supply, and indeed whether it’s bloody safe to use, I just wanted him to shut the fuck up, continually glancing over at my Starbucks thermos filled with wine and soda water that I just wanted to spend time with. I know that’s crazy, even now that the plumber has just left and I’m almost through the first one, but that’s how my mind works in these instances. 
A Starbucks thermos for wine? What’s that about? Well, because I chain smoke when I drink and never smoke in the apartment, I go downstairs into the garden and I don’t want the neighbours to see me on a Tuesday with my huge wine glass. A drunkard’s way of hiding, although I’m sure it’s obvious to anyone who might see me. Right about now the buzz from what I’ve had (almost through the thermos which at a guess holds about two thirds of a pint of wine plus a bit of soda) has kicked in and so I don’t care. 
Now going to top it up and head into the garden we share with the other flats again. It’s November and getting cold, but that doesn’t bother me so long as I’m with Sauvignon Blanc and Marlboro Lights Menthol. 
***
So much for writing whilst drinking. I did go down to the garden with the freshly topped up wine thermos masquerading as coffee (or so I hoped). Predictably, it disappeared very quickly so I went upstairs and filled it up again. Perhaps several times, I’m not sure. What I do know of the evening is this: I cooked some chicken with Nando’s peri-peri marinade at some stage but not sure I ate much as the wok looked untouched and the rice I’d cooked also seemed ignored where it sat in the saucepan Wednesday morning. I also know I banged my head on something as my forehead was sore the next morning, but as usual I had no idea on what, where or how. 
The drinking analysis was therefore redundant and that’s telling in itself – bit ridiculous really of me to think I’d somehow be able to keep an accurate boozing log as the evening quickly progressed into the customary black-out. 
Me writing whilst drinking, or drink writing – although, to be fair, I have on occasion woken up to a really witty blog post or even a solid section of my novel produced during a black-out – was really a bit like drink driving. I mean, what did I expect? That I would, just because I tried to be aware of my thoughts and document them, suddenly be a safe drink writer? Nope. Not only had I made chicken and banged my head, I’d also fired off a toe-curlingly cringey and gushing e-mail to my parents-in-law that I still can’t bring myself to read. Then again, I don’t need to read it, because I’ve written countless like it – drunk and full of love and joy. I also vaguely remember getting cold after it got dark and went to sit in the car, starting it and putting the heating on. Will I ever get so messed up I actually decide to drive? At the moment I’m a dangerous drink writer, how far is the step to being a drink driver? Please God, never let that be me.  
Trying to perform any duty whilst under the influence is a ridiculous experiment, because it’s an experiment that doesn’t warrant undertaking. We all know the answer. 
I suppose what I wanted to do, largely for myself, was jot down notes of what goes through my head at regular intervals during a session. Reading back and remembering my annoyance at the plumber holding my drinking up I’m not sure I would think over so much had I not made a note of it. I was only on my first wine thermos at that point of course, so it didn’t happen during a black-out or anything, but having it in writing and being sober while reading drunken me’s thoughts further proved to me just how bad things have got. 
I have no memory either of my partner coming home so I don’t know if we spoke. I don’t even know if we have sex, but I imagine I was a passed out, snoring heap by that point. Nor do I remember putting one wine bottle in a plastic bag and placing at the bottom of the bin, the other casually thrown in on top. I do at times hide – the wine thermos – but not in front of my partner. 
And on the subject of partners I have the following to say: if you’ve ended up with an alcoholic, run for the hills! 
What I have done to deserve this amazing man I do not know. I just know that I don’t, and God knows how many chances he’ll offer me. I want, of course, to believe him when he reassures me that nothing could make him walk away, not even if I fall off the wagon (or jump, as the case may be) a million times. But how much can I put him through? As of now, he has a partner who drinks too much but still functions relatively well. It’s tempting for me – so, so tempting – to hold on to that. Hey, I just like a drink! Bit excessive perhaps, but it’s no big deal! It’s Thursday and I only had a drink on Tuesday, that’s one out of four evenings, what’s so bad about that? Then that pesky, more rational part of my brain budges in and reminds me that piecing together a Tuesday night from visual (chicken with peri-peri marinade) and physical (sore forehead) evidence rather than remembering what happened is Very Bad Indeed.  

Counselling Session (my one and only)

(November 2017)
Perhaps I expected or hoped for too much, but I came away from my first counselling appointment at the rehab centre feeling a little.. …meh.
I’ve had counselling in the past – with Relate when my first marriage was going down the pipes to be precise – and found it a very enlightening experience, coming away with insights that I hadn’t recognised before and considering questions that I hadn’t thought of asking myself. I had somehow hoped the counsellor would ask something that would push my thoughts in a new direction that would lead me to a lightbulb moment. As impatient as I was and am to travel down this road of recovery, I was very aware that this was just a small, first step but the session still gave me less than I expected.
It took an eternity to get to the place this dark and bitter cold November evening and I immediately went to the coffee machine in the waiting room to get a cup of hot brew that I clasped my cold fingers around. It’s always really quiet in there. As in, completely bloody super silent to the point you become aware of your breathing. There were four of us in total, each of us as we entered the room seating ourselves at the furthest point away from everyone else. I made myself small and played Candy Crush on my phone.
Suddenly there was a sound from a mobile phone and I looked up. It was the young-ish guy sitting directly diagonally across from me at the other end of the room. He quickly muted it, it was only there for a second but it was first of all too late and secondly unmistakable: he must have had porn on his phone. Even the second it played to the quiet room it was very obviously a woman moaning in that exaggerated, for show kind of way. Well, they do treat sex addiction too so perhaps that’s why he was there. dirty little bugger. I stifled a giggle.
The lady I met with, Katie, was lovely of course. Younger than I am, I’d probably put her around the 30-mark, very smiley and with a gentle manner. When we had walked through several corridors deep in the mysterious guts of the mighty building, we sat down in an office that felt a bit like my GP’s. Nothing fancy, bit run down. Katie asked me just like Maggie had to give my version and view of why I was there. Just like I had with Maggie, I wanted to lay everything bare in front of Katie and be completely honest. And why spend £150 if you’re not serious about it?
This is where I need to make something clear. I am very, very fortunate to be able to seek help privately at a rehab facility. Not everyone can afford to spend £150 a pop for counselling. It’s a lot of money for me too, but I can just about do it given my appointments are every other week. That’s roughly £300 per month, which is a huge amount of money but in my case that equated to about half of what I’d normally spend on wine and cigarettes and therefore to my mind there wasn’t much to think over. Of course your GP can refer you for free counselling and I’m sure NHS counsellors are every bit as good at their jobs as the counsellors at the rehab, but then you have the waiting lists and also the fact that it goes on your record and the latter was and is a concern for me.
Do you have insurance?” Katie asked when I handed her my paperwork with all my personal details and also card information for payment.
I do, thank God, but just like I don’t want my GP to be notified of my treatment I don’t want this on my medical record,” I told her.
Why? You could argue I suppose that if I was truly ready to face this, it wouldn’t matter because why then would I mind? If I was so truly ready to embrace that I have this problem and had a genuine wish to seek help and indeed help myself, why would I give a damn if this was added to a file for all eternity? Because I’m still ashamed and embarrassed, that’s why. Call me pathetic but I’m not ready to share this with the world – my family, friends, employers and colleagues. I’m not ready to rock the t-shirt in public. Sometimes there is a part of me that does, in stronger moments when I’m full of fight and determination I want to stand up and declare that this is the deal and I’m fighting it, damn it! Other times the very thought of having to openly admit it beyond this smaller circle of people I trust the most makes me want to vomit. There is definitely a conflict there, perhaps I want to drink my glass of wine and keep it.
When I told Katie this, again in a sincere effort to be completely open and honest and be receptive to the very real possibility that I may still be in pretty deep denial here, she just gave me that sweet smile again. SAY SOMETHING, WOMAN! I wanted her to come with some valuable and thought provoking input. Tell me yes, you’re in denial and that you don’t want it on your record tells me you’re not serious about this. Or no, that’s understandable, many people feel that way. Either would have been fine. Something. Anything!
It was me who went into all sorts of detail and each time I told Katie about something I myself thought of as important, disturbing or relevant I sort of wanted her to chime in or comment. She didn’t, beyond occasionally asking me how I felt about this or that, but all the things I was there to tell her and seek help for I’d already spent nearly a decade thinking over a million times, analysed and researched so I felt a little short changed. It was when I described the lengths I go to planning my drinking that Katie for the first time during our 50-minute session put something into words that resonated with me.
Cringing at the incredible amount of energy I put into the planning of my drinking, I told Katie how I’ll plan my route home and working out where to stop to buy wine. How the quantity is carefully calculated depending on whether I need to be at work the following day, how I buy those two bottles and the small one because I know I can still go to work and perform my job to at least to a reasonable level if I stick within that amount, and how I in my head have a step by step outline of the afternoon and evening ahead that is about my drinking and my drinking alone.
What I’m hearing is that all of this sounds like quite a chore,” Katie said and looked at me with an expression of sympathy that pissed me off a little but finally her words rang a little bell.
Oh, absolutely!” I exclaimed with enthusiasm because now I felt we were getting somewhere, “I hadn’t thought of it like that but that’s 100% true, it’s quite exhausting.
This was in line with what I wanted from this. For my counsellor, in this case Katie, to tease out of me the answers, the insights and bring about lightbulb moments and this was the only one during our session but a good one nonetheless because it is really tiring having to spend this much time and energy planning your own destruction and I hadn’t thought of it that way before. It was exactly what I wanted from the counselling – to really see and understand things that may be really obvious but blocked by my own denial. That kind of thing.
It was just her sad little expression that annoyed me. I wasn’t there for sympathy. I was there for someone to say YES that’s what happens and now let’s get cracking on sorting this mess out! Like Maggie had done. Maggie, who could totally relate when I told her how it wound me up when people might try to regulate my drinking for me by way of slowing me down. It’s much easier to listen and be perceptive to alternative ways of looking at something if the person or people who are there to help you can put on your sorry drunkard’s shoes and know where you’ve been stumbling around. I can only speak for myself of course.
What I wanted most of all, in this case, when dealing with my drinking problem, was for someone to have a little chat with me and then diagnose me there and then and give me the magic solution: this is the issue, this is why and here’s how we’re going to figure this thing out and here’s your homework for next time. Tah-daah! Very lazy of me, I know and even when I let my alkie brain rule me I do know there’s no easy guide to follow here. And this is just the beginning of a journey that no doubt will present me with all sorts of fuckinell, I’m just at the very starting line, I get that.
Moreover, it’s not Katie’s responsibility to tell me what I am and what I’m not. It’s Katie’s job to help me find a way to handle this. I did find it a little frustrating.
The idea of giving drink up completely scares me to death,” I told her. “It’s not like smoking, is it? Alcohol is something other people can enjoy, it can be a positive thing and if you’re not like me and can handle it, it can be fun.
Yes,” Katie agreed and I hoped she’d say something more but she just smiled her sweet little smile so I continued.
I’ve had lots of fun with it and most of all I love drinking with my partner, going to the pub, putting the world to rights and sometimes do lots of random, fun things.
Katie still didn’t say anything and there was a little silence I found slightly uncomfortable, so I went on hoping I’d be leading this on to helpful territory.
It’s just I’m not sure the way it’s going I’ve managed to keep the fun bit,” I said, hopeful this would be a good hook.
It doesn’t sound like it.
Some of the time it is, but it’s the compulsive way I think about it and all the planning, that part is not very nice.
Perhaps you need to think about which alternative is more attractive?” Katie suggested, “If you drink on this occasion, or if you don’t and all that entails, what will be the better option?
Marginally helpful. I already know the answer to that one, just like I know I’ll kill myself if I don’t get this under control. I know I’ll be a hungover, unproductive and anxious wreck the following day. I know if I don’t drink, I’ll be feeling great and full of energy. This isn’t something I need to understand because it’s insanely obvious and clear to me as it is. It’s one of the reasons why I’m seeking help – I’m in the process of ruining my whole life because of my drinking and I know the more attractive option would 100 gazillion % be sobriety. Or, in an ideal world of course, be able to drink like a “normal” person.
My alkie brain was of course – as always – hoping to be told “don’t worry, you don’t need to stop entirely, you just need to learn to control it and we can help you”. That’s the holy grail. Maggie hadn’t promised me this, in fact she told me of the only way she knew that works: complete abstinence. She didn’t push it on me of course, but she didn’t make me hopeful there could be another way, or at least she couldn’t tell me about any other fix she knew of. Katie was reluctant to say ANYTHING.
I’m terrified of having to give up drinking completely,” I hurriedly told Katie when I noticed her glancing at the clock on the wall behind me.
What would you like to achieve?” she asked.
I’d love to be able to drink like a normal person.
Well, it doesn’t sound like you are physically addicted.
Well, no, I could have told you that myself. I know this already. Come on, say something I can take with me and consider. Something. ANYTHING! Instead this woman, who clearly isn’t an alcoholic and no matter what her qualifications may be she will NEVER EVER be able to truly understand this, put into my mind that perhaps I wasn’t in so much trouble.
Why don’t you before our next session try to get to grips with what’s going on in your head when you get the urge to drink?” Katie offered and did her little sympathy face thing again.
This is where I gave up. She didn’t get it. No non-alcoholic will ever get this. Trying to analyse what goes on in my alkie brain was precisely what I’d told her about – my triggers, my military operation precise planning and the buzz once the beast is truly awake. Oh well. Baby steps, perhaps. I’m sure Katie is a highly competent lady and perhaps it was my expectations that were off the wall.
Just like I had after my assessment with Maggie the previous week, all I wanted when I stepped back out into the cold November evening was a big glass of Sauvignon Blanc with soda. Or a dozen.

An Assessment

I get angry just listening to you,” Margaret – or Maggie as she preferred to be called – told me and rolled her eyes.
This was just over a year ago, in October/November 2016 and I was still full of resolve and a genuine wish to get my drinking under control by whatever means necessary, whether it be completely abstaining or unlocking something in my brain that might adjust my destructive behaviour. I had made it to my appointment at the rehab centre, which in itself was a huge victory. I think my partner, having seen me make grand gestures and heartfelt promises in the past only to revert back to old habits, was worried my enthusiasm would wear off and I’d cancel in favour of getting smashed that afternoon instead. But no, my desire to go into battle hell for leather was still very much there and so I headed over after work. I’d expected this step to be a difficult one to take, but it wasn’t, strangely – the hardest part had been to admit to myself that I had a problem. I hadn’t said the a-word out loud of course, because THAT I just didn’t want to face, but I could at least admit there was A Problem. I also had a few days of sobriety under my belt so I felt brave and strong.
I was early of course, I always am. Again, it’s quite ironic how a control freak like me who likes everything neat and in order and would rather eat my own head than be late, can also be someone so reckless and out of control as I am when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc. I parked up and once out of the car lit up a cigarette and took in the surroundings. It immediately reminded me of the hotel in Dirty Dancing, with the grand main building and massive, perfectly manicured lawns in front of it with garden furniture at which people were having a coffee or reading a book. A group of people engaging in Tai Chi wouldn’t have looked out of place, nor would a posh crowd playing croquet or horse drawn carriages and people in 18th century attire mingling about. Unsurprisingly perhaps, it was the picture of serenity.
Maggie was a tall, slender lady with blond hair styled in a way that made me think of Princess Diana and she was in what I guessed must be her mid- to late fifties. Her clothes were tasteful and she was perfectly groomed. Her smile was kind and genuine. I suppose it had to be given her job was to make losers like me feel comfortable enough to be honest. I don’t know if this is something people like Maggie worry about with new patients, but if she ever did she needn’t have – I was ready to pour out every last ugly truth (almost, anyway) about my drinking.
Maggie had asked me how I would feel if anyone tried to restrict my drinking.
God help them,” I answered truthfully.
Or God help me, rather – that only serves to make me want to drink more and I described to her how sometimes I’d get really irritated when my partner would try to slow me down. Maggie, a former alcoholic (or an alcoholic in recovery – I don’t know if ‘alcoholic’ is a title you can ever shed once you’ve adopted it), told me how she could completely relate and how she felt irritated – angry – at my words. Not because I was stupid to feel that way but because she’d been there herself and knew how the addict’s mind works.
More to the point: Maggie could feel what I felt and that’s different to trying to explain even to this amazing, patient and open minded partner of mine – how could he, no matter how hard he tries (and he does try very hard because amazingly, he wants to be with me every step on the way and support me 100% although you could argue I don’t deserve it) to understand a problem so alien to him. He can stop drinking after one or two or six drinks. He can also get smashed, should he choose to. And therein lies the answer: choice. That’s what I don’t have when it comes to drinking. For me it’s sometimes enough to even fucking THINK of that first drink to be doomed. And I only ever get smashed – I’d love to stop at one or two or even six but I can’t. When I wake the beast, by having that first drink, even the first sip or sometimes even the mere thought  it’s too late. I’m powerless.
You know, I get it – and sometimes I get on a high horse and adopt the same attitude – just stop! What’s the big deal? There’s also the notion that us drunks use the powerlessness as an excuse to justify our drinking, like we can’t help it, like it’s not our fault, like we’re victims. To be honest, I’m a bit torn on that one but I can only speak for myself and for me it works like this: I’m usually (but not always!) fine so long as I don’t have that first drink (or sip, or sometimes, thought), in fact most of the time if I’ve decided I’m not going to drink I could be around a table in a pub with lots of people who are all drinking without struggling, content with a coffee or a diet coke.
On occasion when I drink, especially lately, I’ve at times tried to analyse my own thinking and behaviour, be in the moment and even as it’s happening and I’m getting more and more hammered, try to work out what’s going on. What am I feeling? What am I thinking? What does the raging desire to guzzle feel like exactly? Sometimes I’ve even made little notes. All I know is that it only ever ends up one way: once I’ve started it ends up in one place and in one place only – blackout.
Some might think I’m weak, that I am self indulgent and a coward. Perhaps. But I somehow doubt it’s as simple as that. For me, it’s not a question of strength, courage or will power. Just watch me go if I set my mind to something. I am the most strong willed woman you’ll meet in your life and if I want something you can be sure I get it and make it happen. Many people have gone through worse shit than I have, but I’ve gone through a couple of really fucking awful episodes in my life and I got through those because I’m one of the strongest people I know. Although I also believe the saying is true – you don’t know how strong you are until it’s the only choice you have, so perhaps I’m just average. I’ll settle for that, average is fine by me. Thing is though, and I want to be clear here – if strength (or the lack thereof) was the issue, there wouldn’t be so many addicts in this world because I believe the majority of us don’t want to be where we find ourselves. This is simply something so much bigger than we are. Strength I don’t believe comes into it.
Perhaps it was a choice at one point. It must have been. After all, no one has ever forced me to drink at gun point. It’s me choosing to buy those two (or three) bottles of wine and soda water, it’s me who chooses to pour the first drink and it’s me who chooses to put that glass of spritzer to my lips. Yes, you could argue that’s a choice – I’d probably agree somewhat. I just know that with time that choice disappeared, and certainly after that first drink. I don’t know if I was ever able to stop after the first drink and I have always been a binge drinker.
And how much do you drink?” Maggie asked, “How many units? Do you know?
Because I’m the queen of Google and have checked on countless occasions on various websites with tests to ascertain if you drink too much (not that I ever wondered if I drank too much – I knew I did – but to get a sense of just how much risk I’ve put myself at), I had a vague sense of the number.
I polish off over two bottles of wine, think that’s something like 14 units,” I told her honestly, waiting for her to stare at me in shock and disbelief but she didn’t so I quickly added “that’s not in a week, I mean in one sitting,” just in case she might have assumed otherwise.
OK,” she said, making notes as we went.
No scolding or telling me off. Maggie didn’t make me feel shitty about it, not that she needed to – I make a pretty good job of that myself and have experienced many dirty, shameful lows and moments of self loathing because of my drinking. Dark moments when I’ve the morning after a session looked at my haggard and puffy face in the bathroom mirror, my skin dull and grey from too many drinks and too many cigarettes. I suppose it makes perfect sense in a way, that Maggie didn’t say anything to make me feel worse – any time anyone questions or criticises my drinking it only triggers the one reaction in me: to drink more and to drink my head to bits without delay. Just like any time anyone says anything about how harmful smoking is – nothing could make me light up quicker than those scary words (SMOKING KILLS! SMOKERS DIE YOUNGER! SMOKING SERIOUSLY HARMS YOU AND OTHERS AROUND YOU!) on the cigarette packets.
If there is one thing I have learnt about both my vices (ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to formally introduce you to Marlboro Menthol cigarettes and Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc) it’s that if anyone tries to separate me from them it only makes me cling on to them more tightly. As a smoker and drinker I am already MORE than aware of the harm these two lovelies bring. I could be wrong, but I reckon a lot of us addicts do. Hell, most five-yearolds can tell you what my own son so articulately expressed when he was around three or four:
If you smoke, first you get sick and then you get dead.
To most heavy drinkers and smokers this isn’t news. It’s something we’re already painfully aware of, something that’s there at the back of our minds as we pour that drink or light that cigarette. Come on, think about it. Hearing how bad our vices are just adds to existing anxiety and fear. It makes us uneasy and nervous. And what does a drinker or a smoker do when we feel nervous? Exactly. Yes, I know it’s said with the best intentions and you only want the best for me, but this does the opposite. Of course, I can only speak for the only alcoholic I know – me – but this does not work on me. Again, I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt that anyone buying a packet of cigarettes will suddenly see the scary words or pictures, shriek SAY WHAAAAAT and throw the packet away. I also doubt any problem drinker will look at a DrinkAware poster (God, I hate those!) or information leaflets about the recommended number of units not to exceed and go OH FUCK, then do a quick calculation on the units in our tipple of choice and then dutifully adhere to recommended limits.
Any other excessive behaviour?“, Maggie asked, “Drugs, shopping, gambling, sex?
Excess is my middle name. I don’t do anything in moderation, so this was an interesting angle. If I’m into my running, I head out every day. I eat silly amounts – I’m 5’6 and of medium (OK, ahem, on the cuddly side of medium should we say) build, my partner is 6’2 and well built (muscular rather than cuddly but his cuddles are to die for) and my dinner portions are much bigger than his. I suppose I like a good shag, but don’t think I’m a sex addict. And I’m shit with money, but I’m not completely irresponsible – I’ve always paid the bills but I guess I haven’t saved much except for my son. If I have it I spend it. It hasn’t got me in trouble though. Gambling has never taken my fancy either and drugs have never appealed to me, thank God. Imagine! Brancott Estate and the like has proven bad enough an opponent, I don’t dare even think what would have happened if I’d discovered much worse but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here now.
As excessive as I am in so many ways, I don’t want to make that my excuse – I feel it’d be a cop-out blaming my drinking on having an “addictive personality” – but it does seem to be my default setting. I don’t think being excessive necessarily has to be negative though, and I think that’s one thing that forms a big part of the regret I feel at all this time I’ve wasted drinking. What if I’d put all this passion and energy into doing great things? If I’d directed it at writing instead of knocking back wine like there’s no tomorrow? Unfortunately it found a negative outlet and that’s the real tragedy here.
As I spoke, the words tumbling out of me in a torrent so keen was I to make sure I laid it all out there without leaving any shitty detail out (except of course the a-word – I only had a “problem”, remember), Maggie scribbled away at her notepad. Because I knew I needed help, help to save my life and the hearts of those around me, I spoke so quickly I almost forgot to breathe.
Some questions I suspect were designed to ascertain if I was in danger. Well, more danger than simply drinking myself to an early grave, that is.
Have you ever broken the law?” she asked.
I stole a chocolate bar when I was ten and that didn’t end well,” I said and giggled, a poor attempt at humour in a situation I should take more seriously than that and immediately regretted it, “Sorry. No, never. Well, apart from the chocolate bar, but uhm, er, I realise that’s not what you were asking.
Maggie just smiled.
Do you drink and drive?
Oh gosh, no!” I exclaimed, like it was an outrageous suggestion to put to someone with a drinking problem with her own car.
Perhaps I drank too much, but up to that point (and to this day still) I have been quite responsible. Dutiful little Swede, me. I like rules and follow them and I don’t even like crossing the street unless there’s a little green man telling me I can do so.
Have your drinking meant you have put yourself or others in danger?
Certainly myself,” I replied and also thought hard and tried to work out if I have ever put another human being at risk, “I mean, I have scared myself so many times and there’s always that fear that I’ll randomly start cooking, then forget all about it and leave the gas on, or something will catch fire, or I’ll fall and injure myself. That kind of stuff.
Oh yes, I’ve been there,” Maggie reassured me, “I’d do random things when I was drinking and would leave the front door open or the oven on.
So dangerous,” I said and cringed at the thought.
Yes,” Maggie said softly, “it’s very, very dangerous.
Maggie made some more notes, then put her notepad to the side and sat back in her chair, clasping her hands on the lap.
Well, Sophie, I think we’re in a good place and I think one on one therapy could work very well for you,” Maggie said and gave me that warm and sincere smile again as she pushed her glasses up on top of her head, “you’re very open minded and it sounds to me like you really want to tackle these issues.
That made me happy. For all my faults and shortcomings, I do pride myself on being honest and I really had gone into this with the intention of laying it all out there. During my career as a binge drinker I have developed an astonishing talent for hiding and down playing my drinking. And smoking too, for that matter. I’ve hid cigarette packets and wine bottles in every place imaginable and a few in addition to that. I guess my assessment meeting with Maggie, just like that Tuesday morning chat with my partner, was the first time I told another human being just how bad things had got. And it was a huge relief.
For each ugly, shameful truth I put in front of her, Maggie chimed in with stories of her own from her ‘many, many years’ of drinking.
Everything you say, Sophie, I can relate to, I’ve been there,” she said and chuckled sadly, presumably conjuring up pathetic images of episodes from her own drinking when I told her about waking up with bruises or about the lengths I’d go to to get hold of alcohol or plan my life around my drinking, “I could say to you exactly what you’ve said to me.
That makes me feel better,” I told her earnestly, because it truly did, “to hear someone can be exactly the same.
Have you tried the AA?” Maggie asked, “It could work very well alongside therapy.
I did but I just don’t know if it worked for me, I felt like we were just a group of people sharing experiences of drinking rather than digging into the cause of it.
Try a ladies only meeting. That really worked for me, because you’re more likely to be able to relate. I promise you there’ll be another lady there that will make you think YES! That’s just like me! That’s the one thing I want you to know, Sophie, you’re not alone in this.
I think that’s precisely what I needed: to meet someone just like me, to hear someone just like me talk about having the same demons.
Between the Tuesday morning heart to heart with my partner and my appointment with Maggie, I’d done more research about alcohol, this time about how to tackle the problem as opposed to just trying to work out if I might be about to die or try to see if the whites of my eyes had a yellow tint under the bathroom mirror. On my travels on Google I came across this treatment called the Sinclaire Method. Fantastic! Take a pill, an opiate blocker something or other without any side effects, which would simply do some magic to the receptors in my devilish brain that would mean I could drink like a normal person. Problem solved, no?
Maggie sighed and threw her head back, gave another little chuckle.
Oh yes, I’ve looked into all of those, tried them all, got the t-shirt,” she told me, again without making me feel stupid, “our approach here is that you need to abstain, it’s the only method we know of that works.
I didn’t press the issue, because I already knew deep down that abstaining from alcohol would be the only true way of dealing with my problem. Like many others, I’m sure, I just wanted there to be some magic solution, a half way house, a brilliantly easy way to allow me to keep drinking on occasion (at least!) but with the drinking-to-oblivion part cut out of the equation. Part of me wanted there to be a quick fix and an easy one. Part of me – actually, make that ALL of me – had wanted Maggie to say “oh, goody! Sophie, you’re not so bad, you just need to moderate your drinking, you don’t have to stop and here’s how.” I kind of knew that was never going to be the case but in a perfect world that’s what I wanted.
Because that’s the difficulty for me – I really enjoy alcohol. I love drinking (as if I needed to tell you that), I love the buzz I get and I also really enjoy all the things that come with it – being around friends, celebrating something, a really great wine with a really great meal, and so on and so forth. It’s just that although all those things are absolutely part of it, there’s the other part too that is much bigger – the blackouts, the bruises, the inability to function, the following day that’s almost always completely wrecked, the embarrassment and the self loathing. And most of all, how my alcohol abuse has got to a point where it stops me achieving what I could be achieving, and prevents me from being the best person I can be. I didn’t labour the point because before Maggie had given her take on such magic fixes I already knew the answer.
From what you have told me, you certainly display the behaviour and thinking associated with alcohol abuse and addiction,” Maggie told me. “You’ve made the right decision by coming here and you should be proud of yourself for doing that,” she added.
Proud of myself? Hardly. My partner said the same thing. He told me to be proud of myself. He told me he was proud of me. I can’t quite work out why, but it irritates me. Like, REALLY irritates me. What is there to be proud of here? That I’ve ended up on course to destroy my life and hurt everyone who loves me? That my drinking has meant I’ve spent the past decade in a stupor? That I’m a dirty, pathetic drunk? I’m scum. Where’s the pride? What I’m doing now is making a feeble attempt at changing my bad ways, but I can never put right this massive wrong or make up for it. There’s nothing about this I feel pride at. Admitting I have a problem isn’t something I consider brave or worthy of admiration. It’s something I should have done a long, long time ago and indeed, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to develop the problem in the first place. It’s time to take responsibility and be accountable, hold my hands up and admit I’ve gone off course. Sure, I’m grateful I have come to this point and sure, it would have been easier to just keep on denying I have a problem and gone on my merry binge drinking way, but this isn’t me being brave or in any other way admirable – this is me accepting that I need help and I’m finally asking for it because I’m scared shitless.
At the end of my assessment appointment, Maggie asked me to sign off the form with her notes. It was such a simple and naked looking form, with tick boxes and a few sections for notes here and there, and it seemed quite amazing that on those three or four sheets of paper with their little ticks and scribbles, was the story of a whole decade of destruction, desperation and utter helplessness. A huge chunk of my life wasted. Literally wasted. I signed it off and dated it. 31st October 2016. Halloween. And still it wasn’t as scary as I’d thought it’d be. I felt ready to go to war.
Maggie was right about me displaying all the characteristics of an addict. One in particular was creating a familiar urge with quite frightening intensity as I got into my car: I was gagging for a drink.
That was over a year ago. As I write now, I have been sober for a week.

A Love Story

Keep your enemies close, they say. I certainly did. Problem is though, that for a long time I thought this enemy of mine was my harmless, but more to the point, super fun buddy. Many of the most hilarious moments and events of my life have been with my enemy at my side and God knows we’ve had a barrel of laughs – too many to remember and, indeed, countless I genuinely can’t. It’s just that it took me a long time to really listen when the warning bells started to chime. At first they were barely audible, but with time they became more persistent, louder. But who wants to listen when you’re having fun?

It’s actually really hard to pinpoint when the problems started for real, but my enemy was my close companion for best part of a decade. Before that, we would occasionally get together and although the fun we had would often descend into chaos, it was just being silly and wild together, no harm done. Sure, this was always the only friend with whom I lost control and the irony wasn’t and isn’t lost on me – in all other areas I’m a complete control freak. Still, I shrugged it off as I witnessed other people being the same sometimes when they hung out with my enemy, and so because it was only from time to time that we got together I paid little notice to it. No notice at all, if I’m honest. We had heaps of fun together when I was in my teens and twenties.
As I entered my thirties and went through a thoroughly shitty time, my enemy was immediately there to catch me. How could I possibly have known it wasn’t with good intentions? It felt like a much needed hug at the time and I appreciated it. Now, with that lovely thing called hindsight, I know of course that I got through aforementioned shitty time in spite of, not because of, my enemy. By the time I came out on the other side of the crap that was going on,  I had returned to my happy and content self, so rather than soothe me, comfort me and be there for me in tough times, my enemy just added sparkle to an already great situation. Now I was happy again and had found my strength we were ready to just hang out and have fun together again, like in the old times. Well, that’s what I thought because that’s what it felt like.
Hey, what a great week I’ve had, in a fantastic mood, so many things to be grateful for, who you’re gonna call? My enemy was always at hand to celebrate this wonderful life with me and it was glorious – for a debrief at the end of the day, by the river on a beautiful summer’s evening, to celebrate Friday (or Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday all over again). There was nothing we wouldn’t celebrate and we’d always have a reason – great day, it’s the weekend, oh help me figure this thing out, here’s this thing I want to discuss, payday, birthday, Christmas day, any fucking day.
As years passed by, the nagging feeling that I was being sabotaged crept up on me little by little but I had come to love my enemy so much that I just wasn’t in a place where I could admit it. How can you admit something you’re blind to partly because it’s the last thing you want to see? I sensed something was constantly blocking my path and I felt held back but I never equated the two. Again, that’s probably because I didn’t want to. I preferred to blame everything else, anything but the real issue. When I look back on it, it was almost like living in an abusive relationship with me not only standing by an abusive partner but defending them too. And it went on for a long time.
Situations where I should have sparkled and shone became instances where I at times only functioned to a mediocre degree. Just enough to keep my nose above the surface, but rarely more than that. The fact that I should, could and probably would have done so much better and reached so much higher was something I for the longest time put down to other factors, usually the circumstances. Yes, I had it in me to write but it’s just not the time, you know, work and motherhood gets in the way. I don’t know that I would have collected the Nobel Prize for Literature by now had I not developed a drink problem or been an alcoholic – I doubt it – but I do know my shot at getting published might have been only as unrealistic as it might be for anyone with a creative streak. And I know my drinking has meant I never even explored where my creative streak may have taken me, never mind grand prizes or general praise. I know my drinking has meant and still means this will remain a big, fat WHAT IF until I get sober. But there we are – I had an excuse ready at all times because perhaps it was too scary and too painful to have to admit that my super fun buddy was actually out to seriously hurt me. Destroy me by way of gradually nudging me towards my own drawn out suicide, yet making me think that they were still my friend and the one I could always rely on for a bit of shimmery, happy, warm buzz.
I’m not saying that I would have changed the world. I’m not even saying I would have been great. I’m saying I just don’t know what COULD have been. But perhaps there is time.
Friends, and even family, began to gently question our relationship, whether it was good for me or at least if it wasn’t a little too much. Fuck, that annoyed me so much. I got defensive. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but when I get defensive it’s usually because it hits a nerve, that there is an echo of truth that I don’t want to listen to. I got angry because I was eyeball deep in denial and just not ready (not even much further down the line when I deep down knew they were right) to acknowledge and admit to myself (let alone anyone else) that I was in trouble, that my lovely friend around whom my world had come to revolve wished me so much harm. My response to worried friends was to isolate myself and hide how much I hung out with my enemy.
No, no. I didn’t have time to do great things. Or, more to the point, even fulfill my potential – if I even had any! Point is, this way I was never going to find out anyway. I was a mother first and foremost and sure, being a single mum did present a somewhat stressful existence, that I can’t deny. Even without an enemy trying to trip you up that can be pretty tough. Don’t get me wrong – nothing gives me more joy than my son, but even my love for him wasn’t enough to understand, or enough to WANT to understand, that what was holding me back and dragging me under was my best friend and right before my eyes too. Always circumstances to blame! I spent the best part of my thirties on autopilot. Managed to be a mother. Managed to be a daughter, a sister, an auntie and a friend. Managed to have a job and pay the bills. But nothing more than that. And I wasn’t great at any of it.
Beyond being blessed with a beautiful and amazing son, a fantastic family and awesome friends, I’ve also had every chance to pursue my passion and give my dreams to become an author my very best shot, opportunity after opportunity to do so put before me on a silver platter. I’ve been so blessed and yet I’ve kept throwing it all away, so undeserving of all these chances I was given. Each time I made a dog’s dinner of it. Actually, that’s not true because to say I made a dog’s dinner of it would imply I messed it up and failed. I didn’t fail per se, because to fail you have to try in the first place and I just didn’t. Again, friends questioned why I didn’t go for it and once again they’d occasionally express concern about my relationship with my enemy but I always batted it away and refused to take my blinkers off. I didn’t want to! With time however, it became harder and harder to close my eyes to something I was increasingly forced to see.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had real enemies as such, so perhaps that’s why it seemed so unlikely and was so hard for me to realise, but I did once have a frenemy so I figured perhaps some relationships do drain you a little but you take the good with the bad. Thing is though, unlike my frenemy who just disliked me but felt no real need to kill me (as far as I know anyway), my enemy was 100% out to bring about my untimely demise.
When I think about it, it wasn’t all denial on my part. I witnessed my enemy be a wonderful acquaintance to so many people, appreciated and a very welcome guest. I witnessed how great it could be, and how healthy. And most of all fun! I wanted that too and I am still to this day jealous that we never could and never can. With us, as time went by, the fun all but disappeared. Sure, many good times had been had, crazy fun and brilliant memories created along the way and endless laughter, but it became unhealthy and destructive. That still makes me angry. Why couldn’t our relationship have been like that? There’s a part of me, perhaps it’s that small part of my mind that my enemy still has some power over, that sometimes wishes there might be a way for us to start over and find a new way but I know that can never happen.
It was so evil. God, it makes me angry. I feel cheated! What a calculated, twisted monster. It was orchestrated to perfection, I can see that now. First offering a little comfort, then my loyal, sweet companion, and once I was sucked in and drawn under it became a terrifying malevolent force set to destroy me. Towards the end, my enemy almost didn’t even bother to hide it. It was always very cleverly done though, I’ll give them that – I was allowed to feel good and be on top when we were together, but when we were apart I was both mentally and physically in a state that at best amounted to maybe 10% of the person I might have been and the things I might have achieved if this fucking beast hadn’t set its sights on me and dug its claws into me.
It was as though a heavy, wet blanket had been thrown over my personality, my spirit, my energy, my mind, my whole being and indeed my life. My enemy took the edge off me, reduced me to a lethargic state but I just didn’t have the courage to consider that it might be deliberate. Perhaps we were a little reckless together, this I had always known, but it still felt so good so much of the time. When we were together I buzzed, laughed and felt joy just like always before but when we’d (very briefly) be apart there was no fire in me to push. And when I buzzed in my enemy’s company we were too busy together for me to direct the temporary energy towards writing. All my passion, fire and ambition I naively used up on my enemy. The problem was when we weren’t together – what little was left was barely enough for me to function and keep my life in some semblance of order, let alone put in the hard graft needed to pursue anything worthwhile.
I wonder what I would have written by now. What that first book might have been. Perhaps, had my enemy not tried so hard to kill me there could have been several by now? I’ve certainly started on numerous projects, countless ideas that fizzled out along with the fire in me that my enemy so cruelly put out. A somewhat half baked second draft is still more or less there, but now I’m almost scared to touch it. I’ve sort of lost my belief in it. In some ways that draft is a love story, a story of loss and forgiveness and the human heart’s capacity to love.
But then I suppose this is a love story too, of sorts. I collected my first chip last night. The chip to say I’ve been sober 24 hours. It’s actually a week but I was feeling too shy in the other two meetings where they were handed out. I got a hug and applause, several people telling me “well done”. And in some ways it felt like I’d just won the Nobel Prize.