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.