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.