So here we are. Again. It’s now 2018 and I’m at the starting line. 10 days sober. Even got up and collected a little chip to say I’d managed 24 hours. I don’t know if it will be different this time. I don’t know if I’ll stay sober. What is different this time is that I’ve spoken the words out loud. Not just to myself (and I’ve heard myself say the words plenty – trust me!) and not in writing – out loud to another human being. I thought I’d feel proud and brave. I didn’t. As soon as those ugly words had rolled off my tongue I felt so incredibly sad, like my heart had broken a little bit. But there we are: I’m Sophie and I’m an alcoholic, nice to meet you.
Hah! Sophie isn’t my real name of course. Does this suggest I’m still holding on to the idea that I might be able to drink again in the future? If I truly meant it, wouldn’t I just fess up and not give a damn about the reactions? Why would I hide? Do you know what – I honestly don’t know. Sure, I do worry – not so much about what people may think, but I worry that some may get hurt. Like my family. And this kind of mud sticks, it’s not a label that’s all that convenient to bear. All I can really do here is promise that except for changing what’s actually meaningless detail in order to protect myself and those I love, I will always tell the truth here. I will be honest about recovery, I will be honest when I share my experiences of drinking and I will be honest about my alcoholism.
There’s also another reason, and perhaps this one is what scares me the most. I’ve been here before, you see. Sober for a week or two and feeling determined, pumped up and ready to swear off the vino forever. I don’t fancy a drink in weak moments particularly. Quite the opposite – it’s when I’m full of strength, courage and joy that I want to pour wine down my neck. So past experience tells me that right now I’m at my most vulnerable. Every day I feel great about this – it’s a relief in so many ways – and right now I really do not want to drink so it’d be easy to think I don’t need to go to a meeting, because hey, I’m not in the mood for a drink. But do you know what, that’s precisely why I do need to go.
Apart from finally being able to say out loud that I’m an alcoholic (yes, I’m deliberately saying it over and over – perhaps for my own benefit actually) what’s different this time is that I truly accept it. I’ve known it for a long time but I didn’t want it to be true. I still don’t and I’d love to be able to enjoy alcohol like a normal person but that will never ever happen. I can’t have a drink. I am completely powerless if I do. Alcoholism has been called ‘an allergy of the body and a mental compulsion’. The second part I can absolutely vouch for because it really is like something takes over and it’s impossible to explain fully to someone who isn’t an alcoholic, no matter how open and willing that person is to understanding. I just can’t stop. If I bring that drink to my lips it ends with black-out – I drink until I pass out or there’s nothing left to drink, whichever happens first and as an alcoholic I always make damn sure I have enough to not run out. It’s exhausting! Being an alcoholic is really a full time job, I can’t even begin to tell you how much planning goes into my drinking. It’s a small scale military operation each time!
It’s also exhausting when you have to drink socially. Because I know I lose control, I have to be on high alert the whole time and you can imagine how fun and relaxing that is, right? Even at our wedding party, I had a major job on my hands making sure I didn’t become a drunken mess too early. If you’re not an alcoholic, that’s when you can have a bit more to drink and let your hair down. It’s OK to get a bit drunk and have a laugh. It’s just that I can’t. At my hen do, my lovely friends had some wine ready half way through the day but I declined because I knew if I started I’d be passed out by the early evening. I tried very hard and put into practice a little trick I have: I secretly selected one friend and kept a close eye on her wine glass, matching her pace. It worked for a while, but through the dinner I knew I’d tipped over. I rang my husband to come and get me, because I knew that I was just a drink or two away from losing it. When I say ‘losing it’ I mean that I lose ME. I’m a friendly and lovable drunk, but I hate it when I’ve been at a party or event and there are those last couple of hours I can’t remember. So luckily I got out and so my hen do could go into the history books as a really fantastic day. I did ask my bestie if I’d been embarrassing as there were some foggy memories of dancing, but she assured me I hadn’t stood out any more than anyone else. Phew. But you see my point, don’t you? It’s really hard work!
No, I haven’t lost everything, or even much. Well, you could argue that a decade of on/off excessive drinking and a big chunk of it spent hungover – a quarter of my life – is very much indeed, but on the face of it I’m not like the stereotypical alkie. That in itself is dangerous ground, because the moment I allow myself to distance myself from the perceived notion of what an alcoholic is, that’s when I’m in deep trouble. I think that’s why I couldn’t accept it when I attended my first AA meeting nearly 11 years ago. I looked around me and I focused on the differences, not the similarities. I listened to people who had lost their jobs, their homes, their families and their health. And I decided that wasn’t me. I just drank a bit too much but I was fine. Finally I know that in those meetings I’m around people who are just like me. We’re all the same and no matter where our drinking has taken us, we’re all just that one drink away. And it’s, when I look around me in meetings, often the case that it’s people much like me – who are lucky enough to get to that point before all is lost. So the difference this time is the humility I feel. I no longer want to fight it or deny it, I genuinely accept it, I know this is bigger than I am and in a weird way that really does may me feel incredibly grateful and happy I am here now. Before it started to cost me for real. If that’s not reason to feel joyous I don’t know what is.
The way I held on to the differences and refused to see the similarities was astounding. Although I’m not going to deny that there have been patches when I’ve been drinking every single day for weeks, I could take some comfort in how it wasn’t EVERY day. But if you end four or five days per week in black-out that’s probably what you need to focus on, not the two or three when you don’t. But that’s the mind of an alcoholic and I only wanted to see any real or imagined proof that meant I wasn’t an alcoholic, blissfully ignoring the multitude of truths that screamed that YES YOU ARE!!!! I’ve not lost my family or my job or ended up homeless. All I will say about that is that I’m fucking lucky – it’s pure and utter luck, nothing else. I’ve never had alcohol in the morning but I have picked up a drink to put me right again, just not in the morning so I kept telling myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic because real alcoholics drink in the morning. But all that crap is now out the window and the Era of Excuses is well and truly over.
I don’t think I need any more evidence because I spent a decade trying to prove to myself I didn’t have a problem. I’ve tried with the dedication and determination of a professional athlete that I can control my drinking but there is not a single occasion I can point to and say “look! I did it!” Not a one. The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result, right? I’ll tell you what’s madness also: having to figure out if you want to head for destruction or live the very best life you can. Seriously, it took me nearly 11 years to come to a conclusion. That’s madder than a box of frogs.
As sad as it might make me feel, I feel so grateful I got to this point – in time! And I feel so hopeful for the future. A life without alcohol does at times seem a bit …meh… but I know that’s my alcoholic brain trying to mislead me and I know everything will be so much better and so much brighter from now on.