Because I know myself, and in particular the Myself who feels on top of the world, I am trying to approach all this with a good pinch of humility because if I lose sight of how alcohol was getting very close to costing more than I was willing to pay it’d be fairly easy to slip right back. You know, just have that famous “one drink” to celebrate. And we all know how that story ends. No, seriously, right now my alkie brain is serving up a familiar route home and it’s via the supermarket at the end of the high street where I’d often get a box of wine and a bottle of soda water. I don’t think I ever sank as far as physical addiction (besides even if I had, surely now after nearly a month my system shouldn’t have any trace of alcohol) so it just goes to show how powerful the mental obsession is and how deeply it is embedded in my psyche. So I really need to be careful to remember how terrifying the beast is and never take my eyes off it or it’ll lunge the moment I do. At the same time, I feel it’s worth shouting about because it’s all just so bloody unlikely! I honestly didn’t think I’d be sitting here on a Monday morning saying all these things and I certainly didn’t expect them to be true, but they are:
I didn’t drink on:
- My birthday
- Valentine’s Day
- Date night at fancy Scandie restaurant followed by jazz club
For me, that’s nothing short of fanfuckintastic. The curious thing, and what I probably expected even less than managing to stay sober, is that I thoroughly enjoyed all three and it wasn’t even difficult. In fact, all three were so much better because I was THERE. I was present and in the moment when I didn’t spend those evenings under the spell of an unstoppable desire and compulsion. Sobriety keeps on delivering gifts and even despite still needing so much sleep (and a lot of chocolate) I’m finding that I have so many more hours. Figures, given I don’t spend time in black-out. Days and evenings are experienced in their entirety. When we walked through the park on Saturday the only things on my mind were how I loved hanging out with hubby, how much I love where we live and how beautiful this park is with its fallow deer and vast expanses. Sure, I always enjoyed that before, but Saturdays would always be plagued by severe hangovers and the end goal on which my alkie brain would be fixated was always a drink at the other side of the park. Almost always. Take that out of the equation and there is so much more to life. Well, life’s magnificent riches are always there, but it’s hard to cash any of them in when you’re locked in the defective thinking and behaviour of a drunk.
Had I been drinking last night at dinner and then at the jazz club, I would have been crawling out of my own skin with impatience and had wanted to leave at the interval – enough now, ticked that box, let’s go and do some serious drinking without these amazingly talented musicians holding us up. It’s fucking nuts. When I view my drinking and alkie brain through sober eyes, I almost wonder who that Sophie was. That’s the dangerous part because the moment I’m starting to feel there is distance between Sober Me and Drunk Me it’s the moment I might think I don’t have a problem and I don’t really want to have a slip, allow it to get much worse and then (if I’m lucky once again) pull myself out further down the line where I may very well find that I won’t get away quite so easily.
More on how sobriety delivers immediately – my son. This is not easy to write because it’s both heartbreaking and encouraging in one huge, bitter sweet tangle. He’s 13. I may have held it together so he’s never gone short and I dare say he knows he’s my world, but he has seen me completely hammered. Not tipsy and a bit goofy – I mean completely fucking wasted. No kid should see that. I don’t want to say it because I don’t want it to be true, but I have seen the look in his eyes the moment he comes into the living room and glances at the huge wine glass in front of me, filled to the brim with wine and soda. She’s drinking. That sorrowful look, the sadness in those beautiful, big blue eyes when Mum is on it again. If there’s anything I’ve tried to bury in denial it’s that. But it’s true. My son has had that look in his eyes countless times and it was all because of my drinking. How deeply I must have hurt him so many times and what an intolerable burden for him to carry on those still slender little shoulders. It’s unforgivable.
I didn’t know how to approach it but I wanted to tell him that I’m trying my hardest to get a grip on this. Something for him to hold on to, peace of mind or at the very least some acknowledgement that whatever I may have made him feel is valid. At the same time, given the beast’s very nature, I am all too aware that realistically – not to mention statistically! – I might relapse. Throwing a promise of forever around me would be both careless and irresponsible. So I decided to frame it to him as me wanting to make some changes and drinking alcohol would be one of those. Lobbing the concept of alcoholism at him seemed too much (or am I still wanting to hide that bit, save for my absolute closest?). Of course I’ve been going to AA meetings several times per week and given my son’s age he can’t NOT notice that suddenly something different is going on. I’ve gone for coffee here and there with Red, Sparks, Ivy and some other ladies from AA so I thought I might angle it as some sort of self improvement network – to my mind a white lie that would be true enough to be classed as honest yet shield my child from the a-word and all that that entails. So I asked for a chat and sat down with him.
“So, I’m making some changes,” I began gingerly, “and in case you wondered where I’m off to in the evenings I just wanted to talk to you in case you’d noticed anything different or wondered about it.”
My 13-yearold looked at me deadpan.
“You’re not drinking.”
Not that I’ve disappeared off here and there. Not that I’m suddenly meeting with new friends whose names he hasn’t heard mentioned before. There was one, and only one, thing he knew to be different and it was the one that mattered. If I’d been wallowing in denial and deluded thinking that my son hadn’t noticed “that much” I was now mercilessly catapulted in to cold, hard reality. He just looked me square in the eyes and with not a micro second of hesitation he told me straight. Now was my moment to say what I should have said so many times before. I held his gaze and reached out for his hand.
“I know I’ve hurt you with my drinking and I’m so sorry.”
Well, he is a teenager now so a heart to heart with Mum is probably not his idea of fun so I’m sure he wanted to return to his Xbox game, but even so. Now, I know for a fact that my drinking has upset him, worried him and probably caused him endless anxiety – I more than deserve going to hell because of that alone. Yet, children are so loyal, even if someone who should love and care for them hurts them, they still love you unconditionally. He leaned in and gave me a hug and told me:
“Nah, it wasn’t that bad anyway.”
Fact: that’s a lie.
My son lied to protect my feelings. I don’t know what I did to deserve him but I know that I don’t. But maybe there is time to make amends. I can’t take away hurt I have caused but I can strive to do better and show him I understand where I’ve fucked up and that I’m taking steps to correct it. Maybe one day, when he is a man and not a boy, I can then confide in him and let him know that it just took me perhaps longer than it should have to fight something that I lost control over. Until then, perhaps it’ll go some way to show him I am trying. I was careful not to tell him that I will never, ever drink again. I told him I might “once in a while”. Why? Why not make the commitment there and then to this little person who probably needs me to say those exact words and who – by every definition and standard – has the FUCKING RIGHT to hear his mother make a solemn vow to stay off the booze? The answer may be that of a coward but it is very simple: if – IF – I were ever to have a slip, it might be devastating. If I make a grand gesture and then fall prey to the beast again, how will my son EVER be able to trust me? So I can only be brutally honest with him when it comes to my drinking and tell him that I’m doing my best and trying really hard to be the best I can be one day at a time.
So my son will lie and tell me it was never “that bad”. On my birthday he once again put my feelings before his own. At the restaurant where he and hubby took me for my birthday meal, hubby ordered a glass of red wine and I asked the waiter for Diet Coke. My son told me:
“Mum, you can drink on your birthday.”
“No, I’m not going to,” I told him.
He gave me that cute, adorable smile of his and leaned in to give me a little nudge. In that moment, I know that regardless of heartbreak I may have caused in the past, my son had faith in me and I may just have redeemed myself the tiniest little bit. Not that one evening can ever balance out years of drinking too much, but I think it hopefully filled him with some hope that I can do this and if nothing else that I am sincere in wanting to make the changes I need to make. Who knows. But I want to be clear that in spite of how much I may have tried to tell myself my drinking went unnoticed by most people including my son, I am more than aware that it didn’t and that I’ve caused endless hurt and worry. I can’t undo any of that. All I can to is try with all my might to be the best I can possibly be in the hope that hurt I’ve caused may with time – and my effort – be less severe.
So with a sense of hope and strength yet with painful truths spoken, I start this new week and this day with promising myself this: today I will not pick up a drink.