I just hopped over to one of my favourite blogs – LoveOverWine – and her last post really jumped out at me. What I love about this blog is the honesty, which is actually a basic requirement for holding my attention to be fair, be it here in the blogosphere or in that crazy world called reality. This particular post was about how perhaps sometimes we feel we need to portray something other than the true picture but how she was always determined to tell it like it is. This we definitely have in common, because for me too, this is the place where I’ve sworn I’ll never try to sugar coat anything. She describes how, when she first got sober, needed to hear that others had struggled too, really see how gritty and awful recovery can be and understand she wasn’t alone. I can completely relate because I regularly read from a bunch of other writers about their journeys. For me, it’s like a virtual AA meeting, really – here we are, a bunch of drunks, sharing our experiences and hopes and fears.
And I will never lie here. If I relapse and wake up in the morning to discover I’ve done a whole bunch of fucked up shit in black-out, I’ll be sure to tell you every last little shameful details. Deal? Good. Glad we cleared that up. My honesty is as important to me as my sobriety – the two go hand in hand because they HAVE TO.
As such, this blog was an anchor I put down solely for the intention of holding myself accountable. I figured it would be difficult and I never once expected anything other than documenting a long series of relapses and starting over. Every goddamn time I’ve written the number of days, then weeks and now months I’ve been sober, I’ve been painfully aware that I may end up saying those things again. Like Blue, who picked up her two-month sobriety chip the evening I got one for one month, only to collect the chip for 24 hours when I’d got to two months. I one hundred gazillion billion percent expected this to be the case for me, and hand on heart could I tell you now that I believe that today will be the one and only time I say I’ve been sober 136 days? No. Hell no. And that scares the living crap out of me. Don’t get me wrong – apart from my son and husband always being happy and healthy, my highest wish is to remain this way, but I also know that the odds are stacked against me and you only have to briefly scan statistics to realise that. OK, that does seem really depressing, doesn’t it? It’s not. It just means I will never take my sobriety for granted or become complacent. I may not have to live my life with my sword drawn, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll always keep it nearby.
And as for now? I’m happy. I’m sober. For 136 days I’ve not had a drink. 136 mornings I’ve woken up with a clear mind and a body that feels healthy and strong. 136 days of feeling grateful for the life I have and am no longer destroying. So it’s very far from doom and gloom, actually. It’s a sense of joy and freedom so intense I get tearful just thinking about it. I’m fucking lucky, that’s for certain. Whatever happens, the only day I have any power over is today. One day at a time.
How much did they know? Family, friends, colleagues – the people in my life who don’t actually live with me. How much did they see? How much did they notice? The pain and hurt I have caused my child can never be forgiven and my husband’s heart must have ached too, but I will go back to the two that I love the most another time. What about the people in my life who might see me occasionally but not every day? Who did I fool and who saw right through me?
I’m a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out my own kind – I swear I can spot another alcoholic a mile off. It takes one to know one. But how far can you pull the wool over a non-alcoholic’s eyes, I wonder? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I do know that my family noticed I drank too much – little comments here and there, a little look in someone’s eye that could have been concern or a product of my paranoia altogether. We went to Edinburgh for my 39th birthday and I spoke with one of my brothers who’d called to say happy birthday. He rounded off with “go easy with the booze“. Fuck, that pissed me off! HOW DARE HE! That’s the reaction of a drunk who knows she’s a drunk because if I hadn’t known I had a drinking problem I wouldn’t have reacted and instead just laughed and told him to piss off. And I also followed the Drunkard’s Text Book after this: I either made jokes about drinking or I went to great lengths to “prove” he was wrong. I know several people right now who still do this, who are still at the “laughing it off” stage or so deep in denial they can’t see the bar for the bottles (see what I did there?).
Hand on heart, if I were to ask the same brother now that I no longer drink he could say one of two things and I’d be equally surprised:
- Yes, Sophie, we all know and we’ve all been worried to death about you. We know you’ve nearly gone under with your drinking and we had talked about doing an intervention.
- No, we just thought you over indulged on holiday maybe. We thought you just had a few too many occasionally but we never imagined you could be an alcoholic.
I honestly have no idea how much they figured out. I suspect it might be more along the lines of #2, simply because if I knew one of them drank between two and three bottles of wine most days of the week I would be dragging them kicking and screaming to the nearest rehab – no way would I allow them to kill themselves the way I was killing myself and I would do everything in my power no matter how uncomfortable to help. No way would I, if I thought or knew someone in my family or one of my friends drank the way I did, just cautiously tell them to “go easy”. So from that I think it’s probably quite clear that they had no idea I was in such trouble. Hell, even my husband would probably have said at the time that yes, I drank too much but I wasn’t an alcoholic. But even from him – as much as I hate to admit it – I managed to hide, anything from claiming to be on my second drink when it was actually my fourth to in other ways try to minimise any concern he expressed. However, my guess is everyone else just thought I liked my drink a bit too much but never JUST how much. So perhaps I had them fooled. Well done, me.
It’s not that hard though, right? When we’re in Sweden, I can cling on to that it’s HOLIDAY and therefore completely normal to drink every day. Or someone comes to visit, then it’s also HOLIDAY and of course we drink every day. Or have a drink with mates on a Tuesday. They don’t know that when I’m with them I drink both fewer drinks and more slowly than all other days because I know I can’t lose control, but all I want is to get away so I can drink PROPERLY. I wonder how this looks and sounds to non-drunks but I can tell you that I can’t remember if I ever went to the pub with friends without drinking more – a LOT more – once I got home. ALONE. I think I even tried to make people think I was a bit of a lightweight. If I’d been out with a colleague for drinks, for example. I’d stay for maybe three glasses of wine, but then drink up to two bottles more when I got home. Of course the next day the colleague in question would feel OK but I would be a hungover wreck. “Oh yeah, I get really bad hangovers,” would be my standard reply when in fact the amount I had drunk would be enough to drown a horse. And how could anyone I see on holiday ever have reason to believe that I’d drink just as much any day during the year?
And then the shakes. I had an explanation for that too, which is PARTLY true. I do have a condition called Essential Tremor, inherited from my father and paternal grandmother. Completely harmless (grandma is 90 and fit as a fiddle, albeit a very shaky fiddle) but it means you tremble, most noticeably your hands. Add severe alcohol abuse a la Sophie and I’d sometimes be so bad I could barely walk and even have jerky head movements. Jesus, there were times I couldn’t trust my legs and so didn’t leave the house. ALL because of the condition, you understand, nothing at all to do with me drinking wine like it was some sort of competition.
I was also a master at planning my drinking. You have to be when you’re an alcoholic because your greatest fear is running out of booze – the thought is enormously stressful – so I always ensured I had a plan. This got a little trickier any time we were in Sweden, where you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket or any corner shop – it is state controlled and there’s only one place to buy it. I’m from a small town, so of course there is only the one branch. So Drunk Me was faced with potential small town gossip because everyone knows everyone and you really couldn’t go in every day and buy boxes of wine without setting the jungle drums off (or rather, warning bells – quite rightly). So I’d rotate between my home town and a couple others to make my insane consumption seem less outrageous. Being a drunk is really like a military operation that you have to execute in minute detail and I had it down to a T. At least I thought I was being very clever at the time but as I said, I wonder now if anyone ever bought my bullshit or if I was the only person I managed to fool.
It also, I believe, comes down to what we think an alcoholic is. I suppose all I can say is that the only thing that stands between myself and that poor soul on the park bench who has lost everything is ONE DRINK. I am only ever one drink away. Perhaps I should make it my life’s mission to educate people on alcohol abuse. I think because of all the misconceptions we have and because alcohol actually is something MOST people can handle without problems, us alcoholics sink much further before we get help. It is seen as shameful and dirty, and so it follows that it’s something that’s fucking shit to cop to. And it does break my heart a little. All the things I wanted to do and to be, including an awesome mother to my son. Wasted. Literally, WASTED.
Gosh, this turned fucking glum, didn’t it? Sorry’bout that. Allow me to clarify.
I am very lucky, I know this. I can look my son in the eye and do my best to show him I am trying – he may tell you in the future that mum was drunk a lot but perhaps he’ll also say he is proud of her for fighting her way out of this. Oh fuck it, I can’t write anything that makes that part OK because it never will be, but perhaps you know what I mean. Late shall the sinners awaken, and all that jazz. Still lucky. I got out before I’d fucked my health. I quit before my husband’s life got unbearable. And I am strong. I will never for a moment think I’m stronger than the beast, but I have to believe I can do this. There has to be a part of me that is allowed to hope I will only say I’m 136 days sober this once and that the number will only ever grow.
What gives me hope and fills me with joy is how good it feels to be sober. I couldn’t tell you even one aspect of my life that hasn’t got even better without alcohol. Not a one. I can’t say I’m struggling and I can’t say I’ve overcome huge obstacles. Not yet, anyway.
Today I’m not going to drink.