Hmm… I wonder if this would be how a non-alcoholic feels when they are having a drink? As per previous posts, I discovered non-alcoholic beer, but although I did expect to be able to get it in the UK, I wasn’t expecting pubs to serve them – I just didn’t think it’d be a thing here. Turns out not only do they actually have my favourite non-alco beer but they serve it at our favourite pub – Heineken, and with a reassuring “max 0.05% alcohol” at that.
Yesterday was precisely the sort of Sunday afternoon that seems to be tailor made for sitting on the wall by the river having a drink. We have done this before since I quit drinking and I usually get a pint of soda water with fresh lime and this has been absolutely fine of course, but it’s really nice to have an alternative given how it turns out I actually really like beer. It’s funny – the idea of alcohol free wine makes me feel a bit sick, yet wine was what I always drank. Very rarely would I order a pint of lager when I was in full-on active alkie mode, yet suddenly now as a sober alcoholic I’m finding that it’s my favourite drink. If it turned out I reacted badly to caffeine, presumably I’d want to drink decaf coffee, right? It’d seem strange in the same way to go from a coffee drinker to decaf tea or quit tea and start drinking decaf coffee as an alternative?! This switch to beer amuses me a little. But hey, as Willow put it, ANYTHING alcohol free is great, so who cares if I drink beer or unicorn tears so long as I remain sober.
You might all think I’m really foolish for having something that tastes like the real thing, that it might be really risky for a drunk like me to drink non-alcoholic beer, that it’s too close a shave. And who knows. I can tell you that it’s not in any way triggered any desire in me to drink alcohol, but hey, I’ve made a vow of honesty on this blog though so you’ll be the first to know if anything changes on that score. Besides, I have felt the urge on a handful of occasions and it’s not something I’m ashamed to admit, so there we are.
Whilst it hasn’t made me want to drink, something interesting does happen when I have non-alcoholic beer, and it sort of cements for me that AA’s take on what alcoholism is for me: a physical allergy and a mental obsession. If you at any point end up thinking ‘oh, hell no, girl!‘ reading this, feel free to point it out. I have experienced this a few times now – each time I’ve had the non-alco golden nectar that is – and it’s made me feel happy and free each time. It’s sort of proved that part of the problem is definitely physical, that there is indeed something to do with how I’m wired and what happens when the booze hits my blood stream. I’ve observed it keenly each time this has happened and I take it as evidence that I am indeed an alcoholic. Well – if hardcore alcohol abuse stretching over a decade wasn’t enough to show I’m a fully fledged drunky-drunk-drunk.
So there we are, in the afternoon sunshine, sitting on the wall by the river outside the pub where we met just over five years ago and where we celebrated getting hitched last year. We must have sat in this spot hundreds of times over these five years, drinking and chatting, gazing out over the river and generally appreciating being alive. Being sober, this has not changed and to be honest, the absence of booze has only made it all better. Anyway, there we are – hubby with a pint of cider and me with a bottle of Heineken non-alcoholic beer, and this is where my addiction makes itself known. We had two drinks. I find myself taking several big gulps and the taste is gorgeous – I’m diving into a fizzy wave of lager. A few puffs on my e-cigarette and then I lift the bottle to my lips again, greedily drinking more beer down and really enjoying it but I also notice that once I’m no longer thirsty, that the old craving that comes to life when I take a drink.. …doesn’t. And with it, there is no violent force that has me lifting the bottle again and again. When we leave, hubby has finished his two pints and I have left the second bottle with a third left in it.
With the first, there was the definite pang of joy at having a drink – something making itself known in me that is entirely separate from other feelings and specific to the drink, and the old beast is growling contentedly. The mental obsession comes alive immediately, it’s insane how it’s absolutely instantaneous. But there’s no alcohol, so there is nothing to grab on to. Nothing ignites. Nothing awakens. I’m still me. Just me. And I notice the shift in my mind there too. It sounds mad, I know, but I could quite literally feel myself go from a slight sense of euphoria – lift the bottle, lift it again – to a MEH that despite being a ‘meh‘ doesn’t feel deflated or sad, just neutral. And whereas alcohol would trigger the rest of the mayhem that’d usually follow, my mind and body chained together in a death dance, now that the very substance I seem to react so badly to isn’t in my system so it’d appear the gig is cancelled. Nothing in my blood stream, nothing to tickle the receptors in my brain. I’m still here, right here. I imagine it’s my brain making the connection like a heroin addict’s mind might react to the sensation of a needle, but without the physical reaction in hot pursuit, what is there? Nothing. A big, fat nothing. Just me, my life, my mind – the present moment. The lack of a physical reaction – despite me describing it as ‘meh‘ – isn’t a disappointment, it’s a relief. It’s really nice to just sit there on the wall in the evening sunshine and enjoy a beer. Absolutely lovely.
And given how hubby doesn’t turn into a restless ghoul when he drinks stuff that does contain alcohol, I wonder if how I feel when I drink non-alcoholic beer (or anything non-alcoholic for that matter) is how someone who isn’t a drunk feels when they have a drink. I have some, and then it’s enough. I have no compulsion whatsoever to guzzle the rest of it and rush off to get another. I’m done now, that’ll be all, thanks. Do I sit there when that ‘meh‘ happens, wishing the physical reaction would follow? No. Do I wish there was real alcohol in my glass or bottle? No. All I feel is relief that I don’t have to be pulled into that terrifying carousel again, that spins me into a place I don’t want to be and where I have no control over what happens next. It’s complete and blissful relief. This must be it – I have watched others with such fascination in the past, how they could just stop drinking when I found I couldn’t. I just tried to imagine what that would feel like but couldn’t.
It wasn’t even towards the end of my drinking that I’d have that first drink and amongst the euphoria there’d also be a vague but distinct sense of overwhelming sadness. A sense of defeat, knowing when I put the wine glass to my lips I’d set it all in motion again and be unable to stop. That’s fucking terrifying. And I think it is the absence of that defeat that fills me with such joy. I suppose it’s called freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to feel, freedom to be present and freedom to live. And that’s what I want. It’s how I always want to feel – free to walk away when I’ve had enough, not be slave to something dark and sinister that I can’t control and that will slowly kill me. I close my eyes and smile, saying a silent prayer of gratitude for this life I was once given but now fully can receive. I realise also that it isn’t alcohol that’s the ‘real thing‘ – it’s anything but.
For that, and countless other reasons, I’m not going to drink today.