What is an alcoholic? What makes me an alcoholic?
I’m no doctor, nor do I have extensive knowledge or experience of alcohol abuse in the theoretical sense. I just used to be a practicing alcoholic for many, many years and now that I’m sober I only really have my own “research” to go on. However, from this I can conclude that the following is true for me:
- Inability to stop.
- I can’t control how much I drink.
- Alcohol changes me.
- Compulsion to drink.
- Alcohol the first priority.
Let’s look in detail, shall we?
1. Inability to stop.
It’s quite simple: if I start, I can’t stop. I know it sounds like absolute madness and that’s precisely what it is. AA states that alcoholism is “a physical allergy, a mental obsession and a spiritual malady”. For me that’s yep, yep and not sure. All I know is that when I take that first drink, I am a goner. The tragedy ends when I either pass out or run out of wine. I have taken that first drink and with it already feel genuine and deep fear at what might happen, what I might do in black-out and where it’ll take me. I’ve taken that first drink sometimes with a silent wish that if my heart were to give up this time, it wouldn’t be my son who’d find me and please God make me look peaceful, don’t let my loved ones find me sprawled naked on the floor having suffocated on my own vomit. I’d think those things and I still drank. Crazy? Yes – very. Alcoholism is a terrifying monster, a merciless beast and it’s much stronger than any of us. Yes, I knew for the longest time I’m an alcoholic, I just had to grow a spine before I was brave enough to face that awful, sad, heartbreaking truth. Never mind the shame. Oh, the shame.
2. I can’t control how much I drink.
Here’s a novel concept for you, that you may find hard to believe, but I have never in my life EVER taken that first drink with the intention of blacking out. Not a lil’ ol’ once. It’s not just that I can’t stop as per #1, it’s how I start necking the drinks back at a pace that is frightening too. Oh my word, I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve even set myself limits – “I’m going to stop at four”, “I’ll have max three at the pub and two at home”, “no drinking on school nights”… My tipple used to be Sauvignon Blanc with soda water, the soda being something I added as it bulked out the volume and I think I initially thought it’d mean it’d take me longer to get through a glass. Fuck, I can’t even type that without laughing – it’s THAT ridiculous. On a few occasions I switched to beer for the same reason but reverted to the spritzers because beer makes you fat. Again, I’m sitting here laughing at the stupidity of the pathetic drunk I used to be. I’m still a drunk, of course, but would like to think I’m less pathetic now that I’m sober. Point is though, I can’t control it. I lose control the moment I put that first drink to my lips and it doesn’t matter one tiny bit what’s in the glass if it contains alcohol, the result is always the same be it wine with soda, beer, gin and tonic or cocktails. It’s full throttle until – sing along, now – I either pass out or run out of alcohol.
3. Alcohol changes me.
Drunk Me and Sober Me are two entirely different people. Crazy, isn’t it? Well, it’s true. Drunk Me is restless, grouchy, depressed, anxious, insecure nervous, scared, tired, lethargic, lazy – you get the gist. Drunk Me is a miserable cow. And no wonder. Have you tried to have a life when you put away nearly three bottles of wine every evening? Tried work? Tried exercise? Tried to be a good parent, partner, friend? Tried to be good at ANYTHING? It’s hard work and whilst I managed reasonably well at holding everything together, I wasn’t great at any of those things. How could I be? I was always battling crippling hangovers, could barely function. I had to control every aspect of my life because otherwise it would have been unbearable. As for holding it together, alcoholism is a one way track and had I continued I would soon have lost everything anyway. It’s how the story goes and it has no exceptions. Sober Me is full of energy, happy as Santa on Prozac by default, a morning person, loves exercise, is reliable, happy in my own skin, hopeful, calm and able to cope with anything life might throw at me. Sober Me is also a fun and loving partner, a good friend and the sort of mother my son wants and needs: predictable and present, a great one even. Sober Me is flexible and easy going, feels no need to be in control whatsoever and why would I? I’m a brave, strong and spontaneous person at heart. It’s great to be Sober Me. I like that chick a lot.
But there’s more to #3. My personality changes in other ways too when I drink. Suddenly there can be a bout of sudden sadness or anger. Mad arguments that come from nowhere. Behaviour that Sober Me couldn’t even imagine. Things told back to me when I’ve sobered up that I don’t understand, can’t work out where they’ve come from or why in God’s name I have behaved in such a way. I’ve woken up after a session knowing I’ve cried but not knowing why or having any reasons for feeling sad. Same with arguments. I’ve woken up and known that hubby and I have argued about something, the atmosphere still tense and yet have no idea why or what about. I don’t miss those times, let me tell ya. It’s scary though how booze, when you react badly to it like I do, can change you into a fucking monster and not only that, it’s a monster you don’t even know. It makes me feel sick.
4. Compulsion to drink.
This used to be the case even when I didn’t actually want to. This is when the insanity of alcoholism must seem particularly, well, INSANE to non-alcoholics. Yes, I have gone and bought the wine, poured the first glass and put it to my lips despite not wanting to. I’ve been crying and screaming inside, yet I’ve still gone ahead. Put that glass to my lips and breaking my own heart in the process. Most of the time I willingly drank of course, and my trigger has always been a good mood more than anything else. As miserable as life as an alcoholic can be, I was still pretty happy – my life was full of happiness and everything I could ever wish for, just with a heavy, wet blanket on top is the best way I can describe it. My life is awesome but I was ruled by alcohol and that distraction meant I couldn’t fully enjoy living it. Now it’s just awesome. Anyway, as I mentioned, I knew I’m an alcoholic and knew I had a huge problem years and years ago, and THAT made me feel sad. Yet I’d get that damn wine and I’d fucking drink it. And of course once I’d had the first….. I don’t know what to say, it’s just fucking nuts, all of it. Can you even imagine REALLY NOT WANTING TO DO SOMETHING YET YOUR FEET WILL WALK RIGHT INTO IT AND YOU CAN’T EVEN UNDERSTAND IT AS IT’S HAPPENING. Quite literally, I’d find myself buying that wine despite the fact that I on occasion really, REALLY didn’t want to drink anymore.
5. Alcohol the first priority.
As with any of these points, I could give endless examples, but let’s go with a scenario that I thankfully won’t find myself in when hubby and I head off on holiday to Lipari in just over a month’s time – WEEHOOOOO I JUST REALISED IT’S JUST ONE MONTH AWAY!!!!! – and what going away would entail when I was practicing the Religion of Alcoholism. Let’s take Sweden, where we head twice a year, just to keep it nice and simple. It starts the moment we land and before we’ve even got to baggage reclaim, I’ve done a loop through the arrivals taxfree booze area to buy TWO boxes of wine. This is to make sure I don’t have to stress about getting wine when we get to my home town and only alcoholics would head to Systembolaget (the only place you can buy alcohol) before seeing their family, right? Drunk Me got the booze before I even left the airport!! Sweet Lord, once again I’m laughing at Drunk Me as I’m writing this. We see my family and then head to the place we always stay at quite early under the illusion that we’ve been travelling and are going to have an early night. Not true. I want to get away and get on with drinking, sit with hubby outside and enjoy the evening. Only not the evening (or even hubby) – it’s all about the wine. The rest of our stay is spent managing whatever holiday’ing I can muster given I’m drinking heavily (as usual) every single day and I rotate between the Systembolaget stores in two towns in an attempt to disguise how much booze I’m getting through. All activities are planned with my eye on when, what and how I can drink. Everything except drinking with hubby away from everyone is rushed – everything else is stuff I need to get out of the way and tick off the list so I can get on with the drinking. Life happens around alcohol. It’s stressful in the extreme. I crush up empty wine boxes that I throw away in different places, only throwing in the existing bins an amount that would suggest normal holiday consumption in case my father might notice when he comes to take out the trash. It’s a military operation, let me tell you. Any holidays other than Sweden were even more stressful as I would then – on top of all this planning – also have to work out where to get the wine from and ensure I wouldn’t run out.
And life in general was very much like that, holiday or otherwise, given I didn’t drink any more or less. Spend the day with the thought in my head and even before getting in the car to head home after work, I’d have my little drink plan perfectly laid out step by step. Drive home via the supermarket closest to the river where it’s easy to park, pick up a box and a bottle of soda, get home and before I’d even removed my shoes I’d open it and pour a glass. Everything else I fitted in around my drinking. And alcoholism is like that – you quite literally give up your life for the booze. Nothing and no one can make you stop, and nothing or no one can get between you and that glass of wine, ever.
Have a look through that list and tell me if it looks good to be Drunk Me. It doesn’t seem fantastic, does it? Being Sober Me, however? Now THAT kicks ass! Life was already pretty glorious despite my heavy drinking, only now I get to really live it – calm, present and able to experience every moment. And for those moments that aren’t quite so glorious, I am a million miles better off and able to cope. I could quite easily sit here and let the happiness I feel at getting ME back wash over me and ask in disbelief why in God’s name I ever wasted so much time drinking, but I know the answer: I’m an alcoholic and when an alcoholic drinks alcohol, it only ever ends up one way. Please God, help me stay on this path of sobriety and never forget how precious my life is. Please never let me fool myself like that again. Please allow me to remain present in this beautiful life I’ve been given.
Today I’m not going to drink.