It’s probably lucky that I didn’t realise at the time that one of my sobriety milestones would land smack bang on Midsummer – I wonder now if that might have put me off. I knew of course that ALL big celebrations from then on would hopefully be sober for me, but to have a sobriety anniversary on the day of the biggest celebration in the Swedish calendar? No thank you. Or nej tack, as it were. One year we went to Hyde Park where lots of frog dancing, garland wearing and very drunk Swedes congregate – and we drank a lot of wine. Last year we went to stay at a little farm in Somerset – and drank a lot of wine. Other years we’ve done other things – and drunk a lot of wine. The activity in question might have changed but the drinking hasn’t. But here I am and I’m still sober. Five months and two days. Hurrah!
We went to see the most Swedish friend I’ve ever had. She takes all Swedish traditions super seriously and is ultra patriotic, it’s quite lovely actually and especially for me who hasn’t been all that bothered over the now 23 years I’ve lived away from the country where I grew up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the country I came from and I still get tearful when I hear any opening verses to traditional Swedish songs be it Lucia or Christmas or Midsummer, but my friend E goes all in. There was pickled herring, cured salmon, new potatoes dressed with dill, a sandwich cake (actually made by me – super proud!), meatballs and everything else you can expect on a smörgåsbord, followed by cinnamon rolls with the coffee afterwards. Bubbly and Swedish Rekorderlig cider for the adults except of course me. No worries.
As with most people, I’ve told E that I’ve quit drinking. I didn’t have to tell the story from the beginning because she and I shared a flat for a while and she is therefore more than well acquainted with my former drinking habits. Beyond hubby, she’s probably the friend who has seen the most, so I didn’t really have to explain why except my intention is to stay sober and there is no middle way for me.
“Not even half a glass though?” she asked, but then immediately noted that I shook my head and concluded “no, soft drink for you then!” and it was no big deal.
This does highlight one of the difficulties with alcoholism – because it’s something the vast majority knows how to handle and control, it’s harder to explain that it’s the first drink I can’t have and not the sixth or seventh (or tenth and eleventh). E has never had issues with drinking and I’ve both known her to have one or two glasses of wine and stop there, or go on a bender and finish the night at 4am with tequila shots. But it’s her own choice and I suppose it’s then quite hard for her to understand how it isn’t mine and never has been or can be. She’s great though and she would never suggest that half a glass of Prosecco if she thought it was anything other than a case of moderation.
Way back when, in what feels like a different time but then again I suppose it was, E and I ended up getting an apartment together because we both ended up going through a crisis each at exactly the same time: my first marriage ended (very, very badly) and hers too (also very, very badly). Two heartbroken little Swedes shacked up together to try to piece their lives together again and I guess it was all quite sad but I look back on that time with huge affection. Having said that, it might have been easier for me – I was the one to leave after finally having tried all I could to save a marriage that was rotten almost from the start, but E had a huge shock having thought hers was happy only to discover that her husband had flown in a mistress from abroad every time E was away with work. She expected kids to be next, and I guess that’s what she got although it wasn’t a baby and instead a Portuguese 19-yearold. For me, it was like turning the page and I felt like a new person the moment I finally left my awful marriage behind. I felt, despite the stress and worry over divorce and childcare arrangements, happy and content again after a couple of years of misery and MAN did I celebrate! It was wine every night and it was during this period my alcoholism really kicked off.
I do believe us alcoholics have the unfortunate combo of what AA refers to as “a physical allergy and mental obsession” so I suppose I must have been that way wired and inclined all along, but this was when it properly took hold of me – it would have sooner or later, and this just happened to be when everything came together in a perfect storm in a wine glass. A year of drinking every day of the week and I had scared myself badly – I remember the morning vividly, despite the fact that I would have been hungover beyond belief. I walked into the kitchen and on the worktop were three wine bottles. Two empty and about a fifth left in the third. I’d been home alone. There were little instances like that, little steps, a steady progression: the first time I realised the next day that I’d polished off a whole bottle of wine on my own, then one and a half, then two…. When I stood there and surveyed those three bottles, I listened more attentively to the warning bells inside of me. I contacted AA and went to a meeting the same day.
Since then, those first AA meetings I went to, I’ve known I’m an alcoholic. All the things were true for me, most of all “one drink is too many, twenty aren’t enough” and I sat there wide eyed in those meetings and knew it was me. But perhaps I wasn’t ready. Clearly I wasn’t. Perhaps I needed to reach my rock bottom of drinking.
You know, I realise that for people who read this blog, it might appear that I’ve just quit drinking and whoop-dee-dooooooo I’m reaching the milestones one by one and it’s just plain sailing with no relapse in sight. Perhaps I should have been clearer on this point. I went to my first AA meeting the same day that I walked into the kitchen and saw those three bottles. That was May 2007. My relapse lasted nearly 11 years. Just in case anyone pops in here and gets the impression that I’ve quit, done so easily (which, THIS TIME, it’s mostly been to be fair) and never been tempted. I’m tempted all the fucking time and although I’ve now been sober over five months it’s been a long time coming!! And when I slipped it turned into over a decade of drinking to oblivion, until I had regular back cramps (my kidneys, I guess) and had got to a point where I was struggling to even do a very easy part time job. So this isn’t my first attempt. I made countless promises to myself over that decade but couldn’t keep a single one of them. In the end I was so destroyed by booze I was exhausted by it all, couldn’t do it anymore and finally I knew one evening that I was done with it. Thank God I got to that point, that something clicked in me and I knew I wanted out. If I hadn’t I don’t think I’d be far off the near-end stages of alcoholism because the merry-go-round only spins faster and faster and when it has started to shrink your world for real it all happens with frightening speed. So, there we are, if anyone wondered.
Funny – it only really dawned on me now that I was writing about my friend E that it occurred to me to go back all those years. Haha, how stupid am I?? I’ve even said occasionally how I thought this blog would document a struggle to get sober with slips at every turn. How conveniently I’ve somehow blocked out that I had a slip that lasted nearly 11 years! Perhaps I could call myself a veteran after all? And that decade long relapse was HARD AS FUCK. I honestly don’t know how I did it, I look back on it and wonder how I even managed to stay upright. Absolutely everything was hard work, something as nice as meeting up with friends required enormous effort! How the fuck did I do it? Never mind being a mother, going to work and everything else. Beats me.
Anyway. Here we are now and I’m no longer destroying my life and the lives of those who love me by drinking myself into an early grave. It’s been five months and two days and I still feel so, so good about this. I will never take my sobriety for granted and I will protect it like a mama grizzly bear protects her cubs. It’s the most important thing in my life because without it, there IS no life.
What’s YOUR journey? Was there a journey before? One so far back you have almost forgotten about it?
Today I’m not going to drink.