You’d think that I, as a recovering alcoholic, would have absolute shed loads of patience and empathy for those who are fighting addiction or mental health issues or both. Not so much. It’d appear my tolerance level is surprisingly low. This is not least illustrated by how frustrated I sometimes get with my friend Kitten who suffers severe depression, but also another person in my close vicinity who also suffers depression and panic attacks. OK, now you’ll in all likelihood think I’m a nasty piece of work and perhaps I am. Because I was never confronted about my own addiction I can’t give you any accurate answer as to how that might have gone down – I had the luxury of reaching my rock bottom on my own and broadly speaking I stopped when I’d had enough. In other words, I stopped when I was ready to and I stopped for me. Therefore I can only guess at what would have happened if someone close to me had cornered me, given me an ultimatum and I’d been faced with stop-drinking-or-else.
I don’t have to dig particularly deep to realise that I probably would have responded well to being confronted during the last three or four years. I’m pretty sure I would have broken down from sheer relief and agreed to fight with all my might to get sober – honestly. There were so many times I secretly almost wished something would happen, something that’d force me. It’s crazy to think now how shit scared I was of even attempting to stop drinking, but the sad truth is that I didn’t believe I’d be able to. It just seemed too high of a mountain to climb and I knew I wouldn’t even get to base camp. Inside I was crying out for someone to see how I was sinking, for someone to drag me out of it. Of course, we all know that the only person who can drag you out of addiction is YOU, but I imagine it’s probably common that people get to a stage where they almost hope the world will come crashing down – I certainly did. By ‘crashing down’ I don’t necessarily mean something huge or super scary, I mean anything that would force the spot light on to the real issue.
My rock bottom may seem pretty harmless to those who crashed harder than I did. It might even seem laughably kind to those who had to lose much more than I did. After all, I got away with “only” having hurt and scared my child, ensured I’d never achieved much, worried my husband and of course a generous helping of good old fashioned shame. I’d not lost my child, nor had I ever really put him in danger or had him go without (well – he went without a fully present mother). Despite being unable to be my best, I always managed to hold down a job. My husband never threatened to leave me, much less did. And my shame didn’t extend to losing my driver’s licence or being arrested. So in many ways I do appreciate that my rock bottom wasn’t as vicious and terrifying as it could have been. Oh… YET. Always remember YET.
It was just short of a year ago. January 22nd, to be precise, a Monday. I was so hungover I couldn’t get myself to work. Hell, I couldn’t even stand until well into the afternoon. Sunday evening had been a regular evening, I can’t remember what we did but it definitely wasn’t some big date night or party or anything like that. An educated guess would be we had gone to the pub for “a couple of drinks” and me knocking back probably three, then insisting we got more wine to have at home. At home I’d probably done my usual Anna and put away at least one and a half bottles more, guzzling away like there was no tomorrow compared with Hubby nursing one or possibly two glasses. And of course my tomorrow was horrific and brutal. I called in sick, or rather texted my boss who probably responded with his usual good natured and unsuspecting “poor you, hope you feel better soon“.
Late afternoon I’d showered, weak and shaky and frightened of passing out. Hubby got home in the evening and I don’t think we did anything, from memory it was an uneventful Monday evening. What I do remember clearly however, is the shame and guilt I felt not telling Hubby I’d failed to get to work. It’s weird actually, because stopping wasn’t on my radar. I knew I was eyeball deep in shit obviously, but still hadn’t seen my opportunity – or crash – to reach out for help and speak the words. It only happened when it happened and it was on a Monday that was like hundreds just like it. We were lying in bed in the evening, facing each other and chatting about the day as we normally do.
“Can you tell me something, Anna?” Hubby asked.
I went cold, perhaps knowing what was coming. Perhaps I knew it was obvious.
“Did you go to work today?”
There it was. Inside me, that voice I’d heard so many times was positively screaming at me. Before it had whispered so often and pleaded with me but now it was a desperate cry, like when you scream yourself coarse. Do it! Say it! Reach out now. Do it now. He’s got your back. SAY IT. So I did.
“No,” I said meekly and turned on my back, staring at the ceiling as though I was hoping my next sentence might be helpfully written across it. “[Hubby], I’m scared. I have to stop drinking. I’m scared of where it’s taking me.”
There. The words that had been stuck in my throat for so long. Underneath the covers Hubby’s hand found it’s way over my stomach and grabbed me gently around the waist, pulling me a little closer.
“Anna, you’re already there.”
His voice was soft and kind, as usual his approach was balanced and fair and amazingly free of judgment. And it all spilled out of me. All I’d been hiding, how much I’d struggled, how desperate I was to stop. We went to sleep the way we always do, tangled up in each other, and I remember clearly waking up that way too on Tuesday 23rd January 2018. That was the day I made the most important decision in my life. I knew there was no turning back and I knew it was sink or swim. So I swam. It was only when I truly accepted that the game was up that I found the warrior in me, the woman who wants to live life fully and not have that dreadful, sorry existence with one foot in the grave. That was when I could push off, jump off the edge, let go of the railings. Thank God, is all I can say. Thank God.
That same evening I’d looked up a local AA meeting, an open one, meaning anyone can go and not just alcoholics. I collected Hubby from the train station and drove straight there. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own and also I knew Hubby would benefit from understanding better what I was up against. He always used to say I just needed to cut down. Don’t get me wrong, my drinking wasn’t a new topic and Hubby had told me on occasion he worried about me, but I don’t think he ever considered the A-word. In fact, the evening before when I let it all out he’d even said “but it’s not like you’re an alcoholic” – perhaps we both needed to understand it all, and I suppose AA meetings were the logical place to start. I knew in my heart there could be no half way house for me, so I went all in with my heart open and my soul laid bare.
Perhaps an accurate way of describing what rock bottom was for me would be to say it was the moment I finally felt hope that there could be another way. I saw clearly where I was going and it scared me senseless. I didn’t want my son to have to go on with Drunk Mum and I didn’t want Hubby to have to go on with Drunk Wifey. Nor did I want to BE Drunk Me anymore. I’d had enough. I felt done. For real, this time. Rock bottom for me was the moment I knew what I had to do. I knew in my heart I’m an alcoholic, I knew that moderation will never be available to me, I knew I had to stop and stop completely, and I knew it had to be now. I guess the correct term is acceptance. I accepted all those things, and what’s more, I embraced them. Believe it or not, saying out loud that I’m an alcoholic and accepting it in my heart didn’t fill me with shame – it filled me with relief.
Yet another way of describing this would be to say I truly accepted and understood my own limitations. Much like Hubby accepts and understands he is allergic to kiwi fruit, or how a diabetic accepts and understands they have to carry around an insulin pen. Sort of. The beauty of it all is of course that being an alcoholic doesn’t limit me in any way. You might think I’m crazy but I consider it a much worse tragedy to be allergic to a fruit as delicious as kiwi. Honestly. But that’s neither here nor there, because what I was getting at in this post is the importance of acceptance. And this is where I sometimes find I have zero tolerance with Kitten as well as Cupcake (named that way due to excessive sweetness). Kitten makes one maddening decision after the other and Cupcake, who once held up an entire flight by freaking out and having to be taken off, decides to book holidays abroad when she to date hasn’t managed to even go on a weekend away within the country.
What I find frustrating is how both on one hand seem to have clarity of their illnesses (depression for Kitten and depression, anxiety and severe panic attacks for Cupcake), yet have these mad bursts of absolutely failing to see that they plunge themselves out of the ashes and into the fire. As a recovering alcoholic with a black belt in denial you’d think I’d have more empathy in these instances. This is when it’d probably be really useful for Sober Me to try to talk sense to Drunk Me, who probably did over those last few years know there was a massive problem yet continued to deny, deny, deny. Isn’t that weird that this stuff winds me up? Or am I just a shitty old bitch? Who knows, but it struck me as a bit ridiculous. I will continue to try harder at that patience thing.
I suppose in all this rambling on, what I wanted to get at is how it for me was crucial to really accept the state of affairs. Whether you label it a problem or an illness, I could only stop when I’d accepted and understood what it was. And I’d also had enough, perhaps that’s even more important – the more I think about it even as I’m typing this, perhaps that was the real game changer. I’d had it.
Anyway. I count 23rd January as my important date. The last time I drank was 21st January 2018 but it’s the 23rd that matters to me because that’s when I really made the decision.
Today I’m not going to drink.