Why did I keep on drinking for as long as I did even when I knew it was A) a massive problem, B) stopped me doing lots of things, and C) killing me? Who better to ask than Drunk Me?
Sober Me: How ya been?
Drunk Me: Fuck, can’t see properly. Don’t really want to talk, find it hard to focus. Feel dizzy, heart’s beating weird. Just need to keep as still as I can. Need to just breathe. Can we do this later? Just give me a couple of hours, I usually feel better by mid-afternoon.
Sober Me: Cool bananas, see you in a few hours!
Oh for God’s sake, that’s so annoying! Now she’s cancelled! Can’t she at least have had the decency to call instead of sending a text message ten minutes before we were supposed to meet up? How rude! Here I am, arranging my day to suit her and now it’s all been a waste of time. Ah! She’s texted. We can catch up tomorrow, meet her at that cute pub on the river after work. Great.
And so the following day…
Sober Me: Hey! You been here long? I’m just going to grab a coffee, you want anything?
Drunk Me: Nah, just got here. Literally just got myself a drink.
Sober Me: Oh no, you didn’t. Nice try! Remember I’m sober now – SOBER YOU! – and you have lost your powers to fool me so you can drop the act and we’ll have an honest heart to heart. I know it’s your second or third. You necked the first and deliberately got here half an hour early so you’d get it down you quickly before I turned up, remember? Actually, why don’t you tell me? Second or third?
Drunk Me: Sorry, I’m so used to lying about it I didn’t even have to think about it, I forgot who you were there for a moment, Sober Me. Second. I’d be on my third but there was traffic coming down here so I wasn’t as early as I’d hoped I’d be. That really stressed me out actually!
Sober Me: OK, cool. Keep it straight, sister. I’ll try to get as much out of you before you get too fogged up. So, I just wanted to pick your brains really.
Drunk Me: Go for it.
Sober Me: First off. You know you’re an alcoholic, right? You’ve known this for a long time, haven’t you?
Drunk Me: Yup.
Sober Me: But you continue to drink even though you deep down know it’s a huge problem and it’s likely to kill you.
Drunk Me: Yup.
Sober Me: Can you, in just one sentence, sum up the main reason why that is? Like, I don’t stop drinking because – and, you know, the main reason or whatever.
Drunk Me: Oh God… I don’t know! Hold on, let me think. Argh! I’ll come right soon, I’m still muddled and find it hard to tie my thoughts together when I’m hungover. It’s like my brain shuts down, like a wet tangle of threads I can’t connect. OK, right. Ready?
Sober Me: Shoot.
Drunk Me: I don’t stop drinking because I don’t know how.
Sober Me: How do you mean? As in, you don’t think you can?
Drunk Me: Kind of. I just don’t know where to start. It doesn’t seem possible, it’s just such a huge thing. It’s overwhelming. And no, I don’t think I’d be able to, I just can’t see it. And what a bleak existence, too! Imagine ALWAYS being sober. Eek!
Sober Me: But you’re not physically dependent on alcohol, are you? So it’s not like you would truly need a medical detox or your doctor’s assistance to come off it?
Drunk Me: I get withdrawal symptoms, definitely, that’s what these hangovers are, right? But no, it’s rare that I get so ill I have to start drinking again just out of agony. But no, it’s not at a point where I have to drink in the mornings and when I do have the first drink it at least feels like I want it and not that I need it, if you see what I mean?
Sober Me: Mm… But you did also say just now that you’d come right soon, which implies you feel rotten and you’re drinking to make it go away.
Drunk Me: Mm… Don’t know. Uhm…. True, I suppose. Next question please.
Sober Me: Deny, deny, deny! You’re so funny. And a little stupid, but that’s OK – your brain’s under siege by your addiction so let’s move on. So you keep drinking because stopping seems big and scary, do I have that right? And also you don’t think you can?
Drunk Me: Yes. And it seems dull too. Drinking is fun and happy and cosy and glittery and warm. I can’t imagine those summer nights when Hubby and I sit in the evening sun and drink wine and chat and laugh without the wine. It just doesn’t work. Or sitting here on any evening during any season. I just don’t know what that even looks like. Why bother coming here at all?
Sober Me: To hang out with Hubby in a lovely spot and enjoy his company!
Drunk Me: I always enjoy his company! I just mean we could stay at home.
Sober Me: Sitting here in a place that’s special to you both without drinking seems like a waste of time if you’re not drinking?
Drunk Me: Well, I mean… …that sounds a bit harsh! Not quite like that!
Sober Me: Actually, that’s what I’m hearing! So, in essence you think life wouldn’t be quite so glittery and nice without drinking?
Drunk Me: Exactly! We – mostly me and Hubby – always have such a laugh when we drink. I don’t see how it would be the same. I look forward to it ALL THE TIME. I plan everything around it! When I’ll drink, where I’ll get it from, how to swerve any awkward moments, how to hide it, how to adjust everything else to fit in with my boozing. It’s always the main objective, like a big jigsaw I have to plan out all the time. Even getting here I raced to get here long before you so I’d be able to drink more.
Sober Me: That sounds like an awful lot of work to me. Stressful!
Drunk Me: Hah! That’s true, actually! I never thought of it like that.
Sober Me: So meeting me without drinking….
Drunk Me: Well, you’d have to catch me on a day I’m not too hungover and also get in there before I have started drinking, so you’d be lucky. I always find excuses, cancel at the last minute or wriggle my way out of it somehow. All so I can drink the way I want to.
Sober Me: But what I was going to say was if there was no drinking involved you wouldn’t have any of that stress.
Drunk Me: Yeah, but then I wouldn’t have any of that other stuff!
Sober Me: What stuff?
Drunk Me: The excitement, you know – looking forward to drinking, being all happy and sort of energised by it, feeling perky and bouncy when I know I’m going to drink.
Sober Me: But you’d be seeing me!
Drunk Me: You’re me. Just sober and more bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
Sober Me: Smart arse. You know what I mean. You’d be seeing a friend or friends or whatever. Isn’t that the whole point of it?
Drunk Me: Oh shit. No, not for me. Holy crap, I just realised I wasn’t even thinking much about how seeing you, I was just happy because I was heading to the pub. That’s the main event for me. It just makes everything more fun! And gets conversation going and stuff!
Sober Me: So I’m just something that fits in around it?
Drunk Me: As shitty as it sounds, yes.
Sober Me: How do you think your friends would feel if they knew that? If they knew they’re only peripheral and all you really care about is drinking?
Drunk Me: It’s dreadful, isn’t it?
Sober Me: Dreadful and stressful! Come on, don’t get sad. Look, I know you’re feeling helpless. It’s OK to say, you know, but I know this still seems way too scary for you.
Drunk Me: It DOES make me sad! It breaks my heart because I love my friends, genuinely really love them. I don’t know how I ended up here! When did this switch happen? When did I go from being excited about who I was meeting up with to excited that I was going to drink? I feel awful. I keep picturing Lopez’s face if I were to tell her I was happier about getting to drink than seeing her. Can we stop? Change the subject! I can’t bear to think about it. Can we stop please?
Sober Me: That’s the nature of the Beast, my dear. Cunning, baffling and powerful. You need to claw your way out of this, girl.
Drunk Me: I just don’t know how! Where would I start? What would I say? Who would I say it to? It just seems so fucking hopeless. And impossible.
Sober Me: You think it is, yes. That’s your addiction talking. Just like it’s your addiction that makes the drinking more important than who you’re seeing. Can you tell me what the drink gives you that made you more excited about that than you were about seeing me today?
Drunk Me: Er… Well, I’m kind of getting a little buzzy and warm now. Excitable.
Sober Me: I can tell, it’s like a little switch went on in you with that second drink. Now that you’re into your third you seem happier. You’re chattier too. And you’re suddenly drinking a LOT faster! You went from feeling sad there for a minute to really perking up.
Drunk Me: I know! I’m kind of in the flow now! Definitely feel better!
Sober Me: But is that because the alcohol has lifted you or is it simply that you feel less terrible? Describe how you actually feel.
Drunk Me: I don’t feel as unsteady as earlier. I’m no longer dizzy and I don’t feel anxious or stressed.
Sober Me: So this warm and buzzy feeling is actually better described as “not terrible” and perhaps that’s why it feels so good. I mean, would you say that you feel really wonderful or would you say it’s that you just don’t feel shit anymore?
Drunk Me: Probably that I no longer feel like shit, now that I think about it. Yeah, that’s it. I can’t say I feel all that amazing, just not feeling quite so awful. Stupid, isn’t it?
Sober Me: No, not stupid. You’re an alcoholic, that’s all. This is all very serious though, you know that, don’t you? What you’re doing is dangerous.
Drunk Me: Can we change the subject? You’re so boooooooring! Joking. I’ll stop. I will, honestly. Just not today.
Sober Me: Let’s just leave it for now, I see you’ve started really guzzling so it’s probably better if you get yourself home. I’m obviously sober and it’s getting to that point where it’ll soon be having a conversation with a drunk person and that’s quite irritating. No offence!
Drunk Me: None taken. I can still have a reasonably good conversation for a while, we can keep going. But if we’re not going to, I’d like to rush off before this buzz wears off so I can get more wine on the way home and keep on drinking. So you let me know – if we’re staying, I want to get another drink NOW and if not I want to hurry home. I hate having to break the flow!
Sober Me: Alright, let’s catch up again soon. I just really wanted to ask you what keeps you drinking. That’ll do for now. Try not to die today though, I still have things I want to ask you.
Drunk Me: I’ll do my best, haha!
Sober Me: You must be made of steel. The way you drink does kill lots of people. Are you not aware of this, you nutter? Joking about it makes it go away a little though, right?
Drunk Me: Sure does and I do know I’m sailing a bit close to the wind. Every morning at 4am when I lie awake and my heart is beating like crazy I think I’ve finally gone and done it.
Sober Me: And yet you continue.
Drunk Me: Yep. And speaking of which – gotta go!
I stand there for a while, watching Drunk Me head off. She’s walking fast, head held high again now that she feels better. I did watch her arrive and she never took her eyes off the ground, her steps unsure and she was holding on to her handbag in a way a nervous car passenger might hold on to their seat belt. It’s sad to watch. Both what alcohol reduces her to and how it’s what puts her “right” again. And I once again remember why I’m so grateful I don’t have to do that anymore. Every single day I am grateful. I’ll tell you what I’m not, though: bored! All Drunk Me’s fears were illusions. Every single one.
Today I’m not going to drink.