When I first started this blog, it was to connect with others – to share my own journey and to hear the stories of others. I was keen to find those who’d gone down this path before me and I wanted to hear how they’d fought their way through, especially that first, treacherous part. Mostly, I wanted to hear how it’d be possible for someone like me – a hopeless drunk – to break free.
I’ll tell you what I didn’t particularly want read: the words of smug sober people. I wanted to hear the stories of people just like me, not what I perceived to be bullshit pseudo joy from people claiming sobriety is the best thing in the world because A) I didn’t believe that stuff, and B) it’s not that helpful when you’re struggling and trying to find your feet in a new existence you don’t feel you belong in.
And yet… Here we are and now I’m one of those people who wax lyrical about the joys of being sober and I have no idea how to get through to Drunk Me. Or even Newly Sober Me. I can’t begin to tell you how much this infuriates me. All I have is my honesty but I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t know what I can say to help or inspire someone who’s trying to get sober. On our way to dinner last night, Hubby and I talked about this.
“But maybe it’s because that wasn’t you,” he offered. “You didn’t try for years and years, you went from drinking to not drinking, end of.”
This is SORT OF true.
I think perhaps it’s because I have zero will power and zero self discipline. I simply didn’t even TRY to quit. I’m not the brave warrior who kept on trying and trying until finally it stuck, beaten down and back by relapse after relapse. I just kept drinking and drinking, breaking my own heart in the process, until I’d had enough and was so desperate to break free there was no going back. It was get sober or die. No, I didn’t have a doctor tell me that one more drink would kill me or that my organs were failing. No, I didn’t have my child taken away from me. No, I didn’t lose my job. No, my husband didn’t give me an ultimatum. I just had enough. But there wasn’t a period of trying to quit leading up to it.
Oh, I knew I had a problem alright – I went to my first AA meeting in the spring of 2007, which is when I initially had begun to get really frightened. Desperate and inconsolable, I made the call to the AA switchboard one evening. I was sitting in a pub (alone) called The Pilot just around the corner from were I lived, sobbing into wine glass number four or five and feeling helpless because I couldn’t stop drinking and was scared shitless. The next day, I went to the meeting the guy I’d spoken to had suggested and that he’d looked up for me during our conversation. In that meeting I realised and came to believe without a trace of doubt that yes, I’m an alcoholic. This is me. This is what’s happening to me. I belong here.
I was sober and went to meetings for less than a couple of weeks. I suppose whilst I didn’t try to quit or had a hundred Day 1s, you could say I had an 11-year long relapse. That’d be one way to look at it and it’s accurate. For 11 years, I kept drinking despite knowing I’m an alcoholic and that it’d eventually kill me. A person who doesn’t believe they’re in trouble doesn’t go to bed fully dressed in case this might be it and wanting to spare their young son from finding them dead and naked. Dead with clothes on seemed a little less terrible. I mean, you could call that a struggle and I don’t want you to believe I went from happily drunk to happily sober because that wasn’t the case. Yes, a lot of the time I was happy, but I’m a master of pushing negative emotion away and the deep despair was never far away.
I never attempted getting sober during those 11 years because I saw no point. I “knew” it wouldn’t be possible and I “knew” there was no way out. The idea of struggling for the rest of my life and fighting every day to stay sober scared me more than death. IT SEEMED WORSE THAN DEATH. Yes, I mean that – on my son’s life, that’s the truth. I didn’t try to quit umpteen times because I “knew” it’d be pointless and an utter waste of time. And because I “knew” it was impossible to quit, why bother?
Over the last few years of my drinking, the despair – despite my best efforts to ignore it – began to creep in more and more. I remember one particular moment so, so clearly. It would have been around 2014-2015 and a good two or three years before I stopped drinking. It was a sunny summer Sunday afternoon. I’d decided not to drink that day and when I made that decision I usually managed fine. I didn’t drink EVERY day, I’d say I averaged probably five nights per week but when I decided earlier in the day that I wouldn’t, that usually worked out fine. It was because of my husband – when he came along in 2013 there was suddenly a witness and I think he probably slowed me down. Before he came on the scene I definitely went under a few times, when I’d go for literally weeks or even months without any let-up, sniffing around morning drinking too.
Hubby came in to the kitchen where I was and slipped his arms around me.
“Fancy going down to the river for a couple?” he asked.
I immediately said yes. Obviously. But on the inside I was screaming. Screaming for help, screaming in despair. Screaming of sorrow and hopelessness. Hysterical screams, like a wounded animal.
Noooooo! I can’t! I’m in trouble here! HELP ME PLEASE! I’m not like you, I have a real problem and I can’t do it!! Please help me! Don’t let me do it! Please lock me up somewhere and make them fix me! HELP ME!!
I knew I was doomed. It could never be “a couple”. I knew in that moment that Monday was beyond rescue, that the Monday I’d hoped to have (not hungover and actually being able to perform my job to an acceptable standard) was going to be another hell of alcohol withdrawal. I felt close to tears but couldn’t say anything. Why? Because if I’d said any of those things out loud, it’d mean I’d have to do something about it. And stopping drinking was worse than death, remember? So with sorrow so deep it felt like my heart was actually producing tears inside my chest, off we went and I guess outwardly I was smiling as usual. I don’t remember how that evening ended but I can almost bet you I didn’t remember it Monday morning. That much I know, because it’s never been “a couple” for me. It would have been the way it always went. “A couple” in the pub turned into four. And then I insisted on buying at least two bottles of wine on the way home, despite a very reluctant Hubby who couldn’t understand either why it was never enough for me. He might have ended up going to bed alone like he so often did, with me continuing to guzzle wine alone on the sofa and passing out there. Yuk.
Drunk Me had a really hard time with it all. I mean, the planning that goes into active addiction is a fulltime job in itself, it’s fucking exhausting. Add the hiding and sneaking. It’s unbearable and it got worse and worse until I just couldn’t do it anymore.
It’s here I’d love to be able to say “and then I saw the light and it happened in this way and here’s how it felt and what I did and then it was all OK – tadaaaaah! YOU’RE WELCOME!” but I can’t. I’m doing my best trying to work out how it really happened, what it was that made all the difference because I so desperately want to tell you. I so desperately want to show Drunk Me what Sober Me now knows.
Maybe it’s just like they say – we all have to reach our own rock bottom and that’s when it all changes, but I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe that we don’t have to. There HAS to be a way other than spending a decade (or even longer) doing something we A) really don’t want to do, and B) that’s killing us. I want to share the secret to my sobriety – my happy, joyous sobriety! – and my secret weapon but I don’t know what those are. I just know that one day I’d had it and I couldn’t go on. That screaming on the inside finally broke through and found my vocal chords. OK, so it wasn’t a scream, it was more a whisper, but still – it finally escaped my lips and speaking those words, “I need help“, was the greatest relief.
I only found the strength to speak, or whisper rather, those words when I was so desperate and so fed up with how things were that there was no other option available. I guess drinking had got to the point where the benefits just weren’t there anymore and I suspect they’d been gone for a long time. When the idea of drinks by the river on a sunny summer’s afternoon with the person you love the most in the world fills you with dread, you’re done drinking. Yet it took me a few more years even from that point.
And this unbridled joy I feel now? When did the lights come on?
Quickly! The hangovers I had were horrendous. I could barely function, could barely stay upright and every fucking day was a struggle. It was so shit I can’t begin to tell you. So even just a few days of being sober meant I felt like a million dollars compared with before. And suddenly – yes, SUDDENLY – I ended up having the best sleep in the goddamn world! Only a week or so in, I slept like a baby, compared with passing out blind drunk and get poor sleep for a few hours and waking up at 4am with sweats and palpitations. It was a different world and it happened FAST. Add to this that alcohol is a depressant so my mood lifted massively too. Gone was the low mood and the anxiety disappeared too. Sure, I still sometimes feel low and I get anxious too, but I guess what I experience now (bar for the odd sleepless night with my mind racing – this is fairly rare, however!) is what most people experience.
Maybe, if you’re someone who struggles to get sober, your drinking life is simply much nicer than what mine ended up being like? Honestly, the upsides to drinking had all but disappeared for me. And so getting sober became such a glorious, freeing relief like no other. No amount of Sauvignon Blanc has ever filled me with the peace and joy I feel these days almost on a daily basis – utter, sheer JOY!
I don’t know how else to describe it but I’ve decided to really dig right down into this spot and keep exploring and examining it until I strike gold. There just HAS to be more to this.
Getting and staying sober has simultaneously been the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done. But I think the hard bit was the drinking, not the sober bit.
Last night just highlighted how awesome things are now. Hubby invited me to a work dinner. A handful of people I’d met before, the others I hadn’t. There were no nerves, no awkwardness. I didn’t care if I looked silly eating or said the wrong thing. I didn’t feel anxious. Someone went to pour some wine for me, I said “not for me” and poured myself a glass of water and it didn’t feel strange and nor was there any need to explain. Once upon a time in early recovery I stressed about what to say to justify not drinking but people don’t actually give a shit and I’ve almost never been asked why. If someone does ask, I say that I don’t drink. If they ask more, I tell them I can’t control alcohol and it does nothing for me. If they were to ask further (and no one ever has, but IF someone did) I’d happily tell them I’m an addict and I quit because I can’t drink, because, uhm, I’m an addict. Quite often I go there anyway – I spell it all out loud and clear and unprompted BECAUSE I’M PROUD OF IT. It’s not dirty and I’m not ashamed of it. Or maybe it IS dirty. But I’m not ashamed. In fact, I’m so proud of my recovery that I’d happily tell the King of Sweden if he decided to ask why this little subject rejects his state controlled booze these days. Really. Anyway, it was a lovely evening. I talked happily and loudly when I had things to say, sat quietly and listened when I didn’t. Bottom line – now I’m something I never EVER was when I was drinking: I’m relaxed and at peace. And I don’t give a shit! It’s fucking magnificent.
Well. There’s so much more to say about this but I’m going to round this up for now. My head is in overdrive trying to figure all this out and what I could say to Drunk Me to see what I see now. Or to anyone who is struggling and can’t yet see or experience the joy of sobriety. All I can say is that if this hopeless, desperate, doomed drunk can feel this way, anyone can. I hate that fucking saying and Drunk Me wants to punch me in the mouth right now, but it’s true.
I’ll come back to this until I work it out somehow. Your thoughts, please. Help!
Actually, one last thing. I follow this chick called Allie Severino. She’s in this documentary series called ‘Dope Sick’ and she’s a former heroin addict who’s now helping others get clean. Yes, a kickass superhero, is Allie. She shared an article last week about sober things to do for Valentine’s day. The article was shit and listed a bunch of boring crap that would make Drunk Me keep drinking, simple as that. Allie had added her own suggestions however: ghost hunting, escape rooms and a couple of other really cool things. I told her that her suggestions were exactly what were needed and the article was shite. Again, it’s talking about sobriety in a different way – it IS fun and it IS better and we need to start advertising it in its true light. Not take up knitting or go to a museum. GO GHOST HUNTING, DAMNIT! Woohooooooooooo!
OK, now I’m done. For now. Interview today and I can’t wait. I’m good at interviews and I enjoy them, and even more so these days when I don’t need to hold still trembling hands or fret over getting there in case I keel over.
Today I’m not going to drink.