Now that a day has passed, this doesn’t seem anywhere as important now as I don’t have any assholes in my family, so my mother’s reaction when I spelled out that I consider myself an alcoholic wasn’t at all what might make for interesting reading. Then again, I’m not writing this blog to create sensational and explosive content – it’s therapeutic for me to untangle my thoughts through writing and my policy here is brutal honesty. If what I share might give a little hope to someone else like reading other people’s sobriety stories helps me, then that’s the best thing that could happen. Whilst I don’t hold back, I do try hard to stick to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I don’t want to make anything seem harsher than it was for dramatic effect, nor do I want to make it sound as though I was in control because I wasn’t.
Do I have spectacular battle stories? No. My drinking hadn’t (yet!) landed me in the gutter and the consequences were limited largely to embarrassment and holding me back generally. I have plenty of sad, hopeless, ugly and desperate stories but I didn’t lose everything and I never failed to pay a bill because of drink. But I also don’t want to smooth things over or make anything look “better” than it actually was. It’s a tricker balance than you might think! I was in many ways what you might call a functioning alcoholic, at the same time as there was nothing ‘functioning’ about it. I drank to dangerous levels and had I not stopped I believe the slope might have got much steeper quite quickly. I never drank in the mornings and in some ways I think nooooo that would never have been me but that window between waking up and taking the first drink does shrink. Slowly at first perhaps, but it only ever goes in the one direction. What I can say is that I know for certain that if I’d continued I would have landed in hospital or worse – it was only a matter of time.
Bottom line is that I had to get sober and I reached a point where I’d had enough. Sobriety has given me my life back and I’m now the ridiculous numpty who gets tearful at the sunrise and feels a little like she cheated death. No joke. I genuinely spend my days feeling a sense of gratitude I can’t put into words. Oh, here we go, I’m welling up because I am SO looking forward to getting home today. I’m looking forward to going for a run and I’m going to see if I can make myself keep going the whole way around the 8k loop in the park. I managed 6.7k Sunday night and my fastest kilometre took 6.13 minutes! This is by no means fast but for ME, right NOW it’s fucking awesome and I couldn’t quite believe it. And I’m itching to get out on the park. I feel restless and it’s like I’m vibrating, I just want to go! Realising just then that I’m filled with anticipation and actual excitement and that it’s going for a run that I’m looking forward to is fucking huge. I’ve got this feeling, it’s in my bones… This is almost precisely how I used to feel when the Beast had me in its grip and I was desperate to get to the end of the work day so I could drink.
I literally just realised, it dawned on me just as I was writing it. Amazing. And enough to feel so grateful that happy tears are gathering in my eyes. Big moment for Anna.
OK. Get a grip, woman!
Mum. That’s where I was going. Talking about wanting to convey an accurate picture of my drinking does tie into this because I think for many of us the term “alcoholism” immediately gives a certain impression. I’ve mentioned before that Mum doesn’t like uncomfortable topics. She just can’t bear anything that’s painful, awkward, too raw or difficult. She literally walks off if a conversation starts to get even the tiniest bit heated. She gets up and leaves the room. Mum is Little Miss Perfect, you see. Everything is cute and roses and rainbows and in perfect order. Wipe, rub, polish – there! Now it’s pretty and shiny and perfect again. I don’t think it’s a case of denial or that she feels bad inside, I just think she’s sensitive and therefore prefers to close down anything that gets a little icky. And I love her just the way she is – she’s an amazing, extraordinary, strong and wonderful woman, and there is nothing about her that is shallow, even though the above might make it seem that way. Mum just finds it really hard to confront difficult stuff.
Alcoholism and addiction = difficult stuff.
Make no mistake – Mum knows full well that I had a serious drinking problem, as does everyone in my family I reckon. She has seen me outrageously drunk and out of control more than once so to suggest she didn’t know I’m a raging alcoholic would be ridiculous. I laid it out for her and also my Dad, but as I’ve told you previously I kept it gentle: when I stopped drinking I told them it was because I can’t control it, it’s too much and too often, and when I start I can’t stop. That is, of course, how many of us might define alcoholism so I deem it to be completely truthful, but I didn’t spell out the A-word because I knew she’d find it uncomfortable. And when I did spell it out this Sunday just gone, she did get uncomfortable. But here’s what strength is: she was uncomfortable but she didn’t walk away. That shit takes serious cojones and my little sweetpea mother can be freaking Herkules when she needs to be. So when her eldest spelled out to her that she’s an alcoholic she stayed in the moment and acknowledged it. Kudos to Mum.
Hm. Her youngest is about to get her doctorate and her eldest is a drunk. Interesting autumn for Mum, this.
“I haven’t wanted to put the label out there because it’s uncomfortable,” I began.
“Oh, you don’t need to,” Mum replied and there was a tinge of awkwardness in her voice, I could tell I’d immediately placed her in the sort of situation she finds awkward as fuck.
“I’m not uncomfortable with it though, I’ve been more worried that it would upset you.”
“No one is upset, Anna, there is nothing to be upset about,” her voice still betraying a little tension but I knew she meant it.
“Well, it’s the A-word but I know you already know all of this.”
“Yes, I do,” she said softly and now I could actually detect a smile.
You know when you have something terrible to get off your chest, something that’ll require all your might to say, and you work yourself up to a complete ball of stress and anxiety because you expect a terrible reaction. Instead, the person you’re offloading to just gives you a sympathetic smile, squeezes your hand and tells you they knew all along and that it’s all going to be OK. It was like that.
“I’m an alcoholic.”
“I’ve worried it might worry you because all the stuff that the word carries with it, but this is only positive. It’s changed my life so saying it out loud is for me a really great thing and the point where this turns into a happy story so I’m just really keen that none of you feel bad,” I stammered, wanting to encapsulate everything in just a few words but being unable to.
“You don’t need to explain to anyone and no one here feels bad,” she reassured me.
I took a few seconds to weigh my words, knowing I might only have her for a couple more minutes before she’d need to walk away from this for now. My roses and rainbows mother had already bent herself out of shape sticking with it this far so I didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable than necessary.
“I’m potentially taking on a little writing assignment, and what I also haven’t told you is that I’m working towards finding a place in recovery services,” I began and now it definitely approached being a bridge too far, which I knew it would, “I feel so passionately that we need to shine a light on this, that there are so many Annas out there who might right now be trapped and can’t see a way out, so perhaps I need to be one of the people who stand up and speak out, use my own experience to help others and make a difference.”
“Well, you have to really consider is that you have a son who is at a sensitive age,” Mum said and now the tension was back, “it might be better to keep it to yourself.”
I had already pushed her too far out of her comfort zone – well, to what degree is hearing your child say they’re an alcoholic ever comfortable?! – so didn’t want to go much further.
“He’s seen and he understands though. So I can sweep it under the rug or I can make a stand and show him I may have fucked up but I am turning it into something positive.”
I’d lost her now though.
“We don’t have to decide that now. It’s all good,” she said a little impatiently, adding “Well! I’m going to hit the sofa now and watch….” and there she lost me as she mentioned some British series I’m not interested in.
So that was coming out PROPERLY to Mum and spelling it out. Not traumatic, not negative. I suppose one thing to remember is that she’s not of this over sharing, Instagramming generation. She grew up in a world where one kept one’s dirty laundry to oneself and kept up appearances no matter what went on behind closed doors. Mum also lives in the small town where I grew up, where everyone knows everyone and everyone is in everyone else’s business – just as it tends to be in smaller towns. So that combined with having a daughter who is openly declaring herself to be an alcoholic isn’t particularly comfortable. I have no doubt her first concern is her grandson, Bambino, but I also think it would potentially cause embarrassment – even shame – for her and the rest of my family too. I don’t know, but this is what I will always have to try to balance now.
It’s an infuriating Catch 22, actually! I feel so strongly that sometimes we have to, no matter how uncomfortable and embarrassing it is, be the first to speak up and be real, and hiding or keeping it to myself I feel only contributes to the anonymous approach that I actually think makes it harder to confront our issues. Yet it might hurt those I love if I say it loud and proud – nothing would ever be worth that level of collateral damage. ARGH! Answers on a postcard, please. I suspect a gentle approach is good for now though and I don’t need to go and get a personalised number plate with DRUNK4RD right this minute.
Today I’m not going to drink.