I remember one night in 1991 going to play darts with the girls from the Spring Gardens over to a pub in St George. We were in two cars and I was stuck in the back of one of them with the landlady of the Spring Gardens and somebody I can’t remember. I do remember there being some joking going on and her seeming to shout out that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get to the pub because I could go minutes without a drink. I had a half bottle of vodka in my bag and I was desperate to get to that pub just to get into the loo and take a swig of it. I knew I’d order a bitter lemon or a coke or something so I could carry on the everlasting story of having a bladder infection to explain the frequent trips to unsavoury toilets. I fooled nobody of course, not even myself, but the compulsion to lie about the amount that I drank was nearly as great as the compulsion to drink.
I didn’t start out like that. I wasn’t always 32 and I wasn’t always an alcoholic but I always had a reputation as a drinker and a nasty one at that. I’d like to think I was nasty only when I was in my cups but alcohol has a tendency to magnify the personality traits that are already there. I can be spiteful these days but I try not to be nasty but sometimes I am and these days I own up to it if only to myself.
I don’t think that my parents thought for a second when they gave their youngest daughter a much watered down Dubonnet & bitter lemon as a Christmas Eve treat when I was six that they were unleashing an alcoholic – I downed it in one & knew that the second one made with blackcurrant juice was different. I never sipped alcohol because the faster I drank the more I got to drink.
There isn’t an alcoholic alive (or dead) who drank for any other reason than to change the way they feel about themselves. It’s a bizarre mechanism that protects us from ourselves and destroys us in the process. I won’t go into the details of why I drank so enthusiastically because they don’t count but I threw myself into it like it was my destiny. Perhaps it was.
I never really hid my drinking and there was more than one person commented on how much I drank before I got out of my teens but I tended to hide amongst those that drank more than me – where better to hide an alcoholic than in a horde of heavy drinkers? I think I married my ex husband because he was brilliant to hide behind but I became his patsy and assumed a responsibility for him that wasn’t mine. It really backfired on me when I was assessed for treatment at the same centre as he’d been through – the staff were very good at comparing us to the point that I was declared not at risk less than six months after I’d been told the get my act together or I’d be dead before I was 35.
I’m glad now that I didn’t go down the route of the treatment centre as peer “support” (as I saw in AA and other similar groups) is often more about telling people where they went wrong, how bad they are and then telling them off when they resort to drinking to cope with the way they feel.
I stopped drinking because the day a doctor told me I may not see 35 a light went on in my head and, to put it mildly, it scared the shit out of me. I wanted to give up and wanted to stay stopped but I was also aware that it was almost impossible to stay stopped. Pop into any open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and see how many people are under a year sober and how many, if any, are over 10 years sober. Addiction of any kind isn’t about choosing to use the chosen substance or stopping using the chosen substance it’s very hard work. There are times over the past 25 years when all I’ve wanted was a bottle of Jack Daniels (he was my best friend you see) and a very long straw and there are times when I’ve walked up and down the booze aisle pretending I wasn’t seriously considering picking up a bottle with a degree on nonchalance and getting pissed as a fart. Had I actually touched a bottle then I would have bought it. It’s simple to stop but it’s hard to stay stopped and staying stopped does not get easier but you do learn a few coping mechanisms along the way.
People kept telling me that I’d get my life back once I got sober and I was really an emotionally stunted wreck who hadn’t had much of a life to begin with. When your life is ruled by booze then you tend to neglect life. I’d enjoyed being a beekeeper and I’d loved being a life model but neither a great achievements – anybody can don a white suit & veil and work with bees just as anybody can strip off and sit still. Really, I’d achieved nothing of note.
Since then I’ve made up for it. I’ve done some really good community work around the theme of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and, being a self-made expert I know what I’m talking about, I’ve worked with a former Arsenal player turned fire fighter coaching kids (football of course) and reducing ASB in the park where we played by 50% and I’ve been the troubleshooter on a street refurbishment (including resurfacing the road!).
I’ve taken up photography and had my photos used in books, I’ve learned that I’m not responsible for the world but I think I am and I’m learning to let go of the things that I really can’t do anything about though cyclists on pavements is hard to let go of. *shakes fist at cyclists on pavements*
I’ve challenged the way NICE have traditionally gathered testimonies for presentation at committees and now blog posts are allowed as long as they contain all the information needed. I’ve spoken to countless medical students over the years and spoken at schools and youth groups.
I’m not perfect. I’m a ratty, irrational ex drunk with a fondness for swearing far too much and being far too crude. I don’t suffer fools gladly, if at all, I really don’t like people much some days. I do like social media and everybody thinks I’m nice because I bite my virtual tongue a lot but the person that was the nasty drunk has her roots in the me of today.
Drinking doesn’t change our characters and stopping drinking doesn’t make us angels and I think that’s the lesson that’s the hardest to learn. We alcoholics drink to change the way we feel about ourselves and so, to be in with a chance of lasting sobriety, we have to accept that we’re flawed, scared and hopeless at times and that’s more than okay. Saying we’re fine doesn’t have to mean fucked-up, insecure, neurotic and emotional it can mean that you really are very well indeed.