This last fortnight has felt hard, at times. The whole house has been ill with a hideous cold thing, the kids have both had birthdays in the midst of the snot, and we are transitioning a very indignant lady into her cot, as opposed to co-sleeping in our bed. All of which feels harder when you are grumpy, feel rotten and are extremely tired. In recovery, you look for potential triggers that may try to unbalance you, and a common one is H.A.L.T. – hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Which is very apt, and accurate, but pretty much daily life with two small children anyway!
So, I was expecting to find my sobriety tested. It never goes away, you see, the little wicked whisper that wonders if it was really all that bad, you’ve surely proven you haven’t a problem with alcohol because you’ve given it up for 19 months! That alone practically deserves a toast! No need to be over dramatic about these things, it was all fine! The little needling thoughts, that make a point to stab deep, then recede quicker than the wine that used to disappear down my neck. It never fully goes away.
So as I was savouring my first shower alone in about ten days, I started to remind myself of why and when I realised I had an alcohol problem (initially, that’s how I referred to it. That or problem drinking, because, obviously, I wasn’t an alcoholic.) And I thought I’d share here, in the hope that I can always re-read this, or that someone who may be questioning themselves can. As I’ve had a bit more time to think with a clear head about my drinking, I’ve realised that I’d been behaving in alcoholic ways as long as I’ve been drinking – far earlier than it became truly problematic.
So. Obsessing about drinking, and amounts etc was pretty much a normal, daily thought process for me. The time I could open or buy a bottle (or two), and the rules that I adhered to to make sure this was socially acceptable. Remembering which shop I had visited the day before, so I could alternate with the other. How I would justify the need to consume as much as I planned to (good day, bad day, stressful day, celebrating something, date night, commiserating, I needed to unwind, it’s my one vice, I’ve earned this by working so hard, I’m cooking with it and it’s a shame to leave the bottle to sour, it’s a Monday and everyone hates Mondays.. you get the idea. Obviously bullshit, but still to my wine craved mind it was hugely necessary). The rituals and planning that went into my drinking, and the effort taken to justify it is exhausting to think about.
But also, my fevered interest in how other people were drinking, and their habits. Counting units and drinks consumed by others, to make sure I could keep to a ‘normal’ level publicly, but secretly ordering a chaser to drink at the bar, while buying the round. Being genuinely astounded when meeting for a coffee meant meeting for an actual coffee, because surely drinking and socialising went hand in hand?! And then being equally shocked that it was possible to have an enjoyable time without alcohol (but also being careful not to make such sober plans again). Making sure my friends and ex partners were heavy drinkers too, so my behaviour wouldn’t be out of place, or the worst in the room. Being ironically disapproving of people who repeatedly got drunk (ha!) because they obviously must have a problem. But not me, guv. I’ve no problem, because I haven’t what they’ve done. Of course, I then became the person that I was carefully measuring my acceptable drinking yardstick against, and so instead I found an obvious fix – no drinking outside the home. That way I couldn’t embarrass myself in front of anyone, no one would see how much I was actually drinking, and I would know that I’d made it home safely and without incident because I would already be at home! How I congratulated myself with my clever, cunning plan. It never occurred to me to stop drinking. If I had a social engagement, I would be sure to drink enough to keep my buzz, but not any more than that, and console myself that I had a bottle waiting for me at home.
The angst and jittery feeling I would get if my acceptable time to open a bottle came and went without being able to. The panic of knowing I would usually be a few glasses in, and the rage I would feel at how unjust and unfair it was that I wasn’t. Resentment simmering towards whatever person or situation was depriving me of my intense relationship with Malbec. Having to be careful not to gulp the first glass too fast, despite how much I needed to, because I needed to offer an appearance of ‘normal’ drinking. Or, buying a miniature bottle that I could neck on the way home secretly, but being sure to pour a glass from the acceptable bottle swiftly when I got home so my husband wouldn’t smell my deceit on my breath.
And then, the feeling that however much I drank, it would never be enough, could never be enough. I’ve stayed up late into the night drinking alone, choosing to drunkenly stay in a morose state of drinking cooking wine rather than go to bed with my husband. Feeling depressed, lonely, and sobbing to myself while desperately trying to find someone I could call or Facebook message so I felt less alone. Finding anything that I could drink, and sometimes hiding the evidence (topping up spirits with water, hiding empty bottles, pretending that I’d cooked with the Japanese rice wine). Other times I couldn’t be bothered.
And the cold hand of terror that would grip the following morning as I tried to piece together what I had done, said, who is spoken to. What conversations I’d had. The feeling of despair and utter shame, self loathing. That was worse than any of my many instances of alcohol poisoning. Feeling like I was worthless, with nothing to offer, and then isolating myself from anyone I had spoken to out of sheer embarrrassment. Knowing that I was living a car crash, but unable to climb out of the wreckage.
You might be reading this and wondering how on earth I didn’t realise I was an alcoholic. It’s as obvious as the Sun in the sky. Right? But it’s not that simple. When you’re in an active addiction, your thoughts are not your own. Everything revolves around the next hit, the next binge. You’ll be morose, and promise never to drink again – it has to stop – but know that you’ll be nursing a drink later on. Maybe that week, or month, or day, but either way there will be another drink. Life becomes full of empty bottles, empty words, empty apologies and even emptier actions. You’ll aim to drown these feelings, sink them so far into oblivion that you won’t worry. But of course, that won’t work. Deep down, I knew this wasn’t normal. I would drunkenly assess my swaying self in the mirror, and tell myself that I was nothing more than a worthless alcoholic. That I needed to stop, I was being unfair. And I meant it, at the time – as much as you can mean anything when there’s too much blood in your alcohol stream, that is.
I would fill in alcohol questionnaires on the AA website and then feel resigned at the inevitable outcome. I’d test the waters with my GP, but lie about the amounts. I almost wanted someone to tell me, make the decision for me. Of course I was an alcoholic. And I’d deal with it, I really would, after I’d drank whatever was left in the house. That way, I’d have nothing to tempt me tomorrow. It’s simple maths, and common sense really.
It’s an exhausting way to live. And yet, the cycle continued, for almost 6 years more before I finally stopped, and got serious. I could go on, but this is already a long post. If anyone reading this is affected by its content, please reach out to someone. There’s support out there, and it gets so much better. I’m always available to help.