At the ripe old age of 35 I’ve come to a startling conclusion: I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I started drinking at the age of 14 so you’d think I’d have worked it out by now. Last Monday I went to my GP and told him I didn’t like alcohol and how it made me feel during a chat about a recent bout of insomnia and anxiety. His solution was simple – stop drinking. If only it were that easy.
I wouldn’t say I’m an addict but then, who would? I know drunks. Three generations of my family were blighted by the addiction and my first serious boyfriend was an alcoholic. In my head I was convinced I was not one of them but recognised there was something troubling about my relationship with alcohol. I was really good at giving it up with seven months of sobriety being my record. I did lots of scary adult shit sober: first dates, sex, funerals, social events.
What prompted the long stint on the wagon? It was finding myself so drunk that I would frequently blackout and even left myself open and vulnerable to a sexual assault. Incredibly sobering. And by that point I had accrued enough scars and tales of drunken antics to amuse and concern friends and family in equal measure. I had earned an alcohol related nickname, such was my love of cocktails. I was becoming a cautionary tale.
It was easy to start drinking again in small doses after so long because I was in control. I was dating a “grown up” who took me to lovely restaurants with wine that was to be savoured, not glugged. Everything was in moderation and it was lovely. I wasn’t drinking to forget, to blackout or numb any pain. We stopped seeing each other and I forgot all about drinking again for weeks. Then I had really bad news and the wheels fell off the wagon again. I got into the habit of grabbing a bottle of wine on the way home from work, sometimes two, just to help me relax after a hard day. I had a stressful job with a bullying boss and little financial reward so anything I could do to unwind after a shitty day at the office was fine by me.
In retrospect I was falling into a pattern typical of an addict. I didn’t buy booze from the same shop every night, a seemingly unconscious act characteristic of someone wishing to hide a problem and avoid judgement. I drank alone and disposed of the bottles by taking them to the local recycling point wrapped in a towel to stop the tell-tale clinking of glass. I always had a variety of drinks in the cupboard for “emergencies” although I am not sure what crisis would necessitate a bottle of Pinot Grigio. I didn’t drink every night but once I started on a bottle I was hell bent on finishing it. I held down a job, had friends, dated, exercised, cared for a sick parent and ate well – addicts can’t do all that, surely?
That Christmas my secret drinking became socially acceptable drinking, ‘twas the season to eat, drink and be merry after all. A bunch of friends were turning 30 around the same time with parties seemingly every other day. I lurched from one hangover to another on a diet of energy drinks, bacon sandwiches and chocolate and every morning I was greeted by a grey, puffy, spotty face in the mirror. The year culminated in a party with a free bar where I ordered three drinks at a time – one glass of champagne, one large glass of wine and a shot. I necked the champagne and shot at the bar and took the glass of wine back to the table. Needless to say the night was a blur and I only remember about an hour of the party.
Moderation and I have never been well acquainted (as documented here). I am an all or nothing kinda gal. So again, after that particularly boozy festive period I have veered from really sober to really bloody drunk with no middle ground. Last week something changed. I took a drink of cider and caught sight of myself wincing. After every sip. I wasn’t enjoying it at all so what was I doing? I was trying to get out of my own head. To drown the bad thoughts. There had to be another way. So I spoke to the GP and I think I can say that I have been drunk for the last time. I am on a waiting list to speak to someone about the issues that are plaguing me and have found some really helpful online resources. Given my propensity to think the solutions to life’s problems are at the bottom of wine bottle I am under no illusions about this journey being easy but it’s completely necessary. I gave away my unopened “emergency” booze, poured the rest down the sink and made my last trip to the glass recycling bin for the foreseeable future.
I am not looking forward to telling people I’m teetotal, I have had some really strange reactions in the past, particularly from people I know well. The same people who have held my hair back when I am throwing up and bandaged my cuts when I have fallen over. I had one friend who liked to go out with me because I would always end up in a worse state than her. She’s now an ex-friend. I’ve already had the first test of my sobriety. The day after my GP appointment I found out a cousin had died suddenly at the age of 34. I am proud to say I have so far managed to weather that storm with nothing stronger than a cup of tea. I’m only human so expecting bumps and blips along the way but for now I just need to take it one day at a time.
If you or anyone you know is concerned about their alcohol intake the following websites include helpful resources:
Alcoholics Anonymous – the most well-known addiction organisation – the site features online resources as well as a search engine for meetings in your area.
Soberistas – a worldwide community of friendly, non-judgmental people, all helping each other to kick the booze and stay sober.