Reasons why I drank

I started drinking heavily in my mid teens and continued to do so until I hit 35. I often think about the factors that led me to drink alcoholically, because I know it was more than simply sustained exposure; right from the off I drank to get drunk, and I never, ever got it when people professed to sipping a glass of wine ‘with dinner,’ or to ‘blowing the froth off a couple’ on the way home from work. When I poured the first glass of the night, it was with one intention in mind; to down as much booze as I could get away with before I either a) passed out or b) ran out of alcohol. Whichever came first.

People often said to me that I was lacking some kind of inherent ‘off switch,’ a magic voice that I consistently saw manifest itself in others, and for which I craved longingly, a voice that would tell me to stop when I had had enough; a watchful guardian in my head, telling me to go home while I could still stand.

I have always been a funny bugger, in that I am most definitely an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert, or some such contradiction. Shy on the outside with a lot going on inside and an obstacle sandwiched between the two, preventing the voice inside from being heard. Reason number one why I drank – I am actually a little bit shy, and often struggle to have conversations with people who I don’t know very well. Thus the discovery of the following equation was (for a long while) the key to social success; shy girl + wine = chatty and fun girl. Over time, the equation morphed in to this; shy girl + wine = annoying twat.

Early on in my teens I developed a rabid interest in the opposite sex. I don’t recall ever being struck with a debilitating shyness around boys, but I do know that once I threw some alcohol in to the mix, the dating game became a whole lot easier. So, reason number two; being sexy and intoxicating to the male of the species becomes easy as pie when you have knocked back a bottle of wine. Ditto the above; over time, shy girl + wine = annoying twat of a girlfriend.

I get bored very easily. I often feel as though life is just slipping through my fingers like sand, and I am overwhelmed by a desire to make it all ‘the cream.’ I don’t do banal very well. Alcohol injects fun (for me, this is really an illusion – I recognise that now. When I drank, I thought that those brilliant nights when everyone lets their hair down and bonds over meaningless conversations, and quiet nights at home transform after a few bottles have been drunk to dancing in the living room, I thought that somehow they were real. Like Primal Scream said, ‘we are unified; we are together’). I wasn’t unified and together with anyone; I was becoming discombobulated. On many nights I would find myself waking up in the early hours in a strange bed in the dark, in someone’s spare room, where someone had carried me because I had got drunk and embarrassing. Until the penny dropped, there was reason number three; get drunk and life gets more fun. Reason number four was to drown out the darkness, to forget my worries. Number five, to mask loneliness. And number six, the most stupid of all, to sufficiently wipe away the self-hatred and shame that coursed through every inch of me, owing to the vast amount of alcohol I had consumed the night before.

And the truth is that every feeling that I tried to suppress, every social interaction that I tried to lubricate, and every personality trait that I tried to fake, has blown away like a puff of smoke, now that the glass is empty. Whatever you try to escape from through drinking, it will still be there in the morning.

Things (not) to do in Barcelona

As a result of eating fewer cakes, drinking less lattes and going for more runs, I have lost a total of about five pounds in as many weeks. Seems like a lot of sacrifice for a small reward, but at least the number is going in the right direction, and I am no longer dreading standing on the scales as I did in the final trimester of pregnancy. My weight during those last few months was increasing by about three or four pounds a week – I did wonder where it would end. Thankfully, I am fairly confident that I can wear my new (humongous on the chest coverage, due to breastfeeding boobs resembling watermelons) bikini on the beach, without being fearful that Greenpeace might get called to drag me back in to the water.

So we leave in four days for Mallorca; I have bought my miniature toiletries, new suitcase, and aforementioned monstrous bikini. The dog is booked in for kennels, the British summertime is winding down and it looks like we will fly out of Manchester amidst pouring rain and chilly temperatures – always pleasing when you will depart at the other end of the flight straight in to thirty five degrees and glorious sunshine.

And this holiday will, of course, be sans booze. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine going away and not drinking, when I would almost not have seen the point of a holiday if it didn’t include alcohol. And there were many holidays when booze was consumed on a nightly basis and good times were had by all, the wine adding to the general merriment and relaxed evenings that everyone wants from their week in the sun. But in the last few years there were many times when I drank not to be sociable and fun and relaxed, but to get hammered; when I drank alcoholically.

Example; Barcelona, the Ramblas, circa 2004. My travel companion and I hit the beers mid-afternoon, and continued to sink many cerveza de pequeñas in thirty five degree heat (not really relevant – if it had been minus ten, we would still have got as wasted as we did. I’m using the temperature as a bit of an excuse here) well in to the night. My memory is a little cloudy, but I remember sitting in a plaza, people-watching and downing my third or fourth drink. Time then becomes fluid; snippets of conversations flicker through my mind, but vast gaps emerge, leaving me with a staccato recollection of the latter part of the evening.

An argument sprang up between us (there is a theme here, me + boyfriend + alcohol = massive fight) which led to two members of La Policia intervening in what they thought was a domestic violence matter (I was acting like a melodramatic tosser, and my boyfriend was holding on to me whilst he attempted to calm me down; this was construed as him assaulting me). After a lengthy altercation between the four of us in downtown Barcelona, we were allowed to leave, and scarpered back to our hotel, him muttering about my inability to hold my drink, me blaming him for attracting the attention of the police. It was messy, embarrassing. We fell in to liquor-induced comas upon reaching our hotel bedroom, approximately three hours before we had to be up for the journey home.

Plane departure time; 0800 hours. Time we awoke; 0700 hours. Panic. We grabbed the clothes that were strewn around the room, bundled them in to our cases, and ran downstairs to check out. Somewhere amidst the previous evening’s activities, the strap across the top of my Birkenstock sandal had come unstuck, leaving me with a shoe-shaped piece of cork and a flap of white leather as one half of my footwear. In my hungover state of mind this troubled me, so much so that as we raced through Barcelona airport with minus five minutes before take-off, I discarded the sad-looking sandals in to a rubbish bin and veered in to a shoe shop in order to purchase a more respectable-looking pair. Oh, the joy on my boyfriend’s face! Boarding the plane fifteen minutes post-departure time, we received the obligatory round of applause that passengers award to the crap, hungover people who almost miss their flight due to over-refreshing themselves the previous evening.

This holiday will be sans booze, sans drunken arguments, sans broken sandals. There will be no fracas with the local constabulary, no almost-missed flights. There will, however, be relaxing afternoons spent by the pool, bowlfuls of patatas bravas, baskets of pa amb oli, our baby’s first swim, browsing in dark, Mallorcan shops for souvenirs, and a photo album’s worth of happy holiday pictures for my family to return to, time and time again. I can’t wait.

There but for the Grace of God

Keep on going!During the last week, I have experienced ‘the darkness’ twice. It’s enlightening, finding out a bit more about who I am (at the ripe old age of 36!), and not suffocating the bad emotions with too much wine; I am reaching a point close to acceptance of self. There is no perfection in humanity – all of our characters are flawed, but only now am I discovering all the facets of my personality in all their forms, giving them a chance to rise to the surface like lily-pads that have been weighted down on the bed of a stagnant pond.

I’ll describe that dark place to you; it doesn’t seem to arise for any particular reason but I know it’s there from the minute I wake up. A dirty, blackened lens colours my view of everything that presents itself before me; the news on the TV is wrong, their take on a story is prejudiced, unfair. The clothes in my wardrobe are badly fitting, unfashionable, cheap looking. My hair is frizzy and has no style. The weather is too hot or too cold. I haven’t got enough money to do what I want to do, to do what would make me happy. Nobody understands me – the world is acting conspiratorially against me. My maternity leave is running out, time is moving too fast and I don’t want my baby to have to spend days away from me in a nursery. It makes me panic. The laundry is never-ending, the floor is perennially dirty. I’m fat; I can’t shift the baby weight. I look like a middle-aged, tired mum in bad clothes. My make-up is fruitless, a waste of time. I can still see the lines and dark circles beneath my eyes. I am going grey. It builds and builds.

Before I stopped drinking, I would quash the panic with cold, white wine. Its effect was instantaneous, washing away the bad thoughts and filling me up with a rosy glow, ameliorating the world in minutes. These days I go for a run.

On one of these self-medicating runs last week, I saw someone who shocked me to my core. This person is an ex-boyfriend from the days when I spent my life in self-destruct mode; a great catch and someone I think of often. In and out of prison for heroin-dealing, violent, a drug-dealer, an alcoholic fresh out of rehab for his smack problem and who had found his Higher Power in Stella Artois and ecstasy pills, his redeeming features made an impressive list. I had heard that he had been seriously ill, that he had been suffering from throat cancer, pneumonia, and that he had been taking heroin again, but I hadn’t seen him for maybe ten years so I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. An old man of 46, shuffling along the pavement with a walking stick and a stooped back, shrivelled and weak and small. He had no charisma; his swagger had been annihilated by years of self-abuse. The man who I used to walk into a pub with and watch as he bought three pints of Stella in one purchase, in order that he could down the first two like a runner drinking water at the end of a marathon before moving on to the third at a more relaxed pace, was no longer there. Never before has the expression ‘a shadow of his former self’ applied to a person so aptly. The man who used his bulk to push me around when I was twenty has almost succeeded in killing himself with drugs and drink, just sixteen years after our relationship ended.

I didn’t speak to him. He didn’t see me. His eyes were staring at the ground as he dragged his feet along, one in front of the other with slow deliberation. I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a while. My black mood vanished without a trace. Oh, there but for the grace of God go I.

Marmite and Top Gear

It has occurred to me on more than one occasion, there are things in this life that I don’t like very much (including certain people, actually, especially certain people), and that now I am living my life without the prop of alcohol, it’s not so easy to let that fact slip by unnoticed. People aside, the things I’m not so keen on include (off the top of my head) Marmite, busy shopping centres, the rain, being cold, Top Gear, soap operas, grisly sausages. That list was exactly the same when I drank alcohol as it is today, now that I am sober. The people who I don’t like are a completely different matter.

On a night out a couple of years ago, I spent the early part of the evening sitting outside a rather nice Italian bar situated on a leafy Sheffield road, with my lovely sister. Owing to the fact that all parties involved had consumed several glasses of wine, we got chatting to two women sitting nearby who had overheard our conversation about my law degree (I was, at that time, studying at University) and who were both solicitors. Nothing wrong with that – it’s sociable, convivial and friendly. Except that both of them were complete arseholes, and who, if it weren’t for the fact that I was half-cut, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend one minute of my life with. Nonetheless, we spent much of the next couple of hours with them, listening to their boorish, self-congratulatory ranting with fixed smiles on our faces, laughing in all the right places.

Without alcohol, a) I would never have got talking to them in the first place, and b) if I had had the misfortune of getting suckered into their worlds, I would have extricated myself pretty sharpish, and relocated to a place far, far away. With the booze in my system, however, I didn’t just tolerate them, I actually liked them. I liked the fact that they had struck up a conversation with us (wow, successful, glamorous people who really liked me!!), I liked the association that I had with them, that just by sharing their company and being a part of their worlds (obviously so much better then mine) I improved my status by shifting up a notch on the social scale. I also approved of the fact that here were two professional women who had no issue with downing a few bottles of wine between them of an evening – now if they drank in such a way, did that let me off the hook? Did it mean that we were all alcoholics, or none of us? We proceeded to stick with them for the next couple of hours, them droning on about their glittering legal careers, my sister and I not getting much of a word in edgeways and drinking even more Pinot in order to numb our senses further to mask the agonising boredom of the situation.

On countless occasions I have found myself drinking copious amounts to ‘deal with’ unsatisfactory social situations – unsatisfactory because I really didn’t like the people who I was socialising with. For years I counted people as friends who, really, if I’m honest, were complete morons. Sober, it doesn’t take long at all to work out who we like and want to spend time with, and who we have nothing in common with, is dull, or who is simply a bit of a tosser. Since giving up drinking, I tend to socialise more during the daytime – meeting friends for a coffee, going to town together, taking the kids to a park – and there are absolutely no walls to hide behind. There are no false pretences, no alternative realities being lived out. I meet people whose company I enjoy and everybody is their true selves without the veneer of alcohol sugar-coating their personalities.

When I drank, the purpose behind whatever social event I was attending was not to spend time with friends or family, or to network, or to celebrate someone’s wedding or birthday or promotion. It was to get pissed. It was immaterial who was in attendance, because I was there to slip further inside myself, to sink enough booze to break through my outer layers and relax into the inner part of me that remained locked away when I was sober.

Sober, the purpose of social occasions has been brought back to the fore – if it’s someone’s birthday, then I am there because I like the person and I want to share in celebrating their birthday. If it’s a wedding, then I am there because I want to share in the joy of a couple marrying, not so that I can neck all the free Champagne that is being handed out, cop off with some desperate bloke who is not terribly discerning and doesn’t mind that his new love interest is puking over the side of the bed, and then have to avoid everyone who was present for at least a year, in order to allow their memories to fade sufficiently. Being sober effectively eradicates the bullshit and leaves us with people who we really like in our lives.

Aside

The Rise of the Soberista

ImageAfter reading an article today, ‘The Rise of the Teetotal Generation,’ (The Independent Online, 6th July 2011) I was reminded once again of why being teetotal is not, and should not be, something to be slightly embarrassed about. Despite being utterly committed to life as a Soberista, I still find myself tongue-tied in social situations whenever anyone (who I don’t know very well) asks me what I want to drink, and I know that I am soon to be faced with a barrage of questions about why I don’t want something alcoholic.

“Oh, are you driving?”

“No.”

“Well why don’t you want a drink then?”

“Err, I just don’t. I’ve got a lot on tomorrow.”

“Well, just have one then. Come on – what will it be; G & T, a white wine?”

“No really. I don’t want a drink because I am an alcoholic and the last time I had a drink, I ended up collapsing on the pavement, being taken to hospital and waking up at three am with absolutely no knowledge of what had happened to me, only that I was covered in vomit, and that I must never touch alcohol again. So, thanks for the offer, but I’ll just have a water.”

That’s what I want, but find myself unable, to say. However, when I read about the likes of Daniel Radcliffe being on the wagon (see The Independent article, as referenced above), or meet someone who admits to having a drink problem and who has subsequently given it up, the last thing I think is that they are in some way at fault, that they have been weak or have failed at life. Conversely, I regard such people as being brave for fighting a battle that I consider to be one of the hardest there is – to fight against yourself is truly an uphill struggle that never really ends. People who have fought an addiction are, in my mind, heroes.

And yet when it comes to me being honest and giving someone a simple explanation as to why I don’t drink alcohol, I have faltered every time. The first time I was asked why I wasn’t drinking was at a party. A rugby-playing, beer-swilling bloke cornered me and wouldn’t leave the issue alone (clearly, my mineral water offended his rugby-coloured view of the world), resulting in me being a bit stroppy with him. It wasn’t a satisfactory response, and it left me wondering how I should answer the next time such a situation occurred.

Well, the same situation did not occur for a while after that – about ten months actually, as being pregnant gives you a pretty bone fide excuse for knocking booze on the head. As I am breastfeeding, I had expected to be able to avoid the issue for a further few months after giving birth, although I have found that generally it is considered acceptable to have a few drinks whilst nursing (probably not whilst nursing, as in not holding the baby to breast with one hand and clutching a pint of Stella in the other, but during the nursing period. Most women I have spoken to about this admit to having the odd glass of wine).

And so, there it was again, the dreaded question, just six weeks after Lily was born. I met a fellow new mother who I work with for coffee, and she asked me pointedly, “Have you had a glass of wine yet? Are you drinking whilst breastfeeding?” Now, this woman is a colleague, so the answer that I had semi-rehearsed in my head after Rugby Boy had questioned my beverage choice was not so appropriate; “No, I don’t drink because I am an alcoholic who has decided to live without alcohol ruining my life. I used to drink and whenever I had one, it would lead to ten, or however many it took until I passed out. I was ruining my daughter’s and my lives, and I came to the conclusion that you only live once and I wasn’t going to stuff my life (and my daughter’s) up by getting shit-faced every night.” Because you just can’t be that honest with someone you work with.

Or can you? I’m sure that Daniel Radcliffe and his honest confessions about having an alcohol dependency have not gone unnoticed by all the film producers out there. Would they not hire him because of his drinking history, next time he springs to their minds as being perfect for a particular role? Of course not, but then again, your choice of actor would be drastically reduced if you discriminated against all those with addictions, past or present. Is it different in the real world? Am I unusual for admiring people who have fought an addiction?

I have come to the conclusion that in social situations I will give an honest answer if queried about why I don’t drink – maybe not completely honest (I’ll leave out the bit about waking up in a hospital bed covered in puke), but I will explain that I could not stop drinking once I started and that I had a problem with it. I will say that my life is better without alcohol, for me and for those around me and that I am far happier without it.
I think that if anyone feels uncomfortable with that as a response, then they are probably not a person who I would get along with anyway.

Can I have your old Smiths T-Shirt please?

Today I broke my own rule and weighed myself five days ahead of my planned weigh-in day. I am one pound less than I was yesterday, when I also broke my once-a-week-weigh-in rule, stepping on the scales six days too soon. Before I got pregnant a year ago, I was 134 pounds; currently I am 148 pounds, so a stone to lose. To add insult to injury, I tried on my bikinis last night, in order to ascertain whether new ones should be bought prior to our holiday to Mallorca in two and a half weeks time. Yes, the answer is yes, they most definitely should.

This morning, as I dressed in the only pair of trousers I own that fit comfortably (elasticated waist, stretch denim fabric that squeezes the flesh a little, magically giving the appearance of slimmer legs) and a baggy top that doesn’t cling to the spare tyre around my middle, my beautiful and slim thirteen-year-old daughter wafted into the bedroom and asked ‘Mum, can I have that Smiths T-shirt that you never wear anymore please?’ Of course she could have it – no point clinging on to something that would barely conceal even one of my enormous, breastfeeding boobs. She takes it, returning presently, wearing the T-shirt and looking stylish and young in it. I focus my mind on planning a low-fat day; bananas, yoghurt, no bread, skip the lattes and cakes.

I last wore that T-shirt in April last year, when I was newly sober. I hadn’t been out of the house for weeks, consumed as I was by shame and self-hatred owing to the fact that on a particular night in February, I drank so much wine that I collapsed on the pavement outside my house and was taken to hospital by a passing acquaintance. That night, as they say, was my rock bottom. In mid-April, my boyfriend put on a Smiths night at his local pub and I felt as though I should show my face by way of support. I had a fringe cut in to my hair in an effort to alter myself, and I wore the Smiths T-shirt. It was tight even then, and I felt conspicuous, regretful of my new haircut as I walked in to the pub, meeting many of his friends for the first time. I was the only non-drinker in the room, clutching my mineral water, terrified and uncertain of how I should behave, now that I no longer had wine to pour down my neck.

As the night wore on, the drunken behaviours came to the fore. I retreated in to the dark corners of the room, hoping nobody would speak to me and wishing time would hurry along. When things wound to a close, I raced to the car and drove us home, replacing that T-shirt with pyjamas, the instant I reached the sanctuary of my bedroom.

Not long after that night I got pregnant, and so, for the last twelve months I have had the perfect excuse for being on the wagon. However, in a few weeks time I will no longer be breastfeeding my baby, I will shrink a little in the breast department, the weight will continue to fall off – I will be back to where I was last April, sober simply because I have chosen to be that way, rather than nature dictating my lifestyle. Will I be that person again, the one in the corner wearing the slightly too-tight Smiths T-shirt and hoping against hope that nobody talks to her, that no one asks her why she isn’t having a proper drink? I like to think not – that a year’s passing has equipped me with a few good reasons as to why I now choose to live life without alcohol propping me up, why my focus has necessarily shifted from a selfish pursuit of getting wasted, to the happiness and wellbeing of my family and friends and my self. In April last year, I was emerging from two decades of hiding behind a large glass of white wine, attempting to relocate a personality that wasn’t moulded by alcohol. Now, August 2012, I am a mother again, I am enjoying being alive, I have (almost) eradicated the shame that lingered after years of self-abuse. Today I feel like a proper human being, and it’s great.

girl festival

Out of My Tree

A few weekends ago, we (me and my family) wandered down to the local park which was playing host to a folk festival as part of the wider ‘Tramlines’ event. I was aware of a calmness that I definitely did not possess when I drank, and I began to consider what has changed that makes me quite a different person altogether in the way that I approach life.

In the drinking days I remember there being a knot of fear in my stomach in the run up to going out socially, an adrenaline-fuelled rush of anxiety brought on by the excitement of not knowing how the night/day would pan out. It was reckless, like being stood on a precipice on the verge of jumping into blackness, unaware of what lay in the void before me. There I would be, watching Neighbours and eating my tea, in control of my mind and my actions, but all the while having the knowledge that in a few hours I would be out of control, impulsive, a different person engaging in situations that I couldn’t possibly imagine in my sober mind.

And walking down to the park a few Sundays ago, that familiar route walked every day with my partner, my daughters and my dog, along the well-worn cobbled paths that I have manoeuvred the pram over so often, I became conscious of the fact that there was no precipice waiting for me. There lay the difference – I knew how the afternoon would go, roughly. The knot of fear had dissipated along with the bottles of wine; without alcohol in the equation, the recklessness doesn’t exist.

Compare and contrast;

In summer 2004, I went to the Red Hot Chili Peppers gig in Hyde Park with my then boyfriend. The gates opened mid-afternoon and following visits to a number of pubs en route to the park, we eventually arrived, me somewhat the worse for wear. Following an opening act by the late James Brown, during which we continued to drink pint after pint of lager in the hot June sun, the Chili’s finally came on. As they appeared on the distant stage, I hoisted myself on to my boyfriend’s shoulders and proceeded to dance, as only girls at festivals dance, arms flailing in the air, beer in one hand and cigarette in the other. After a few seconds of this, I lurched forward and fell to the hard, stony ground, my face meeting the floor with a resounding smack.

Embarrassed, I stumbled to my feet and attempted to dance, ignoring the concerned voices around me which eventually subsided as it became apparent that I was not about to acknowledge what had just happened, despite the blood that was dripping down the side of my face. Around this stage in the afternoon, my memory fades completely (I think this is rather due to the fact that I had drunk god knows how much lager, rather than any indication of concussion, but who knows?) All I do remember is that I had an argument with my boyfriend and wandered off to find other people to continue my one-woman wrecking ball mission with.

Hours later, I awoke sitting under a tree in the dark night air, on a small hill somewhere in Hyde Park. In front of me were three or four policemen, together with a crowd of people who had gathered around to see what was going down with this strange, drunken woman who was lying semi-comatose beneath an old oak tree. After shaking free of the police and (I have no idea how I achieved this) convincing them that I was fine, I miraculously spotted my boyfriend amongst the throngs of people leaving the gig and vacillated towards him, feeling in my pockets as I did so and discovering that I had lost both my mobile phone and purse. Needless to say, the experience drove a stake in to the heart of that relationship and two months later we split up for good. He now lives in Australia.

The alternative scenario plays out by way of a much more pleasing afternoon. The sun was out, it had stopped raining for the first time in weeks, the baby slept in her pram. We meandered between stalls and folk bands and singers, drank a couple of coffees in the warm, July air, listened to music and chatted about nothing much. Afterwards I remembered everything, my bloke didn’t run off to Australia. My baby wasn’t traumatised by having a drunken lush for a mother.

OK, so this version lacks a little of the drama; the police didn’t materialise, blood didn’t flow. But given the choice, I am happy to live with a little less drama.

Robert the Geranium Plant

I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. At the tender age of fourteen, I was told by my physics teacher that I would never get anywhere in life because I didn’t know how a radiator worked. And that Robert, a geranium plant which sat on the classroom windowsill, had more brain cells than me. Me thinks a man who names his geranium plant Robert deserves no credence, but hey, I digress. I do, however, have a theory regarding the way that alcohol prevents people from reaching emotional maturity, should they do as I did and consume vast amounts of the stuff from my mid teens onwards.

I have grown up more in the last eighteen months since becoming teetotal than I did in all the years prior to that turning point. When I cast an eye back to my booze-obsessed self, I see someone who prioritised alcohol above everything else, including, I am ashamed to say, my oldest daughter, and whose main aim in absolutely every endeavour I engaged in, was to get pissed. Sister’s wedding; get hammered. Friend’s 40th birthday party; get wasted. New Year’s Eve party with the kids; get the little ones in bed asap and then hit the wine, big time. All that drinking left me with very little time to grow as a person, and now that I have been sober for a year and a half, I am all too aware of the fact that I didn’t mature emotionally until very recently.

Since giving up alcohol, I think more about how others feel. I consider how my actions will affect them, and then I adjust my behaviour accordingly in order to make their lives better. Now, I realise that this sounds like pretty fundamental stuff, but my emotional development froze somewhere around the arsey, self-obsessed fifteen year old girl stage, when my only concerns in life were which boy I fancied/ fancied me, Morrissey, smoking Marlboro reds and getting pissed at the weekend when my mum and dad thought I was at the cinema. From that point onwards, I placed drinking ahead of everything and everyone. I never dealt with heartache or regret, as I chose instead to smother it with the analgesic quality of booze, I never really experienced true happiness because I was always pie-eyed whenever I was (supposedly) having a good time, and I never knew what a nice feeling could be achieved through truly loving others and committing a selfless act because you place someone else’s happiness above your own.

Not only was I emotionally unavailable to everyone in my life, I was a grumpy bugger too. Being hungover most days and surviving on poor quality sleep, together with having chronically low self esteem as a result of all the awful, stupid things I used to do when I was drunk, meant that I snapped at the most innocent of comments and was generally not very nice to be around.

I wish I could turn the clock back and be a better Mum to my oldest daughter during her younger years, but all I can do now is plough my efforts into being the best I can for her and her new little sister, now and in the future. It’s so much nicer going to bed at night when you are proud of what you have achieved that day, instead of beating yourself up because of the never ending shit that you inflict on the people who love you. My physics teacher was wrong for saying that I would never get anywhere in life; I just took a while getting there.

Social sloth

I have no social life. This is in part due to the fact that I had a baby three months ago, and for the weeks that I spent heavily pregnant (and the size of a large building) I had absolutely no inclination to leave the house, other than to walk the dog in a half-arsed attempt to work off a few biscuit calories. So I sort of got accustomed to being a homebody, and really rather preferred being sat in front of Grand Designs to lumbering around some bar in a badly fitting maternity frock, drinking mineral water and being stared out sympathetically (“Oh, poor thing, isn’t she huge! She must be ready to pop any minute now…”) by the other clientele.

The weight is still something of an issue (a stone left to lose) but not so bad that I feel like a freak show whenever I’m out in public. The issue is that I have no idea how to have fun in a social situation when I’m sober, and rather than try to learn, I’m finding it easier to hide in the living room with Kevin McCloud. I stopped drinking eighteen months ago, and in that time I have been out socially on two occasions. Yes, two. And I’ve noticed that of late, I have become a bit of a misery guts when it comes to other people enjoying themselves, especially when they do so under the influence of booze. For instance, last night I was woken up at 2 am by a bunch of girls falling out of a taxi outside our house, who then proceeded to dissect the night’s events for the next half an hour in voices like foghorns, right underneath our window. I lay in bed listening to them and wishing I could lay my hands on a handful of rotten tomatoes to chuck out of the Velux at them.

I walk past signs advertising alcohol outside bars – ‘Why not stop and enjoy a refreshing cocktail?’ – and I feel my eyes narrow in disdain, my lips pursing together as I go all Presbyterian on the world. I glare when somebody smokes within a hundred metres of me, expressing my disapproval loudly just like my Mum used to do when she was trying to put me off cigarettes when I was younger, causing huge embarrassment to whoever I am with. And it is pretty hypocritical, all of this disgust I feel towards people who smoke and drink and socialise. Up until eighteen months ago, I could be found sitting outside my local in all weathers (heated and covered outdoor stable yard, great for chain smoking in tandem with necking vast quantities of booze!) several nights a week, or bar-hopping between cool establishments filled with glamorous people, sipping Champagne cocktails and feeling oh-so-sophisticated (until I fell over on the way out, stumbling in my efforts to stand up again in my stupidly high stilettos).

So why do I feel as though all of this is out of my reach, now that I no longer befriend Mr. Pinot Grigio? After much soul-searching, I have come to the conclusion that the reasons are as follows;

a)      I don’t know who I am. In certain social situations (i.e. evening, where everyone else is drinking alcohol, and in public places) I just don’t know how to act without the prop of wine. It’s easy to pull on a veneer when you drink – the personality just falls into place as the cold, crisp liquid runs down your throat, warming your insides and reaching the part of you that can’t come to the surface when sober. Brimming with confidence, witty, knowledgeable – at least to begin with anyway; as the night wore on a different face would appear – heavy eyelids, blanked out expression, fixed smile – my mind would shut down as I drifted into my own little blanketed world of security, a place where nobody else ever came with me. But sober, I am a completely different kettle of fish. A bit shy, not very confident, sometimes I can’t get my words out and I stutter a little, especially in front of people who I don’t know or who make me feel nervous. I don’t feel worthy, I don’t feel interesting. I have nothing to say.

b)      I feel unattractive and plain when I am not drinking. Even before the first sip of wine had its effect on my brain, I would begin to feel a frisson of excitement, sexiness, just at the thought of what lay ahead. And when I had the glass in hand, everything came together, I felt complete. In my hand I clutched magic, something which turned me from a plain Jane into the most fabulous woman in any room. Without it I am just, well, the same as everyone else.

c)      I hate watching other people drink. Hate it, with a passion.

d)     Conversations are hard work for me when sober – I have to try a lot harder and often I get easily bored. Alcohol must have smoothed over an awful lot of boorish behaviour, and I thought everyone I spoke to was wildly interesting. In the cold reality of sobriety, this is, sadly, not so.

These are some of the reasons why a night out no longer appeals. Oh yes, and I am breastfeeding, which gives me the perfect excuse to keep up-to-date with Grand Designs for a few more weeks yet. Come the autumn, however, I will have to think of a new one – or learn how to enjoy socialising when sober…