When I first emerged from the wreck that my alcohol dependency had created, I felt battered and small – my personality had been manipulated and shaped by addiction and shame for so long that I no longer knew who I was. I’m not sure if, in the first few weeks, I truly believed that I would never drink again. There was an element of self doubt that teased my newly sober self with the thought that I couldn’t do it, that over time I would forget the horror of my last encounter with booze and I would cave in and begin to drink again. But I didn’t drink for a sufficiently long enough period to allow myself the first taste of being me without the prop of alcohol, and during that time I recognised and learnt things about myself and my relationship with booze that cemented my commitment to teetotalism. A major step forward was to admit to myself that I had a dependency upon alcohol.
The UK Alcoholics Anonymous website states that whilst they do not offer a formal definition of alcoholism, the majority of their members would agree on the following statement; “…it could be described as a physical compulsion, coupled with a mental obsession. What we mean is that we had a distinct physical desire to consume alcohol beyond our capacity to control it, in defiance of all rules of common sense. We not only had an abnormal craving for alcohol but we frequently yielded to it at the worst possible times. We did not know when (or how) to stop drinking. Often we did not seem to have sense enough to know when not to begin.” This description fits perfectly with my relationship with alcohol, but it took several weeks of being sober for me to recognise that I was an alcohol addict. As soon as I took a sip from my first drink, my mind would begin to whir frenetically, as it attempted to map out the most effective way to consume as much booze as possible before someone intervened and told me I had had too much. This was the reason why drinking alone was always so much more enjoyable for me – there was never a killjoy leaping forward to impose their own restrictive behaviour upon me, when all I wanted to do was get hammered.
And so, armed with this newfound awareness, I slowly accepted that I was dependent upon alcohol and therefore I had a responsibility to those around me and to my self, to stop for good. No single factor would have been sufficient in prompting me to get on top of my problematic relationship with booze – rather, elements in my life began to come together like a jigsaw puzzle that once complete, presented something of a eureka moment to me. The years of destructive and shameful behaviour and the associated self-hatred, age and a growing sense of mortality that grew at the same rate as my youthful ignorance of personal responsibility diminished, meeting my fiancé and developing an awareness of who I really was without the façade of drinking – it was all of these things that pushed me in to that place where I had wanted and needed to get for so many years. And now, here I am – nineteen months of sobriety and what feels like a lifetime of self-discovery later, a much calmer, honest, more confident woman who is enjoying a normal existence after twenty one years of self-abuse.
I knew that I had come on leaps and bounds when on holiday last week, as I didn’t miss alcohol one bit; conversely, if someone had put a bottle of Pinot in front of me and told me that I could drink it with none of the associated negativity, without the hangover or the guilt or the damage to my health, I would have happily walked away. (See the photo? That’s a mocktail I’m drinking. Mocktail = stress free drinking!)