Now that I have been sober for over a year and a half and I love my life so much without the alcohol-related sluggishness, lack of productivity, grumpiness, mood swings, bad complexion and much reduced finances, I sometimes look back to the twenty years that I spent mostly getting drunk, and I wonder why the hell it took me so long to put a cork in it.
Ten years prior to me becoming teetotal, I had an inkling that I was drinking too much, that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthy. There were many occasions when I got utterly smashed, waking up with no memory of the previous night or (sometimes) worse, only bits and pieces of memory that linked together an evening littered with embarrassing actions and regretful words that I mostly wished I hadn’t remembered.
Five years prior to quitting, the fear set in. Often at night, when I hadn’t slipped in to an alcohol-induced coma, I would lie awake in the dark touching my chest, checking for lumps. I became paranoid that I had breast cancer as a result of my awful lifestyle – smoking and drinking to excess, eating rubbish, not eating enough. My consciousness was riddled with fear; night after night I tormented myself that my mortality would be realised sooner than it ought to be. I read voraciously articles about binge drinking, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression. I was acutely aware of the statistical evidence relating to women binge drinkers and the associated increase in liver disease and cancers, and yet I did not attempt to sober up.
The reason that I did not seek help is because I was frightened. I was frightened of walking in to a room full of strangers and saying that I was an alcoholic. I was frightened that I had inflicted irreversible liver damage on myself, or that upon seeking help a doctor might discover any one of a plethora of horrendous diseases, festering undeterred in my body. I was frightened that if I stopped drinking alcohol, I would be forced to endure the rest of my days gagging for wine, salivating each time I walked past a beer garden on a hot summer’s day, drooling whenever I ate a meal in a restaurant surrounded by bottles of wine being glugged appreciatively by other diners. And because I was so frightened, I continued to drink. And drink, and drink.
Finally I made the decision to quit drinking because of one night back in April 2011. The bottom dropped out of my world in the small hours of the morning after, and when I regained my senses I came to the conclusion at last, that I never wanted to touch alcohol again. Despite knowing in my heart that my rollercoaster ride with booze was over forever, I still held on to the fear that I had lost my best friend – my companion, shoulder to cry on, ego booster, courage giver, and the one who could always be relied upon to inject fun in to any situation. In the immediate aftermath, I often questioned my dependency, for, as anyone who makes the decision to leave alcohol behind will tell you, the issue of self-diagnosis is a thorny one. You wonder how you can be an alcohol addict when those around you are getting out of their heads every weekend; why nice people in films get wasted together, and the audience don’t find their characters repellent; why family celebrations are a hotbed of drunkenness and nobody seems to care. Why are you an alcoholic and they are just enjoying a drink? Where is the line? Who draws the line?
The answers to those questions are not easy, but the further removed I become from an existence sullied by alcohol abuse, the more I appreciate how much better life is since I gave myself a chance to be me, minus the mask.