What happens to so many people in our society as they grow from children to adults and in the process gradually shed their self-belief and confidence? Between the ages of 13 and 35 I slipped into an alcohol dependency that became so deeply embedded in who I thought I was that the revelation of the real me who came to light after becoming teetotal came as a huge surprise.
As a child I was brimming with self-confidence, a little bit stubborn, a high achiever and natural leader. I threw myself gung-ho into whatever activity I was doing and thought I would reach nothing less than amazing and dizzy heights of success in whatever field I chose to venture into – post Oxbridge, of course.
Oh how reality bites – by age 14 I was drinking regularly, smoking, obsessed with boys, rather less obsessed with school work and venturing ever near to the brink of an eating disorder which fully took hold a few months later. Over the course of the next 5 years, my self-belief nosedived and by the time I was 20 I was living with an ex-con, drinking like a fish and struggling to get through my degree course. I hardly ate, smoked 20 a day and had no desire to do anything with my time other than get absolutely out of my head.
I don’t really have any definitive answers for the puzzle of how that happened. I came from a happy and secure family, I wasn’t bullied at school, there were no major traumas of which I bore deep mental scars. The only constants in the trajectory of my youth, twenties and early thirties were alcohol and cigarettes.
As I spend my life now without the crutch of alcohol, or of any other addiction (excluding coffee and chocolate, but they constitute small-fry in comparison to previous vices) for that matter, it seems entirely probable that the somewhat skewed path that my life took prior to quitting alcohol 2 years ago was as a direct result of too much booze. I was permanently depressed as a consequence of all that wine, I neglected to eat properly owing to a huge lack of self-esteem and some misguided belief that if I was super thin I would be super happy, and not eating caused me to suffer terrible mood swings; I self-medicated these with more wine, and the alcohol was also responsible for many of the poor choices of partner that I made over the years – many of whom I would never have been within 10 yards of had I been sober.
I see my 14 year old daughter now caught like a rabbit in the headlights, choosing whether to believe in something good for herself, or throwing it all to one side and getting on with the business of self-contempt. It seems that, especially for women, developing a sense of low self-worth is perceived as interesting at best, romantic at worse. As a teenager I fell for it hook, line and sinker, filling my head with sexy notions of messed up women, the idea that falling into a state of vulnerability and despair would somehow enhance my attractiveness; a Betty Blue for Sheffield.
Today, as a strong, positive and determined woman of 37, I see nothing to shy away from in the idea of a woman being together and able to take care of herself and her family without the need for a crutch of any sort (apart from the chocolate and the coffee – see above).
It is now my mission to pass this ideal on to my wonderful, intelligent, capable and strong teenage daughter.